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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Hunger" by Of Monsters and Men mean?

What does "Hunger" by Of Monsters and Men mean?

Over the past month, Of Monsters and Men has been putting out singles from their upcoming Beneath the Skin, which will be released on June 9th. The album has 13 tracks, and the third is “Hunger” a powerful anti-ballad about what sounds like a suffocating relationship that needs to be ended. Four singles (“Empire,” “Crystals,” “Hunger,” and “I of the Storm”) have already been released.

Of Monsters and Men’s musical style hasn’t changed all that much since My Head Is an Animal was released in the U.S. in 2012. Consequence of Soundwriter Killian Young calls the album "a safe record that doesn’t stray too far from their last offering.” With bands like Mumford & Sons, Twenty-One Pilots, and Taylor Swift changing their sounds for new albums, audiences may be surprised by how much Beneath the Skin and “Hunger” sound like they would fit comfortably in the earlier album.

Of Monsters and Men - "Hunger" Symbol - Clifford Stumme
Of Monsters and Men - "Hunger" Symbol - Clifford Stumme

The Meaning of the Lyrics

“Hunger” is an abstract symbol that refers to a need or desire for something more. And when people are hungry or weak from that hunger, it’s harder for them to find food. Of Monsters and Men’s latest single is about that feeling as the band dramatically applies it to a floundering relationship.

In Verse 1, lead vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir sings, “You are right, I’ll move on.” The relationship could be ending, and she responds to an accusation from her partner with an affirmative. "Yes," when it ends she will just move on even if he won’t be able to. But this is a good thing because the relationship makes her “lungs feel so small” and forces her to admit, “I couldn’t breathe if I tried.” This person doesn’t help her; he makes her weak.

But instead of fighting back, she feels too weak: “I lay my head on the floor.” But she knows that she can’t stay there: “My beating heart wanted more.” Essentially, she’s got one life to live, and her heart knows that there’s more out there. She doesn’t want to stay here forever, but she feels trapped. So she decides, “I’ll keep it in and keep you out.” She’ll compromise by keeping her heart under-control (using self-discipline to keep from being trapped again), but she’ll never really let him in or let herself every be fully known by him.

But this doesn’t have the result she wanted. In the Pre-Chorus, she repeats, “I’m drowning,” four times. Remaining in relationship limbo isn’t good for her. She never actually drowns. She just feels the experience all the time. She’s surrounded by a prison that has the power to kill her at any moment. Her lungs are small, so she doesn’t have a lot of air. She could be crushed anytime.

Of Monsters and Men on Tour
Of Monsters and Men on Tour

In Verse 2, she talks about the relationship more directly. She sings, “But for the longest time I knew / There was nothing left for us to do.” She’s known the relationship would fail, “But I tried, oh, I try.” Nanna has attempted to make it work against all odds, and she’s telling the fellow that she’s done her best, so the fault is with him, and she wants free, but he can’t let go.

She continues by singing that “in this quiet company / There is nothing staring back at me.” Even when she’s with this guy, it still feels like she’s alone. He’s distant and quiet-an emotional black hole. So, she needs something-anything: “I’m in need of a sound.”

SYMBOLISM: Throughout this song, the fellow is represented by silence, and she (as will be seen shortly) is represented by hunger or a wolf. Sound is symbolic of life.

Because the fellow is silence, he’ll never be enough for her. And as the Chorus shows, he actually destroys or negates sound. After Nanna sings, “Hungry for the kill, but this hunger, it isn’t you” (which refers to the hunger for something more that she has and he doesn’t have), she sings, “Voices disappear when you are speaking in somber tunes.” The music that he makes doesn’t qualify as a sound for her-she needs a real sound, not just a “somber [tune]” that makes more silence.

To remedy the relationship's stagnation, she decides to “be the wolf”-to take on the hard job of ending things. She has made her resolve and tells him that “when you’re starving, you’ll need it too”-he too will have to be ferocious. In the meantime, she understands the sad truth that she’s “hungry for the kill” and that he isn’t, so talking with him will do little to solve the problem.

Beneath the Skin Album Cover Art
Beneath the Skin Album Cover Art

By the Bridge, the song is only halfway over, but she repeats her decision to break free. She begins by explaining how she’s had to take on responsibility to be able to do this: “I grew tall to fill the void.” Even still, though, he’s only pulling her back: “Let me go cause you are just a shade.” As a “shade,” he’s not the real thing anymore-just a memory. In fact, she says that he’s “just a shade / Of what I am, not what I’ll be.” He’s from the past and will have no control of her future.

She continues by singing that “in this quiet company / I forget sometimes just how to breathe.” Breaking free will not be as easy as she hoped the relationship has left her short-winded and may stop her escape. She pleas, “Fill my lungs with a sound”-any sound.

The song continues with a long instrumental that could be symbolic of the struggle she’s making. But unfortunately, it ends with her mournfully singing that she’s “drowning.” She’s tried to break free, and she’s tried to work up her resolve, but she’s stuck in a relationship limbo that doesn’t want to let her go.

[All due credit to Fiancee April for helping me decode this one!]

What do you think about “Hunger” by Of Monsters and Men? Think it’s about a relationship or something else? 

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