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Welcome to the Pop Song Professor! My name's Clifford, and I explain song lyrics so that you can know what your artists are saying and can enjoy your music more. 

What does "Sledgehammer" by Rihanna mean?

What does "Sledgehammer" by Rihanna mean?

SONG MEANING: "Sledgehammer" by Rihanna is a song about personal empowerment and not being dependent on another person. Keep reading for details...

Breaking down the Lyrics of "Sledgehammer"

Rihanna released "Sledgehammer" for the soundtrack of Star Trek Beyond in 2016. Musically, the song is intense but understated. The lyrics though are interesting with enough of a well-defined premise to work for a pop song. There does not seem to be anything exceptionally interesting about "Sledgehammer" on its own, but Rihanna is a strong singer, and she makes the song an enjoyable listen.

Verse 1

The first verse recounts Rihanna being hurt by someone (though it doesn't specify what kind of relationship they have). The song could be about a relationship, but it doesn't define itself as one. There is a strong chance it could be about a good friend who abandoned Rihanna or who went his or her own way, hurting Rihanna in the process.

The verse starts, "I hit a wall; I never felt so low, so low." This early mention of the wall is important, because as the title suggests, a sledgehammer is going to come into the song, and it will be used on this wall. Rihanna continues, "Like a waterfall, my tears dropped to the floor, the floor," to show her sadness and suggesting her kneeling on the floor against the brick wall, sobbing.

These tears "left a swimming pool of salted crimes / Oh, what could I do to change your mind?" She's suffering, and she remembers all of the bad things that have happened in her relationship or that have been done to her. And yet she still wants to the person to come back. However, in answer to her question, there is "[n]othing" that will bring the other person back.

Pre-Chorus

Rihanna continues, "I'm bracing for the pain, and I am letting go / I'm using all my strength to get out of this hole." She's in a dark place and is trying to be strong enough to quit feeling sadness and to be able to move on.

Chorus

In the chorus, she explains, "[When] I hit a wall, I thought that I would hurt myself." When she saw this emotional encounter coming, she prepared herself for the worst. She was "sure your words would leave me unconscious / And on the floor I'd be lying cold, lifeless." But instead of merely giving up or being knocked over, she "hit a wall, I hit 'em all, watch the fall."

She seems to then be metaphorically jarred awake and into a sudden epiphany that this person who hurt her is "just another brick." She doesn't need to be so hurt by that person and needs to be able to shake off what they've done to them. She realizes that she has been giving this person power over herself and needs to take it back--to realize "I'm a sledgehammer." She has the power to take care of herself and to destroy bricks and walls--things that seem unbreakable.

Verse 2

In the second verse, Rihanna sings, "Yeah, I hit a wall; I prayed that I would make it through." It was bad for her, and she wondered whether she would survive the difficult times she went through. And she thought to herself, "I can't survive a life that's without you," but later realized that she had to: "And I will rise up from the ashes now. . . ."

Playing on that phoenix imagery, she then pictures herself as a different kind of bird: a sparrow. She sings, "Oh, the sparrow flies with just the crumbs of loving spilled," suggesting that after she realized her full potential, she required much less motivation to be able to continue on.

My deeper question for the song meaning community:

  • What do you think of "Sledgehammer"? How does describing someone who hurts you as a brick and yourself as a sledgehammer restructure how we perceive the "playing field" of personal relationships? How does it turn it into a "battlefield"?

Deeper thoughts...and Revenge...

I admit I don't have much more to say about this song. I mostly think it ironic that someone would complain about how someone else hurt her and then describe herself as a sledgehammer with the ability of attacking that other person back. For a song about self-empowerment, I think perhaps a better, less aggressive, more self-focused metaphor would have better helped the point.

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