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Hey.

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 do the lyrics of "The Greatest" by Sia and ft. Kendrick Lamar mean?

What do the lyrics of "The Greatest" by Sia and ft. Kendrick Lamar mean?

What does "The Greatest" by Sia ft. Kendrick Lamar mean?

You wanted deeper meanings in your pop music? Well, you've got it. Also, why haven't you been listening to Sia (and Kendrick Lamar for that matter) before this? Both of these artists are warriors of thought and influence. Neither are as popular in the mainstream as A-level pop divas like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, but what they lack in popular appeal you forget when you dive deeper into what they have to say beneath the bars, rhymes, and synthy dance beats.

That being said, "The Greatest" continues their meaningful trend and has a symbolic meaning: it represents and commemorates the Orlando Massacre--the Pulse Club Shooting.

How do we know? Check out this Instagram post by performer Matt Moseley.

Humbled to be a part of this video. Thank you @siathisisacting. 49 beautiful lives lost. This is for you. 🌈 #WeAreYourChildren

A photo posted by Matt Moseley (@realmattmoseley) on Sep 5, 2016 at 10:08pm PDT

Moseley posts, "49 beautiful lives lost. This is for you," and includes a rainbow emoji. Forty-nine club-goers were killed in the Orlando Pulse Club Shooting. If that doesn't convince you, I'll be doing an analysis of the music video soon as well, and I'll show you more of the symbolic clues then. For now, be sure to watch the music video (which excludes Lamar's verse).

The Meaning

Verse 1

In the first verse of "The Greatest," Sia sings, "Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I / . . . got stamina," suggesting this song will be about overcoming great adversity. She continues, "Uh-oh, running now, I close my eyes." She's charging forward into her difficulties, ignoring what she's afraid of, as she nears "another mountain to climb." She's willing to take risks to and refers to this when she sings, "I need another love, be mine." She's going to overcome whatever comes her way.

Pre-Chorus

Here, Sia sings, "Don't give up. I won't give up," a few times to emphasize that she's not going to stop, no matter what happens. In the context of the Pulse Shooting, she seems to be representing the LGBTQ community and the spirits of those shot. They had battled cultural antagonism and were trying to live free of others' expectations. Sia embodies the spirit she sees in them when she touches on their unwillingness to give up being able to live free.

Chorus

The theme mentioned in the pre-chorus of "The Greatest" continues in the chorus, with Sia singing, "I'm free to be the greatest, I'm alive / I'm free to be the greatest here tonight, the greatest." Spencer Kornhaber in an The Atlanticarticle comments on the duality of the sentiment: "She’s pepping the listener up, but she’s also defining the value of life, marking the human potential that’s been lost." She's celebrating the lives of those who were lost, remembering what they were and what they could have gone to be. It's equal parts sad and inspiring as the refrain reminds us of what we still have the ability to be.

Verse 2

The second verse varies little from the first verse, further emphasizing the importance of the core message Sia is sending her listener. The only lines added are "And, oh , yeah, running through the waves of love," and, "And, oh , yeah, I'm running, and I've just enough." She's continuing her fight; the "love" could refer to self-love, to the support of others, or to the "rightness" she feels doing what she's doing. The "I've just enough" is an encouragement to herself and to her listener that she and we can make it.

Verse 3

Kendrick Lamar raps the third verse of "The Greatest." He sings, "Hey, I am the truth / Hey, I am the wisdom of the fallen / I'm the youth / Hey, I am the greatest / Hey, this is the proof." He's prepping his audience for him to describe his own struggles against adversity.

He sings his secret to success: "Hey, I work hard, pray hard, pay dues, hey." He claims he's "hands-on with effort" and that he "transform[s] with pressure." He thrives on difficulty and is ready to keep fighting when things get hard. He's failed before ("I fell twice before. My bounce back was special"), and he understands "[l]etdowns will get you, and the critics will test you," but, he comes back with "the strong will survive." He says we have to keep putting in effort and should recognize that "another scar may bless you"--our difficulties may sometimes be "blessings in disguise."

Deeper thoughts on "The Greatest" by Sia and ft. Kendrick Lamar

I think there's likely little to add to the above explanations of "The Greatest." Sia and Kendrick communicate exactly what they mean to, and, I think that once you understand what the deeper meaning of the song is, how each part supports it becomes clear.

The Pulse Club Shooting was a travesty, and Sia has done an excellent job of commemorating it here in an artful, tasteful way. I'll dive into the music video in another post, but for now know that it too is artful and beautiful. It's a memorial for the importance and beauty of human life, cut down in a time of celebration of life and happiness.

Helpful Resources

  1. Lyrics
  2. Video
  3. The Atlantic Article
  4. Instagram Post
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