What does "Believer" by Imagine Dragons mean?
"Believer" Lyrics Meaning
Imagine Dragons has always been one of my favorite bands, and they've released something beautiful in "Believer." The song was released just a few days before the writing of this post, and I've already explained it on my YouTube channel, but I thought it deserved a little bit of a longer look. This song has something deep to say, and it's reminiscent of "Sucker for Pain"--a song that Imagine Dragons collaborated on for the Suicide Squad movie.
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Overall, "Believer" is about someone who finds meaning in the pain in his life. We don't know for sure that this is autobiographical to anyone in the band, but there's such emotion in the vocalization that it's hard to not believe that this song has deep personal meaning. The song is the declaration of a person who has experienced great pain in his life but who has learned important things about himself through those experiences.
In the first verse of "Believer," Dan Reynolds sings, "First things first," and those three words tell us something important about the form of this song: there's going to be a list of things. And after Imagine Dragons took a break for a while (at least from releasing albums), it makes sense that the band would have a few things that it needs to get off its chest and tell fans. Well, this "first" thing is that "Imma say all the words inside my head / I'm fired up and tired of the way that things have been." Reynolds and the rest of Imagine Dragons are preparing us to hear what they have to say and want us to know that they won't apologize.
They continue, "Second thing second / Don't you tell me what you think that I can be / I'm the one at the sail, I'm the master of my sea." This whole verse is a message of empowerment. The band is going to say what it wants to say and do what it wants to do. This could pertain to fans wanting it to continue making a specific sound or acting a certain way, but Imagine Dragons wants to maintain personal and artistic integrity.
In this stanza of "Believer," Reynolds tells us, "I was broken from a young age." This could mean any number of things, but perhaps it's meant to communicate to us that he's been introspective about his own weaknesses since he was a child. He's known his limits, and he's battled with them. That battle has led him to take his "sulking to the masses" in the form of song, or as he says, "Write down my poems for the few / That looked at me, took to me, shook to me, feeling me." People listened to what he had to say and understood what he meant. This is especially important because many of Imagine Dragons's songs can sound dark or brooding, suggesting a dark inner life for the songwriter. The fact that the fans understood him probably brought him comfort as he sang "from heartache from the pain."
Reynolds continues to tell us that he would "[t]ake us [his] message from the veins / Speaking [his] lesson from the brain." The "veins" may represent blood and one's heart while "the brain" speaks of rationality. Essentially, all of him has created this message--it's who he is, and he's sharing something very personal with us. And what has this message been? Well, it's been all about "Seeing the beauty through the . . . / Pain!" which he discusses in the chorus.
The chorus of "Believer" is a direct address to the concept and experience of "Pain!" The band tells this character "Pain," "You made me a, you made me a believer, believer." What is this a belief in? It could be in God, the power to overcome, or in other people. Imagine Dragons doesn't make it clear, and I think that's because this is a belief in hope and the ability to believe in things in general.
In response to the pain, the band sings, "I let the bullets fly, oh, let them rain / My life, my love, my drive, it came from / Pain!" Knowing that pain has made him who he is today, Reynolds tells the pain to continue coming. He's not necessarily thrilled about, but he seems to believe that pain is a part of normal life, and he's ready to learn from it and be challenged.
Here, Reynolds tells us, "Third things third / Send a prayer to ones up above," referencing perhaps angels or religion. He's a Mormon himself, so this does seem to be a religious reference, perhaps to the Trinity or Godhead. When he sings, "All the hate that you've heard has turned your spirit to a dove," it seems to be him telling his listeners or himself that enduring pain has given them or him grace and patience.
In the second pre-chorus, Imagine Dragons' lead singer tells us, "I was choking in the crowd," perhaps suggesting that he needed to express himself as an individual. He was "[l]iving my brain up in the cloud / Falling like ashes to the ground," which seems to be an allusion to struggling with the thoughts inside of one's own mind as one deals with difficult outside circumstances. After dealing with these, Reynolds felt almost too weak to deal with the rest of life.
Instead of things getting better when he hoped his "feelings . . . would drown," "they never did. . . ." Instead, they "ever lived, ebbing and flowing." But they were also boxed in or, as he says, "[i]nhibited, limited." Constrained like this, they "broke open and . . . rained down . . . like / Pain!" The violence of these emotions was too great to be contained and manifested itself in emotional pain.
Here, Reynolds adds, "Last things last / By the grace of the fire and the flames / You're the face of the future, the blood in my veins." There can be multiple theories about what this means, but it seems to be Reynolds telling fans how much they mean to him and how, despite all of the pain, they have given him support and power to continue sharing his songs and himself.
Deeper Meaning of "Believer" by Imagine Dragons
I really like "Believer," and I think it has a powerful, deep meaning. Sometimes life is a little difficult, and sometimes that difficulty makes us want to give up. But Imagine Dragons here is telling us that instead of giving up, we sometimes have to face the pain head-on and find out what we can learn from it.
If any of us look back at our own lives, we'll see that parts of who we are were shaped by pain at one point or another. I'm sure we'd rather not have been shaped by some of these experiences, but we are who we are nevertheless. Reynolds seems to be telling his audience that he has learned this and that he knows that pain will never go away, so he's going to meet it head-on instead of running away from it.
I think that's a good message as long as it doesn't prompt any of us to go looking for pain, which I know is a tempting thing for some. As a small example, I know that on days I'm incredibly stressed out, it's easy for me to just give into the feeling of being overwhelmed and say, "Oh, well. I'm not going to finish everything anyway. I might as well just be a loser the whole way." From self-inflicted punishment to activities like cutting, I think people are more open to seeking out pain than they think, but as long as we recognize the difference between pain that doesn't have to happen and pain that is a part of life, I think we can face the necessary difficulties better, much like what Imagine Dragons is telling us here in "Believer."