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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.

What does "Symphony" by Clean Bandit ft. Zara Larsson mean?

What does "Symphony" by Clean Bandit ft. Zara Larsson mean?

"Symphony" Lyrics Meaning

Clean Bandit, who has been touring with Zara Larsson, just released a new soon-to-be-hit single with the singer. Despite using the word "symphony" eight times, "Symphony" has got a strong dance beat and heavy synth, and sounds custom-made for the club. But that's what one expects from Clean Bandit. And also as expected from Clean Bandit," Symphony's" music video has a strong emotional meaning. Their last hit, "Rockabye" was about the important of single mothers, and the music video for "Symphony" shows a man recovering after the death of his boyfriend/husband. But does the song itself reflect this depth of meaning?

Lyrics Meaning: Searching for Human Closeness

Clean Bandit's "Symphony" is about wanting to be close with someone else, to love that person and to be with him or her. "Symphony" doesn't take us to any great depth of meaning, but it is a sweet song, and it's easily explained. 

Verse 1

I’ve been hearing symphonies
Before all I heard was silence
A rhapsody for you and me
And every melody is timeless
Life was stringing me along
Then you came, and you cut me loose
Was solo singing on my own
Now I can’t find the key without you

Clean Bandit's first verse of "Symphony" begins by telling the intended listener about the singer's life. Zara Larsson, who voices the narrator, tells the person she's "been hearing symphonies" when she only used to hear "silence." This person has inspired her and brought beauty and "music" into her life.

She describes these songs as "[a] rhapsody for you and me" and tells him that "[l]ife was stringing me along." She didn't have control of her life and merely wanted to be able to feel like she was getting something out of her life. But this person "came and cut [me] loose." He freed her and helped her to find a better way to live life, which we can presume was with him. Zara and Clean Bandit give a pun when they tell us that the narrator was "solo singing" and "[n]ow . . . can't find the key without you."

Pre-Chorus

And now your song is on repeat
And I’m dancin' on to your heartbeat
And when you’re gone, I feel incomplete
So if you want the truth . . .

Clean Bandit uses the lyrics of the pre-chorus to continue the music metaphor that the title and verse 1 begin: "your song is on repeat" tells us the narrator is obsessed with and is with the guy she's singing about. Her "dancin' on to your heartbeat" is her caring about him, and she tells us that she's "incomplete" when he's not with her.

clean-bandit-symphony-song-lyrics-meaning

Chorus

I just wanna be part of your symphony
Will you hold me tight and not let go?
Symphony
Like a love song on the radio
Will you hold me tight and not let go?

The chorus showcases all of the pop qualities of the music of the song and continues the story by telling us that the narrator wants to be "part of your symphony." She wants to "make music" with him, simple to be with him. She asks him to hold her "tight and not let go." She compares their relationship to "a love song on the radio," which is oddly ironic since this song will ostensibly one day be "a love song on the radio" (see more below).

Verse 2

I’m sorry if it’s all too much
Every day you’re here, I’m healing
And I was runnin' out of luck
I never thought I’d find this feeling
'Cause I’ve been hearing symphonies
Before all I heard was silence
A rhapsody for you and me
(A rhapsody for you and me)
And every melody is timeless

The second verse of "Symphony" maintains the same story line. In it, Zara Larsson gives us a variety of lines about being "sorry if it's all too much" and claiming that he's helping her to heal. She was in a bad place--"runnin' out of luck" and "never thought I'd find this feeling." She quickly turns back to the content of verse 1, finishing by reminding her lover that with him "every melody is timeless." Essentially, and as mentioned earlier, they make beautiful music together, and she's enjoying time with him.

The Deeper Meaning of "Symphonies" by Clean Bandit: Two Things

Self-Referential Music

The most noteworthy moment in this song is the line "Like a love song on the radio." Of course, this isn't the first time that a popular song has referred to music within itself. That happens all of the time perhaps most notably in songs like Selena Gomez's "Love You Like a Love Song" (which has an obvious meaning) and Maren Morris's "My Church," a song about the place FM country music radio takes her. 

All of these songs refer to and celebrate music but often while doing the very thing they're praising those other songs for doing as if they're trying to convince audiences that listening to this very song is somehow related to listening to those other songs. "My Church" does this intensely by using every cliche of country music style and by name dropping all of the country greats, but "Symphony" does this perhaps most blatantly because it is a love song that will likely be played on the radio, and it mentions that very experience, providing the materials for a meta experience.

Of course, this song isn't created with some deep meaning in mind, and likely few will think twice about the self-reference, but it's still interesting, and personally I think it's indicative of pretentiousness in the music industry. It seems odd to refer to your own success in a song that's an example of your greatness and accomplishment. It's almost like Clean Bandit's songwriters borrowed a page from the self-glorying lyrics style of much rap music, but at least "Symphony" is more subtle and lacks the profanity. 

Meaningless Lyrics

Re-read the first half of verse 2: 

I’m sorry if it’s all too much
Every day you’re here, I’m healing
And I was runnin' out of luck
I never thought I’d find this feeling

Notice anything odd about these lyrics? They're almost completely meaningless. They're too vague to be about anyone in particular, and thus they carry no specific meaning to their audience. This leaves a meaning gap that the audience fills with mental pictures of situations its members have been in, seen, or can imagine. 

Pop songwriters leave meaning gaps all of the time because they don't want audiences to be alienated by too specific of lyrics. That's why Bruno Mars's songwriters will write "Her eyes, her eyes / Make the stars look like they're not shining," instead of "Her eyes, her eyes / They're bluer than the ocean flowing" or something like that.

The songwriters who make these songs (who are very rarely the artists who sing them) want as many people as possible to be able to sing these songs, so they keep them purposefully vague and meaningless. Of course, other bands challenge this status quo. Rock groups often write their own songs, and alternative bands like Twenty One Pilots still often write their own music, a fact that's clear and much appreciated by young audiences who desperately need to be told that music and life means something.

It's not necessarily a bad thing that songs like "Symphony" contain essentially meaningless lyrics or that they're non-specific, but it's important to realize this so that we know what we're listening to and can assess it based on the goals it intends to achieve (which, in this case, are likely largely commercial). 

Podcast: TOP 10 Most Meaningful Popular Songs of 2016

Podcast: TOP 10 Most Meaningful Popular Songs of 2016

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