What does "Saturnz Barz" by Gorillaz ft. Popcaan mean? (Lyrics and Music Video)
"Saturnz Barz" Lyrics Meaning
Gorillaz is back after a half a decade hiatus, and I can't believe I've never listened to this music before. "Saturnz Barz" (not to mention the other three songs released at the same time) is artistic, methodical, and cryptic. Some lyrics are clear personal narrative (a la Popcaan's rap), and the rest are near incomprehensible. Lay these down over a track that's just as new, weird, and edgy, and you have yourself a song worth listening to.
(Oh, and then there's the music video. Talk about confusing!)
Lyrics Meaning: Struggle and Fear
I've perused all of the typical song lyric explanation sites, and no one knows what's going on with "Saturnz Barz." The lyrics are obviously very confusing, and it's no wonder that no one else seems to have the time to puzzle "Saturnz Barz" out. Of course, the brain behind Gorillaz's music, Damon Albarn, seems to have never been an easy songwriter to figure out, but I'm ready to give it my best shot: "Saturnz Barz" seems to be an abstract reverie on confronting fear and guilt in daily life. I'm sure that doesn't quite make sense to you yet, but let me explain.
[Just as an FYI: Gorillaz is an animated band with four band members, but the artists vary, and Damon Albarn is the music's creative director.]
Chorus 1 (rapped by Popcaan)
All my life
Mi ever have mi gun so mi haffi move sharp like mi knife
All my life
Mi pray say when mi get wealthy a ma a mi wife
All my life
The system force mi
Fi be a killer just like Rodney Price
All my life
No, all my life
According to Genius.com, "Cho" is a Jamaican word that expresses annoyance, and we're not sure why Popcaan is annoyed, but it's the attitude he's bringing these lyrics to us with, and it fits the rest of what he has to say. He tells us that "All my life" he's had a gun and been involved (perhaps) in dangerous situations, which have required that he keeps "sharp like" his knife and stay alert. He also wants to get wealthy and then be able to find a wife. Unfortunately, the "system force[s]" him to "be a killer just like Rodney Price," a prominent Jamaican DJ who Popcaan aspires to be like.
He doesn't make clear why the system forced him to be a DJ, but I'v heard theories about how the only roads to success suggested to young African American boys are rapping or playing basketball. Perhaps in Jamaican culture there are similar unfortunate metanarratives and beliefs. Perhaps the only way Popcaan thought he could make the money he wanted was to be a DJ.
In any case, this first verse introduces us to the DJ and shows us a little bit about his upbringing, career, and life aspirations.
Verse 1 (Popcaan)
Wah happen to you Cobe, some bwoy doh know mi
To how me ruff dem cah believe a grandma grow mi
Know few Popcaan song doh, and feel dem know mi
Four mile mi used to walk guh school, dem know man story?
Ha! Now mi gain up all those glory
The world is mine, the whole a it mi taking slowly
Happy days mi call it now mi bun sad story
Anyway mi deh inna the world mi dawgs dem round mi
Hahaha mi laugh and collect those trophy
Because mi deserve everything weh music gives mi
Bwoy, unruly nuh light like Frisbee
The dream, family live that wid me
Oh, oh, oh, oh
All my life mi dream fi own house, land, cars and bikes
Verse 1 introduces us to Popcaan further, and we learn a few things about him: there are those who don't like his music or don't believe in him as an artist, or they listen to a few of his songs and thing they have him figured out. But like he tells us, "Four mile mi used to walk guy school, dem know man story?" He used to walk a long way to go to school and wonders if people don't know things like that whether they can truly understand him.
He's experienced success since then and tells us that he's gained "up all those glory / The world is mine; the whol a it mi taking slowly." He's feeling successful and knows that it's only a matter of time before he reaches the whole measure of success that he desires. In the meantime, he tells us that he "deserve everything weh music gives mi" and celebrates that he's able to bring his "family" into the dream with him.
This stanza sounds like fairly standard rap fair--I was poor, I succeeded, and my friends and family will benefit--but the rest of the song sets a contrast to these lyrics.
Chorus 2 (Gorillaz & Popcaan)
All my life
I'm in the stakin' bar
I got debts and I'm a debaser
All my life
Saturnz about to make love
And I'm just a heartbreaker
All my life
And I won't get a take in
'Cause I'm out when I'm stakin'
And the rings I am breaking
Are making you a personal day
We won't worry about which fictional band member is singing this, so we'll just refer to them as "Gorillaz," though it should be noted that Popcaan is the one singing "All my life" as a constant refrain and call back to his lyrics.
Gorillaz doesn't make clear what a "stakin' bar" is, but it could actually be a "steakn 'n' bar" restaurant (though I think that's unlikely). In any case, he's feeling contemplative and pondering his own inadequacies when he sings, "I got debts, and I'm a debaser." He owes people things, perhaps for mistakes he's made, and he knows that he profanes or ruins valuable things that others care about.
He goes on to say that "Saturnz about to make love" but acknowledges that he's "just a heartbreaker," which could mean two things. Someone else could be making love while he's alone and thinking about how it's all his fault. Or he could be thinking about destroying "Saturnz's" relationship. Who is Saturn? Gorillaz leaves that question unanswered and instead invites us to think about the poor soul feeling alone and depressed--the human perspective--and perhaps the use of a planet's name contrasts suggests how small Gorillaz's singer really feels.
Little of the rest of the chorus has a clear context, but the lines "And the rings I am breaking / Are making you a personal day" suggests that he's breaking up engagements or involved in affairs, causing others to need to take time off due to emotional duress.
Bridge (Gorillaz & Popcaan)
With the holograms beside me
I'll dance alone tonight
In a mirrored world, are you beside me
All my life?
Here, the "holograms" seems to be a reference to the way that Gorillaz performs at concerts as holograms with a backing band. Gorillaz then reflects on his "danc[ing] alone tonight / Im a mirrored world . . ." He feels separate from everyone in a world that doesn't make sense, and he wonders "are you beside me / All my life?" This effectively changes Popcaan's use of "All my life" to suggest that he's been the same person and met with struggles all his life" to Gorillaz's use of the phrase to suggest the fear of being alone all of one's life.
Deeper Meaning: Confronting Abstract Fear in a Concrete World
I don't think anyone has a complete picture of or understanding of "Saturnz Barz" by Popcaan, and unless Damon Albarn explains it, no one may ever fully know, but I do have a theory. I think "Saturnz Barz," just like the music sounds, is a depressed reverie of one's own life and mistakes. The chorus is the pivotal portion of this theory because Popcaan's story seems to be almost an antithesis to what Gorillaz has to say.
Popcaan has worked hard and is now reaping the rewards, but Gorillaz seems to be metaphorically crying into his beer at a bar late one night while he remembers the marriages he's "debased" and all of the debts he owes for his many sins. It's a sad picture, and the way the song is sung helps you to fully feel that complete sadness. In addition, mixing Popcaan's lyrics about overcoming difficulty with this chorus and a droopy, electric autotune makes everything sound even more pointless, perhaps empowering Gorillaz's cynical perspective.
But what about the music video? In the video, the four cartoon character members of Gorillaz enter a haunted house and each interacts with fear while seeking out a simple pleasure. Murdoc takes a bath and starts falling through space. Russel takes a nap and is attacked by a monster. Noodle listens to a record and is attacked by a different monster. And 2D tries to eat food from the house's fridge and is attacked by the food. In a surreal twist, they all float through space and the mansion for a while, trying to escape their monsters. Eventually, the sun comes out, and they leave, none the worse for it. They come to a traffic jam on a busy highway and quickly take an alternate route in the other direction.
Again, it's confusing, but my theory is that Gorillaz wants to go a different direction than most people--they want to confront their own fears. That's why they go to the haunted house and seem so nonchalant about it, and then leave so calmly. During the experience, they show some fear, but perhaps little enough that they seem used to the experience of facing their own fears.
And notice that they each do something different that leads them into contact with this fear. And all four of these things are normal everyday things. It's as if they're saying that fear is something you can interact with daily and that fear is a normal part of life.
Overall, I think the song and music video together are about the facing of abstract fear during the progression of ever day concrete life. The mix of real and unreal (like the food becoming a monster) and the mix of fear and apathy all suggest a deeper realization of the nature of human experience. And perhaps the most meta example of this theory is the mix of Popcaan's concrete and literal narrative with Gorillaz's sobering reverie on the experience of guilt and sadness. Combining these two experiences showcases the complexity of human life and suggests--almost requires--that you give this song another listen.