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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. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons mean?

What does "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons mean?

"Whatever It Takes" Lyrics Meaning

We're moments away (at the time of the writing of this) from Imagine Dragons dropping Evolve and the seven songs from them that we haven't heard yet. While waiting, I realized I hadn't blogged about "Whatever It Takes" yet, so I decided I'd better give it a shot. I've already blogged about it and made a video explaining it, but it's time to get serious and to explain it line-by-line. 

"I'm ready for whatever it takes"

I think that if you had a title like "Whatever It Takes" on another pop record, you'd think the song was going to be about a relationship and some guy telling some girl that he'd be there for her no matter what. But "Whatever It Takes" for Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds is an ode to his own ambition. He wants to accomplish something with his life and doesn't want to give up until he's done it. 

Verse 1

Falling too fast to prepare for this
Tripping in the world could be dangerous
Everybody circling, it's vulturous
Negative, nepotist
Everybody waiting for the fall of man
Everybody praying for the end of times
Everybody hoping they could be the one
I was born to run, I was born for this

Verse 1 begins telling the story of the song by introducing us to the personality side of Dan Reynolds that wants to accomplish something big. He's living in a world that's dangerous, "[n]egative, [and] nepotist." It's an unfriendly world that isn't going to give him anything for free. He feels like he's "[f]alling too fast to prepare for this" and realizes that "[t]ripping in the world could be dangerous." His life isn't going as planned perhaps, and he knows he'll have to be careful moving forward, particularly because his opposition is "circling" like vultures, waiting for him to fail.

These people are "waiting for the fall of man," which could be a reference Dan himself making a mistake or could be about people just keeping the apocalyptic end of the world in mind as they race to be the best before it's all over. The next line supports the latter theory when Imagine Dragons tells us, "Everybody praying for the end of times," and then "[e]verybody hoping they could be the one"--the one to succeed. But Reynolds is convinced that he has a fair shot at the ambiguously mentioned success he sings about.

Pre-Chorus

Whip, whip
Run me like a race horse
Pull me like a ripcord
Break me down and build me up
I wanna be the slip, slip
Word upon your lip, lip
Letter that you rip, rip
Break me down and build me up

The pre-chorus is a pumped up sounding stanza that focuses on developing what Imagine Dragons is willing to do to be ready to "be the one." Reynolds sings, "Whip, whip / Run me like a race horse / Pull me like a ripcord." He's sung about pain before in "Believer" and how experiencing pain has made him stronger and a more powerful person. He seems to almost be reprising his ode to pain here in the lyrics of "Whatever It Takes" as he asks an unseen force to "[b]reak me down and build me up." 

And if he's going to put in the hard work, he wants the benefits of being a success. He wants people to know who he is: "I wanna be the slip . . . / Word upon your lip . . . / Letter that you rip . . ." While he doesn't make clear what a "slip" is in this context, it's clear that he wants his listeners and people who know about him to be in awe of his accomplishments.

Chorus

Whatever it takes
'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do whatever it takes
'Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains
Whatever it takes
You take me to the top
I'm ready for whatever it takes
'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do what it takes

In the chorus here, Reynolds sings about being willing to give "[w]hatever it takes" to succeed and then gives the reason why. It's not necessarily that he wants the accomplishment. He wants the thrill of pushing himself past his own limits. He loves the feeling of finding out that he has whatever it takes. Specifically, he sings, "'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins," and, "'Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains." 

This thrill and rush of feeling takes him "to the top." He feels alive and refreshed when he's challenging himself. It's almost as if though the success itself is just an added bonus.

Verse 2

Always had a fear of being typical
Looking at my body feeling miserable
Always hanging on to the visual
I wanna be invisible
Looking at my years like a martyrdom
Everybody needs to be a part of 'em
Never be enough, I'm the prodigal son
I was born to run; I was born for this

Reynolds and Imagine Dragons speak here to "a fear of being typical" that they've "[a]lways had," which coincides well with Reynolds's lyrics about being a young over-achiever in "Thunder." He wanted to be something more, but he struggled with some levels of personal shame and feelings of inadequacy: "Looking at my body feeling miserable / Always hanging on to the visual." He realizes he worried too much about the outer appearance of things, and now he focuses more on his own internal, mental self-discipline. This portion of the verse climaxes with "I wanna be invisible," where it seems that his shame and lack of confidence almost got the better of him.

He continues by explaining that his "years" are "like a martyrdom" meaning he's been tested and tried, even persecuted, in a way, for his ideals and principles by a world and life that wants something different out of him or that doesn't understand him. But he knows that "[e]verybody" needs this experience or "needs to be a part of 'em" because it will make them stronger.

He fears never being "enough" and embraces the self-image of being "the prodigal son," the one who eschewed his traditional role and ran away to be something else that he had conceived himself. But was that a bad thing? He concludes the verse, "I was born to run; I was born for this."

Bridge

Hypocritical, egotistical
Don't wanna be the parenthetical, hypothetical
Working onto something that I'm proud of, out of the box
An epoxy to the world and the vision we've lost
I'm an apostrophe
I'm just a symbol to remind you that there's more to see
I'm just a product of the system, a catastrophe
And yet a masterpiece, and yet I'm half-diseased
And when I am deceased
At least I go down to the grave and die happily
Leave the body of my soul to be a part of me
I do what it takes

Reynolds knows that he's in danger of being "[h]ypocrtical" and "egotistical" as he pushes forward to success, but for him it's better than being "parenthetical" or "hypothetical"--someone unimportant or whose success only exists as a "what if." Instead, he'll be "[w]orking onto something that I'm proud of," and he doesn't want to do it the traditional way. He knows that it'll be "out of the box / An epoxy to the world and the vision we've lost." "Epoxy" is like a kind of clue, so he wants to bind others to a true "world and . . . vision" that he thinks is important. He wants to remind people of something higher.

He then calls himself "an apostrophe / . . . a symbol to remind you that there's more to see." "Apostrophe" here could refer to the literary device in which a character turns to the side and addresses someone who's not there or some inanimate object, used mostly to display inner monologue, but I think it's more likely that he's referring to the punctuation mark that tells us that a contraction has occurred and that letters are missing from a specific word. For him, he seems to hope that people who look at him will remember that there's more below the surface to who he is.

He calls himself a "product of the system," someone whose existence is a natural outcome of a "system" that pushes for mediocrity and sameness, but he's come out a "catastrophe." He's someone who's a "masterpiece" and is yet "half-diseased." He's perfect in his imperfections, and his uniqueness gives him special perception, ability, or position that emboldens him. 

And for all this hard work, he tells us that when he is "deceased / At least I go down to the grave and die happily." He'll die knowing that he lived his life to the fullest, and, in that respect at least, he'll be successful. He then sings, "Leave the body of my soul to be a part of me." The line is anything but clear, but he seems to want to be remembered for the raw power and determination that were housed in his "soul."

Deeper Meaning of "Whatever It Takes": Being Wiling to Work Hard

I like Dan Reynolds's attitude and his uncrushable determination to work his absolute hardest at whatever he tries. "Whatever It Takes" is particularly inspiring as he sings about his determination not just to succeed but to challenge himself in the process. I wonder if maybe there's too much emphasis here on pushing one's self and not on being a whole and balanced person who can relax or work hard depending on the need, but we haven't heard a song from Dan Reynolds about what relaxing looks like fo rhim, so we won't really know about that yet, but I think it'd be worth to learn more there.

What do you guys think? It is healthy to be so driven as this song suggests Imagine Dragons and Dan Reynolds are? Let me know what you think!

 

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