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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 "Rise Up" by Imagine Dragons mean?

What does "Rise Up" by Imagine Dragons mean?

"Rise Up" Lyrics Meaning

I've already explained seven out of the eleven songs on Evolve, and I'm not going to explain every song on the album. Two of the ones I've explained so far have been unfortunately rather shallow or rather vague in a "pop music sort of way" that leaves me wanting something deeper from Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons. So, to make sure that I wasn't wasting time, I looked at the last four I hadn't explained yet and decided that "Rise Up" was likely the deepest one I hadn't explained. The song's interesting, written almost entirely by band members, and focuses on a theme of improving one's self. Let's see if it stands up to explication.

"I was seeking higher elevation"

In this song, as with many pop songs, the verses tell us a story, the chorus communicates the main theme, and the bridge provides a different perspective, both musically and lyrically on the entire situation. Throughout this progression, we're going to hear Imagine Dragons reminisce on making mistakes, wanting something more, and eventually achieving it or, at least, be in the process of achieving it.  

Verse 1

I was hoping for an indication
I was seeking higher elevation
I've been shaken, waking in the night light
I've been breaking, hiding from the spotlight
The more I stray, the less I fear
And the more I reach, the more I fade away
The darkness right in front of me
Oh, it's calling out, and I won't walk away

In the first verse, Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons tell us that they were "hoping for an indication" of how to succeed or to move on to a "higher elevation." It appears to have come when they were "shaken" and found themselves "waking in the night light." They don't seem to explain further this storyline, but we can guess that they are being awoken by a new opportunity that comes at an inopportune time. 

Because of this, perhaps, Reynolds tells us that he's "been breaking" down and "hiding from the spotlight." He's figuring out enough things internally that he doesn't want to have to worry about what others are thinking of him. And it works out. The more he "stray[s]" from the spotlight, "the less I fear," he says. But the "more I reach, the more I fade away," he tells us. This striving for something else empowers him to take even more; and the more he takes, the more he seems to want to go alternative routes, to "fade away" from the norm. But the "darkness right in front of" him is "calling out" to him, and he "won't walk away." He wants to go into it and explore it. It's a mystery and a challenge to him that he wants to understand. 

Chorus

I would always open up the door
Always looking up at higher floors
Wanna see it all give me more
I was always up for making changes
Walking down the streets meeting strangers
Flipping through my life, turning pages

In the chorus, Imagine Dragons and Dan Reynolds tell us that he "would always open up the door" that presented itself to him. He'd take risks and worry about them later because he was "[a]lways looking up at higher floors"--new levels of achievement he could accomplish. He wanted life to "give me more," and, as a result, he "was always up for making changes" if it helped him to move forward. He would walk "down the streets meeting strangers," perhaps to find people who would challenge or teach him something new, and he would find himself "[f]lipping through my life, turning pages." He kept moving forward in life to find out what would happen next to him, wanting to "read" as much as possible. 

Verse 2

Like a prayer that only needs a reason
Like a hunter waiting for the season
I was there, but I was always leaving
I was living, but I was never breathing
The more I stray, the less I fear
And the more I reach, the more I fade away
Darkness right in front of me
Oh, it's calling out, and I won't walk away

In the second verse lyrics of "Rise Up," Imagine Dragons tells us that their narrator feels like he's in a waiting period. He's "a prayer" that "needs a reason" and "a hunter waiting for the season." As soon as it's time, he'll strike. He's biding his time until then. He finishes the unique portion of this verse with the line "I was living, but I was never breathing." It's unclear exactly what he means, but it seems to speak of his current empowerment as opposed to who he was before.

Bridge

I'm bursting like the fourth of July
So color me and blow me away
I'm broken in the prime of my life
So embrace it and leave me to stray

And in the bridge, we do see that alternative perspective that I spoke of early. Dan Reynolds tells us that he's "bursting forth like the fourth of July." He's explosive like a firework as he gains renewed strength and ambition. The line "So color me and blow me away" suggests his desire to get going with the process but also hints at how much he feels dependent on the whims of others. Speaking to this, he adds that he's "broken in the prime of my life." He's made mistakes or failed at certain things right when he feels he should be his strongest, but he tells others to let it be what it is and to "leave me to stray" as he continues along his unique and haphazard path.

Deeper Meaning of "Rise Up": My Haphazard Merry Path

Dan Reynolds and the rest of Imagine Dragons present a story here of someone who wants to be more but finds it hard to achieve all of those heights. In the end, he appears to decide that he doesn't need to be achieving his goals in traditional methods and sets his own course. Unfortunately and as is common with some of these more pop-focused Evolve songs, it's really hard to dig deeper or to tell more. We can observe the vague feelings he has within this skeletal plot, but that's most of what we see here. 

And just so you don't feel stiffed for not having gotten something deeper here, keep in mind that what gives a song power is specificity. When we know who a person is in love with (through details and descriptions) or we know what goal a person is achieving (through explanation or internal monologue), we can better understand how the lyrics fit together and get a better cohesive understanding for who the author is and what he's feeling. Twenty One Pilots's Tyler Joseph writes songs very much like this, and each of his songs is clearly about something. "Hopeless Opus" is a great Imagine Dragons song that walks the line between vague and specific but in the end succeeds because Dan Reynolds specific about his "hopeless" feelings about the situation he finds himself in even if he doesn't make explicitly clear what his "great work" (or "opus") is. 

Specificity gives songs power. "Rise Up" lacks a bit of that, and so we can only guess. This does mean we can make this song mean whatever we want in our own minds (to some extent), so that's something we can do with this song, but there may not be much else. 

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