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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 "Yesterday" by Imagine Dragons mean?

What does "Yesterday" by Imagine Dragons mean?

"Yesterday" Lyrics Meaning

While explaining several of the songs from Imagine Dragons's new Evolve album, I've the album playing in the background, and few songs have piqued my interest like "Yesterday." Each time it comes on, my ears perk up and I wonder, "Wait, what song is that?" I think it's because Imagine Dragons seems to be digging further back into the indie/alternative roots with this song. There's the eclectic voice emphasized and a bouncing, pounding drum-piano medley to give the track character and texture.

"No tomorrow without a yesterday"

"Yesterday" seems to be largely about gaining strength from the past to face the future or to be about being grounded in the past as you continue into the future. The song is one of the more interesting on the record lyric-wise, and I think offers some valuable insight into how to organize one's life.

Chorus

Here's to my future
Here's to my yesterday
Here's to change
Oh, here's to my yesterday
No tomorrow without a yesterday
Here's to my future
Goodbye to yesterday

Imagine Dragons wastes no time in "Yesterday" diving directly into the main ideas of the song. In the chorus, which they organize to be the first stanza of the song--a good sign a song is thematically driven in some cases--Dan Reynolds sings, "Here's to my future / Here's to my yesterday / Here's to change." He's grateful for his past but looks forward towards his future and is ready to embrace whatever new things come along. 

In one line, he explains that there's "[n]o tomorrow without a yesterday." You have to have a past and a grounding in something you've been through before to be able to have a future. This may be an idea so obvious it doesn't need explaining, but it's at least profound. Reynolds concludes the chorus saying, "Goodbye to yesterday," as he moves into the future. It's as if he knows that he has a history he needs to keep in mind, but he doesn't want it to keep him from moving forward with his life. 

Verse 1

All these years I've been searching
For who I'm supposed to be
All that time I've been wasting
'Cause I was right in front of me
Oh, it's a crooked old tradition
By a masterful magician
But in the all this trouble I've met
I haven't got one single regret, no

Verse 1 tells us of the Imagine Dragons narrator's search for personal meaning. He sings, "All these years, I've been searching  / For who I'm supposed to be." He wanted to find himself and know what his purpose was, but he considers that time wasted "'[c]ause I was right in front of me." He spent time looking rather than just being himself.

He calls this experience "a crooked old tradition / By a masterful magician." This could be a reference to God, but Reynolds has personified fate before as "Mr. Fate Man" in "Hopeless Opus." As someone who has mentioned in his music many times fate as a powerful abstract force, it's possible that this magician is Reynolds's fate.

Thankfully for him (and perhaps in contradiction of several other songs of his), Reynolds's finishes the verse singing, "But in all this trouble I've met / I haven't got one single regret." He's happy with who he is and is satisfied with how he's accomplished the challenges he's met.

Verse 2

Oh, I'm a hopeless crash collision
'Cause I'm a hostage to my pride
By my own volition
I've been a saint, I've been the truth, I've been the lie
Oh, it's a crooked old tradition
By a masterful magician
But in this all this trouble I've met
I haven't got one single regret, no

In the lyrics of the second verse of "Yesterday" by Imagine Dragons, Dan Reynolds calls himself "a hopeless crash collision" and blames this alluded to failure on his being "a hostage to [his] pride." He makes mistakes because he won't admit his won wrongness and thus most of the bad things that happen to him are of his "own volition."

He goes on to give a further complicated explanation of who he is when he sings that he's "been a saint, I've been the truth, I've been the lie." Just like any human being, Imagine Dragons's narrator isn't simple or too easy to figure out. He's a complicated person with multiple motivations and ways of dealing with those motivations. He's been true to who he is and been a good person, but he's also done the wrong thing or lived a lie.

Bridge

A new day you can go
You can do anything you wanna
It's your play, swing low
Go high anywhere you wanna
You can reach for the moon
Anywhere your dreams could take you
Go astray, fade away
Just leave it to yesterday

In the bridge, Imagine Dragons seems to neglect the fate-minded themes they've promoted before and tells us that today's a "new day" in which we "can go" where we like and "do anything" we "wanna." We can make the call to "swing low" or "[g]o high." Reynolds doesn't make it clear what "high" and "low" refer to here, but it sounds like a general way of saying perhaps that we can do what we like.

He continues, "You can reach for the moon / Anywhere your dreams could take you." He means for us to follow our heart and to do what we feel. We're even allowed to go "astray" from the normal path or to "fade away" to somewhere we like. And because the future seems to matter more than the past to Reynolds, he reminds us that whatever decisions we make, whether good or bad, will one day be "[left] . . . to yesterday." We'll be able to move on and try something new.

Deeper Meaning of "Yesterday": Care Free Living

I'm not completely sure what Imagine Dragons wants us to take from the meaning of these lyrics, but the core idea here is that, yes, we have lived in what we now call yesterday, but the future is coming, and we are completely free to do what we will with it. The future is undetermined and thus we can make it whatever we like.  The lyrics are somewhat vague (as we've come to expect somewhat on Evolve), but they're well intentioned and offer us the hope and promise of something to look forward to everyday. 

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