Cliff-pop-song-professor.png

Welcome!

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 "Sober" by Lorde mean?

What does "Sober" by Lorde mean?

"Sober" Lyrics Meaning

I think "Sober" may be one of the more artsy tracks on Melodrama so far. The song isn't very similar to Pure Heroine musicallybut it is interesting and seems to be following the stripped back vocals, chorused background vocals, and simple beat formula that many of the other songs are following. I do like the sound of it even if I couldn't have predicted it after Pure Heroine, and I'd love to know what you think about it too!

"But what will we do when we're sober?"

Whatever the case with the music, the lyrics are what primarily interest me. We have such lines as "But what will we do when we're sober?"--an important question--and "Jack and Jill got fucked up and possessive"--an interesting allusion and piece of imagery. Lines like these create a narrative in "Sober" of a young couple trying to forget their problems by drinking alcohol. They don't permanently succeed because Lorde keeps coming back with the line "But what will we do when we're sober?" almost in the same way that the question might hit someone about to get drunk or slowly recovering from a night of hard drinking. 

I think it's this question that encapsulates what "Sober" is about, and I can't wait to get deeper into the lyrics with you. 

Intro

Limelight
Lose my mind

To start "Sober," someone, maybe Lorde, breathily and frantically sings the above lines. It's as if though being famous has been difficult for Lorde and as if she needs or needed a break.

Verse 1

Oh god I'm clean out of air in my lungs
It's all gone
Played it so nonchalant
It's time we danced with the truth
Move along with the truth
We're sleeping through all the days
I'm acting like I don't see every
Ribbon you used to tie yourself to me

In the first verse of "Sober," Lorde begins by telling us about her current situation. When she sings that she's "clean out of air in my lungs," she's telling us she's breathless and needs help. She needs something so vital and necessary as air--that's the kind of situation she's in. She reminds herself that "[i]t's all gone" and tells us that when she realized she was getting the help she needed, she "[p]layed it so nonchalant" so that no one else would notice how terribly she felt. 

But she's tired of that hiding and boldly claims, "It's time we danced with the truth / Move along with the truth." Dance here is a metaphor for embracing or being open with something. She wants to accept the truth even if it means being seen with it on the "dancefloor of life"--please ignore the terrible metaphor there. And why is she so willing to embrace ugly truth? She's been "sleeping through the day" listlessly, and the person she's in a romantic relationship with is very clingy. He's tied himself to her with "[r]ibbon." She's pretending not to see it, but her soon-to-be dance with the truth might change that.

Pre-Chorus

But my hips have missed your hips
So let's get to know the kicks
Will you sway with me?
Go astray with me?

In the pre-chorus, she strays a little from the truth-seeking narrative and instead focuses on the dance metaphor. She asks the person she's interested in/her friend/her fans, "Will you sway with me? / Go astray with me?" She wants to know if someone else will tackle the truth with her, and she really does want and need the help from this person. She tells us that her "hips have missed your hips" and asks him to "get to know the kicks" (or steps to the dance) with her. 

Chorus

King and Queen of the weekend
Ain't a pill that could touch our rush
But what will we do when we're sober?
When you dream with the fever
Bet you wish you could touch our rush
But what will we do when we're sober?
These are the games of the weekend
We pretend that we just don't care
But we care
When you dream with the fever
Bet you wish you could touch our rush
But what will we do when we're sober?

The chorus is certainly the most abstract and philosophical stanza in "Sober." She calls her and her friend "King and Queen of the weekend." The weekend's usually a time of partying and less responsibility, so they're having fun, and this is fun is so strong that no drug could compare to it. But they are drunk most of the time, and she wonders what they'll "do when we're sober." This implied reference to drunkenness is likely about literal drunkenness, but it could also refer to an emotional disconnection with reality. 

Lorde comments that others "[w]hen [they] dream with the fever" of wanting what she has likely "wish [they] could touch our rush," but even being envied by others doesn't keep her mind from questioning whether she's in such a good place: "But what will we do when we're sober?" The "games of the weekend" involve her pretending "that we just don't care," but she admits that really does care. She wants something more, and she wants purpose--a purpose that partying and being drunk don't give her. She wants to go beyond that and wants to have purpose when she's sober. 

Verse 2

Oh, God, I'm closing my teeth
Around this liquor ware
Limelight, lose my mind
I know you're feeling it too
Can we keep up with the ruse?
Bodies all through my house
I know this story by heart
Jack and Jill got fucked up and possessive
When they get dark

She cries out for help when she sings, "Oh, God," and continues into deploring her state of furiously drinking alcohol and suggests that the "limelight" causes her to "lose [her] mind." She knows her friend is "feeling it to" and asks him if "we [can] keep up with the ruse." Can they continue faking happiness? Can they continue to pretend being carefree and confident? As the party and high come to an end, she looks around her house to see "[b]odies all through" it and seemingly feels empty as a result. She knows "this story by heart" and doesn't seem to like it. 

And this depression isn't healthy for her relationship either. She sings that "Jack and Jill got fucked up and possessive / When they get dark." Perhaps when she and her boyfriend get into one of these moods, they lash out at each other and can't be good to each other because they feel so empty inside. Usually "Jack and Jill," being a child's rhyme, would refer to something happy and carefree, but using it here makes the irony standout and contrasts how happy the couple thinks they should be with how depressed they really are. 

Bridge

Midnight, we’re fading
'Till daylight, we’re jaded
We know that it’s over
In the morning, you'll be dancing with all the heartache
And the treason, the fantasies of leaving
But we know that, when it's over
In the morning, you'll be dancing with us
Oh, dancing with us, oh, dancing with us
Dancing with us, us
But what will we do when we're sober?

The party narrative continues in the bridge of "Sober." Lorde sings about "fading" at "[m]idnight" and claims to be "jaded" until "[d]aylight." The party high only lasts as long as her liqour, and then she's left feeling more cynical than before. That's when she knows "that it's over." 

Ironically, she comments that her boyfriend will "be dancing with all the heartache / And the treason . . . " "[i]n the morning." He'll try to forget the sadness and will keep dancing, almost automatically. They may have "fantasies of leaving," but Lorde suggests that these are the "treason" she mentioned a second before. It's so foreign a concept to try for something different that it feels to her like a betrayal of who she and her friends are. 

Despite all the jaded attitudes and desires for something better, she somberly observes that "we know that when it's over / In the morning, you'll be dancing with us." They'll go right back to what they were doing" almost as if they don't have a choice or don't give themselves one. 

Deeper Meaning of "Sober": Trapped in Depression?

I find the meaning of "Sober" very deep and very challenging. The song speaks of a personal battle for Lorde and her friends--one that I think we all struggle with. Oftentimes, it's too easy to get caught in a self-destructive loop of wanting something healthier but being afraid too strike out of one's comfort zone. I know I've felt this way and needed to challenge myself, and I also know that it can be hard--too hard for someone by him or herself sometimes. 

And admittedly Lorde doesn't give any easy solutions here. "Sober" (like several of her songs) focuses on exposing the problem and raising questions in her audience's minds. I get the idea from "Sober" that she wants us to look at our own lives and ask what figurative "parties" we've been going to that aren't healthy and that we need to break away from. 

But I think her message goes deeper than that even. I think she wants to find purpose beyond hedonism and a daily attempt to feel good and have fun. She wants to have a higher calling and more meaning in her life. It's a feeling that many humans have, and once a person finds it, life becomes a lot simpler, more organized, and easier to understand. It's interesting to me that pop star doesn't have this figured out yet, but we have to remember that pop stars are allowed to be human too.

And that's what "Sober" does so perfectly. It shows us Lorde's humanity by describing one of her most basic and difficult human struggles--a search for meaning.

10 Worst Lines in Katy Perry's Witness Album

10 Worst Lines in Katy Perry's Witness Album

What does "2U" by David Guetta ft. Justin Bieber mean?

What does "2U" by David Guetta ft. Justin Bieber mean?