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I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "High Hopes" by Panic! at the Disco mean?

What does "High Hopes" by Panic! at the Disco mean?

“High Hopes” Lyrics Meaning

When “High Hopes” released today, Brendon Urie tweeted, “I spent too long not setting my expectations high enough, worried about how it felt to fail. I hit a point when I realized I had to aim high and fail, fail, fail in order to keep growing. This one is for all of you who helped me go for it all. I thank you.” Urie didn’t say indicate that his words had specifically to do with “High Hopes,” but this was the emotion he chose to share with his fans upon the song’s release, and that emotion certainly fits with the lyrics meaning.

“Always had high, high hopes” 

The lyrics of “High Hopes” are a reflection on the journey from failure to accomplishing one’s dreams. Urie’s narrator has reached what he had aimed for in life, and now he is looking backward at the struggle his life used to be and how he made it to where he is now. However, the lyrics don’t tell us where exactly the narrator has come. And that’s because the meaning of the song has less to do with the destination than it does with how one gets there. “High Hopes” tells a story about succeeding in the labor to achieve one’s dreams.

Chorus

Had to have high, high hopes for a living

Shooting for the stars when I couldn’t make a killing

Didn’t have a dime, but I always had a vision

Always had high, high hopes

Had to have high, high hopes for a living

Didn’t know how but I always had a feeling

I was gonna be that one in a million

Always had high, high hopes

The central theme of the song is hope, so naturally that is the focus of the chorus. Urie was struggling “for a living,” so he “had to have high, high hopes.” Hope was necessary because his situation was bleak. He was “shooting for the stars” even though he “didn’t have a dime.” He was broke, but he “always had a vision,” so he always maintained high hopes.

He emphasizes the significance of his dreams by doubling the word “high.” It wouldn’t be enough to just make life a little easier, he longed to accomplish hopes that are far beyond the circumstances that he was living in. And even though he “didn’t know how” he was going to succeed, he says, “always had a feeling / I was gonna be that one in a million.” This almost sounds conceited at first, but he isn’t saying he wants to be better than everyone else. He simply wants to have the kind of uniqueness that comes from the hard work of following through on a dream.

By starting the song with the chorus, Urie reveals upfront that the key ingredient to his journey was hope. And he defines hope by pointing out how he clung to his future goals. He “always had a vision,” he “always had a feeling” and he “always had high, high hopes.” Urie sees hope as endurance, as clinging to his dreams despite having nothing.

Verse 1

Mama said

Fulfill the prophecy

Be something greater

Go make a legacy

Manifest destiny

Back in the days

We wanted everything, wanted everything

Urie starts each verse with the phrase “Mama said,” connecting his hope to the advice of a mentor figure. She sees him as prophesied to be succeed in amazing ways, so she encourages him, “fulfill the prophecy” to “be something greater / go make a legacy / manifest destiny.” These are the elements of a high calling. He is to rise above, to become someone remembered, and that’s all destined to happen as far as she is concerned.

Some of us might counter that destiny really doesn’t have a say in who we become, that our accomplishments are the results of our choices, but Urie seems to be saying here that he made his own destiny. He had dreams, he was encouraged to make those dreams manifest, and so he did.

Verse 2

Mama said

Burn your biographies

Rewrite your histories

Light up your wildest dreams

Museum victories, everyday

We wanted everything, wanted everything

In verse two his mother tells him, “burn your biographies.” Biographies, as opposed to autobiography, are the life-stories told about us by someone else. So she charges him to refuse what others have told him he is supposed to be. Instead, she says, “rewrite your histories / light up your wildest dreams.” He is in charge of his choices, and it is up to him to bring his goals out of the darkness of imagination and into the light of reality. By building his choices toward his future dreams, he will eventually build a metaphorical museum of all the daily successes he has achieved on his journey.

Pre-Chorus

Mama said don’t give up, it’s a little complicated

All tied up, no more love and I’d hate to see you waiting

The pre-chorus acknowledges the reality of the challenges that he is facing. The struggle is genuinely “a little complicated,” and he is “all tied up” with “no more love.” But despite this the encouragement is “don’t give up.” His mother empathizes with how difficult his life really is, but she says, “I’d hate to see you waiting,” because she doesn’t want him to accept the negatives as the best life he’ll have.

Verse 3

Mama said

It’s uphill for oddities

The stranger crusaders

Ain’t ever wannabes

The weird and the novelties

Don’t ever change

We wanted everything, wanted everything

In verse three she continues that life is “uphill for oddities.” Unique people have a laborious climb to get to their goals. But “the stranger crusaders / aint ever wannabes.” In context, a wannabe for Urie is probably someone who wants, but never achieves. So the unique are truly unique because they crusade—they strive up the hill. His mother’s final encouragement is that “the weird and the novelties / Don’t ever change.” The unique will always be unique, so she wants him to accept himself and never try to become someone that he isn’t.

By ending each verse with the line “we wanted everything,” Urie ties back into his chorus theme of high hopes. “We” could perhaps refer to him and his mother or the collective of the unique individuals who manifest their dreams. Either way it echoes the necessity to hold on to one’s desires.

Bridge

Stay up on that rise

Stay up on that rise and never come down

Stay up on that rise

Stay up on that rise and never come down

Urie goes straight into the bridge from verse three, and the transition is very natural because he continues his theme from the last verse right into the repetitive idea of the bridge. Just as he mentioned the “uphill” climb, his bridge is an imperative to “stay up on that rise and never come down.” By repeating these lines a few times, the bridge draws sharp attention to the endurance necessary to moving forward toward one’s hopes.

Pre-Chorus 2

They say it’s all been done but they haven’t seen the best of me

So I got one more run and it’s gonna be a sight to see

The second pre-chorus is the last stanza before Urie closes the song with a final chorus. These lines develop the thought that was alluded to by earlier biographies line. Urie rejects the roles given to him by others because, even though “they say it’s all been done,” he knows that “they haven’t seen the best of me.” These words are especially powerful as the final point in the song because they show that Urie is still looking to his future. He may have been reflecting on where he has come to and how many of his dreams he has already fulfilled, but he still isn’t finished. He has “one more run and it’s gonna be a sight to see.” That’s good news for us P!atD fans!

Deeper Meaning of “High Hopes” by Panic! at the Disco

“High Hopes” tells us that it’s okay to have high hopes for our future, and even that we should set high hopes for ourselves because we can succeed in accomplishing our dreams. Taking his tweet into consideration as well, we can add that it’s also okay to fail. We need to make a lot of mistakes on the road to our passions, and yet not let that deter us from the journey because, according to Brendon Urie, we are capable of incredible achievement if we aim for it and never waver.

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