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 with questions or ideas!

What does "When I Grow Up" by NF mean?

What does "When I Grow Up" by NF mean?

“When I Grow Up” Lyrics Meaning

(The following blog post is a transcript created by Xalma of the below video.)

Today we're talking about NF’s brand new song and music video “When I Grow Up”; the song and the music video both are fantastic; and I can't wait to tell you guys more about them. So, based on just the title, you can probably already guess that NF is singing about what it’s going to be like when he grows up; but NF has already grown up, you say; what's going on with that?! Well, the song is written from the perspective of his younger self; it seems to be around the time that he was first trying to put out music, right after he recorded his debut mixtape “Moments”, which was the first thing that he put together, and actually he put it out under his full name, Nathan Feuerstein, before he started going by NF; and so he puts out that, and now he's singing about that from this perspective; and in the music video, we see a bunch of little kids in a nursery, and somebody off-camera asks them “What do you want to be when you grow up?”; one kid says she wants to be a ballet teacher, one wants to be a veterinarian, one a police officer; then we come over to little NF, and little baby NF says “when I grow up, I want to be a wapper”, and it's seriously very cute! It's obviously little NF, because we've got the dark hat, and the skinny jeans, with the holes in the knees, and it's just like somebody took NF and shrunk him down, and reverse him by about 20 years or something. Anyway, very cute, but it's a little bit of a precursor into what's coming in a music video. Throughout the music video, we see NF acting in three different positions; he raps while being a garbageman, he's throwing garbage in the trash, and like hanging off the back of the garbage truck, while he says what he has to say; then he is a custodian for a little bit, doing some cleaning; and then finally, he is in a fast-food restaurant drive-thru. Now, each of these don’t seem to be the right place to find a rapper; but it does seem like the right place to find somebody who maybe wants to be a rapper, someone who’s just trying to break into the industry, and they're just working a job while they do it. While he's working as a fast-food employee, he keeps asking his co-workers, through the lyrics and the music video “you want to hear my stuff?”; but every single time they say “No!”; and then he tricks them, saying “should I just throw it all away?”, and they say “No!”; then he goes like “ha! tricked you”; and it's kind of a funny little tongue-in-cheek moment; but then a customer gets mad at him, throws food at him, says that his burger is not good; so NF hops on his car, and starts throwing food back at the guy, his employer comes out, and starts chasing NF around; and that seems to be the end of the fast-food job; I’m not sure how autobiographically correct that is; but that would be an interesting origin story I guess. Anyway, NF is obviously very frustrated through all of these jobs, and none of these are where he wants to be, but it's what he does; unfortunately, the frustration is too strong for him to maintain those jobs for the right reasons; so, then we see him doing like an underground gig, and there's just two kids with completely blank expressions on their faces, looking at him; kind of referencing how hard it can be for an artist who’s starting up; and even just a hair before that, he's handing out little home printed CD copies of “Moments” to his friends in the car, and one friend even holds their hand up like “no, I don't want that, thanks though”; it's like all of these people just think that he should quit; they're just like “whatever, we don't care”; so, as he's jumping around in that little two-person concert, all of a sudden the camera cuts to one of his big concerts, and we're like “oh my gosh! it actually worked out, this is awesome”; there's a lot of energy, it's very exciting. And that's the main over-arch of the story; but then at the very end, as the music fades away, he goes into a back bathroom; and while he's doing the concert, he has like this black smile painted on his face, which seems to be a reference to something he's talked about before, the need to put on a smiley face for people, even when you don't feel like it; so, he goes into the bathroom after the concert, he's tired now, and he wipes the smile off of his face. Now, this could mean that he feels like there's too much pressure to be a certain person at the concert, and he wants to be more himself; or it could just be a reference to generally how he wants to be true to himself, and how he feels; which kind of goes along with the chorus of this song; and we can hear him rap saying,


When I grow up, I just want to pay my bills

Rappin' about the way I feel

I just want to make a couple mil'

Leave it to the fam in the will

I just want to sign a record deal

Maybe buy a house up in the hills

Might not be the best in my field, but I guarantee that I'ma die real

When I grow up

he's paying his bills, rapping about the way he feels, which is a nice interesting concept; and with that last line in particular “might not be the best in my field, but I guarantee I'ma die real”; gosh, I like that; he is going to be who he truly feels like he's meant to be. So, that's the chorus, and I think that really sums up the meaning of the lyrics; the two verses are going in a little bit deeper, they give some specifics about what this looks like, and I think that it's really really well done; it's truly worth listening to what he says through the lyrics themselves, but I'll highlight a couple of lines here for you,

Verse One

Yeah, when I grow up, you know what I wanna be?

Take a seat, let me tell you my ridiculous dreams

I wanna rap, yeah, I know it's hard to believe

And I can tell you're already thinkin' I will never succeed

so, he feels like he's had to deal with haters from the very beginning; not even haters, but just apathetic people, who don’t believe in him whatsoever, and are like “oh yeah?! we don’t care”

I know this prolly isn't really realistic

And honestly, I might not ever make a difference

But that don't make a difference, I'ma have to risk it

I've been crunchin' numbers, you ain't gotta be a mathematician

To see the odds ain't rootin' for me

I can't lie though, it's kinda how I like it to be

The underdog, yeah, you prolly think you know what I mean

so, he's talking a little bit about wanting to do some good for the world through this; and he talks about how he likes being an underdog, and he wants to push through something that's difficult, he's looking for a challenge; so, the fact that other people don't think he can make it doesn't really matter to him apparently, even though he still remembers what they had to say back then.

This is the part that probably was the most painful for some of us to hear,

I could go to college, get in debt like everybody else

Graduate and prolly get a job that doesn't pay the bills

Ouch! ouch! wow; yeah, a lot of college degrees don't pay the bills, depends on what college degree you get, and kind of how things fall out afterwards, but even still, yeah; he's basically saying “you guys think that you've got it made going this way? well, your way isn't perfect either; so, I might as well try to be a rapper; the odds are against me here too, just like they might be against you”.

Verse Two

I just feel like no one really gets me and it's sad to see

'Cause someday I'ma grow up and show all of you it's meant to be (Yeah)

Anybody wanna hear me rap? "No"

C'mon, let me play a couple tracks, "No"

C'mon, I can spit it really fast, "No"

You think I should throw this in the trash? "No"

Tricked ya—haters, go away before I hit ya

I am not a beggar or a kiss-up

You don't understand? Well, I forgive ya

I am not a quitter

You ain't really think that, did ya?

This is the part that plays when he was working in the fast-food restaurant,

Maybe someday I could even be up on the radio

Have a tour bus and maybe even play a couple shows

Everybody in the crowd singing every word I wrote

Tellin' me that I am not the only one that feels alone

Huh? You feel alone?

Yeah, I kinda feel alone

Wonder if that feelin' ever goes away when you get old

Will I ever make it as an artist? I don't really know

Might not make a lot of dough

I'ma have to try it though

he talks a little bit more about what this future might look like; he says he dreams of having a tour bus, hearing his songs on the radio, maybe even doing a couple of shows, and just overall, being real rapping; he’s a little scared that he won’t make it, but it’s what he feels right, so he’s going to do it.

I don't know, it's a really cool perspective to hear from younger NF, to have him go back and dig into who he was; and I think that the imagery of him in the little concert with just the two kids is very very funny, but maybe the most important imagery, is him wiping the black smile off at the end; which I think really says a lot.

So those are my thoughts on “When I Grow Up” by NF; I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about this as well. Don't forget to check out these explanations of NF as well, because he's got some really great stuff, it's deep, it's worth diving into;

and if you haven’t listened to the song, or if you haven’t watched the music video, you can do so by clicking on the link down below.

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