On Lyrical Interpretation

  • On Lyrical Interpretation

    This meta was originally presented as a panel at Vividcon 2014 and subsequently written up on Kiki LJ. It is featured here by permission of the authors.


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  • Lyrical interpretation is not something new. Vidders have been doing it for years, but we aim to make the process a bit more transparent and outline it more fully for those who wish to analyze clip choices and narratives more closely, then apply it to their own vidding.

    Dissecting lyrical interpretation is making the brushstrokes visible. Picasso did not paint the world as he saw it. He painted it as he processed it in the same way that vidders do. Vidding is a lie that makes people see the truth. When working through a lyrical interpretation of a vidsong, aim to make choices that strengthens that truth you are trying to vid and let that drive the lyrical interpretations.

  • A to B

    Literal interpretation. What the lyrics are is what you get.

    This is Matrix Life
    Like a Boss
    Mama Said Knock You Out
    Black Dresses - The inclusion of the Black Dresses clip shows that you can use the simplest lyrical interpretation in a non-humorous manner and it will still work.
  • A to B before A

    Literal interpretation before the lyric. Gives an "aha" discovery when it is still literal with the restructure giving cleverness.

    Moves Like Jagger
    Boom Boom Pow
    Run Boy Run - The literal use of Catelyn "disappearing" into the trees to hide her emotion from the soldiers is elevated emotionally when later the same soldiers murder and hang prostitutes from the branches of those trees.
  • A to literal B out of music context

    The words of the song literally mean something different than how the song is using them in context with the visual source using the literal interpretation, typically love songs with violent visual source.

    Jar Oh! Hearts (deadlink)
    Applause - Within the song, the lyrics "put your hands up / make 'em touch" mean clapping/applause, while parts of the vid take it literally with a fist bump between two friends.
    (You Drive Me) Crazy
    Tightrope - Within the song "elevated" means elevated social status, while this clip takes it literally with Buffy pulling herself higher on a building with a negative onlooker.
    Intelligent Design - "Food for thought" typically means having a deep convo, but here it is used as Olivia Dunham's favorite sustenance: whiskey.
    They Want More - This extended clip is from the dinosaur's point of view with unexpected literal interpretations.
  • A to C

    Going to the next logical place after the literal one.

    Black Dresses - The focus of the vid is the leader of a family based criminal organization. Her sons mess up a lot and she punishes them harshly, either despite or because they are her sons.
    Skeleton Key - The "go home" as in you are dead and "arrival" as the birth of the character, Root.
    Past the Feeling - Most simply without context, the key is the apple.
    Cara Marie
    If A Machine - Human emotions coming out of robots in situations.
    Woman King - Alma is the woman king, Bullock is the sword, and Alma's father is the evil.
    Beautiful Struggle - It starts with Harry being pushed and his name in the goblet against his will, then shows a comparison of Cedrick embracing wizard celebrity to Harry not accepting it. (deadlink)
    Origin Stories - This clip has multiple A to C lyrical interpretations including the "memories of you," which could be taken as A to B without the source knowledge for the outside world and memories of you being Dana having the memories of previous slayers in her head.
    Sea Lion - Example of characters cast as objects with Sam as the stone and John as the chisel with Dean in the middle with the point of view.
    Marble House - Martha does so many things "for free" for the Doctor that she becomes like his own personal straw soldier; to be sent out and discarded at his whim.
    Follow the Cops Back Home - The lyrics speak of following the police home and robbing them. In the context of the vid, Altlivia crosses universes with our guys and, pretending to be Olivia, "robs" her house by having sex with Peter.
    At My House(s) - "Can't get in the door" is used on Nicki taking birth control, and followed by an A to B interpretation of Alby breaking into the house via awkward window climbing.
  • A as Evolution

    Same lyric taking on different interpretations as the vid progresses. jarrow refers to these as the "vids that betray your trust." They start out with one lyrical interpretation that evolves down a different path than the tone of the beginning suggested.

    Hot in Herre - We could include many of this vidder's vids, but this one I specifically used because of how the evolution of the vid is hinted at and builds with "breadcrumbs" left along the way.
    Young and Beautiful - Along with an evolution in the point of view, the lyrical interpretation also evolves into a larger scaled scheme.
    Nicole Anell
    Jolene - Jolene is first introduced as the woman that's taking Callie's man away from her in terms of a relationship, just as the song intended. But then the vid evolves and Jolene becomes the Cylons and then specifically the Final Four as they realize they are Cylons themselves.
    Stayin' Low! - The first chorus demonstrates Ripley's resolve to actively stay alive, while the second chorus shows the cost of that. Not only does she battle PTSD, but slowly, which each film she loses more and more of her humanity, until she is actually part alien herself.
    Remember the Name - Repeated lyrics don't have to evolve if they're satisfying enough.
  • A as Inside

    When context is needed from the source that a casual viewer would not glean from the source or that is forgotten or that requires the same reading of the source as the vidder. It can be done well, but there is always the case of going too far. Mostly it is being too in your own head for others to go with you and sometimes explaining it does not make them want to go down the rabbit hole with you.

    Everything is Wrong - An inside joke done well of Britta mispronouncing bagels as "baggles" because she lived in New York and would know.
    Fiddle and the Drum - This relies on viewer remembering that the SGA team created those messes in the clips themselves.
    Black Dove (January) - This takes woods and goes a few too many steps from woods to woods are made of trees and trees are used to make paper and paper is used to make books and books are kept in a library, then the viewer has to remember that city in the clip is a giant library.
    Run Boy Run - Dany's journey begins when she becomes Drogo's Khaleesi, whom she calls "shekh ma shieraki anni," which in Dothraki means "my sun and stars."
    Run Boy Run - Jaqen H'ghar has a habit of referring to himself as "man" in an odd third-person speech pattern sort of way. He is also a master assassin and Arya is going to be one soon. All things you need to know from book source/show watching.
    At My House(s) - Fundamental Mormonism requires lots and lots of babies, which the vidder expressed very well with the "more cowbell" lyrics. However you have to know that not all the wives are into having more babies (as witnessed in a clip earlier with Nicki taking birth control so no swimmers can get into her door).
    Mama Said Knock You Out - Cultural knowledge needed to know Muhammad Ali.
    Woman King - Historical knowledge needed to understand that it sucks to be a woman basically all the time and Alma and her daughter are stuck looking out of windows, watching.
  • A as Apples to Oranges

    Something that supports your concept (the thesis), but not directly tied to the lyrics.

    Your Honor - These lyrics repeat in the vid and in the other places I had A to C lyrical interpretations, but for the overall vid I needed this bit with the guns and Andy, but didn't tie directly with the lyrics in the same point of view.
    White Chalk - So much of this song worked for the source that I wouldn't let a lyric that made it seem like Ree and her father had an incestuous relationship stop me. THEY DON'T, OK. (They don't.)
  • A to Z

    Matching lyrics, not concept.

    kiki_miserychic My Dear Acquaintance (never released publicly) - This didn't match the concept of the overall vid, but it went with the lyrics and I thought it was cute.

  • A as Multiple Levels

    Lyrical interpretation holding more than one meaning shown in the visual source. Can be emotion as well as humorous, like all the categories.

    Parachute - Lyrics are used literally for A to B and A to C emotionally and sometimes at the same time.
    Blue - Blue used for humor for the color blue and the feeling of being blue.
    Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe? - On one level "love me" is used as the Russian spies/FBI agents get involved in various personal relationships. On another level, when the clip of the flags hits, its suddenly the countries asking these people to love them and fight for them. The love of country is the deepest love for these people.
    white chalk - "White chalk" is the Ozarks where Ree is born and all that Ree knows. It's the people who are born and bred this way, a product of the environment which is strife with one industry, that industry being the production of meth.
  • A to Opposite A

    Lyrically interpretation to the opposite for juxtaposition with the lyrics saying one thing while the visuals show something else.

    luminosity and kamil
    It's the End of the World as We Know It They are not fine.
    I Do Adore - That is not an adoring look.
    Last Train - The two Crichtons are absolutely identical.
    Memories Are Made of This - The flavor is the memories, which are erased, which is the opposite of stay.
    Blood Makes Noise - Putting "fear" on a kiss elevates the emotion even further.
  • Practical Application:

    If X is Y, then what else is true? Build your lyrical interpretations from there.

    Land - If Johnny is John Connor, what are the horses?
    Past the Feeling - If the POV is Regina, who is her daughter and who is her son?
    Hey Ho - It starts with Tony Stark as a kid being indoctrinated into the war to him serving the military industrial complex, even as Iron Man, along with Steve's Captain America buying in. The merchant kings is Stark Industries, but then it evolves into Marvel Comics itself with the children being indoctrinated by Tony Stark's Iron Man through marketing.
    Masters of War (Pegasus Rising Remix) - Continuing with Masters of War and X is Y, if bombs are bombs seen through Pegasus citizens, then the walls are shield technologies. "you play with my world" is A to B with John and Rodney playing a game that actually controls an entire planet, which works on more levels than is contained in an A to B lyrical interpretation. If all of that is true, then the mansion is Atlantis and they watch people die from the safety of a shield.
    A Charming Man - The lyrics in "A Charming Man" can be interpreted to be a group of criminals with the brains of the operation "cracking calculus," the cleaner that comes in to be the muscle, and the POV of "me" as the charming con man that sweet talks the cons. That framework is laid over the characters with the father being God.
  • In music everyone plays the same note. It's the same way everyone has the same lyrics of a song for vidding. For music it is all in how you play the note. For vidding it is how you interpret the lyrics. Eric Clapton playing an E is different from Santana playing an E is different from Karen O playing an E. It is how you tune your instrument to interpret the lyrics to make your sound.

    There are songs used multiple times in vids partly because they have lyrics that can be interpreted to fit storyline tropes, like Seamstress.

  • Blinding

    For instance Blinding can be used for a character that was purposely not told a secret, like Abigail in Hannibal, Morgana in Merlin, and even Lydia in Teen Wolf. The lyrics overlay completely with both characters in these vids with varied interpretations, like "kiss," "gentle word," "slumber" and the "you" being those who denied them the truth.

  • Matches to Paper Dolls

    Matches to Paper Dolls is a very popular choice for couples. The interpretations for the first set of lyrics are varied, yet they have commonalities. The lyrics themselves do not use "door," yet it is implied with locks and keys and it is interesting to see the interpretations of keys being A to B with a physical key, A to C in the form of gifts and mind control, A to opposite A with someone breaking in without a key.

    Matches to Paper Dolls
    Matches to Paper Dolls
    Matches to Paper Dolls
    Matches to Paperdolls
  • Symbolism transforms the experience into an idea and an idea into an image, so that the idea expressed through the image remains always active and unattainable and, even though expressed in all languages, remains inexpressible.


  • Metaphors and symbolism populate poetry and lyrics. If Juliet is the sun, it tells us a lot about Juliet because it gives us all the analogies that come with the sun. We recognize patterns and overlay them with the literal meaning. Goethe said "Symbolism transforms the experience into an idea and an idea into an image, so that the idea expressed through the image remains always active and unattainable and, even though expressed in all languages, remains inexpressible."

    I think of lyrical interpretation as reverse engineering. You do not have to start at the beginning. You can start with the lyrics that prompted you to make the vid and work your way out to make a web connected with metaphor and symbolism.