Grace VanderWaal is 14, but her catalogue of songs that we so cherish was written between the ages of 11 and 13. Why am I bringing up her age again? It’s because of what I am about to proclaim.

Despite having written all of her songs before even entering high school, Grace VanderWaal may be one of the greatest writers of love songs we have ever known.

Thus far the love she writes about is familial, or about friends, but there is no rational denial possible that these songs are not deeply infused with love.

“Moonlight” is a song about the love of a friend who is undergoing a change, slipping into a dark place from which Grace feels her friend is about to break like a dropped glass doll on the floor, and how she so desperately misses the person her friend used to be.

“Miss You” is a love song about another friend who has grown apart from her, chosen a different path and Grace shares her pain at having been left aside, feeling inadequate and alone.

“Beautiful Thing”, is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, this time about her deep feelings and admiration for her older sister Olivia with whom Grace feels most complete and able to take on any challenge, no matter the obstacles before them.

And now we get to, for me, the most heartbreakingly beautiful love song of all of the above, “A Better Life”. I am not divulging anything here that Grace has not shared publicly on her tour, and broadcast over the internet in concert footage tens of thousands of times already. Grace wrote this song for her Brother, Jakob, who was going through a battle with drug addiction. That Grace at the age of 13 could tackle such a subject, and one so personal, so adeptly, sensitively, and with such projected empathy is astonishing.

Our introduction to this stunner of a song was of course at the magically perfectly imperfect Austin City Limits Music Festival where Grace debuted the majority of her upcoming album “Just The Beginning” to a crowd of up to 8,500 people sweltering under the hot Texas sun in the middle of a heatwave.

When Grace pulled a stool up to the microphone and began singing this song I literally felt my heat pounding, my jaw literally dropping, and I began to shake, because with this song she raised the bar even higher than I thought she was capable of setting it. My suspicion up until seconds before she sang it was that “Beautiful Thing” would be the pinnacle of her songs, that none could ever top it, but then she sang this.

Through her voice I could feel depth, worldliness, rawness, power, fragility, a wounded but hopeful soul, crying out for a particular person to whom she was singing “Close your eyes and create a better life”, meaning to simply will yourself into living a better life.

There probably has been no better, or more caringly put way to say that our destiny is often ours to choose if we simply make that conscious choice; we are our own worst enemies more often than not, but that we can choose to no longer seek self-destruction if only we can find the strength.

I am still in awe just thinking back on that moment when she sang that song so confidently and effortlessly, as though she had been performing at music festivals to thousands of people for decades, though this was her very first time having done it.

Jakob is very fortunate to have such a loving family and especially a baby sister who adores him so much to create such a magnificent work of art in his honour.

Unlike the majority of the songs on the album, “A Better Life” is solely Grace’s own; she is the only credited writer. Any praises I heap upon her shoulders for this song are duly deserved, on this there is no debate.

Let us now examine those lyrics, as usual, first in full and then a breakdown…

“Your eyes
They speak to me
But I don’t know, what they are saying
But I think I know you are thinking

So close your eyes
And create yourself a better life
Let the wind blow through your hair
Let the music take you there
And make a better life
Better life
mmm

You found a lighter
On the street
And suddenly everything just
Seems so happy
mmm
My honey it’s all temporary

Just close your eyes
And create yourself a better life
Let the wind blow through your hair
Let the music take you there
And make a better life
Life
A Better Life

Life
So close your eyes
And create yourself a better life
Let the wind blow through your hair
Let the music take you there
And make a better life
A better life
Maybe this time
Things will turn out right”

So simple and yet so profound and veiled in deep meaning.

Unlike a song like “Florets” that can be dissected one line at a time, “A Better Life” is more holistic and needs to be interpreted one thought/concept at a time, in this case the full verse needs to be inspected as a whole…

“Your eyes
They speak to me
But I don’t know, what they are saying
But I think I know you are thinking”

If you didn’t know this song was about overcoming drug addiction this would be a very confusing verse, but in light of it it’s painfully clear. Grace is staring into the eyes of her brother, but his eyes betray his thoughts, they are clouded by the drugs or desperate need thereof, but she knows what he is thinking: “Where can I get more/how do I escape my pain”.

“So close your eyes
And create yourself a better life
Let the wind blow through your hair
Let the music take you there
And make a better life
Better life”

Here is Grace taking on the role of elder sibling for her brother, offering him calming sage advice, and there’s more than a hint of the mesmerist we introduced to in “Florets” at play here… Close your eyes, calm down, choose something better for yourself, feel the wind blowing through your hair, let the music waft you away to a calm place, like the wind caressing and soothing you. She then reinforces the original suggestion to “Create yourself a better life”.

These next lines are staggering for such a young person to write, and the way she executed the lines is at once worldly, but delivered with an otherworldly (beyond her years) confidence and calm…

“You found a lighter
On the street
And suddenly everything just
Seems so happy
mmm
My honey it’s all temporary”

The “lighter” Grace is referring to is a slang term for “a hit”, usually referring to crack cocaine, but in this case she may have been generalizing. Regardless, this is an obvious reference to drugs. The next lines, delivered with a smile, not a patronizing one, but one of love as she reminds her brother “my honey, the supposed happiness you feel you can find through “the lighter” is only temporary” and then again reinforces her hypnotic suggestion to close his eyes and create a better life.

She then repeats the verses twice more to reinforce her suggestion and it takes on the tone of a lullaby, trying to soothe his reeling and desperate mind, and finishes with…

“Maybe this time
Things will turn out right”

Implying that this is not the first struggle, acknowledging his previous efforts, but planting the thought and hope that this time his decision will stick, that he won’t succumb to his baser desires and get his life back on track.

At no point in this song is Grace chiding him, lecturing him, accusing him. This song is about acceptance, love, understanding, but gently instructing him that there is a better way and that he can find that way within himself (“Just close your eyes and make yourself a better life”).

So simple and yet so meaningfully powerful.
Thank you, Grace, for sharing this very personal song with the world. I feel it has already helped so many people and will continue to in perpetuity.

This particular edition of the Lyrical Grace series was written to complement the 2nd in the series of montage videos the VanderVault is producing to introduce Grace to Imagine Dragons fans (aka “Firebreathers”) and to also introduce the songs of Imagine Dragons to FanderWaals who may not have yet had the time or inclination to look into them. We think this will be a treat for both.

This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XydnaaaaSnE&lc=UgwzhS3KX7jR0ykj8tJ4AaABAg