Continued from yesterday’s article…
Let’s get to it, shall we?
“You tell me that I’m crazy
Doing this alone
You don’t need to save me
Oh how I have grown
I am capable of everything you can’t see
But now I want to change”
I believe this section of the song not only kicks off the story that follows, but it specifically introduces us to the protagonist of the story, the “little boy”. I believe Grace is speaking as that character here who is saying that he isn’t crazy, that, despite his doubters, he can tackle this obstacle before him alone, he doesn’t need saving as he has grown strong, and that he is capable of things you are not be privy to. Grace, however, and as usual, then disregards what was just said with a familiar theme in the last line: “But now I want to change”.
I have discussed this in my last two Lyrical Grace analyses that Grace often begins her songs with a juxtaposition of a theme and imagery in order to jar the listener into a confused state, one in which one must now look for guidance and clarification. In other words, she’s establishing a relationship with the listener that puts her in charge of providing further information, forcing the listener to focus more intently on her words. Here she introduces into our mind’s eye an image of a proud person, confident, defiant and competent, but then sets up a paradox that pulls the rug out from under us, saying that the character for whom she’s given voice wants to change. I have argued that Grace has used this method of initiating a hypnotic-like trance in her listeners in songs like “Florets” and “A Better Life”, and while this one is a bit more subtle than Florets, it is still a powerful spell Grace has cast here not only with her lyrics, but in the way they are accompanied by the music.
“Just blow out the candles
Oh little boy when will you learn
You don’t play with fire, unless you want to get burned
Want to get burned
Just blow out the candles, oh how the tables they have turned
You don’t play with fire unless you want to get burned
You want to get burned
(Want to get burned Want to Want to get burned)”
It seems that Grace has now taken on the role of a third party narrator, and is describing how the protagonist, (the “little boy”) has gotten himself into more trouble than he bargained for, or can handle, despite his boasting in the opening verse. Grace instructs (again, taking on the role of hypnotist, providing instructions and suggestions as the song builds) to “blow out the candles” which implies two results: being left in darkness, or removing the catalyst that will cause a much larger fire where one will find oneself “Burned”.
Here comes the suggestion building on the allusion I just mentioned:
“You don’t play with fire, unless you want to get burned”
She follows it up with what is either a disturbing suggestion, or simply a repetition of the last portion of the previous line. We’re left to our own inner demons to determine which: “Want to get burned”
Before we can figure out what she meant, we’re already diving headlong into the next line propelled by a primitive insistent drum beat, the likes of which we had never before heard in a song from Grace…
“Just blow out the candles, oh, how the tables they have turned
You don’t play with fire unless you want to get burned”
Very nearly the same as the first line from the chorus, but now upping the stakes and adding a bit to the story by indicating the power the protagonist believed he had has proven to be the reverse, and that it isn’t he who is in control, but rather “the fire”.
She follows this up with more potentially disturbing suggestions…
“You want to get burned (Want to get burned Want to Want to get burned)”
Let’s just break for a moment. When Petra Viklund, Grace’s favourite reactor, recorded her reaction to this performance she suffered an anxiety attack and couldn’t quite figure out why. I believe it was the subconscious ideas Grace is implanting with the “You want to get burned” suggestions, accentuated by the relentless beat driving home the message, and in the case of the first two live performances of this song, the haunting undertones of a cello.
“Some things just sound crazy
Things you’ll never know
But there’s always that word maybe
That keeps stringing you along”
These lines provide the strongest evidence for those that argue this song is genuinely about conspiracy theories as Grace herself stated at her performance of this song at the free concert at Nanuet she gave last summer. To paraphrase the line: “Despite how crazy something sounds, as long as there exists a sliver of possibility that it could be true, these “crazy sounding things” will nag at your insecurities and fears, prodding you on to keep you thinking that you know something the rest of the world doesn’t, enough to lock you into the throes of ever more paranoid delusions and conspiracies”.
Grace follows that up again with…
“Mmm Cause I am capable of everything you can’t see
But now I want to change”
While the more obvious deduction that the above lines are indeed references to conspiracy theory believers, I can also, rather ironically, spin this as another example of convincing oneself of their own false sense of wisdom and self-control: “You might think it’s crazy that I feel I can use heroin only on social occasions, but really I can; you don’t know what I’m capable of…No, no, I don’t want to risk it, I know it’s not worth it, but maybe just one more time won’t hurt. Right?” Let’s try that again: “No, really, this is what the song means despite what Grace herself said…I know I should be more open minded, but maybe there’s something deeper going on here. Right?” 😉
“What is that, that I see
Floating right in front of me
Lock the doors, try to leave”
Grace keeps the narrative moving here, and follows it up with more paradoxical statements to inspire even more anxiety and confusion, and I believe Grace has taken on the voice of the protagonist again here in the pre-chorus leading up to the bridge.
The truth is floating right in front of the protagonist, but it is so alien that he can’t immediately accept it.
The next line is paradoxical, as is Grace’s standard operating procedure:
“Lock the doors, try to leave”
What? Why would you lock the doors if you’re trying to leave? Is she saying leave and lock the door behind so to better escape? Maybe, but even that is a paradox because of the order in which the ideas are presented. See what I’m getting at? There are layers of conflicting intent behind the lyrics. Grace is toying with our imaginations, and rather mercilessly. Petra could feel it as the song progressed, but she couldn’t stop focusing on the song, couldn’t help but be in awe of it even as it was tormenting her.
“But now it’s clear to me”
The revelation is coming…
“You didn’t blow out the candles
Oh little boy you never learned
You don’t play with fire but you’re already burned”
It’s too late, the lit candles representing curiosity/addiction, were never extinguished, and now the fire has spread, the protagonist is being consumed. What follows can only be described as taunting:
“You’re already burned
Blow out the candles, oh, little boy, you’ve never learned
You don’t play with fire, but you’re already burned, you’re already burned”
Grace wraps up the song with the warning/suggestion that the protagonist, and all of us, want to get burned, that we are all self destructive, and that we should blow out the candles in our lives that threaten to cause larger fires, but we won’t because it is our nature: we are born sinners. Dan Reynolds, lead singer and lyricist of Imagine Dragons wrote in their song “Demons” that we are all at birth “hell bound” and it is up to us to right our courses and not succumb to our own arrogance and realize that we must change in order to find salvation and freedom, and Grace is saying the same thing in her own more subtle manner.
“Want to get burned Want to Want to get burned
Want to get burned Want to Want to get burned
Want to get burned Want to Want to get burned”
So, my take on this song is that it’s another of Grace’s mesmeric exercises, one that tells a primal tale of not allowing one’s arrogance to lead us astray, and that we must recognize the fire that would otherwise burn us and turn from it.
Yes, my interpretation is that this is a song either very much based on religious beliefs, or more generally, about overcoming destructive addictive behaviour, though it’s also very possibly both and that it was was likely written for her brother Jakob.
“A Better Life” is also a song about overcoming addiction, though its nature is hopeful, accepting and helpful, whereas “Burned” is a song born of frustration as she watched helplessly while a loved one succumbed to their own self-destructive behaviour. Grace has not confirmed that interpretation, however, but I feel it is not an entirely unreasonable conclusion to draw.
As is the case with “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” the songs previously released by her co-writers, independently, in no way equal the depth of what is unfolding in the songs on which they have collaborated with Grace. My argument is that these lyrics are all Grace until she states otherwise.
This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XydnaaaaSnE&lc=Ugxq4qGtgr2Y4_nIV994AaABAg