Grace’s golden buzzer audition immediately catapulted her into the live shows. After breezing through the quarter and semifinals with “Beautiful Thing” and “Light the Sky” she was the odds-on favorite to win the AGT crown. It was Grace’s finals performance of her original “Clay” that cemented her victory and solidified our understanding of this once-in-a-lifetime generational talent. It was abundantly clear that this was no ordinary singer-songwriter. Her lyrics, melodies and singing are all spellbinding. “Clay” is no exception and is the quintessential Grace Vanderwaal song. It is without a doubt the most relatable song in her arsenal and people of all ages are touched by its central theme of bullying. It is such a personal song but at the same time so inclusive, as if written specifically for you. Like all of her songs there is also an underlying message of strength and perseverance. Here it is; the breakdown follows…

Clay

You see a girl in the hallway
And then you whisper to your friend
Who is she anyway
You forgot what she looks like in like a day
But your words don’t hurt me
I will be okay

Cause you don’t hurt me
I won’t mold to

Your silly words
I won’t live in such a world
Cause your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
And they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me
I’m not clay

You see that girl in the hallway
Smile on her face as she walks away
Trying to tear her down was your first mistake
Cause little do you know she wasn’t built to break

Cause you don’t hurt me
I won’t mold to

Your silly words
I won’t live inside your world
Cause your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me

Try to change my shape
But baby I’m not clay
Sorry not today
Cause baby I’m not

Try to change my shape
But baby I’m not clay
Sorry not today
Cause baby I’m not clay

Your silly words
I won’t live in such a world
Cause your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me

I’m not clay

Wow. Yeah, 12 years old when she wrote that song. It seems evident that Grace herself was the victim of some kind of bullying. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she wrote this song to shed light on the subject; educate the would-be bullies about the implications of their actions and let victims know they aren’t alone. It’s a brilliant way of dealing with pain and at the same time sharing those emotions with anyone else feeling the same way and lend them her strength. Grace sets up the basic scenario for us in the first line.

“You see a girl in the hallway”

She’s already included us with the very first word ‘You’. We are in this together with the ‘Girl’ in the hallway. We still don’t know who the girl is, but the setting is a familiar one and we are a little nervous in anticipation of the perils within the hallway.

“And then you whisper to your friend
Who is she anyway”

It’s not just you and the girl, you are with your friend and talking about the girl. This further enhances the sombre mood since it’s now two against one and the whispers are meant to be hurtful. The tone is also dismissive of the girl, like she doesn’t matter and is not important enough to even know her name. Now you realize that you and your friend are acting like the bullies here. Classic Grace, we can identify not only with the target of bullying (the girl) but with the bullies too. Even if you were never the subject of either side, you’ve most certainly witnessed this scenario play out.

“You forgot what she looks like in like a day”

Once again being very dismissive of the girl and she’s not worth remembering, but now we get the sense that this has been going on for quite some time, day after day.

“But your words don’t hurt me
I will be okay”

Now we know who the girl is, it’s Grace. She claims that the words don’t hurt her, but she’s lying. They do hurt, but she’s strong enough to deny them the satisfaction of her pain. We know this because she’s not okay yet, but she will be.

“Cause you don’t hurt me
I won’t mold to”

The statement further reinforces the fact that ‘you’ won’t be able to bully her. By this time, you’ve accepted the bully ‘You’ is meant to be ‘the’ specific bullies she is referring to and you begin to feel for her and take her side. She also introduces a unique concept for taking shape to something by using the word ‘mold’.

“Your silly words”

Bet you never thought of words being able to ‘mold’ you? Such amazing and clever usage here and she won’t get bent out of shape because of all those nasty things said about her.

“I won’t live in such a world
Cause your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
And they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me
I’m not clay”

Grace not only refuses to get bullied, she won’t accept a world in which bullying exists. All of the efforts made to bully her are not going to work. Not only because she doesn’t exist in that world, so it can’t affect her, but she refuses to let it affect her in any way. This show of strength would almost certainly cause the bullies to move on and find an easier target or better yet, they realize the harm they’ve done and reconsidered their actions. She completes her message by simply saying she’s not clay. It leaves you speechless for the stunning image left behind.

“You see that girl in the hallway”

Once again, we are back in the hallway but she is no longer ‘a’ girl, but ‘that’ girl. Now she is something more and is identifiable and unique. Now there’s something different about her.

“Smile on her face as she walks away”

Aha, her smile is the ultimate affirmation that the bullying is not working. There is no need for confrontation and she ignores’ the would-be harassment by steering clear.

“Trying to tear her down was your first mistake
Cause little do you know she wasn’t built to break”

Here the use of ‘her’ instead of ‘me’ in the first line and ‘she’ instead of ‘I’ in the second line, switches the focus again so that it could be almost anyone. It’s a brilliant twist in making the focus of the story someone other than Grace. This time it could be you who is the strong one and bullies shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to tear you down because you won’t break either.

“Cause you don’t hurt me
I won’t mold to”

The sudden transition back to Grace as the focus just prior to the chorus.

“Your silly words
I won’t live inside your world
Cause your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me”

Second time through the chorus, with a little more urgency and conviction.

“Try to change my shape
But baby I’m not clay”

Leaving out the word ‘You’ before the ‘Try’ expands the scope of the declaration. She is not identifying only the bullies who would try and change her but anyone who dares to try and change her. Grace likes who she is and will not change for anybody. Her unique fashion sense and personality are not going to be shaped by others. I love the use of clay as a metaphor for changing shapes (style, personality). We know that Grace’s sister Olivia is into Art, so perhaps she also works with clay? Grace could have been inspired by the transitional states of clay and its ability to take on any form molded by the artists hands. Grace uniquely uses the word clay not only for changing in physical terms, but emotional and mental as well.

“Sorry not today
Cause baby I’m not”

Even in her outright refusal she is apologetic ‘Sorry’, albeit tinged with sarcasm as she continues to fight back. Her last statement leaves us wondering, she’s not (what?) The reader feels that it’s incomplete and assumes she’s not ‘clay’ as the previous sentence suggested. However, it could also be a complete and definitive ‘I’m not’ sorry about being strong today so deal with it. Yeah, she’s that good and there’s always more depth than you first realize.

“Try to change my shape
But baby I’m not clay
Sorry not today
Cause baby I’m not clay”

Same verse a second time through but this time she doesn’t leave us hanging and we know she’s not ‘clay’. Once again, it’s a stunning metaphor, and the word ‘Clay’ is sung with superb emphasis and a soaring note. We recognize clay as being malleable and lacking strength or easily changed and shaped which she most definitely is not.

“Your silly words
I won’t live in such a world
Cause your punches and your names
All your jokes and stupid games
They don’t work
No they don’t hurt
Watch them just go right through me
Because they mean nothing to me”

Third time through the chorus now and sung with even more pace and dynamic range. The feelings of doubt and fear are gone and now we only feel strength and resolve.

“I’m not clay“

The last line leaves us with a final triumphant image. Three little words that sum up the song perfectly and provide so much imagery and power. She’s not clay, she will not be molded and made to change so easily by verbal and/or physical abuse. The depth of Grace’s lyrics is truly astonishing. “Clay” is a heartfelt personal story of bullying and touches people on an emotional level. It is beautifully written and easily relatable with an underlying theme of strength that to me is the essence of Grace.

This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Yfl9ID8F0g&lc=Ugw7KBsX5mjjWyIZCDl4AaABAg