Begin the fight for meaningClifford Stumme

If you’re like most of my readers, you really like pop music and you found my blog because you searched something like “twenty one pilots heathens song meaning” or “Starboy The Weeknd lyrics meaning.” The key word in either case is “meaning.”

Critics of popular music complain that pop keeps getting more and more meaningless. But since 2007, searches for “song meaning” have increased by 200%; people are hungrier than ever for their music to mean something.

But things keep you from being able to find that meaning:

  • Symbolism
  • Lack of information on artists
  • Seeming pointlessness of a song
  • Allusions to things you’ve never heard of
  • Metaphors
  • Vague words
  • Poor pronunciation

These are just a few of the problems you may have found as you’ve tried to understand lyrics yourself. But the hardest obstacle of all is that you just haven’t talked to the artist or gotten the chance to ask him or her what they meant.

I’ve had a hard time learning how to appreciate and understand musicAnother Puget Sound Selfie, WA - Clifford Stumme

For a long time, I didn’t even listen to music. At 12 years old, I thought that most pop songs were evil and that listening to a song with dirty lyrics was a cardinal sin.

Then I got hooked on a few old Newsboys and DC Talk CD’s and slowly made my way to 80’s rock. From there, I experimented with European dance pop, singer/songwriter, and reggae, and ended up listening to the local top 40 station. I diversified my music interests in all directions, keeping focus on the lyrics and their meanings as I listened while allowing myself to enjoy the fun rhythms and groovy beats.

Something’s up…

Before long, I started noticing that the artists were saying things that we had to take seriously and had to make sense of. They were telling us to do things and had reasons for doing so that they didn’t always mention. Some of them told us to party, others to have sex, others to love our families, and still others to make peace with those we fought with.

I decided it was important to me to understand the music because so many other people were listening to the same songs and having the same philosophies of life delivered to them from pop music’s microphone.

As I listened, I realized that there’s a difference between passive and active listening. Passive listening occurs when we just let lyrics into our minds without thinking about them. Active listening occurs when we study lyrics and evaluate their philosophies and ideas.

Around this time, I was getting my master’s degree in literature. After I graduated, I started CliffordStumme.com as a place to search for beauty in unlikely places and soon found that beauty in the discovery of philosophies and ideas in pop music.

The goal for this blog

Now, I try to use my education to explain to others what songs mean and how they can understand those songs too. I apply line-by-line literary analysis to pop songs that usually get ignored by the academic elite but that are listened to by millions of others.

My Notes on Mumford and Sons's

I want to spread meaning and meaning awareness for music listeners and get people excited about finding ideas and interacting with them wherever they find them.

Subscribe to Song Meaning Pro and join my song explanation team

Song Meaning Pro is my free 7  day educational email course designed to help you be a better song analyzer. When you sign up for that, we can work together to analyze song lyrics and decipher the deeper meanings. You can check it out and when you sign up, you’ll also become part of my song explanation team and get a weekly email asking for help explaining song lyrics and telling you what I’ve explained recently.

If you want more song meaning help, you can also check out my explained songs, my podcast, or my YouTube channel where I explain songs. In fact, I’d highly recommend the YouTube channel. We have a great song meaning community growing there, and there are so many good discussions in the comments!

Thanks again for visiting and feel free to contact me via email, Facebook, or Instagram. I love to chat about song meanings and life and to grow community and relationships.

~Clifford Stumme (AKA The Pop Song Professor)

  • Liam Starrs

    Hey! I’m brand new to your website, but I think its awesome! I just wanted to say thanks for making it. I’m mainly here because of Twenty One Pilots. I love all your song meaning posts on them and how you interpret their beautiful artwork. I just wanted to thank you for putting the time into your work and help me understand what Tyler Joseph is trying to tell all of us through his songs. I’m actually Christian too and I’ve always known that most of his songs were about his relationship with God, but you’ve helped me understand it a lot better, anyways… sorry for the long comment. Stay Alive l-/

    • Liam, that’s super kind of you. Thanks for taking the time to say, “Hi,” and thanks for reading! Be sure to shoot me a message every once in a while.

  • Michael Adamczyk

    For a long time now…I have known these pop lyrics like chain smokers…and one call away…have been about my life and situations…I thought I was going nuts…but every song has meaning for me…I had a awaking a few years back..and since then I see and hear both good and evil things…I am Michael “who is like god”? Jeremiah 33:3 call on me and will show you great and wonderuos things… May god bless us all

  • josh

    wow, um, literally everything that liam said is my thoughts. I was thinking of leaving a comment because of how awesome everything that you explained was and how amazing everybody’s comments were. It’s great that I found a place where I could think about the meaning in music (mostly TOP) and have others ideas influence me as well. Not only that but have it come from a christian perspective as well! you’ll definitely have me hanging around your website a whole lot more!

    • Well, thanks, Josh. I’m glad you made it. Message me on FB if you ever want to chat.

  • Sarah

    Hey! I’m also new on this website and I’m here because someone sent me here from a Twenty One Pilots video. I never really bothered to really listen to the lyrics of the songs I liked, I like to think it’s mainly because I’m from Germany and I literally never understood a word the artists were saying. (I also apologize for the mistakes I’m definitely going to make in this comment) Now that my English is good enough to understand the lyrics, many of them didn’t make much sense to me. Sure, those pop songs about love, heartbreak and stuff weren’t that difficult for me, but when it came to Twenty One Pilots, I was pretty much clueless.
    The first time I really questioned the meaning of a song was when I first saw the music video to car radio by Twenty One Pilots I think. I just didn’t understand what he was trying to say, but after I found an explanation, it made so much sense! I can’t believe I was missing out on so much in these songs before I found out about their meaning. So, thank you so much for helping me to understand lyrics a little (or a lot) better 🙂

    • Sarah, it’s no problem at all! I love doing this, and I’m glad I could help. Also, your English is amazing. I teach English classes in the USA, and you’re better than many of my students, so way to go!

  • Jack Folsom

    Can you do a song explaination for The Wreak of The Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot?

  • fallaway dtg

    Clifford. I like what you have here, it really cool. One thing, I don’t get the concept of telling others what an unknown artist (personally know them) meant when writing a song or video. You would not know that information, to speak on there behalf could be dangerous. I would think. I don’t think that is your intentions, but I have read the comments thanking you, for your explanation and know they can finally understand what they meant. I feel making it more clear that you analyze a song and this is what it meant to you. From your educational, religious, colleagues or what ever tools used to help you come up with an opinion.

    I’m also here because of twenty on pilots and be able to discus my take on there stuff with a more mature group. I hope you draw more into your site to discus twenty one pilots songs. I love hearing other talk about what a song meant to them.

    I read a lot of comments here and Dang! I wish I could express myself that way. I enjoy written and learning. Thanks and keep it up. I-/

    • Thanks, fd. I hear what you’re saying, and I respect that. The reason I claim to figure out what the artist meant by song is that I listen to the song and listen to what the artist is saying. Sometimes they’re clear and sometimes they’re ambiguous, which I usually acknowledge.

      You’re coming from a fairly recent and still developing form of literary criticism that suggests that the intent isn’t fully knowable. I believe that it’s not fully and completely knowable either but that we can at least get the main gist of a song just because we have to try to hear what the author is saying–that’s where my focus is. Besides, people aren’t Googling “Heathens meaning” or whatever the case may be because they want my perspective. They want to hear as best as we can know the meaning intended by the artist, especially since if they just wanted a personal meaning, they could just stick with their own.

      I love hearing what a song means to other people, and I highly advocate also celebrating your own meaning (if it’s a good one that makes you a better person), but why not have two good meanings? I think mine are usually well supported by the text, and I try to carefully prove what I write.

      I’d love to hear your response to this if you have time since it’s an interesting discussion that I’ve touched on a few times before. Thanks for mentioning this.


  • rainer schiebenhoefer

    Clifford, nice to meet you virtually!

    Your website means something, congrats.
    You helped me analysing twenty one pilots songs, so far most fascinating “heathens” song, then also “house of gold”. Thank you!

    My name is Rainer Schiebenhöfer (from Germany) and I am 47 years old and I have three wonderful kids (5, 14, 19) and I like to let them join us also listening to the poems provided with pop songs (or however some one would “genre-lize” them), not only consuming, even – as you say – “10: […] Music is also an emotional experience […] can be even more powerful”. So think deep, but do not get drawned by that ;-), I hope you understand what I mean, just let it flow for you if it comes. Think, speak and act always with good intension and intrinsic will, if you once fail, at least forget about to act, otherwise you might have a bigger problem with yourself while regretting later, sometimes even keep these thoughts for you (do not speak about them) not to spin a negative circle even more un-constuctively. Last is especially important in social media where too many people today may misuse anonymity, non-goals and “no-sayer” behaviour without constructive contributions. In the net, you can find nearly any opinion about everything – you might feel youself being confirmed too fast, “blinker-view tragedy”, self-blindness: Twenty one pilots seems to recognize, to know that. The hope to let the net solve big problems for mankind is possibly a misbelieve, it is rahter not only good, nor only bad. The net is just another tool, complex tool, accelerating.

    If there is no “together”, at least forget about the “war”, just leave it “aside”, draw a border (with a door for new adjusted compromises later, cause many things change over time).

    With reagrds to failure single (wo)man should typically get a second chance, mankind will not get that one. Hard stuff for our children, they have to rebell and convince the world – not only their parents – to survive.

    How to do that? Twenty one pilots will probably tell us in the near future, not as the first, but probably second. They are becoming adults (as all of us until the very end) and let us watch and join them constantly, openly (but symbolized, poem’ed not to loose the very last chance to hide and protect themselves, completly ok). I do not know if this will ever help mankind, but I hope so. At least they will help to be open, critical, constructive, protect, I am convinced. It also depends on the listener of course 😉

    “Heathens” is really deep and convinced me to take a closer look at those 2x28ers, after appealing and a bit skew and rebellious “stressed out”, being launsched in Germany.

    Those guys magaged to come out with a brighter and deeper understanding of their own (and groupthink) than me with 28, impressing.

    And they took the hard way as an artist. Nearly everyday falling back on himself/herself…, unprotected in a way. Brave guys searching, facing and accepting the audience criticism.

    I feel about them to be very open and self-critical fighting with their own narzicism when watching their way of song writing (and performing), they take the fast way of self-identification, they accept failure for them-selves and others, so they link groups like heathens and christians, they like to build bridges litrarely.

    I would like to get to know them better, maybe not as a skeleton crew group member – I hope I am one in my own way already ;-), I stand in for myself and for others if they need help or ask me for that. Of course also I need support. Live happens in phases and a rich live means living through all these and than you are becoming an character finally.

    Help mankind and start with yourself.

    Tylor and Josh already see a lot of these dichotomies and antagonisms in live and try to resolve or accept them one way or the other – very suspicious about what they will do next 🙂

    I definitly like their way playing music, I like the piano, the synthesizer, the drums and I like their video art. I like to dance to their musik, I like this voice and reagae influence, mixed genres.

    All this was the opener for me to put the last three albums on my favorite list, I don not stop hering them… crazy thing… my kids are infected as well and twenty one pilots will get more and more famous… so, no fear for the mother anymore 😉

    It will be gorgeous when I will go to meet them at the next live concert in Germany!!!

    Thank you so far, sincerely,

    • I know this is a late response, but just wanted to say that I appreciated your comment and am super happy to make your acquaintance! Thank you for setting a good example to us younger people of how to critically think about things that are new to us. All the best!

  • Chintan Upadhyay

    You are doing great work… Keep doing it… Just to know that indian people are also reading what you are doing…..

  • Nitin George

    Like the previous comment, I’m from India as well. And I stumbled upon the song meanings you had posted for ToP to see if they had Christian undertones. I was pleased to find that someone thought in the same wavelength as me. I wanted to see an outsider’s view to these lyrics. Top work! Just Wanted to know if you are a believer too?