SONG MEANING: “Million Years Ago” is about longing after lost childhood and innocence–wanting to be able to go back from where you came.
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“Million Years Ago” is a spare, lean song. The instrumentation is minimal, and Adele’s voice is incredibly powerful. In an interview with Hattie Collins, she explains that it went on “at the last minute” and that it’s “very stripped-back . . . just me on the guitar.” The sparse musicality gives Adele’s voice plenty of opportunity to do what it does best–wring ever tear and spare piece of emotion out of any listener who gets too close.
Adele explains in an interview with iHeart Radio that the song “came about after she drove by a park that she used to go to with her friends when they were younger. She said, during the drive, she burst out into tears because it made her miss her friends . . .” “Million Years Ago” is about simpler times and how much Adele misses them.
I’ve added “Million Years Ago” and several other recent hits to my Spotify playlist “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative.” Feel free to follow the playlist! (If Adele’s song isn’t there yet, she hasn’t released it on Spotify yet. Thanks for your patience!)
The meaning of “Million Years Ago”
Sometimes people say that childhood or “the good old days” were a “million years ago,” and that idea that “good times” seem so far away and so long gone is the same idea that Adele is trying to tap into in “Million Years Ago.” She wants her listeners to feel the same sad nostalgia that she feels for her past.
In the First Verse, she sings, “I only wanted to have fun / Learning to fly, learning to run.” When she was a child, she lived for the moment, full of imagination and energy. She used to let her “heart decide the way” and to not have to make difficult decisions based on logic.
But unfortunately that life cannot last for anyone. We must all grow up. She explains that this shouldn’t have been a surprise for her: “When I was young / Deep down I must have always know / That this would be inevitable / To earn my stripes I’d have to pay / And bare my soul.” Since being a child, for her to succeed, she’s had to sing about her pain and difficulties to make her living. Childhood was innocent and full of fun. Adulthood is difficult.
The Chorus is even sadder. She sings, “I know I’m not the only one / Who regrets the things they’ve done.” She recognizes that becoming an adult means dealing with guilt and shame for misdeeds and mistakes. She also complains that she feels like she’s the only one “[w]ho can’t stand the reflection that they see.” Others seem to be dealing with their guilt well enough, but Adele thinks she feels it heavier than they do.
She just want to “live a little more” and to be able to “[l]ook up to the sky, not just the floor.” She wants to be able to dream again like she could when she was little. But instead, life keeps “flashing by” and all she can “do is watch and cry.” She feels powerless to stop it.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Adele explains, “I’m never going to be on my own again. I’m a mom and I’m in a very serious relationship, so it’s never going to be just me again. I don’t regret any of it. Like, those aren’t the things that I regret. But I feel like I didn’t have very long to myself. I was my mom’s kid, and now I’m a mom. I had, like, a five-year window of just being me.” While she doesn’t regret motherhood, it does make her feel strongly how quickly life is going.
She wants to be able to stop everything and go outside and play again–for it to be natural to do so again. She misses “the air,” her “friends,” her “mother, and “when / Life was a party to be thrown.” She wants childhood and all the wonder that came with it, but, as she reminds herself at the end of the chorus, “that was a million years ago.”
In Verse 2, she revisits a childhood place, and it does little for her: “When I walk around all of the streets / Where I grew up and found my feet.” In a beautiful poetic description, she walks around where she learned to walk. But the people there “can’t look me in the eye / It’s like they’re scared of me.” I’m not sure why they feel this way about her, but it may be because, as one Genius.com user suggests, “Fame has a way of alienating individuals.” Because Adele’s famous, her childhood home isn’t sure what to do with her anymore.
To get to talk to those people she says she “[tries] to think of things to say / Like a joke or a memory,” but they still can’t see her for who she is or (maybe more accurately) who she was: “But they don’t recognize me now / In the light of day.”
“Million Years Ago” is a beautiful song, and Adele has done a brilliant job. I’m a big fan of this song even though it makes me want to never become famous, and I hope you liked it too and that this song meaning post is helpful to you.
Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/desk-watcher at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome.