A Head Full of Dreams, album cover
A Head Full of Dreams, album cover

SONG MEANING: Coldplay’s “Birds” is about transcending the moment in joy and beauty to reach something higher, to see more than we could usually see, and to be free. To find out more, keep scrolling.

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“Birds” is a soaring song about hope and overcoming circumstances; the melody and other aspects of the music mirror that same upbeat, positive perspective. It’s a fun song and definitely worth the listen.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to introduce a Coldplay song because I haven’t listened to them much. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed “Viva La Vida,” but I didn’t listen to much Coldplay otherwise. I thought they were too slow and boring or even melodramatic. Then I married April, and she’s got to be their biggest fan.

(Coldplay, if you’re reading this, coming to visit my wife for her birthday on May 8th? It’ll be the best. We have a very tiny apartment, but you can still play a ten-person concert there if we all pack in.)

April loves their music, and so when I saw Coldplay’s album was coming out, I realized I HAD to explain it, so that’s what I’m doing. And I’m really enjoying it. I usually only buy singles, but A Head Full of Dreams may be one of the best albums I’ve ever purchased. The musical transitions from song-to-song are smooth and make the album feel like a comprehensive story.

Enough about the album–there’ll be more time for that on subsequent explanation posts. On to the explaining!

Coldplay, credit Julia Kennedy
Coldplay, credit Julia Kennedy

I’ve added “Birds” and several other recent hits to my Spotify playlist “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative.” Feel free to follow the playlist! (If Coldplay’s song isn’t there yet, it hasn’t released it on Spotify yet. Thanks for your patience!)

The Meaning of “Birds” by Coldplay

To be honest, the most confusing thing about this song is that there’s very little repetition, which means it’s hard to discern types of stanzas. I’m not sure which is the chorus or which are the verses. I have my guesses, but since it’s so confusing, I’m going to leave the freeform of the song and refer to stanzas by numbers.

In Stanza 1, Martin sings, “Been standing in the corner / Studying the lights.” He’s been watching good things happen from afar, but hasn’t joined in the celebration yet. Instead of partying, he’s been “[d]reaming of escaping” which “[w]ill keep you up at night” or keep you longing for something more.

In Stanza 2, he explains that when he gets sucked into the party, he decides to stay. He sings, “But someone had put the flares up / Got me in the rays.” Flares are usually meant to show distress or to keep people away from dangerous situations, but in this case they make everyone aware of a good time–of an event or party (that may be dangerously awesome!)–that Martin can’t keep away from as he decides, “I guess I better stay.”

In Stanza 3, he reveals an alter-ego or other character who urges him to party on. (We’ll refer to her as a separate and female person.) Martin, who has reluctantly decided to stay, is now being pushed to actively join the party. The other person says, “Uh-uh, no, come on!” But Martin worries that “[i]t’s a fool’s gold thunder / It’s just a warring rain.” He’s worried that while they may enjoy the moment, it won’t last, and he’ll be left dreaming again.

She urges him to not “let the fears just start” and asks, “What if / I wanna see you again?” suggesting that the party can be revisited. Martin has to join the party or (as the title suggests) needs to fly with the birds because “[a]round here you never want to / Sleep all night.” He’s being swept along. Everyone around him is enjoying life, and he needs to do so as well. The woman even urges him “start falling in love / Start the riot, and come on rage with me.” The party is only beginning.

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In Stanza 4, the song takes on a new metaphor. Martin sings, “We don’t need words / We’ll be birds / Got to make our own key.” I think this refers to a precedence of feeling over logic. The people experiencing this life-altering event won’t rely on explaining it or talking about it–they want to experience it as they make their own way, soaring higher and higher on the emotion of the moment. The “key” could be a reference to a door-unlocking key or a musical key. I think the latter makes sense here; it suggests that Martin will transcend the present world as he and this woman fly away. Boundaries will mean nothing.

Adventure of a Lifetime Artwork
Adventure of a Lifetime Artwork

Stanza 5 points back to the idea that a party or event like this only lasts a little while. Martin sings, “Only got this moment / You and me / Guilty of nothing / But geography.” Obviously, they feel the need to take advantage of the moment and are carefree, but I’m a little confused by the reference to “geography.” (Perhaps you can help in the comments?) It could be a reference to their actual inability to fly or to get off the ground; they’ll feel like birds; being on the ground will be the only thing that keeps them from actually flying. It could also refer to how spread out the celebrators that Coldplay is summoning are from each other.

In Stanza 6, Martin sings, “Come on and raise it” as a way to bolster the “party” that’s happening in this song. He wants people to “raise this noise / For the million people / Who got not one voice.” The partiers and listeners of the song need to party enough that this party will be worthy of many more people. Everyone needs to let go.

Martin continues, “Come on, it’s not over! / If you mean it, say it loud.” He wants people to do this “all for love” and to come “[o]ut from the underground.” He urges them to come “away with me” and emphasizes that “[w]e don’t need words”; the feelings and excitement will be all the explanation they need.

Birds Artwork - ColdplayStanza 7 mirrors Stanza 4 in that Martin sings, “Close your eyes and see / We’ll be birds / Flying free.” He wants people to let go and enjoy the moment, not knowing the “mystery”–just “[h]olding on” inside of it. They are the mystery, and they feel it, even if they don’t know what it is.

The Final Stanza is addressed to the woman he’s met. He sings, “Fearless through this / You said we’ll go / Through this together.” He’s depending on her to help him: “So when you fly won’t you / Won’t you take me too?” He wants her to help him break free especially because “this world” is “so cruel.” While “Birds” has been full of fancy imagery and elevated metaphor, Martin brings things back to earth for the last moment of the song by saying to the woman that in this cruel world, “I think you’re so cool.”

What is the party?

To be fully honest, I’m not sure what the party is, but I do have a guess. I think it’s a metaphor for enjoying life in the moment and using that energy to live on more strongly into the future. Sometimes we have experiences like this. These experiences can be meeting someone we like, doing something we enjoy, or going to an actual party. I think Martin is enjoying a moment so much–whatever that moment may be–that his mind is opened to higher (“transcendent” may be a good way of putting it) possibilities that give him hope and energy for living a beautiful and joyful life.

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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.

Clifford Stumme

  • Alexander

    Clifford,

    I am very fearful of this song. I am about as big as a Coldplay fan goes and I have really enjoyed this album the more I have listened to it, specifically “Birds.” However, whenever I sat down and took the time to read and analyze the lyrics, I was astonished. I, unfortunately, believe this song is about sex. Much like most Coldplay songs, “Birds” is packed with metaphorical verses and stanzas that do no upright talk about what he is meaning to talk about. Starting with “What if I don’t see you again?”, I believe that Martin is saying that he is explain the sex he is having with this woman he met at a party, which sort of explains the “geography” line (referring to her body). Please, tell me that I am wrong, because I do not want to be right. Ever since I have made these assumptions, I have not been able to listen to the song the same. If you could, go through the lyrics with this mindset and let me know what you think. You have been very spot-on with lyrics in the past, specifically with the Twenty one Pilots stuff. Thanks!

    Cheers and Blessings,

    Alexander

    • Alex, that’s a really interesting theory, and even if you’re not right, you’ve at least come up with a comprehensive explanation. I’m afraid that I can’t quite argue against what you’ve said too much. There are several things here that point to it being about sex. I still don’t think it is–the music doesn’t feel “sexy.” It feels adventurous, but that’s not conclusive. Gosh, I really wish I knew now…

  • Céline

    I think it’s very facinating and also unique that we all concider coldplay songs as thought-provoking, even though we all interpretate the meaning entirely different.

    I do not think there i right or wrong. I think you see the meaning you want to see.

    For me this is a very political song, also about crossing borders and reaching out for eachother.

    First he describes how he is watching the politicians in the stage light, the global events and he is losing hope. He doesn’t want to care anymore.
    Yet again, he recognises earths beauty and the people fighting for the right cause. He decides to stay. He decides to join the movement.

    Then he speaks directly to the people. He tries to convince them to follow. What if there is no tomorrow? “Id I don’t see you again?”
    “Start loving, start the riot, rage with me!”

    We don’t need words. Let our actions talk. Let’s be birds, flying high above this mess. This is refering to the dove as a sign of peace.
    Got to make our own key, the key to peace.

    And here the geography makes perfect sense – guilty of nothing, but being born here (where I can have a happy live) and not there (war, poverty)
    I did nothing wrong, yet here I am, watching people die while I’m having a good time.

    “Come on and raise it
    Come on raise this noise
    For the million people
    Who got not one voice
    Come on, it’s not over!
    If you mean it say loud
    Come on, all for love
    Out from the underground”

    This is the most important part. We need to stand up for all these people who have no voice, who can’t stand up for themselves.
    The problems aren’t solved, it’s not over!
    Do it for love!

    It is about how we western states may consider us as free, but not everybody is free. We need to free them.

    I love this song, it gives hope, it’s cheerfull. I could dance and cry to it at the same time.

    But this is just my interpretation. I think it makes perfectly sense if you look at the music video which just came out.

    Mabey ther could be a woman involved, but I’m pretty sure that he is talking to multiple people in some parts of the song.

    It was very interesting to read your interpretations. Keep it up!

    Céline

    • Celine, very interesting theory. Thanks so much for sharing! And sorry I don’t have more time to respond right now. Hope to hear from you again!

  • I personally think this song is about a lot of what you said, but personally not sex (not that anything would be wrong with that), i think its about having choices with what you choose because you are thrown with so many choices. theres the partying, but also the fear of not having safety. i think the fork in the road is when he says “What if I wanna see you again” perhaps he is referring to accepting things in life that are joyable but only happening once. getting attached. i also think its about embracing the situation. what hits me is when he mentions speaking for the people who “got not one voice”. so enjoying the experience but making it something greater and using it to shed light to those left behind and need their hearts lifted. also, i sometimes wonder if it could be a continuation of O “Fly On” because he said “maybe one day I can fly with you” and here he is saying “won’t you stay” and “you’re so cool” and i think “geography”–Saying thats the only thing we are guilty of–could be a metaphor for a non-physical meaning of “where we are in life” so as to say we are in our comfort zones and need to move “geologically” in a mental way to a new place in life, not stand by and let everything go by us in before before its too late so lets “rage, riot. love and make a stand for ourselves and those without a voice”. let me know what you guys think.

    • Thanks for sharing! What do others think about Johnny Punx’s ideas?

  • G

    These explanations all seem rather plausible, but how can they be related to the music video? Because the references to Christian faith in the video are obvious…

    • I’ll have to check that out. I may not have watched it yet!

  • Emily

    I love your interpretation, and I have a strong feeling this song is specifically about Jennifer Lawrence as they dated during the time Chris could have written this song. That leads me to believe the “geography” is there distance from each other since that was ultimately one of the reasons they had to cut it off.

  • Emily

    Also you need to listen to Mylo Xyloto its my favorite album of theres and is a concept album which I think would be really cool for you to explain. Just a suggestion but its full of great music that is anything from boring!

    • Thanks! I have listened to it though I haven’t tried to explain it.

  • Bosky

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both about sex and transcending to another dimension. A double meaning is not an uncommon sight in Coldplay’s songs. And in it’s essence, sex is transcending? You really need to let go of your ugly idea of what sex is. Just because it’s been frown upon as something that should be kept a secret by older generations and has been excessively commercialised and deformed by pop culture and porn, doesn’t mean it is something bad or something you should be ashamed of. It’s not ugly, it’s pure, so why not write a song about it? In fact, I hope it is about sex as well. It has been described so beautifully and in a way I’ve not seen before.

    • I guess if it can be described classily and not as porn, then there’s a possibility it could be well done. I need to re-look into this.

  • Vero

    Chris has explained bird is about forbidden love, for example between an Israeli & a Palestinian, & the conflicting feelings they have.

  • Val

    I thought the geography part meant that two lovers were in a long distance relationship or they just met and liked each other but they live very far away and their love cannot be. The explanation of the song being about a forbidden love makes a lot of sense, people are born in different places and different cultures and that is a powerful obstacle that not many can overcome.

    • I think that could be part of it actually. It’s still a super confusing song.

  • Rae

    Yes, love this 🙂