(estimated read time: 5 minutes)

SONG MEANING (edited): At first, I thought “Good Grief” by Bastille was about a relationship gone south, but since then many commenters and emailers and FB messengers have shown me that it’s actually probably about losing someone, probably a mother. The explanation below is related to this but doesn’t completely reflect this updated meaning.

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Breaking it down…

Bastille released “Good Grief” on June 17th, and I have to admit that while I’ve heard (and liked) several of their songs I’m not as up on them as some you readers might be. Therefore, if I miss something, please let me (and other readers) know in the comments below. We’ll work on this together.

What I do know is that this song, “Good Grief,” is musically very similar to their popular album Bad Blood even though they’ve been exploring some darker and heavier musical styles.

“Good Grief” has the ability to get very popular this summer, and I think it’s a fun song. I’m excited to explore the lyrics below.

bastille-good-grief-song-meaning

Verse 1

Lead singer for Bastille, Dan Smith, begins by singing, “Watching through my fingers,” to suggest that he’s observing something very sad or frightening. He continues, “Shut my eyes and count to ten,” in hopes that whatever it is will pass. He’s trying to ignore it; thus, what someone is telling him “goes in one ear, out the other.”

And apparently “Good Grief” is about a relationship that ends surprisingly quickly even though it was “[b]urning bright right ’till the end.” Bastille laments, “Now you’ll be missing from the photographs.” He’ll be without this woman, and they will no longer create memories (thus photographs) together anymore.

Verse 2

In the second verse, Bastille is still “watching through my fingers,” but he hasn’t gotten over the ended relationship: “In my thoughts you’re far away.” He’s imagining her being somewhere else “whistling the melody / crystallizing clear as day / Oh, I can picture you so easily” He has very vidid daydreams about her and wishes he were with her. Since she’s singing “the melody” perhaps he’s implying that he used to sing the “harmony” and that together they made something beautiful, the music being a metaphor for their relationship.

Pre-Chorus

In the pre-chorus, Bastille asks a simple question, “What’s gonna be left of the world if you’re not in it?” He feels his life coming apart and wonders what he will do with all of his spare energy and time. What will there be left to be passionate about?

Chorus

In the chorus, Bastille sings that “[e]very minute and every hour / I miss you. . . .” He’s obsessed with this woman and feels the ache of her absence strongly. Even though he tries to keep going, with “[e]very stumble and misfire”–attempt to live life normally–“I miss you. . . .” He’s trying to go back to normal life, but it doesn’t feel like it’s working.

Verse 3

In the third verse, Dan Smith explains that he’s “[c]aught off guard by your favorite song.” Perhaps for a moment he had stopped thinking about her, but once he heard her favorite song it brought those painful thoughts back to him. And the emotions raised in him are so powerful that he explains that even though he heard it “at a funeral,” he’s going to start “dancing.” His feelings for this woman are strong enough to make him forget that he’s doing something situationally inappropriate and embarrassing.

Spoken Portion

A female voice tells the narrator, “If you want to be a party animal, you have to learn to live in the jungle / Now stop worrying and go get dressed.” The woman puts the narrator of Bastille’s song “in his place” (as Smith will sing in a minute) and tells him that things like this are going to happen if he wants to enter the “relationship arena.” He needs to put himself together and try again.

Bridge

In the bridge, Smith sings, “You might have to excuse me / I’ve lost control of all my senses / And you might have to excuse me / I’ve lost control of all my words.” He’s not himself and needs people to know it so they hopefully don’t think less of him.

He continues, “So get drunk, call me a fool / Put me in my place, put me in my place / Pick me up, up off the floor.” He’s certainly out of control right now and acknowledges that people are going to tell him to get over it and perhaps tell him that his relationships aren’t so much more special than everyone else’s that he needs to react like this when something goes wrong.

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My questions for the song meaning community:

  • Did you like “Good Grief”?
  • Do you think the narrator is overreacting to heartbreak?
  • What do you think about the contrast between bright, happy music and sad, depressing lyrics?
  • The big question: Do you think there’s deeper meaning in “Good Grief”?

Deeper thoughts…and Emotions…

The narrator of Bastille’s song is certainly caught up in strong emotions, so I don’t want to say that he’s overreacting. He’ll one day be able to come to terms with the terrible thing that has happened and be able to move on, but I’m sure this is a painful place for him to be for the moment.

I’m not sure there’s too much deeper to get into here unless we want to take the discussion outside of the song and ask how this song matches up to other people’s experiences of heartbreak. I think many will be able to identify with this song and will possibly even feel somewhat comforted by the upbeat and energetic tune. Perhaps this rhythm and melody can help to put a few listeners’ minds into a better place as they think about and feel their own heartbreaks.

Helpful Resources

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Clifford Stumme

Thanks for reading! I’m a college English instructor, university writing center director, and online entrepreneur (college for under $15k, anyone?) who cares deeply about TRUTH and MEANING. I’m married to the gloriously beautiful Wife April and love to swing dance and juggle.

  • Alex abandon gmail.com

    I think that is a very good analysis. I mainly focused on the pre chorus , chorus, and bridge tho. For me this reminds me of my long distance relationship husband. To me without him the world means nothing. And whenever we fight its just me losing control over my words and senses. Great analysis. I’ve been looking for one

  • Ben

    In my opinion it’s about death not a breakup ‘sleeping in the clothes you love, it’s such a shame we had to see them burn’

    • That’s a good point–a few others have mentioned that too.

  • I’ll try not to write another ultra long comment as I wrote at your “Heathens” post. 😉

    “Other peoples experiences of heartbreak” – with intent or pure coincidence? Bastille released two free mixtapes before they became popular: Other peoples heartache pt.I and pt.II. 😀 They are still at youtube, but the original source for the mp3 files is offline.

    Contradictions between the style of the music and the lyrics – surely not his invention, but a typical Dan Smith thing. Other songs of him in this style are for example both parts of “The weight of living” or “These streets”.

    The lyrics of Dan Smith are very thoughtful, philosophical and not seldom his narrator or the person the narrator speaks to seems to drown in his thoughts.

    Do you already know his solo songs like “Dictator”, “Alchemy”, “Irreverence” …? Pure poetry. 🙂 Or his projects with his friend Ralph Pelleymounter – “Any Oakley Hanging”, “Randalf” or “Ralph and Dan”? Worth listening. 🙂

    Smith often uses exaggeration as rethorical device – for example the “burning clothes” Ben mentioned above. I think less of Smith words have a literally meaning – he seems to have a strong favour for metaphors. To sum up lots of his lyrics in one short sentence: it’s often not as clear as it seems (as others think), but often it’s also not as hard as it seems (like someone feels drowning in his thoughts). If it’s to grow up, to live, to feel, to love …

    For me Dan Smiths bandwith of lyrics and sounds are fascinating, brillant. He is able to give a song a melody with his voice carried only by some basical sounds. But those sounds have multiple layers and lots of facettes, too. To sum up once more: A really beautiful mind. 🙂

    Ha, look, I may have written lots of lines, but I think I’ve not written as much as I wrote at “Heathens”. Even if I could write books about my fascination – not obsession or fangirling 😉 – for Dan Smith.

    Have a nice day, Clifford! You definitely have a new follower. 🙂

  • Holly

    I thought this! Maybe even something as dark as a suicide. The fact it’s called Good Grief gives a clue that it could be about the grieving process.

  • Liv

    In my opinion this is a song about loss through death and the different emotions felt during the grieving process. “Watching through my fingers” is suggesting that the narrator can’t quite believe what has happened and perhaps doesn’t want to accept the reality just yet hence why they pretend that the person is far away, maybe in a different country ” in my thoughts you’re far away” and they are still alive “whistling a melody”. The chorus is pretty self-explanatory. The narrator constantly misses the person that has passed away and there’s times in the narrators life when they experience failure or something in their life is not going right “every stumble and each misfire”  that makes them miss the other person even more because in the past they may have gone to that person for advice. The second verse sums up being happy in a sad situation. “Caught off guard by your favourite song, well I’ll be dancing at a funeral” this may be a little further down the line of the grieving process and hearing the person that has passed favourite song play makes them happy & remember the good times they had together and because it was a surprise that the song was played, the narrator didn’t have time to think whether dancing was the appropriate reaction in the environment they where in, it just sort of happened. At first, with the line “sleeping in the clothes you love”  I thought maybe the narrator was wearing the clothes to feel close to them, but then with the lyrics “it’s such a shame we had to see them burn” I thought that perhaps actually it was the person who died was wearing their favourite clothes when it happened or for their funeral they were dressed in those clothes and because the body was cremated, the clothes burned to. In the bridge, the narrator understands that their behaviour is different and possibly not acceptable but because of what they have just experienced  they are asking there friends not to judge but also help them get through it. So yeah, that’s my interpretation

    • Wow, that takes it a step or two deeper. Thanks for sharing.

  • Liv

    Also apologies for the awful spelling and grammar, I did it quickly and didn’t read through again.

    • No need to apologize for S&G issues. I may teach English, but I’m hardly one of the uptight grammar nazis.

  • Vicki

    I agree Liv. That explanation really make sense to me – having been through the grieving process losing my husband recently. This song really caught my attention and is very compelling. I can see how it could be interpreted as missing a lover as well. This is a fun site thanks for putting it together!

  • TP

    I don’t see how anyone could possibly think this song is about a breakup? It’s very clear to me about a loss of a loved one.

    • Yeah, others have slowly been wining me over to that side.

  • The woman’s voice that puts the narrator ‘In his place’ like he says so himself immediately reminded me of a mother. And from the first time that i heard the song ive listened to it as a somewhat happy song about grieving the loss of a mother. Wich is very sad ofcourse, But the song is very upbeat and so celebrating the happy times they had and that the narrator may still have after the grieving process comes to an end.

    I just think that the ending where he pleads to the person he is missing to pick him up and put him in his place isnt something that wou would ideally miss from a relationship partner. Ofcourse you can have a partner who puts you in your place when needed but to me thats not what most relationships are about. I think he wouldve chosen another line to sing (plead) to a deceased partner. And i think that the things that annoyed you about parents are the things you wished they would still tell you when you are older. Therefore him saying he wished his mom was still there to tell him to stop worrying and get up when he is down.

    My parents are both still here but listening to the song while thinking out my theory about how its about missing your mother it made me cry.

    • The more I listen to it, the more I think you’re probably right.

  • Nick

    When I first heard this song, I instantly assumed it was about the loss of the narrators mother. It doesn’t seem to be a romantic song to me. Of course, I’ve lost my own mother so it may be an inaccurate connection I’m making personally, but that’s what I think.

    • That’s actually what I’m finding out too, even though the song doesn’t really specify that it’s about a death.

  • John

    My initial reaction is that the song is about a suicide and the narrator futilely blames him/herself.

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  • Katherine Nicolson

    Hello, I recently lost my father who I was very close to and I recognise everything in this song as being about the complex emotions and experiences surrounding the loss of a loved one, particularly a parent. In fact I looked up the words to read them to see if what I was picking up when listening to it was true because the upbeat nature of the song is in contrast with the difficult emotions being expressed. But that really mirrors the experience well, as for me personally, I have experienced conflicting emotions simultaneously. I think it is an incredibly imaginative, perceptive and uplifting way of addressing grief.

    • I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for sharing.

  • Sharon Archdale

    I do think this song is about the death of a child’s mother. I think Smith is reliving the sad occasion with the words he uses. Also the first line by the woman’s voice goes “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” This is a typical sentiment that a mother would say, and also the voice seems distant like in a dream. When someone loses a parent at a young age their words and actions can seem a little odd to an adult but it is their way of coping. I knew a little girl who lost her father when she was 8 and she ” danced at the funeral” not out of disrespect but because that was how she coped. I guess the only one who really knows is the author himself, still it’s interesting to try and analyse things, stops the brain from falling asleep.

    • Haha–yeah, he probably is the only one who knows, but we will try!

  • Aimee Trawick

    When I heard the “Watching through my fingers” line I thought of the game hide and seek, and then the line about counting to 10. I don’t know if the writer intended that but it’s very clever since, as you had mentioned, the watching through one’s fingers might be in reference to seeing something one does not want to see (for example, like the death of a loved one). So if it meant both at the same time, he could be referring to losing someone he once used to play games with in innocent wonder, now having to look through those same fingers he used to cheat at with in hide and go seek, to see that same person fade away – looking for them and not being able to see them again (missing from the photographs).

    • Which is why the death of a mother interpretation is so good.

  • Tlc

    As soon as I heard this song I related back to losing my brother. I suppose it can mean many things to different people..the magic of music x

  • Rob Gentles

    Hi from Canada, this song is getting a fair bit of radio time here and that’s great because it is a well crafted and profound song.

    My two cents, it is about the loss of a mother. The points made above about the game playing, the innocence, the sincerity of the emotional loss, all point to that.

    If the writer were older, it might reference the loss of a child which is the only adult cognate for a child’s loss of a parent.

  • DEBBIE

    I think it is definitely about death and I think it is his mother

  • Joe

    The woman’s voice is Kelly LeBrock from the 1985 movie Weird Science.

  • Droluk

    The spoken portions of the song, the female voice, is from the movie Weird Science. So I’m wondering how this fits into the theme of the song.

  • Joe

    Haven’t seen the movie in about 30 years, but characters Gary and Wyatt create Lisa, the perfect woman. Watching Bastille’s video the drummer is Lisa and they (Bastille) as Gary and Wyatt want her to come back into their lives and be more prominent. Lisa is their protector and could/would do anything her creators ask her to but is also wise enough to warn them of consequences of their choices. To me this song is Bastille’s continuation of Weird Science.

  • Tiffany

    So the lyrics “if you want to be a party animal you have to learn to live in the jungle” are from the movie weird science. Lisa tells one of the boys this.

  • Jen

    I thought this was tongue in cheek… like he is sleeping in his lover’s clothes, but he had to “burn” them metaphorically or literally. To describe death as “a shame” seems a little tame and disingenuous IMO.

  • bunmomma

    I lost my best friend to cancer about a year and a half ago, and this song spoke to me immediately about loosing someone to death. Watching through my fingers, in one ear and out the other–I didn’t want to believe that he could be gone. Burning bright right to the end–he didn’t let us know how sick he really was until the very end. Missing from the photographs, what will the world be like without you in it–all of it speaks to me very strongly of loosing someone you care deeply about-even to the sleeping in your favorite clothes–I didn’t do that, but he had a very distinct “smell” as he made candles and scent pots-and I came across some that he had given me and kept them near just to bring back the memories. The lyrics about being at a loss, not yourself, and so on, is very accurate to dealing with loss of someone close to you.