(estimated read time: 8 minutes)
What does “Get Low” by James Vincent McMorrow mean?
People are excited about the Irish singer James Vincent McMorrow’s new album We Move, and after hearing his latest single from that album, “Get Low,” I am too. “Get Low” is slow and soulful. It’s very methodical and careful; each note feels carefully planned, and the entire song has an entrancing feeling that makes you want to sway in time with the slow, pulsing beats. It reminds me of Hozier and his song “Take Me to Church” but less angry and sarcastic–more sad and thoughtful.
I’m a big fan of the musical aspects of this song, but the lyrics are deep as well. I’m going to go through them line-by-line, and we’ll see what you think about them. I should point out that I’m writing this before the official lyrics have come out, but Wife April and I did spend several minutes listening to the difficult lines again and again (while swaying and REALLY wanting to dance to the song), and we think we have the lyrics to “Get Low” figured out pretty well. If I’m unsure, I’ll let you know.
In the first verse of “Get Low,” James Vincent McMorrow seems to be singing to a woman who he used to be in a relationship with. Life has taken them in different directions, and he’s thinking about her now. He says, “Heard you’re getting married” to someone that “[e]verybody said” was the “[g]reatest man alive.” This makes McMorrow feel sad and maybe a little insecure; he’s “been told” the woman he was in love with is now marrying someone that everyone clearly likes more than they like him.
(Stay tuned for the end of the blog post where I explain my theory of what this woman represents!)
McMorrow continues “Get Low” by singing about her financial success. “Got yourself a dime / Finally getting paid,” he sings tongue-in-cheek to suggest not only that he cares about her success but also (since no one only gets paid a dime) that she’s actually doing very well. She’s “[b]uying people silence / They’re afraid.” Perhaps she used to volunteer at a job that involved helping people and now she’s hired, but that level of specificity seems to go against the more abstract ethos of “Get Low.” It’s unclear what she does for work, but the important part (and the sad part) is that she’s doing much better than she was while in a relationship with McMorrow, which is probably painful for him to acknowledge.
Throughout the first verse, McMorrow’s background voice (or singers) sing the words “Get low” and “I could never show.” The latter could refer to him not being able to let her know how he feels. The “get low” is a little bit more ambiguous but seems to be referring to being honest about one’s own pain and difficulties.
Here, he sings that there’s a “[c]onstant threat of violence” and that “it works.” Here, he seems to be describing the kind of life she lives. She’s willing to take risks because “[i]t can get you so far,” but he warns her that if she keeps going, she’ll “[e]nd up feeling worse.” The place she’s going is “cold,” and if she continues along this path, she’ll be “left with no one.”
In the chorus of “Get Low,” McMorrow reminisces on how he still loves this woman and how free spirited and unfettered she seems: “I love the way your heart had no rule / Loving what your heart becomes.” Unfortunately, this lack of rule means that she does hurt people in getting what she wants, thus the “[e]ven when your smile is so cruel.” She may seem warm at times, but she left McMorrow cold, and he remembers it too–“my hands had turned blue.” Hands are often symbolic of a relationship, and his are left empty and without the warmth of a friend and lover he used to have.
In the last unique line of this stanza, I believe McMorrow is singing, “I love the way you hang with no fool.” It’s difficult to understand, and he could also be singing that she isn’t a fool or doesn’t suffer a fool. Whatever way, he’s admiring her from a distance for her ability to do something that he doesn’t feel like he can do.
McMorrow is open about his open mental fragility and on his website mentions “people listening to my songs and believing that I’m out in the forest all day long, thinking about trees. Because I’m actually at home, trying to convince myself to go out and get milk.” This album he’s releasing, We Move, is supposed to be a “portrait of anxiety and social unease,” so it makes sense that with this last confusing line he may be alluding to his own awkward social inabilities and be admiring her cold ability to move through life and society without being dragged down by emotional entanglements that this song suggests are too heavy for McMorrow. She’s not a good person for having this ability, but McMorrow maybe feels that it probably makes her life much easier.
The second verse of “Get low” alludes to McMorrow’s general life a little more when he sings, “How we get in line / Out there in LA.” Getting “in line” in music is often an allusion to standardization, lack of individuality, and a strong controlling power. McMorrow could be talking about people who try to impress this woman and her being that controlling power, or he could be talking about how surviving in the entertainment industry in LA is difficult without her. The next two lines suggest that at least part of it is about how he tried to please her: “Try to be the man you need / Everyday.”
The next line is also very difficult to hear, but I think McMorrow sings, “I thought about an hour.” He continues by singing, “I didn’t like the way / It’s hard to stay inspired / And stay awake.” This seems to be a reference back to his daily life and perhaps could be about trying to do his job as a songwriter in LA in the aftermath of having been in a relationship with her. It’s hard to write music and it takes a long time (about an hour) for him to even realize how difficult it is.
This stanza of “Get Low” seems to be a darker rumination on trying to get by in love. McMorrow sings, “And struggling in darkness, it works.” Proceeding blindly will get you somewhere, but it will only “get you so far.” And unfortunately “digging in the dirt . . . gets old,” and then “you’re left with no one” even still. Trying to get ahead by accessing darker parts of your nature or trying to get ahead by doing unsavory things will leave you in a worse spot than you were in. This seems to be another warning to the woman, but in the third line McMorrow uses the plural pronoun “we,” suggesting that he too is “digging in the dirt.” Perhaps he realizes that he needs to move on.
The bridge seems to be an outcrying of pain as McMorrow sings, “Gather in a circle / Dropping to your knees / Praying for forgiveness, Father.” He wants help, and he’s “[b]egging please.” When he sings, “Clapping like we mean it / And nothing’s ever changed / Everything about it / Oh, it stays the same,” he seems to suggest the eternal sameness of life. We want something better, and we wish that life would change in some way, but nothing ever happens.
Theory about the secret meaning of “Get Low” by James Vincent McMorrow
I think “Get Low” actually may be about the music or entertainment industry. I think that this woman McMorrow is singing about could be a metaphor for an industry that quickly and cut-throatedly moves on to whatever’s popular or whoever is the “[g]reatest man alive.” This would explain lyrics like “your heart had no rule” and “your smile is so cruel.” There’s the outward appearance of happiness, but there seem to be no moral rules underneath.
I think perhaps he feels cheated by the system, but based on the bridge stanza, he knows that nothing will ever change and that the industry will stay the way that it is. He will continue to “get in line / Out there in LA” waiting to be more popular or for the industry to smile on him. When he sings “I didn’t like the way / It’s hard to stay inspired / And stay awake,” he’s suggesting that he has to constantly be on his guard, and that it’s hard to write good, honest music when he’s thinking about all of these other things and “digging in dirt” to get by in the industry.
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.