(estimated read time: 6 minutes)
What does “Closer” by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey mean?
The Chainsmokers dropped “Closer” four weeks ago, and it’s blown up. The song has over 150 million listens on Spotify and nearly the same amount of views on YouTube. It’s currently the top song on the Billboard Hot 100, and it looks like it’s going to be there for a while.
And there’s good reason for that. The song’s super catchy, and the lyrics are just vague enough that they can get stuck inside a person’s head and make him or her wonder exactly what’s happening between the lines.
Musically, “Closer’s” vibe is remix-esque, electronic dance music, and, lyrically, it’s certainly about a relationship. Thankfully for us, the writers commented on the lyrics on Genius.com, and I’ll use those quotes here to support my line-by-line analysis of the song.
You can also listen to me explain this in my most recent podcast episode!
In the first verse, Andrew Taggart (one of the two members of The Chainsmokers) sings, “Hey, I was doing just fine before I met you / I drink too much and that’s an issue but I’m okay.” He’s setting a scene in which he sees an old friend (who we’ll find out later is an ex-girlfriend). He acknowledges that part of the problem their relationship didn’t work out was because he would get drunk. He knows it’s wrong, but he wants to not talk about it for now.
He continues, “Hey, you tell your friends it was nice to meet them / But I hope I never see them again.” She’s out with some of her friends when he sees her, and he doesn’t care about her friends at all. He’s only curious about her for the moment.
The Chainsmokers continue “Closer” by singing “I know it breaks your heart / Moved to the city in a broke down car.” Here, Taggart is likely describing how their relationship ended–he left her behind and moved away. It’s been “four years” with “no calls,” and now they meet again by chance with her “looking pretty in a hotel bar.” And while they have no emotional connection, physically, he’s attracted to her still, and he claims, “I can’t stop, no, I can’t stop.”
Chainsmokers member, Alex Pall, explains that this scene is meant to suggest “that sort of rush of memories and emotions, mostly physical, leading to a hook up,” suggesting that the narrator and this woman are about to have sex.
The chorus has The Chainsmokers telling us about the couple having sex with Taggart singing, “So, baby, pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover / That I know you can’t afford.” Taggart explains elsewhere that “[t]he main concept for the girl is a rich girl who lives off her parents’ allowance and above her means.” The Chainsmokers have created a picture of a couple who dated in college and now meet up four years later. The guy moved away in his “broke down car” and isn’t necessarily wealthy, but the woman is still a “rich kid” and living comfortably and excessively, the attitude leading to that kind of lifestyle possibly being one of the reasons the relationship didn’t work out in the first place.
But now that they see each other again, they’re still attracted to each other with Taggart singing that he’s going to “[b]ite that tattoo on your shoulder” and “pull the sheets right off the corner / Of the mattress that you stole / From your roommate back in Boulder.” Taggart explains that many of the “rich kids” he knew where he grew up “went off to University of Colorado Boulder” so the mention of “Boulder” in the song further enforces the idea of this girl being a “rich kid.”
The chorus ends with Taggart singing, “We ain’t ever getting older.” This line is about living in the moment and acting for a little while like there are no consequences to one’s actions. The band is essentially saying, “We are in a moment that we will never leave, and we can enjoy it for all that it is worth.”
In the second verse, Halsey (an anagram of her real name “Ashley”) sings, “You look as good as the day I met you,” to suggest that the attraction is mutual as is the desire for a hook-up. She forgets, “just why I left you. I was insane.” This could mean that her character is a female who Taggart’s character is singing to, or she could be a female version of his character. Because the two characters seem to be singing to each other, it seems more likely that they are the two people who are getting “closer.” Of course, then, that would mean that they both think they were the one who left the other, which would have left them both feeling like they were in a position of power and would make this random hookup seem less awkward than if one of them had felt pushed away.
Halsey continues, “Stay and play that Blink-182 song / That we beat to death in Tucson, okay.” Alex Pall tells us that the song referred to here is “I Miss You,” the title of which suggests that perhaps the two characters never really moved on or forgot each other.
Deeper thoughts on “Closer” by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey
“Closer” has a few interesting aspects that we can take a closer look into. There’s obviously a financial barrier between the two members of the relationship, and that seems to have been part of what helped them to define themselves as separate from each other. The girl’s parents are rich, and the guy has to work for everything he has (ironic since Halsey actually couldn’t attend a four year university since she couldn’t afford it and both members of The Chainsmokers went to prestigious north-eastern schools). Because of this, they see themselves as being from different social groups and possibly look down on each other as a result.
Also, it’s interesting that the writers of the song refer to this hook-up as being purely physical. It’s all about physical attraction, and it’s a celebration of that, in a way, but it’s also a warning. Alex Pall says, “The song is sort of comical in nature, we wanted to make a feel good song about meeting your ex, falling for them on a physical level and them remembering all the horrible truths about why it didn’t work out.” This adds a new level of depth to the song, suggesting that it’s a bit of a satire of and that it’s poking fun at these kinds of hook-ups.
Of course, we are all getting older, and the songwriters know that, but for the moment, the main characters are able to ignore it even though they’re going to be aware of the harsher truth in the morning.
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.