"Don't Drag Me Down," by One Direction: A Close Reading
In case you've been at the beach or ON THE MOON for the past three weeks, um, PSA: One Direction dropped an end-of-summer single with an astronaut-themed music video that will have you fantasizing about making out in a no-gravity zone for the rest of September. I'm guessing it's pretty difficult to get into one of those space suits on your own...You'd probably need the whole band to help...just sayin'.
ANYWAY, to prepare you for that moment, when, you know, you run into Harry, Louis, Liam, and Niall at the NASA space station or something, we've prepared some notes to "Drag Me Down," so you'll be ready when they administer a loyalty test.
I've got fire for a heart
This opening metaphor ("fire for a heart") reveals a number of things about how the speaker of the song wants us, the listeners, to perceive him: as brave, passionate (he literally burns), and even a bit dangerous...like fire. Play with him and you might get hurt.
I'm not scared of the dark
Because he's so brave, dangerous, probably reckless, and, oh, yeah, HAS THE LIGHT OF FIRE BURNING IN HIS CHEST, he's not scared of the dark, or, by implication, anything unknown (uhh... SWOON x 3).
You've never seen it look so easy
This line introduces the "you," whom the speaker addresses throughout the song. Although the addressee is likely a lover, it's never quite clear from the lyrics—the "you" could also be the speaker's mother or another close relative, friend, or mentor (see the * below for more on this point).
The you, whoever it is, has "never seen it look so easy." But it's not clear what's the referent for "it": what looks so easy? Being a member of One Direction? Walking down a dark hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Keeping a fire burning?
I got a river for a soul
The construction of this metaphor (I got x for a y) echoes the structure of the opening metaphor ("I've got fire for a heart"), but confuses the overall meaning: wouldn't the soul-river extinguish the speaker's heart-fire? And in fact, the two elements do seem to cancel each other out: to be like water is to be adaptable, easy-going, and changeable. But maybe he's going for a "still waters run deep" kind of thing.
And baby you're a boat
Ah! It was all set-up for this line! Which I think is an attempt to be romantic, but honestly, as the "you," I'm feeling more insulted than flattered: I'm just a little boat on your big river soul? Um, more like, baby, your river is tributary to the ocean of MY SOUL.
Baby, you're my only reason
That's more like it.
If I didn't have you there would be nothing left
Yup. Your river would dry up.
The shell of a man who could never be his best
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, here. You're, what, 19? 20? Not in man territory yet.
If I didn't have you, I'd never see the sun
I see what you're doing. You're trying to redeem yourself after that boat comment by turning me, the addressee, into the thing that sustains all life on Earth, including flowers and butterflies, and also gives us summer days and freckles and pool parties and reading on the beach. Maybe you're winning me over.
You taught me how to be someone, yeah
*A moment where the reading of the addressee as mother/relative/mentor is supported.
All my life, you stood by me when no one else was ever behind me
(Also: did I stand by or behind you?)
All these lights, they can't blind me
"All these lights" seems to be a reference to the literal (camera flash of paparazzi) and figurative lights that are aimed, day and night, on the famous.
The speaker, once again showing his toughness, claims these lights can't "blind" him—in other words, prevent him from seeing what's important in life, e.g. ME and my love.
With your love, nobody can drag me down
He's basically saying here:" Your love supports me emotionally, mentally, and professionally. It's the reason I can't be blinded OR dragged down." (Next time maybe stick with one metaphor, tho?)
All my life, you stood by me when no one else was ever behind me / All these lights, they can't blind me / With your love, nobody can drag me down / Nobody, nobody / Nobody can drag me down / Nobody, nobody / Nobody can drag me down
The speaker's reinforcing his point with repetition. Then the whole song repeats, just in case we missed something.
Do you have a new appreciation for the depth of Louis Tomlinson? Any other songs you'd like to see a close reading of?