Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Understanding and Interpreting Music

I'm sure all of you are familiar with Coldplay's famous song Viva la Vida. But do you know what it's about? There has been a lot of discussion about the meaning behind this song. Coldplay has yet to give their own explanation, but the YouTube comment function on the video as well as various other forums have had a great debate about it. So...tasks always at hand...

  1. Have you ever thought that music could also teach you about grammar? This song tells a story and as such makes use of the past simple, 'used to' and 'would'. Before listening to the song, see if you can guess what form of the verbs is used in the first two stanzas. Click here to see the lyrics and do the task.
  2. Rhyme is also very helpful in figuring out what singers are saying. Do the second part of the same task by listening to Viva la Vida and trying to complete the lyrics. If you can't figure it out, search for the lyrics on the Net ;-)
  3. Finally, go read what some Internet users have had to say about what the song means. Complete this (very easy) reading task by clicking here and then make a comment to this blog post with your own interpretation of the song.

Have fun!



Mario Bianchi Chiarani said...

Well, see my blog to read the comment about the song by Coldplay! I don't like writing here...

Elena Migliorini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elena Migliorini said...


I have never thought that the text of this song could be so complex. There are lots of interpretations on “Viva la Vida” and this is mine.
I think that “Coldplay” wanted to highlight the fact that if someone has the opportunity to exert his/her power and authority on someone else, like a king do with his subjects, he/she has to do it brightly and in the right way. Moral values are important elements someone should take into account every time he/she has to do something, otherwise contempt and hate are the damages he/she will pay. On the other hand, if someone uses his power to help other people, without becoming arrogant or assertive, he/she will be remembered with love also after his death.


Elisabetta said...

I read the text of the song a lot of times before giving my verdict ;) According to me this song is about SUCCESS! When you are a successful person you are like a king, but success is something changeable and it stands 'upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand'. Success is linked to corruption, people who want to manipulate you and enemies who wait for your errors too. The only persons that can help you are those who really love you. They are the only ones who can be your 'mirror, sword and shield', they are like missionaries in the foreign world of corruption. I think that the song ends with a glimmer of hope because now the protagonist is aware of the negative sides of success and can redeem himself.
I think that this interpretation is linked to my personal vision of success ;)


Giorgia said...

Hello all!

Well, what to say about this song...It's difficult for me not to get influenced by the entire album of Coldplay. I’m holding it in my hands and I see Delacroix's painting "Liberty Leading the People”. Then, I think about some songs of the album, such as Violet Hill and Lovers in Japan which both talk about soldiers...and I'm led to think that all the album talks about war, soldiers, kings, fight and revolution in a metaphorical way. Kings, soldiers fight for winning, for leading but sometimes wars and revolutions don't work and they lose. And this could happen to anyone in any field of our real ordinary life. BTW, I think that behind any bellicose and/or religious images (used as allegories of life and history) this song is for anybody who experienced a peak of fame, success or glory and then has fallen down, facing with fake friendship/relationship in general.

That's all...maybe I'm totally influenced by the whole album but this is what I perceived from the song.


Francesca M. said...

Hi all!

Reading your posts, I noticed that Coldplay’s famous song, Viva la Vida, has controversial interpretations. Personally, I do not believe that the song is neither about Lucifer nor about the Bible, as some people asserted (look at the exercise).
As some of you said, the song could be about roaring success and easy money that fade away quickly. However, there are many misleading words: the song talks about revolutions, ruling the world, rolling the dice, kings, swords and shields. I think that these are metaphors standing for power and freedom of choice also in deciding for others’ lives. Maybe the song talks about the lies of powerful leaders (“never an honest word/but that was when I ruled the world”). As a consequence, people rebel against the govenment of dishonest rulers and this could explain the “head on a silver plate” that revolutionaries are waiting for.
Can this be the meaning of the song or is my idea influenced by the speeches we are hearing before the coming elections? ;-)
Honestly, I do not know... I am waiting for the official explanation of this lyric!
Have a nice day,

Francesca M.

Chiara said...

When I listened to Coldplay's Viva La Vida I immediately thought about a love song. Through the use of sacred metaphors the author wants to represent a man that had everything from life but stupidly has lost everything. Then, reading some people's comments I thought that this song is a hymn of joy for J.W.Bush's fall in the latest US elections and for Obama's win (or perhaps I like very much this interpretation and I convinced myself of its truth!).
I wrote something about it on my blog.

Bye, Chiara

Serena Zorzi said...

Hi all! I'd never thought it would be so hard to interpret a song. Anyway, here is what I think about it, and please tell me if you believe I got the whole thing wrong! Well, in my opinion the starting point of Coldplay's song "Viva la Vida" is a historical figure, Luis XVI, and a historical event, the French Revolution. I know it seems kind of odd, but after reading some interpretations I decided to surf the Net and learn more about this French king and his life. It appears that during the first years of his reign, Luis XVI was beloved by the French people, and that's why the song says: "Now the old king is dead!Long leave the king!" Despite his initial success, the people then started to see their king as a tyrant ("People could not believe what I'd become"), and during the French Revolution Luis XVI was guillotined. I think the words "Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate" most probably refer to this event.
Moving away from history, I believe the song is about the negative aspects of power (tyranny, dishonesty and power abuse). "Viva la Vida" highlights the fact that people who have the power often believe to be invincible and allowed to do everything they want simply because they are in a privileged position. But then the song shows how this is all wrong; indeed, " One minute you hold the key (...) and the next you discover that your castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand". I think these words essentially reveal the unpredictability of life and the fragility of human beings.
Well, is my explanation ok? Let me know!

Serena Z.

Ilaria said...


In my opinion, the song talks about the unpredictability of life: things change very quickly and everything we made can be lost in a tick of time! For this reason, it's necessary to reflect upon what we do in our life, trying to create something that will last more than a "castle of sand". Moreover, we should surround ourselves with people who really care about us and won't suddenly change their mind leaving us alone like a "puppet on a lonely string".

This is a quotation from my last post: have a look at it on my blog!

TO SARAH: thank you for the comment on my blog! :-)
If you need my email address for further communication, here it is: ilaria_grotto@msn.com