Song lyrics – The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Regular listeners will know that I am in the middle of a series of podcasts about the vocabulary on the IELTS Academic word list. I haven’t finished that, but I wanted to take a little break and look at some song lyrics. I am not that old … but I have never really been very aware of fashion and trends. In the time that I have been making these podcasts, I have listened to lots of music that’s new to me. Sometimes, I’d like to make podcasts about music that I like, but I think it’s going to be better for you if you know the music. I do have some requests, but as I’ve not made a song lyrics podcast for a while, I thought |I’d look at the spotify charts to see what’s popular. This revealed that the most popular song and artist on Spotify is Blinding Lights by The Weeknd. I had heard of The Weeknd, or at least I’d heard the words in relation to music, but I wasn’t sure if The Weeknd was an artist or a group and it turns out that it’s a man. His name is Abel Tesfaye. He chose The Weeknd as a stage name, though the story behind the choice makes no sense and now, apparently, he’s going back to using his real name. For the rest of this podcast, I will refer to him as The Weeknd.
I listened to the song Blinding Lights that I think was originally made for a car advert. It sounds quite a lot like a lot of other songs, but is otherwise quite dull so I don’t really understand why so many people have chosen to listen to it. Perhaps it’s because it sounds like so many other songs.
I’m going to go through the song lyrics and I’ll focus on the interesting words and phrases and I’ll try to work out what the lyrics mean as I go. I have run the lyrics through a vocabulary profiler and most of the interesting vocabulary for the song is B1 so that’s the level for this podcast.
Let’s have a look at the first few lines.
I’ve been tryna call
I’ve been on my own for long enough
Maybe you can show me how to love, maybe
The vocabulary is quite straightforward here. The first line uses the present perfect continuous though so that’s quite interesting. I have been trying to call, contracted to I’ve been tryna call. This means The Weeknd has been trying to make a phone call to someone. He has made repeated attempts which is why he used the continuous aspect and he has not got through, he has not been able to talk to the person yet which is why he used the perfect aspect.
I’ve been on my own for long enough.
This line is also more interesting grammatically than for the vocabulary. On my own, means alone. The Weeknd has been alone, that is, not in a relationship for long enough. Enough can be used in different ways. It means sufficient or as much as you need. For example, I want to buy a new guitar but I don’t have enough money. Or, I’ve been working hard and saving money so now, I have enough to buy a new guitar. We also say: I’ve had enough. When we’re angry about a situation, about something that has been happening for a while that we don’t like, but we’ve been tolerating, saying ok … ok … ok … until it’s not OK. We have tolerated the situation for long enough and now we’ve had enough. I think this is similar to the meaning of the line in the song. The Weeknd has been on his own and it’s been ok … for a while, but now, he’s been on his own for long enough and he wants the situation to change which is why in the next line, he sings:
Maybe you can show me how to love.
In the next few lines he sings:
I’m going through withdrawals
You don’t even have to do too much
You can turn me on with just a touch, baby
If you are addicted to a drug, like nicotine or perhaps a stronger drug like heroin and you stop taking the drug, you will start to feel bad. I used to smoke and when I quit, I felt pretty awful for a couple of weeks. These bad feelings and the cravings you get to take the drug again are called withdrawals. We use the same word for the bad feelings people get when they stop taking any drug they are addicted to, though the withdrawals people get from taking heroin and opiates are much more serious. In the song, The Weeknd is using the term figuratively to talk about his feelings towards a person that he is not with anymore.
You don’t even have to do too much, you can turn me on with just a touch.
To turn someone on means to make them sexually excited or aroused. You can turn me on with just a touch. The word touch is slightly more difficult to explain. To touch something means to make contact with something, usually with your hand. When I take my kids to a guitar shop, before we go in, I have to tell them: don’t touch anything. My boys are not very gentle so when they touch things, they sometimes break them and some guitars are very expensive so it’s safer to tell them not to touch anything. A touch means an instance of touching. It is often used to mean a small and gentle contact. So if you are listening to music and it’s a little bit too loud, someone might ask, could you turn it down a touch, meaning just a little bit. In the lyric, both of these meanings are important. The Weeknd’s partner can turn him on with just a touch, meaning a small amount of physical contact.
In the next lines he sings:
I look around and
Sin City‘s cold and empty (oh)
No one’s around to judge me (oh)
Sin City is another name for Las Vegas. The word sin is a noun meaning a morally terrible act or rather an act that breaks a religious law. When people talk about sins in the UK, they often mean the seven deadly sins or seven cardinal sins that were described by early Christian theologians and became popular in Christian culture. I don’t mean that the sinful acts became popular. I think some of them have always been quite popular, rather the idea of the seven worst sins became popular and was mentioned in stories by Chaucer and Dante in Italy. These sins include gluttony which means eating and drinking too much, lust or fornication which means sex outside of marriage, vanity which means being too concerned about your appearance and what other people think of you and pride. Las Vegas is famous for its casinos and gambling and nightlife. The big hotels and casinos try to entice people in with food and drink and the prospect of riches and at night there are shows featuring dancing women and the city is also famous for prostitution. You can see how the city earned its nickname.
No one’s around to judge me.
To judge someone means to form an opinion about them. Usually, when you judge someone, you decide if they are good or bad. This might be morally or it could be professionally. You can judge someone’s sense of style by what they wear or someone’s ability to speak a language or play a sport. In the song, The Weeknd is talking about Sin City, saying it’s empty. Now, I think that this means that there’s nobody that the Weeknd knows in Sin City so there’s nobody to judge him morally if he sins, if he gambles and eats and drinks too much or spends time with the women and men who work there.
The next lines are:
I can’t see clearly when you’re gone
I said, ooh, I’m blinded by the lights
If you can’t see clearly, normally this means your vision is blurred or there is something between you and what you are looking at. I wear glasses. My eyesight is not terrible, I can see quite well without my glasses, but I can’t see things clearly if they are more than a couple of metres from me. We use the adverb clearly to emphasize when something is obvious. You might hear someone say: you’re clearly lying. In the song, the meaning is not literal., When The Weeknd sings that he can’t see clearly when his partner is not there, he means he has lost his ability to judge situations.
He said he is blinded by the lights. Normally, if you are blind, your eyes don’t work. In the UK, if your vision is judged to be bad enough, you can be legally blind, even if you can see a bit. I had a friend who was legally blind, but he could see a little bit if he held things right in front of his eyes. You can also be temporarily blinded by a flash of light. If you are in a very dark place and suddenly a door is opened and light floods in, you will be blinded for a short while until your eyes have adjusted. The Weeknd, though is using the word figuratively, in the same way as the previous line. He means his ability to judge situations has been taken away from him by the lights of Sin City. I think that it would be more honest to say that he has been distracted by the light and has chosen not to think about the morals of the situation, but he is being slightly kinder to himself by saying that he has been blinded by the lights. You might also hear about someone being blinded by anger. If someone gets really angry, they may lose their ability to judge the situation, they are blinded by rage or perhaps someone is blinded by greed. If a person thinks that they might make lots of money, they might not see how their acts hurt people.
The next lines are:
No, I can’t sleep until I feel your touch
I said, ooh, I’m drowning in the night
Oh, when I’m like this, you’re the one I trust
(Hey, hey, hey)
To drown, literally, means to die because you are underwater and you can’t breathe. If you fall in the sea and you can’t swim, if nobody rescues you, you will drown. However, the word is also used figuratively to say that someone is suffering because they have too much of something, most commonly work. If you’re drowning in work, you have so much work, you are not able to cope or succeed. The Weeknd is drowning in the night. By this, I think he means there are so many distractions for a young rich man in Las Vegas, that he can’t cope. We already know that his ability to judge has been damaged by the bright lights and now, there’s so much happening or that he’s doing, he feels out of control and like he is drowning.
Oh, when I’m like this, you’re the one I trust.
When I’m like this … this makes it sound like this is a regular thing for The Weeknd. The choice of the first conditional implies that this is not the first time he has lost control because of the distractions of the night. When this happens to The Weeknd, he can trust his partner to help him see things clearly. If you trust someone, you believe them and what they tell you. You can trust honest people. You should not trust people who lie. I’m not surprised that The Weeknd’s partner has not been answering his calls if this sort of thing happens regularly.
In the next lines he sings:
I’m running out of time
‘Cause I can see the sun light up the sky
So I hit the road in overdrive, baby, oh
I’m not really sure what to make of these lines. He is running out of time because the sun is rising. So he’s been partying in Las Vegas all night and now he hits the road. This normally means he gets in a car and starts driving. Though, if he has been partying in Las Vegas all night, I don’t think it’s a good idea to drive. Perhaps he’s not been drinking. If you do something in overdrive, it means you do it with more energy, at a higher level. I think originally, in cars in the USA, there might have been an overdrive setting. Americans drive automatic cars so I’m not really sure as most cars in the UK are manual and I’ve never actually seen an overdrive setting, but I have heard the figurative use doing something in overdrive which means at a higher level or with more energy.
Then the chorus repeats until these lines:
I’m just walking by to let you know (by to let you know)
I can never say it on the phone (say it on the phone)
Will never let you go this time (ooh)
I’m just walking by. If you are walking by something or someone, you are walking and they are next to the route you are walking. As well as walking by someone, you can drive by someone. So you might say, I was walking by the cafe earlier and I saw you in there with some friends. I wasn’t going to the cafe, I was walking by. I’m not sure if the line really makes sense. If you are walking by someone, you are not walking to someone. It’s a bit cool. I wasn’t looking for you, I just saw you as I was walking by. But then he uses the infinitive which we use to explain the purpose of an action. So he was walking by to let you know. This sounds like he made a detour for his partner. So he was heading to the bank or the shops and decided to walk by his partner’s house. He did this because he can never say it on the phone. He can never say that he will never let his partner go this time. The song repeats some lines, but that’s the end of the new language.
OK – I’m really not sure what to think about this song now that I’ve looked at the lyrics. I’m afraid I would not want my friends to have a relationship with The Weeknd, or at least the person he’s playing in this song. I don’t know if this is about him or if he’s just playing a role, but I don’t feel very sympathetic towards him. What do you think? Are you a fan of The Weeknd? You can find the transcript for this podcast as well as the video for the song and the lyrics on the page for this podcast on Learn English Vocabulary.
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Thanks for listening.
Watch the music video and listen to Blinding Lights by The Weeknd!