Song Lyrics – Imagine Dragons – Whatever it takes
Imagine Dragons – Live at American Music Awards (CC-BY-SA-4.0)
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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.
Today, I am going to talk about the lyrics of the Imagine Dragons song Whatever it takes. I’m talking about these lyrics because the song was requested by Mayerlin. So I hope you enjoy the song all the more once I’ve explained the vocabulary in the lyrics and tried to work out what the song is about.
This is going to be a long podcast because there’s a lot to talk about. So I would recommend you visit the page for this podcast on the Learn English Vocabulary website if you find this difficult because you will be able to read the transcript and listen at the same time.
Let’s start with the title: Whatever it takes.
The word whatever means any thing at all. It doesn’t matter what. This is the same for however which means any way at all, it doesn’t matter how, and wherever, any place at all, it doesn’t matter where. You often hear this phrase used as an expression of determination. So if someone wants to do something, but it’s something difficult, they might say:
I’ll do whatever it takes.
So if you have a goal, perhaps you want to study medicine at a top university, your mum or dad might warn you, you need top marks and you need to do voluntary work and there won’t be time to go out and party with your friends and you’ll need to start saving money … you might reply: I’ll do whatever it takes. I am determined so, if I have to do all these things, I’ll do them. It doesn’t matter what I have to do, I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal.
In the song, Dan Reynolds does not say exactly what his goal is. In fact, his statement is not about a specific goal because he says, I do whatever it takes. So this present simple use, describes his habitual or everyday actions. He does what it takes to … well, again, this is not clear from the lyrics, but there are clues and if you read a little about Dan Reynold’s background, the meaning becomes clear.
You see, Dan Reynolds was raised in a very religious family. He was raised as a Morman which is a type of American Christian. Dan Reynold’s is not a strict Mormon anymore, but he is still religious and believes in a lot of the ideas that Mormons preach. So when he sings that he does whatever it takes, he means to please god or be a good person.
I’m going to go through the song now and will explain the lyrics and will try to explain the meaning of the song, though I’m not Mormon so may misunderstand some of the references.
The song starts with a funny little rap.
Falling too fast to prepare for this
Tripping in the world could be dangerous
Everybody circling, it’s vulturous
I’m afraid I don’t like this. I understand that you can play with pronunciation in words a bit to make rhymes, but dangerous does not rhyme with for this. So the singer says dangeris and vulturis.
The first line is: falling too fast to prepare for this. I think that this is a reference to the bible. When Adam and Eve first disobeyed god, they went from being obedient servants of god to naughty humans. This change is sometimes described as the fall of man. So this could refer to Dan’s movement away from the Mormon church.
Tripping means falling. If you trip over something, you fall because your foot became trapped by something on the ground.
He says that everybody is circling, it’s vulturous. Vulturous is not a common word, but it means having the characteristics of a vulture. When an animal dies in the savanah or out in the country, vultures will come and scavenge, that is eat, the dead animal. So when an animal is injured, or a person is in trouble, the vultures might fly in circles overhead, waiting till they can scavenge. If people are vulturous, they might hang around somebody in trouble so they can take advantage of them if they fail.
He says that it is negative, the opposite of positive and then nepotist.
The noun nepotism is favouritism based on family relationships. The adjective is nepotistic and a nepotist is someone who practices nepotism. In small businesses, it’s quite normal for family members to employ one another, but in large companies and in government and the civil service, this sort of favouritism is corruption.
The next part goes:
Everybody waiting for the fall of man
Everybody praying for the end of times
Everybody hoping they could be the one
I was born to run, I was born for this
I mentioned before the fall of man is normally when Adam and Eve were first naughty and ate the Apple on the tree that they weren’t supposed to; when they disobeyed god’s rule and sin came into the world. I’m not sure why everybody is waiting for it. Perhaps in the Mormon faith, there’s another fall at the end of the world. I just read and apparently Mormons are quite concerned about Jesus coming back and a time of great destruction. There are millions of webpages about the end times. I think that the end of the world is a common theme in most religions and despite the destruction and pain that many will have to experience, Mormons are praying for it because they will be saved from destruction. I think that this sense of being saved because Mormons are special is what Dan means when he says everybody is hoping they could be the one, but I’m not sure.
Next, there’s a kind of pre-chorus. He sings:
Run me like a racehorse
A whip is a long leather rope that you can use to control animals. A jockey, the person that rides a horse in a horse race, carries a short whip that they can use to encourage a horse to run faster. In the past, people who were in charge of prisoners or slaves might use a whip to punish them.
Pull me like a ripcord
A ripcord is the tag attached to a parachute that you pull when you want the parachute to open. So if you jump out of an aeroplane, if you skydive, you might want to freefall for a bit and when you get closer to the ground, you pull the ripcord to open the parachute.
Break me down and build me up
To break someone down means to continually attack someone so that they eventually are defeated. If you want to knock down a wall, and you only have a hammer, you can’t just hit it once. You have to hit it again and again. That way, you will be able to break it down. We use this to talk about metaphorical walls. So a person’s confidence might be like a wall that takes a lot of attacks to break down. To build something up is the opposite. It means to build something over time, slowly adding more and more … bricks if it’s a wall or a building, so that over time it gets bigger or if you’re dealing with a person, they become more and more confident.
I wanna be the slip, slip
Word upon your lip, lip
Letter that you rip, rip
Break me down and build me up
I’m not sure what the slip is that he wants to be. There might be some meaning that I’m not familiar with, but normally the verb means to lose your balance because the floor is wet or oily. However, the slip, slip is a noun so I have no idea. If you have a word on your lips, you have something that you want to say. I don’t think that this is very common. I saw an example of ‘the topic on everyone’s lips’ meaning the topic that everyone is talking about
And then it’s the chorus:
Whatever it takes’
Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
Adrenaline is a hormone that is produced in the body when you are in danger. It makes you feel excited and nervous and energetic. It prepares you to fight or run. Dangerous sports or extreme sports like skydiving and base jumping give the people who do them an adrenaline rush, which makes them feel excited and happy. I think all sports can cause the body to produce some adrenaline, but the more dangerous the sport, the greater the adrenaline rush you get. Dan sings that he loves the adrenaline in his veins. Veins are the tubes in your body that carry blood around. When your body produces adrenaline, it is transported around your body in your blood and through your veins.
I do whatever it takes’
Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains
To break the chains is a metaphor. If you think about a prisoner in an old fashioned jail with metal bracelets called manacles around their wrists and ankles, there would be chains connected to the floor or walls to stop them from escaping. These chains stop the prisoner or slave from doing what they want, they stop them from being free. Sometimes ideas or fears are like chains that stop us from doing what we want. So if you break the chains, you conquer your fears or ideas that prevent you from doing what you want.
Whatever it takes
Yeah, take me to the top
I’m ready for Whatever it takes
‘Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do what it takes
The next verse is quite interesting.
Always had a fear of being typical
Looking at my body feeling miserable
Always hanging on to the visual
I wanna be invisible
Dan sings that he had a fear of being typical. Typical is similar in this instance to the adjective normal. It really means that someone or something has the features that you would expect from that type of person or thing. You can say that a typical car has four wheels. Four wheels is a feature of cars that you would normally expect so if a car has 4 wheels, it is typical. Dan was afraid of being typical. I do understand his sentiment, but it’s a bit of a teenage complaint. Normally, it’s people who are not typical that have problems. Dan wanted to be special.
He then sings:
Looking at my body feeling miserable.
Miserable means very unhappy. I think of miserable as a kind of low energy sadness. If you are feeling miserable, the feeling can last for hours. Dan is unhappy about how he looks which is something that lots of people can relate to.
Always hanging on to the visual.
In this sense, hanging on to something is the opposite of letting it go. So he’s got a problem with the way he sees his own body and he can’t let it go.
He sings that he wants to be invisible. If something is invisible, you can’t see it. Oxygen is invisible. We know that there’s oxygen in the air around us, but you can’t see it. It’s an invisible gas.
The next lines are:
Looking at my years like a martyrdom
Everybody needs to be a part of ’em
Never be enough, I’m the prodigal son
I was born to run, I was born for this
We’re back into the religious language here. A martyr is someone who suffers a lot, usually to the point of being killed because of their religious beliefs. When religious people are not allowed to practise their religion, we say they are persecuted. If religious people refuse to stop doing their religious practice, and they are arrested or killed then they are martyrs. Dan is comparing his life to the lives of people who have been persecuted and sings that he sees his life like he is being persecuted and he is suffering for his belief, that he is a martyr.
He then describes himself as the prodigal son. This comes from a bible story about a boy who left his family and wasted all of his family money then years later he returns to his family sorry that he’s spent all their money and disappointed them and is welcomed home and forgiven. In the story, the father is so happy to see his son return, he doesn’t care about the money. I’m not sure what this means, but it’s quite a common idea. The idea of a prodigal son is used in lots of films and books. Then there’s a pre chorus and chorus before another verse that’s really dense with advanced language that I’ll go through quickly.
Don’t wanna be the parenthetical, hypothetical
If someone is hypocritical, they talk positively about a principle or a moral idea and then don’t follow the principle themselves. So If I were to talk a lot about the environment and protecting the natural world and then flew business class a lot and ate lots of steak and drove a sports car, it would be hypocritical. The noun form is hypocrite.
If someone is egotistical, they only think about themselves and make themselves the centre of everything. I think that young stars of sports and music and film are at risk of becoming egotistical. If everybody treats you like you’re special, it’s very easy to start thinking that you are special.
The adjective parenthetical is not common. Parentheses are what we call brackets in non-mathematical or scientific language. On a UK keyboard, they are adobe the numbers 9 and 0. They are like bent lines that you place around ideas that are not part of the main meaning, but add some extra context or colour to the main meaning. I think that the most common use of the word parenthetical is related to scripts. So a script has the lines that an actor says in a film or a play. If the writer wants to add some more information, perhaps about how the character feels, they can add it above the line in parentheses. This is a parenthetical statement. Outside of script writing, it’s not common.
If something is hypothetical, it is an unproven idea. It’s a theory that needs an experiment or that will be proven or falsified by time and experience. In the sense of the lyrics, it’s contrasted with a real or proven idea or person. So if a person is a singer, they are hypothetical in a way if they only sing at home. It’s not until they have gone out and tried to be a singer as a job that they get to prove that they are a real singer, that they are more than just a hypothetical singer.
Working onto something that I’m proud of, out of the box
An epoxy to the world and the vision we’ve lost
People use the phrase out of the box to mean two things. It can refer to the state of something when you bought it. So if you buy a new guitar, normally, it will need some adjustment and maybe new strings. But sometimes, people say that they get a guitar that was set up perfectly out of the box, that is they literally opened the box and the condition, out of the box, was good. The other meaning of out of the box describes an idea or an approach to something if the approach is very innovative and unusual. Sometimes you hear someone praised because they have come up with a solution to a problem that was out of the box, meaning it was very innovative and approached the problem in a new way that wasn’t part of the traditional ‘in the box’ approach.
Epoxy is glue. It’s a very hard glue that forms a resin, like a hard plastic. Normally, it comes in two tubes that you have to mix together. Apparently, this is a Mormon saying. Mormons believe they are the glue or the bridge that reconnects god to the world. An epoxy to the world is how Mormons describe themselves.
The next lines are:
I’m an apostrophe
I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see
I’m just a product of the system, a catastrophe
An apostrophe is a little grammatical mark. It’s the mark we use to show that there’s a letter missing in contractions. The word don’t is a contraction of do not. The apostrophe goes where the missing o should be.
Dan explains this well:
just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see.
He describes himself as a product of the system. The system is a negative way to refer to society and the social structures that influence a person as they grow and develop. So, in his case, the system would include the Mormon church and his schools and the political, moral and cultural conditions that he was raised in. The phrase a product of the system is sometimes used to describe a young person who has done something wrong. You might read that the young person was a product of the system as a way to understand why a young person did something horrible, especially if the local schools are bad and there are gangs.
Dan sings he’s a product of the system, a catastrophe. This is a bit over the top. A catastrophe is a disaster. It is normally used to describe an event that goes seriously wrong and causes a lot of trouble. While it means the same as a disaster, I think it’s not generally used to talk about events where people are killed. It’s not quite as strong as a disaster, but it has the same sort of meaning.
Dan goes on:
And yet a masterpiece,
and yet I’m half-diseased
And when I am deceased
At least I go down to the grave and die happily
Leave the body and my soul to be a part of thee
A masterpiece is a great work of art. People describe very famous paintings by highly respected artists as masterpieces.
If someone is diseased, they have a disease. I don’t think we commonly use the adjective form to talk about people. I have some cauliflower plants in my garden that are not growing well because they have some sort of disease. I might describe a plant or a crop as diseased, not normally a person.
Deceased is a synonym for dead. It’s used in formal settings and funerals to say that a person has died. We don’t much like the word dead as it isn’t very refined. It’s very direct and when things are difficult to talk about, we prefer to use other language.
He finishes by saying that he goes to the grave, that’s another expression that means dies, he goes to the grave and dies happily because he leaves his body and his soul to be a part of thee. In this case, the use of the old fashioned word thee, meaning you, makes it clear that he’s talking about god. In English, we used to use thee for you as an object, thou for you as a subject and, thy and thine for your. However, this language has stopped being used much. It is still used in some prayers that were written a long time ago so when you see someone saying thee and thou, they are probably reciting a prayer.
I will post the youtube video for this song with the transcript on the page for this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. So you can listen to the music and hopefully enjoy it all the more.
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Thanks for listening.