In previous posts, I have talked about using music to help you acquire real English, naturally. However, sometimes it can be quite difficult, even for a native speaker, to understand the meaning of the words (lyrics) used in a song.
One of the hottest songs on the radio these days is Royals by the young singer/songwriter from New Zealand named Lorde. She is only 16 years old and her song has been #1 on the Billboard Charts for weeks. I hear it multiple times on the radio in a one-hour long car ride!
One of the things that can make a song difficult to understand is the fact that the words in a song are not usually very concrete or straightforward, but rather they evoke (make you think of) images and ideas, like poetry. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand why an artist puts certain words together and what exactly they want you to understand by it.
In this song, Lorde is making a commentary about the fact that many popular songs and music videos glorify a lifestyle that doesn’t really exist for most people, especially young teens.
If you like to listen to music as a strategy for acquiring English, remember to:
1. Listen for rhythm, tone, and intonation – get the FEEL for the music.
2. Find the lyrics online and read along as you listen.
3. Look up any words or phrases that you don’t understand in a dictionary or online (For slang terms, use UrbanDictionary.com).
4. If you can’t understand the meaning of the song, do an internet search and read what someone else has said about the song, including the artist him/herself.
5. Listen to the song over and over again (repetition is key!) until you can sing along and understand at the same time.
6. Watch the video – sometimes this will help you understand the song better, but not always.
7. Have fun!! Enjoy yourself!!
Here are some of the lyrics from the song Royals with a few explanations that will help you understand the words better.
I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
In the flesh means in person. She has never seen real fancy diamonds, like the ones you see in music videos.
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
To cut your teeth on something means how you learn about something. She learns about it in movies, not in real life.
And I’m not proud of my address,
She’s not proud of her address because it isn’t in a fancy/rich neighborhood.
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy
Nobody has envy of where she lives, as it isn’t fancy. Other areas are fancier and have different postcodes (or in the U.S. zipcodes).
But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Trippin’ (tripping) means to get high
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
Trashin’ (trashing) means to mess up the hotel room by breaking things
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
Here she talks about the stuff you see in music videos that could make you think that this is how people really live, but they don’t.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.
Cristal is the brand name of a very expensive Champagne
Maybach is a luxury German car
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
To crack the code means to figure out the answer or to realize something.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come for money.
They are fine (okay) with this because they don’t have a fancy lifestyle, and everyone knows it, and it’s okay.
And we’ll never be royals (royals).
We’ll never be like those rich folks on TV
It don’t run in our blood,
It’s not who we are
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
That kind of luxury stuff isn’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
We want to do different things to make ourselves happy.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.
Even though kids may like the fantasy life they see on TV, they know it isn’t real, and that is what Lorde wants to remind everyone – that it isn’t really how normal people live.
Video with lyrics.
Official International Video.