Mental Illness

Dear Florence: I Don’t Like Your Song

If you’ve watched a chick flick or listened to the radio anytime in the past several years, you’ll have heard Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days are Over.” It’s an energetic, frenetic, percussion-laced ditty about accepting happiness. And I hate it.

Let’s listen, shall we?

The theme of the song is about a woman being hit by happiness in rather violent ways. In one verse, it hits her like a train, while in another it hits her like a bullet. And she doesn’t seem happy about this happiness: she hides from it around corners and under beds and even dumps that shit down the kitchen sink. She is then advised to leave all her love and her longing behind, because she can’t carry it with her if she wants to survive. What’s more, she needs to tell her whole goddam family about it.

This song has a fucked up relationship with happiness. While the upbeat drums and the refrain of “Dog Days are Over” invoke sheer joy at finally experiencing happiness, the whole process seems rather terrifying. After all, happiness arrives in forms that can literally kill you. It’s hardly surprising that the woman in the song is wary.

For many, this song is a powerful anthem about coming out of the depths of despair. And if you’ve had a bad day or week or month (or even your year”¦) this can be a great feeling and a great song to dance to. It gets trickier for those whose depths of despair are not simply the melodramatic whining of a red-headed Anne Shirley. If that despair is deeper, more like depression, then this song is just insulting.

Full disclosure: this song was on a playlist I created last year titled “Please stop being so fucking depressed.” It also included “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys and “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes (which I think is a wonderful song about being depressed).

I listened to it as if singing about the Dog Days being over could make them go away. Then, they did go away. Happiness did not hit me like a train; it came on slowly until one day I was doing my dishes and I was like, “Hey, I’m not depressed anymore!” So I thought I’d put on that song and dance around and really mean it this time. Only I got annoyed.

Because here’s the thing: Learning to manage this disease is about turning off that loop in your head that tells you that you are awful and dwells on all things bad, and because of this, it’s not really about happiness. It’s about managing your perceptions of yourself and the world so that everything isn’t so very bleak all the time. So happiness hitting you and you having to accept it lest it kill you is a way of telling depressed people that if they only looked for happiness, they’d be okay. They’d survive. And that’s not a message I care for. It also suggests that should depression return, you just must not have let go of your loving and longing. And maybe you forgot to tell your family.

So, Florence, I don’t like your song. I’ll take the gentle feelings of being lifted out of despair, thanks, like how my legs no longer feel like they’re going through mud or how I don’t feel like I do everything as if through cotton gauze. These feeling are not violent, like bullets or trains and they won’t kill you if you fail to leave behind everything that came before. No, they’ll only make you realize that the the black dog is at bay and yes, you may experience joy when you recognize these feelings. I think for that, I prefer this song:

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

9 replies on “Dear Florence: I Don’t Like Your Song”

This is interesting to me because, though I have her CD, I usually can’t understand what she is saying (to be fair, I have trouble with most songs and lyrics.)

This is a song where I hadn’t even really tried to listen to the words. So it’s really interesting to hear what others say about it.

I’ve never gotten a ‘depression recovery’ narrative out of this song. ‘Dog days’ is a reference to summer to me, not ‘black dog’ depression: it’s been a long summer of breakup recovery and now it has to end.

Leave all your love and your longing behind
Can’t carry love with you if you want to survive

She’s talking partially to herself (most of the song) and partially to the ex (“I never wanted anything from you…”).

My assumption was that the song was actually about a manic episode. It’s not an advice song, but rather a perspective song- these are things that I’ve heard from people who were manic, and things I’ve felt when I was younger and was having medication induced mania. It’s something you think and feel, that you need to get away from your loved ones to avoid x thing, that happiness is disastrous, see positive things as a threat. All of the scary elements in the song are things that typified mania to me as a teen, and continue to fit the experiences of friends who still experience mania.

This interpretation fits in with a lot of her other lyrics, which are. . . Well, describe emotional states from a perspective in which both mania and depression are a fact of life. Falling could be both about suicide and about love, and alludes to self destructive behavior as an avoidance of both. Heavy in Your Arms can be taken several ways, but centers around the individual seeing themselves as a burden that could destroy their partner- though ends on the up note of the partner actually being able to handle it.

There are a LOT of other reasons to have a beef with Florence + the Machine, including her use of racist tropes and dancers in blackface in recent videos. We could even talk about how the literal message of the very catchy Kiss with a Fist israther disastrous.  But as far as Mental Health goes, she appears to be one of us folks who get called “crazy” a lot.

(I find if I want to have less problematic but still one of us in love and/or angry tunes, I prefer Fiona Apple.)

How interesting. My interpretation was somewhat different. After reading this, I looked up the lyrics and then asked Mr. Juniper what his feelings were on the song. Sparked an interesting discussion, for sure! One of Mr. Juniper’s interpretations that I found interesting was not that it was about accepting happiness so much as avoiding happiness.

Very, very interesting article and have enjoyed the discussion it provoked at home!

Colour me surprised.  I’m with @opifex .  I have always interpreted this song as about being hit with someone else’s happiness.

The song that is currently annoying me is “We Are Young” by Fun.  I barely register top 40, but I was bopping along to it on the car radio one day and my friend laughed at me and commented that I needed to listen to the lyrics and watch the video.  WTF.

ETA:  I don’t know how to embed the video?


Thanks for posting; I hadn’t seen the video before. It’s… interesting. Too tired to really analyze it.

I always got a “We are young and make stupid mistakes and can’t really be relied upon, but we both need to lean on someone, so may as well be each other” kind of vibe from that song? Which is kind of messed up, but I think is something that most people go through, even if not with a lover/bf/gf/whatever then with a friend. Or the internet. Or possibly that he did something shitty and wants to make it up to her but she won’t let him. I don’t know, I’m tired and hate interpreting song lyrics.

And, yeah, the line about the scar has always bothered me.

Oh, I hadn’t caught before that that was Janelle Monáe going the feminine line! <3 Also, that is an EPIC bar fight.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings- I know it matches pretty well the culture my sister is a part of, from the bars to friends getting super high to the mutual self destruction thing. And it’s super catchy.

But. . . we aren’t told how the singer is responsible for his lover’s scar. Was it intentional? Were they in an accident where he was driving? Were they drunk and he pushed her over? Was it being a dumb ass kid  and doing something embarrassing together (a big cause of literal scars in my sister’s culture- and yeah, it might take a bit for even mutual ridiculousness to be forgiven) or was it abuse?

Also, the fact that my not quite 4 years old niece runs around singing the chorus (not the verses thank goodness) makes be cringe a little even though she’s super adorable.

This is really interesting for me, largely because my take on the song is really different. I always sort of assumed the happiness she was being hit with was somebody else’s, and the song was about dealing with expectations others have of you. Something more in line with “What a Good Boy” by BNL, which has lines about complements like good, smart, strong, and pretty being strangling chains hanging round our necks (and which is, BTW, my go to quit feeling like shit/you are not alone in this song). I think my impression of Florence’s song hangs more on the line that goes something like, “And I never wanted anything from you dear / Except everything you had / And what was left after that too.”  Of course hearing complements and turning them into expectations is my own personal demon, so that may color my opinion.

Anyway “Little Acorns” is a kick ass song, so we agree on that.

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