Earworm Encounter: The Lumineers “Ophelia”


The Lumineers at a live show in 2012

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This catchy song recently leapt from 15-12 on Alternative Songs and got to #1 on the list of Adult Alternative Songs, according to an article by Kevin Rutherford for Billboard.  And I can see why:

      The song begins with a steady, slightly solemn beat.  The beat seems to be coming from someone stomping the ground, which is a sound a listener can easily reproduce.  In other of their songs, they do tend to have some part of the song that invites participation (either with clapping or stomping), which makes their songs not only enjoyable to listen to but also makes one feel as though one is a part of something.  And then the singer starts with the piano accenting the underlying beat. The lyrics themselves are sobering, with the first line seemingly expressing remorse “Ah-ah When I was younger, Ah-ah should have known better” (The ‘ah-ah’ could be stylistic ‘I-I’s…).  The tambourine joins the heavier beat, but the piano now brings in a light-heartedness that’s almost whimsical as it plays between the beats with its cascading notes.

       The mood is set, and I’ll let you further enjoy the sounds of The Lumineers.  What I find captivating about this song is not only the music, but also the lyrics.  I heard the title and wondered if it had anything to do with the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  She famously drowns after being torn between her family’s perception of her virginal role and her own romantic feelings for Hamlet although he denies ever having loved her–watch or read the play.  It’s beautiful in a tragic way.

     Wesley Schultz, frontman, shared what the song ‘Ophelia’ is about in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

“Ophelia is a vague reference to people falling in love with fame. That spotlight can seem like an endless buffet, but in reality, you’re just shiny, bright, and new to people for a quick moment — and then you have the rest of you life to live.” He continues, “It’s about caring so much about the people around me, and wondering if we’re all going to be alright.” –Wesley Schultz

Ophelia Photo Source: Wikipedia

Art Originally By John Everett Millais

     I feel that this could describe a modern-day Ophelia, or really just describes the Hamlet Ophelia.  The play character of Ophelia is in love with Hamlet even though her father and brother both warn her not to pursue Hamlet.  She becomes convinced that Hamlet does love her because Hamlet looks like he’s starting to go mad without her and when she talks to her father and brother again about, they become convinced as well.  Hamlet keeps denying that he loves her, but then at the same time makes these oddly lewd comments to Ophelia and she had no idea what’s going on.  She tricks Hamlet at one point and feels terrible about betraying him.  Her father dies and the other characters think she’s going mad with grief.  And then she drowns (on purpose, not on purpose?  Shakespeare leaves enough evidence for both arguments).

    I think, if we substitute in Hamlet for fame, we can start to see some parallels in the lyrical meaning of the song and I think the singer is singing from a mixed point of view of Hamlet/fame and the public.  I think it’s about one-sided love that’s turned into a passion or an obsession, the way that so many people are obsessed with celebrities or fame and want to emulate them, but what happens in their personal lives or what happens when fame turns against them?  Imagine the following….

Music Video Re-Imagined

GIF from tigershout

0:00-0:06       Open with a shot like above. Windshield wiper working in beat with the opening.

0:06-0:30       Camera pulls back and can see there’s someone in the driver’s seat and someone in the passenger’s seat.  Can’t see the person in the driver’s seat, but can see the side of the passenger’s face and hair (make her blonde so she’s obviously distinguishable). Possibly see the blood coming out of her temple.  Camera keeps pulling back, driver’s arm reaches across the tough passenger.  Camera goes through the back of the car’s rearview mirror and upwards until we get an bird’s eye view of the car and can see police lights flashing. Transitional flash.

0:30-0:38     There’s a sofa and a TV playing in the living room. Camera comes in (can see the door frame of living room as the camera comes forward).  There’s a girl sitting there, can possibly see her legs up against the back of the sofa.  Camera pulls forward until level with girl and get a shot of the brown-haired girl (clearly not the passenger from the opening shot), basked in TV light.

0:38-1:02    Can see on TV screen it’s a talk show. Some male celebrity is talking and laughing. Bit of a quick montage of Brunette flipping through a celebrity magazine and then show her bedroom walls plastered with more and more pictures of famous entertainers and expensive things.

1:02-1:15      Show Brunette singing in mirror and dancing, clearly happy.

1:15-1:23       With piano cascading notes, Brunette runs to her bedside and smashes a piggy bank.  Grabs money and a bag and runs out her bedroom door. Camera follows her through the house but shows cross-section of walls as it moves through them.

1:23-1:32     She dances through the house, camera following her until she reaches the door where her parents wait for her.

1:32- 1:44     She hugs her parents and gets into a packed car with the blonde girl from the first shot.

1:44-1:50      Brunette is looking out of the window, landscape blurs. She turns and laughs with blond friend. Shot of Hollywood Sign.

1:50-2:06      Show Brunette and Blonde working as waitresses, and then montage of rising fame.

2:06-2:17    Montage of rising fame, more like flashes of shots interspersed with increased partying shots. And then a Headline reading ‘Drunk Driving Charges Made’ with a picture of the Brunette. And more photos/articles of this nature. (Kind of showing how now she’s becoming infamous instead of just famous)

2:17-2:34/end   Brunette and Blond drinking, getting in car. Brunette is driving. Crash. Brunette is awake, trying to wake her friend. End with blonde friend opening her eyes, so somewhat a happy ending.

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Need more Lumineers? Check out these two: “Stubborn Love” or “Ho Hey