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When thinking about meta, music probably isn’t the first stop your brain makes. Fall Out Boy is probably even farther off the tracks of your meta-thought train.
I didn’t realize until about my 200th listen that half of the band’s 2007 album Infinity on High is a running commentary on the emo scene and the band’s role in it—probably because I could only understand every other word.
This song is my favorite example of meta-Fall Out Boy because not only is it a fun song, the band clearly pokes fun at the throngs of fans who hang on its every lyric, and that cracks me up.
“Hum Hallelujah” is basically about transient teen romance (as explained in the chorus): “I thought I loved you / It was just how you looked in the light / A teenage vow in a parking lot / ‘Till tonight do us part.’”
The main character of the song is this person who thought he’d fallen in love with this other person, but realizes later that he actually hasn’t. The character is looking back on that particular romance with disdain, and maybe even a little regret. (I never assume that any character in a song is actually meant to be one of the musicians, even though the song may be based off of a real-life experience.)
Around the chorus, though, the author inserts himself into the song and comments on the actions of the characters (and in the process makes fun of his listeners). “You are the dreamer and we are the dream / I could write it better than you ever felt it.”
Even though that line appears before the chorus in which we meet the teen character, he only ever refers to himself as “I,” never “we.” So, the “we” must refer to the actual band and not to the character. The introduction to the first song on the album, which is addressed directly to fans, supports this.
With “I could write it better than you ever felt it,” the band draws attention to the fact that fans (either serious or casual) often use band lyrics in their instant messenger away messages or as their statuses on social networking sites. or just in general to express how they’re feeling. That statement isn’t direct criticism of this practice, but the band is poking fun at those people by saying their words are truer than any emotion fans might experience.
That line also speaks to the character in the chorus, who looks at his teen romance with some disdain like, “What was I thinking?” Fall Out Boy is telling him what he was thinking—they can write it better than he felt it (perhaps better than they felt it when they were teenagers), and they have in previous songs.
The rest of the song dances between the obvious chorus character and more band interjection. It’s often difficult to tell if the author or the character is speaking. It is also difficult to tell to whom the speaker speaks. You could argue that it’s all the author, only speaking to the ex-lover, but that feels wrong.
If all the “I”s in the song are the same speaker, it seems logical that all the “you”s would be the same person as well, and what would the speaker have to gain by telling his ex-lover that he could write her feelings better than she felt them? Especially since the speaker in the chorus is focused on the way he felt, not the way his lover felt.
The middle two stanzas are mostly authorial interjection, but two lines sound more like the character than the band. “I love you in the same way there’s a chapel in a hospital / One foot in your bedroom and one foot out the door.”
The last time I checked, no members of Fall Out Boy were anywhere near my house, let alone halfway into my bedroom. By the logic I’ve set up here, the line immediately following, “Sometimes we take chances, sometimes we take pills” has to be authorial interjection because of its use of “we.”
And while the line between character and author is incredibly blurred, I can, and will, argue that the “we” in that stanza includes the audience as well as the band members. Making your listeners a part of the song necessitates that they exit any sort of musical immersion they may have been feeling and think about themselves in relation to the song—and that’s just another form of meta.
So the real question is, has Fall Out Boy made the pronouns in this song confusing on purpose, or was it an accident? There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the lines intend to make fun of listeners for listening to emo music, I do wonder if the band meant to include the audience and simultaneously alienate them by making fun of them.
“Thriller,” “The Take Over, The Break’s Over,” “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race”
Although not nearly as meta as “Hum Hallelujah,” the first three songs on Infinity on High do involve Fall Out Boy singing about Fall Out Boy. “Thriller” comments on the band’s status as emo music kings, and goes on to imply that while fans might label the band, they aren’t going to label themselves.
“Make us poster boys for your scene / But we are not making an acceptance speech … Crowds are won and lost and won again / But our hearts beat for the diehards.”
Quite simply, they are examining and commenting on their own music with their own music. And, I might add, it’s pretty ballsy to basically tell off half the people who bought your album.
In “The Take Over, The Break’s Over,” the band talks about its fame: “People will dissect us till / This doesn’t mean a thing anymore / Don’t pretend you ever forgot about me.” It’s safe to say that this song criticizes the emo scene rather harshly, but that’s neither here nor there.
Fall Out Boy continues its emo criticism with “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” although this song is funnier and more tongue-in-cheek—I’m sure they know who’s paying their bills, and they wouldn’t want to completely alienate their fans. “I am an arms dealer / Fitting you with weapons in the form of words / And I don’t really care which side wins / As long as the room keeps singing / That’s just the business I’m in.”
The band is also making quite a statement by comparing the emo scene to an arms race. I’m not sure if that’s simple narcissism or if they’re trying to comment on the current state of music—or on the current state of arms races.
Regardless of the band’s opinion on arms races, if you enjoy laughing at emo kids, you should consider purchasing this album on Amazon.com or at iTunes, or at least listening to some live versions over at last.fm (I’ll keep my opinion of how Patrick Stump sounds live to myself).