Avicii’s 2013 Song Wake Me Up, released as a single first, and included on his debut album True, is one of the most successful singles ever. Written by Avicii (Tim Bergling), Mike Einziger, and Aloe Blacc, it went to no. 1 in many countries, including several US charts (Hot Dance/Electronic Songs, Adult Top 40, Dance Club, Mainstream Top 40, but not the Billboard Hot 100), Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, the UK (both Singles and Dance), and more (over 20 altogether). It was the first song ever to hit 200 million streams on Spotify (achieved in February 2014).
The Official Video: Finding out where You Belong
The official video (over 1.9 billion (!) views at the time of writing this) was released a few weeks after the single, in July 2013. It tells a story in its own right, beyond the lyrics: Two girls, apparently sisters, suffer in their little village from being different to the other residents, most of whom look at them dismissively. Both have a special tattoo on their arms: a symbol of two triangles facing opposite directions, with a little gap in between, which they hide under their clothing.
One day, while the young girl is still asleep, the older girl rides off on a horse to a nearby city. The video features impressive images of her path: a long straight along a plantation, towards the mountains, then crossing a river, before finally reaching the city, riding along an empty highway, into “Fashion District”, along monumental buildings. She ties the horse to a mast, then meets the first person. As opposed to herself, the young lady who passes shows her bare shoulder. The girl turns around, the same tattoo appears on the lady, they meet, and soon she is welcomed by a group of people. They drive to a party, they dance, and a lot of people show the same tattoo openly.
The girl returns home to her younger sister, and makes her pack up immediately: “Where are we going?” – “Somewhere we belong”, she smiles. This time, they have to walk all the way until they both get to dance with all the immediately welcoming, equally tattooed people.
A Spiritual Perspective on the Video
The story certainly makes sense when taken literally, and it is easy to identify with the girls feeling lost in their village, and so warmly welcomed in the city, where they find like-minded people to party with.
The girls could be aspects of the same human being. The older girl might symbolize the soul, while the younger girl represents human personality. The soul, at least if it is not entirely caught up in worldly worries, can access a wider range of experience than the human, who usually can only overlook his own short life span.
This human being is a seeker already at the beginning of the video. She / he has realized there is nothing to expect from life as she knows it. There must be more – only where can this “more” be found?
The Soul gets to see Light
It is a classic start to a spiritual journey: The soul receives a clear impression of light while everyday awareness is asleep. It is the soul that experiences a higher state of being first. Many people’s souls may receive such inspiration – however it is the question how we react. Here, the younger sister is ready to follow her soul’s leadership – she knows deeply there is not much to lose if she tried to maintain her old life in the village.
At night, when there is no distraction from the senses, and ordinary awareness retreats, the soul is open to impressions from a different realm. Her purity determines which realm she will connect to. Here, the soul aspect is called from its true home. She can move much more lightly than the human’s physical body – an attribute nicely symbolized by the horse.
The Contrast between People in the Village and in the City
The people in the village disapprove of the seeker: She is longing for something different, she cannot live life like the other people, surrendering to hopelessness, getting sucked up in everyday routine. They don’t like her – maybe because she has maintained a spark of light that they have lost access to, and they don’t like to be reminded of their loss. It feels like they have built walls around them. Many seekers have been called fools for aiming at something that cannot be grasped by common sense.
The people in the city are much more open and welcoming. They are well connected to their innermost spark of light, and so have overcome the need to separate from others. At the level of the soul, there is no division, just unity. No fear, no envy, no need to pretend to be anyone special, no need to hide weaknesses and wounds, …
Human and Soul need to go the Path Together
A second contrast is that between the rather quick ride on the horseback by the older girl, and the much slower walk when the two girls leave the village together for good. It is a typical experience at the beginning of a spiritual quest: A seeker finds a new group, a new philosophy, a new impulse, a new insight into the purpose of her life. She is enthusiastic, and may expect quick progress, because everything suddenly makes sense, everything feels right – so she feels very close to the goal.
However, all aspects of the old being need to be transformed. The soul, with all its lightness, needs to team up with the human, with his weaknesses, his lack of discipline, his susceptibility to distraction … And so the journey may turn out longer and more arduous than anticipated. (On the connection between human and soul see also posts on Leonard Cohen’s Ballad of the Absent Mare and Bob Dylan’s Changing of the Guards.)
Fashion District: Weaving the Soul Garment?
When the older girl first reaches the city, she enters “Fashion District” (at 2:01 in the video). This might be a hint at a finer level of fashion: Not clothes to exchange arbitrarily, but maybe a soul garment? In spiritual contexts (including the Holy Bible), clothes have often been used in that sense. (Read more in the post on Simon & Garfunkel’s version of Scarborough Fair.)
The Lyrics: A Popular Summer Hit?
Vocalist and co-author Aloe Blacc stated in Today that when touring, he realized what a great life he was having: “Wake me up when it’s all over” – and the lyrics evolved from there.
Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
They tell me I’m too young to understand
They say I’m caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes
Well that’s fine by me
To us, the lyrics work on several levels. They can express the joy of the moment …
So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost
… as well as a search for the truth deep within. Realizing that something is missing (“I didn’t know I was lost“) is an important step. Growing up, we might get depressed about the state of the world, but that doesn’t help …
I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
I hope I get the chance to travel the world
But I don’t have any plans
I wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
Life’s a game made for everyone
And love is the prize
Love could relate to finding a dear partner, a soul mate, as well as re-connecting to the light, as spiritual love songs describe.
Especially in combination with the movie, the song sends a strong message, encouraging us to follow our soul’s voice.