"Viva la Vida" is a song by the English rock band Coldplay. It was written by all members in the band for their fourth album in 2008. The meaning of the title is ‘long live life’ in Spanish. The lyrics of the song mainly contain Christian as well as historical references. The song "Viva la Vida" reached the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. It most notably won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year at the 51st Grammy Awards. The frontman of the band, Chris Martin, christened the song ( SPIN Magazine, 2008), named after a Mexican painting by Frida Kahlo. The artist went through so much in her life and these words inscribed in her painting bore testimony to that.
We should never bring down what we have built and try to remember what is important in our lives, rather than getting carried away by the many trappings of other things. From the words of the band’s bassist Guy Berryman, it is a historical narration about a king who loses his kingdom. In fact, the general theme in the entire album where this song is based on revolutionaries and guerrillas. It is that of powerful people who suddenly lose all authority and reduced to ordinary men due to decisions that they made. Even from the lyrics in the first verse,
“I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
now in the morning I sweep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own”
One powerful ruler whose authority has crumbled is depicted. He has therefore been reduced to an ordinary human who does chores like anyone else. The tone of the song is regretful when looking at his powers in retrospect. Some allusions have been made to Napoleon, the great French king, who ruled over the country in the past. This is because of the vast French course in the song and even the album cover is a Revolutionary French painting.
There are many aspects that allude to Christianity and history in general. In the chorus, there is a great deal of reference to the king’s death.
‘I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing’
Bells and choirs ringing could refer to the norm during a funeral procession in most cases. The reference to mirror, sword and shield are Christian references to Christ as the ruler of the world which means he is anticipating going to heaven after life on Earth. There is also a mention of Saint Peter who is believed according to Christian teachings, to call the people who have been admitted to go to heaven. It is believed that Saint Peter has the final jurisdiction over the people who should go to heaven and who should not (Thomas Stackhouse (1869). By saying,
‘I know Saint Peter won’t call my name’
the king is very sure he won’t have a good chance of going to heaven as he did evil when he ruled.
The song is rich in many stylistics features. The mention of a puppet on a lonely string in one of the verses would refer to the fact that the king is now powerless and all the directions would be coming from elsewhere but not from him. This implies that a leader should always assert their authority rather than allow manipulation because in the end, he is solely responsible for his own decisions.
In the second verse, the king says that he ‘held the key’ which would mean that he was in charge or in control of the world. Holding the key would refer to being the determinant of what destiny would hold. Afterwards, the king becomes less powerful, he realizes that his castle stood on pillars of sand and salt which is to show that it is on a weakened foundation and would soon fall. Good builders would always set their structures on firm foundations.
This song is therefore a general depiction of how people gain power and, when intoxicated by it,think that they can be able to control everything. Soon there are revolutions emerging and the rulers are trounced and conquered by others. It is a call for humility and sobriety during rulers’ reigns instead of being out of control because of the power the rulers can sometimes wield.
The tone is therefore that of a contemplative ruler who wishes he could havedone things differently when he was the ruler as everything around him seems to have crumbled.The song is that of regret and indeed a lesson to anyone that holds power who are all encouraged to make good decisions as the future relies on it.