Lorde’s Ribs And The Gospel

Back in May I discovered a guilty pleasure of mine when it comes to music: Lorde.

In April, I started reading some literature on postmodernism, a philosophical guilty pleasure of mine.

Listening to Lorde’s music in conjunction with literature on postmodernism has been both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. I’ve found a lot of postmodern themes in her music, but I’m not sure if that’s the nature of her music, the nature of postmodernism, or both.

That said, she seems well aware of herself, others, and the world around her – that which came before and after.

(She read 1,000 books by the time she was 12, and chose her stage name because of a fascination with aristocracy. I don’t mean to put my foot in my mouth, but I’m not entirely convinced many stereotypical musicians on Billboard 100 could define “aristocracy.”)

Anyway, in good and proper postmodern fashion, I am going to highlight just a fraction of one song.

Not only that, but it will entirely be lyrical.

I am not musically well-endowed enough to know about the technicalities of sound and whatnot.

So lyrics it is!

The song of choice is, obviously, “Ribs.”

I highly encourage you to listen to it before reading this. Get a feel for the sound.

[Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gurezhY7cCw ]

Then read all the lyrics.


Okay, all done?


Seriously. Go do that.

Alright, here is the passage I will be looking at:

“You’re the only friend I need
Sharing beds like little kids
Laughing ’til our ribs are tough
But that will never be enough”

This passage, which is towards the end of the song(an important note, as whatever message this passage conveys is what the listener is left with…the conclusion. The “this. This is what’s true” of the song.), begins with “You’re the only friend I need.” Lorde seems to be assuming this friend of her’s will be enough – or at least, this person’s friendship will be enough. What exactly “enough” means could be looked at philosophically(ie: if she holds a philosophy that humans require connection to be fully alive versus the belief we can be completely alone and be quite fine), psychologically (ie: relationally), or even biologically (ie: are they compatible physically?).

Lorde builds on this trust that this friend of her’s will be enough with the next two lines:
“Sharing beds like little kids, Laughing ’til our ribs are tough.”
Both of these lines give the listener this idea of joy. Laying on a bed with a friend, reflecting on nostalgic inside jokes, or perhaps even creating them in the moment.
The language of “little kids” suggests an innocence, a blind trust or faith – not just on one end of the relationship – but both. Both of them are putting “all in.”
They’re causing each other to laugh so hard, their ribs are getting tough (ie: building muscle/endurance/strength). The language here suggests they are helping each other get stronger physically, and, more metaphorically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally.
And then reality hits – “But that will never be enough.”
The language of “will” is striking.
You are left thinking that the friendship is in the NOW “sharing, laughing.” But the language of the final line, “will” is future tense, and Lorde seems to be suggesting these things haven’t happened, and even if they do happen, it won’t matter – they simply won’t satisfy. Any strength/support these two people offer each other – it won’t be enough.
It’s as if she suggests relationships and community, despite the allure of satisfaction, simply just “won’t do,” which is rather fitting, when you look at the next track on the album, Buzzcut Season, where Lorde sings, “Favorite friend, nothing’s wrong when nothing’s true, I live in a hologram with you..” Everything is fake to her.
From this point, the interpretation can go two ways:

1. Relationships and human connection simply won’t satisfy, so there’s no point. This could easily be the takeaway message if one doesn’t have hope in something greater.

2. Relationships and human connection simply won’t satisfy, but there is a point. There is a relationship, a connection, that can and will satisfy, if you let it. This is where I see the gospel, or part of it at least, in this song. Although Lorde does not offer an ending to the song that is optimistic (“That will never be enough” is repeated five times), this song is highly critical of the artificial, “single-serve” (to use language from Fight Club) relationships of the postmodern society. It also shows that even the most intimate bonds between humans are obviously fragile, broken messes, and that something needs to be done. One cannot have hope until one needs something to hope for – and given that the message of Jesus is one of hope – this song does quite a good job of setting up the listener for some of the relational aspects of the broad, all-encompassing loving message of Jesus:

satisfying, trinitarian, shalom-centered relationships between the three parts of self, the three sentient relations [God, other, self], and the three relations [God, humans, non-sentient creation], which leads to a harmonious satisfying existence among all of creation).

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