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Behind the Meaning of “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay

June 16, 2023
viva la vida meaning

“Viva La Vida” is a hit single by the British rock band, released in 2008 as part of their fourth studio album of the same name.

The song was written by lead vocalist Chris Martin, who was inspired by the French Revolution and King Louis XVI’s reign.

The phrase “Viva La Vida” translates to “long live life” in Spanish, and the lyrics reflect on the fleeting nature of power and the importance of living in the moment.

The song’s upbeat melody and Martin’s passionate vocals have made it one of Coldplay’s most popular and enduring hits.

The song became an instant hit, topping charts all over the world.

But what is the meaning behind the song?

This article will delve deeper into the meaning behind the lyrics of “Viva La Vida” and explore the historical and cultural influences that shaped this iconic song.

Background For “Viva La Vida”

“Viva La Vida” was Coldplay’s first number-one single in the United States and the United Kingdom.

At the 2009 Grammy Awards, the album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends won Best Rock Album, and the single “Viva La Vida” won Song of the Year.

It became the best-selling album of 2008, selling over 10 million copies worldwide.

Each song in the album has a unique sound, different from others on the record.

“Viva La Vida” is based on a repeating string line that gradually increases as the song progresses, adding new instrumental layers until the finale.

Meaning Behind “Viva La Vida” and Album Cover

“Viva La Vida” is a famous saying used to salute royalty that loosely translates to “long live the king/queen/monarch.”

The song lyrics, unlike the title, are entirely in English and are designed to replicate King Louis XVI‘s final speech and thoughts on the date of his execution after the French Revolution.

The booing crowd and the executioner’s drum beats drowned most of the speech, so it was lost to history. 

He was also beheaded before completing his speech, so we need to know what he said.

The artwork is a recreation of Eugéne Delacroix’s 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People.

The painting depicts a woman personifying the concept of Liberty, leading the people forward over the bodies of the fallen.

It depicts French revolutionaries waving the French flag and being led by a human incarnation of Lady Liberty, representing the same ideological presence as the Statue of Liberty.

It represents the July Revolution, which deposed King Charles X in 1830, rather than the French Revolution.

While the album cover does not depict the First French Revolution, “Viva La Vida” most clearly does.

Ties To The French Revolution

“Viva La Vida” is an interpretation of Louis XVI’s farewell speech on the day of his execution and a recounting of the French Revolution that ended his reign from his point of view.

The lyrics describe a ruler who was once powerful and in control but has now lost his position and is experiencing a sense of confusion and uncertainty.

This could be seen as a reference to King Louis XVI of France, who was overthrown during the French Revolution and eventually executed.

In the song, Louis reflects on his reign and accepts his fate, hoping to apologize for his mistakes and wish the best for his country.

The song begins by describing his great power and the stark contrast between that and his current situation.

I used to rule the world.
Seas would rise when I gave the word.
Now in the morning, I sleep alone.
Sweep the streets I used to own

Louis felt like he was on top of the world and had all the power (which he did), but now he has to sleep alone in a jail cell while waiting for his punishment.

Even though they are in different parts, some of the lines in the song are meant to contrast each other.

As an example:

Listened as the crowd would sing
Now the old king is dead Long live the king

It is the exact opposite of:

Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

People were happy when Louis XVI’s grandfather gave him the throne, but they were unhappy with what he turned out to be as he grew into the role.

It also talks about his early reign’s success, with many changes and promises of a better future. 

As time passed, he either couldn’t or didn’t want to keep his promises, so people turned against him.

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Aw, who would ever want to be king?

At the end of the second and final verse (before the chorus is repeated twice), Louis XVI realizes he can’t do anything else.

The revolution is over except for his death, and he can’t change any of his past choices.

Ultimately, the song doesn’t show Louis XVI as a mean king.

Instead, it shows him as a person.

It’s the king’s thoughts on his lost country and how he’s sorry he wasn’t good enough to rule. 

Instead of begging for his life and praying for forgiveness, he realizes he has let his people down and accepts his fate.

This portrayal makes Louis XVI into a sympathetic character who realizes far too late that he had forgotten his values at the start of his reign and that power is a burden.

He promised his people the world but didn’t deal with any problems during his rule. 

Instead, he hid in his castles, which initially looked strong but didn’t protect him in the end.

Most historical reenactments show Louis XVI as a one-dimensional, unrepentant ruler who ruled over his people and made their lives miserable.

Coldplay did something different with “Viva La Vida,” and the result is an exciting new way to look at history.

Even though the rebels are doing the right thing, they end up being the bad guys instead.

The song puts the listener in the middle between the two sides, making it hard to tell who is right or wrong, even though the king knows he is to blame.

Cool Facts About “Viva La Vida”

When “Viva La Vida” reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, Coldplay became the first British male group in 17 years to have a second number 10 hit on the Hot 100.

The song features a sample from “The Diary of Horace Wimp” by Electric Light Orchestra.

A small US band called Creaky Boards said that Coldplay stole the melody of this song from a song they wrote in 2007 called “The Songs I Didn’t Write.”

Andrew Hoepfner, the singer, and producer for the band Creaky Boards, said that Chris Martin went to a Creaky Boards show in New York in October 2007.

Coldplay vehemently denied the claims.

They said that Martin was working at the Air Studio in London on the night he was meant to be watching them.

Also, this song was written and demoed seven months before the night in question.

The album sold more copies on iTunes in one day than any other music before it.

Since its release in June, over 500,000 digital copies of the Viva La Vida album have been downloaded from iTunes.

Joe Satriani, an American rock guitarist, sued Coldplay on December 4, 2008, saying they stole the melody of “If I Could Fly” from his 2004 album Is There Love in Space?

Satriani said Coldplay had “copied and incorporated substantial original portions” of his instrumental track.

On September 15, 2009, it was reported that the two parties had solved their legal problems.

Satriani’s case for copyright infringement had been thrown out, and the two parties might have agreed to settle out of court.

With 6.8 million copies sold, Viva La Vida was the best-selling album in the world in 2008.

At the 29th Annual ASCAP Awards in London, the song won the Song of the Year award.

This song was the first one that Coldplay played at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show. 

They were joined on stage by Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) members, who added strings.

In 2012, “Viva La Vida” was used in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

During the 2008–09 season, “Viva la Vida” was the song the German football team Hamburger SV played when they scored a goal.

During the 2008–09 season, the song was also the theme of the Spanish football team FC Barcelona.

The song was played on November 5, 2022, the last game of Gerard Pique’s 25-year career with FC Barcelona at Camp Nou.

“Viva la Vida” was the song played when a goal was scored at the UEFA Champions League Final and Europa League Final in 2012.

“Viva La Vida” has been covered by many artists, including Taylor Swift, One Direction, and 2Cellos.

You may also like: Best Inspirational Songs

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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