Meaning of Zombie by The Cranberries


The Cranberries

The Meaning and Impact of “Zombie” by The Cranberries

Zombie” is one of the most iconic songs by The Cranberries, an Irish rock band that rose to fame in the 90s. It is a powerful protest song that denounces the violence and injustice of the conflict in Northern Ireland, known as The Troubles. It took inspiration from a tragic incident in which two young boys lost their lives as a result of an IRA bombing in England. In this blog post, I will explore the artist’s perspective, the listeners’ interpretations, and the historical and societal context that influenced the song. I will also analyze the lyrics and the music of the song, and discuss its legacy and influence on music and culture.

The Artist’s Perspective

“Zombie” was written by Dolores O’Riordan, the lead singer and songwriter of The Cranberries. She said that she wrote the song in 20 minutes, on an acoustic guitar, in her flat in Limerick. She was deeply affected by the news of the Warrington bombings, which occurred on March 20, 1993. Two IRA improvised explosive devices hidden in litter bins detonated on a busy shopping street, killing three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry, and injuring 56 others. O’Riordan said that she felt “sad for [the] mother” who lost her child, and that she wanted to express her anger and frustration at the senseless violence.

She also said that she wanted to distance herself and her band from the IRA, and to show that not all Irish people supported their actions. “The IRA are not me. I’m not the IRA. The Cranberries are not the IRA. My family are not.” She used the word “zombie” as a metaphor to describe the dehumanizing effects of war and violence on individuals and communities. She said: “The zombies are people who are brainwashed into thinking that they have to do this or they have to do that.”

The song was recorded in Dublin with producer Stephen Street, who helped to create a heavier sound for the song, with distorted guitars, pounding drums, and O’Riordan’s passionate vocals. It was released as the lead single from their second studio album, No Need to Argue, on September 19, 1994. It was a huge success, reaching number one in several countries, including Australia, France, Germany, and Iceland. It also topped the US Alternative Airplay chart, and became their only song to do so. It won the Best Song Award at the 1995 MTV Europe Music Awards6.

The accompanying music video was directed by Samuel Bayer, who also directed Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It featured O’Riordan covered in gold paint and wearing a gold dress and headdress, resembling a Celtic goddess. It also showed scenes of children playing in Northern Ireland amid violence and soldiers. The video ended with a quote by O’Riordan: “This song is our cry against man’s inhumanity to man; and man’s inhumanity to child.”

The Listeners’ Interpretations

“Zombie” is a song that has resonated with many listeners who have found different meanings and messages in it. Some have interpreted it as a political statement, expressing solidarity with the victims of The Troubles and calling for peace and reconciliation. Some have related it to their own personal experiences of war, violence, or trauma, finding catharsis and empowerment in it. Some have simply enjoyed it as a catchy and memorable rock anthem.

The word “zombie” itself has been defined as “a person who is or appears lifeless, apathetic, or completely unresponsive to their surroundings” or “a person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote”9. The chorus of the song repeats the lines “In your head / Zombie / What’s in your head?”, suggesting that the narrator is questioning the motives and beliefs of those who perpetuate violence. The verses of the song describe how the narrator feels about the situation, using phrases like “Another head hangs lowly / Child is slowly taken” or “It’s the same old theme / Since nineteen sixteen”.

The Historical and Societal Context

“Zombie” came at a time when The Cranberries were at the peak of their popularity and fame, leading the Britpop movement that dominated the UK music scene in the mid-90s. Britpop was a genre that combined elements of British rock, pop, and alternative music, often influenced by bands like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, and The Smiths. Britpop bands like Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede, and others competed for chart positions, media attention, and fan loyalty. Britpop also reflected a sense of national pride and identity in Britain, especially after the Conservative Party lost power to Labour Party in 1997.

“Zombie” was one of the songs that challenged and contrasted the Britpop ethos and aesthetic. It was a song that addressed a serious and sensitive issue that affected both Britain and Ireland, and that had been largely ignored or trivialized by the mainstream media and culture. It was a song that showed a different perspective and voice from the Irish band, who had experienced The Troubles firsthand. It was a song that dared to speak the truth and to demand change.

The Song influenced and inspired many other artists and genres, especially in the alternative rock and metal scenes. Bands such as Bad Wolves, Breed 77, Miser, Orphaned Land, and The Pretty Reckless have covered the song or sampled it in their own songs. The song has also been used in various movies, TV shows, video games, and commercials, such as The Devil’s Own, Body of Proof, SingStar Rocks!, Guitar Hero Live, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.

The Lyrics Analysis

The lyrics of “Zombie” are divided into four sections: the intro, the verses, the chorus, and the outro. Each section conveys a different aspect of the song’s theme.

The intro sets the tone and mood of the song. It starts with the line “Another head hangs lowly”, which implies that someone has died or suffered as a result of violence. It then continues with the line “Child is slowly taken”, which refers to the deaths of Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry in the Warrington bombings. It then ends with the line “And the violence caused such silence / Who are we mistaken?”, which expresses the shock and confusion caused by the tragedy.

The verses provide details and examples of the situation. The first verse talks about how the violence has been going on for a long time, using the metaphor “the fire in your heart is out”. The second verse talks about how the violence is based on historical and political reasons, using the expression “the same old theme / Since nineteen sixteen”. The third verse talks about how the violence has affected innocent people, using the phrase “they’re still fighting / With their tanks and their bombs / And their bombs and their guns”.

The chorus summarizes and reinforces the message. It repeats the line “In your head / Zombie / What’s in your head?”, which questions the logic and morality of those who commit violence. It then repeats the line “In your head / They are fighting”, which emphasizes the contrast between reality and ideology.

The outro expands and emphasizes the message. It repeats the chorus twice, but adds some variations. The first time, it adds an extra “zombie” after each line, which shows repetition and frustration. The second time, it adds an extra “oh” after each line, which shows emotion and desperation. It then ends with a fade-out of O’Riordan’s vocals and Hogan’s guitar solo, which creates a sense of intensity and urgency.

The Conclusion

“Zombie” is a song that has made a lasting impact on music, culture, and society. It is a song that has expressed and exposed the pain and anger of The Troubles, and that has called for peace and justice. It is a song that has challenged and changed the way people think and act towards violence and war. It is a song that has shown that being a zombie is not a fate, but a choice.

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