Cults – “Gilded Lily” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Gilded Lily” is all about how life is change. The lyrics focus on how we feel pain when we meet this change because we want to hold onto things in a certain form. While many interpreters of the song have explained it in terms of a human relationship, I think it is primarily an exploration of our relationship with life itself.

According to Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, “Gilded Lily” was written after an intense period of suffering in their lives. Most notably, there were deaths in the duo’s friend group and troubles with record labels that emotionally exhausted them. When the duo saw how fans were using the song to express their own trauma, they were pleased because it was exactly what they intended.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these abstract lyrics to discover their hidden meaning. We’ll also take a look at the story behind the song and its universal themes that make it impactful for so many. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“Gilded Lily” Lyrics Meaning

The main point to consider when interpreting this song, according to Brian Oblivion, is the “transient nature of life.” Since this song (and the entirety of Offering) was written after a period of loss for Cults, this theme offers comfort to anyone suffering.

The first line is being said after one of these losses. It’s “been long enough to talk about it” now, and our narrator has moved beyond denial. Rather than “doubt it,” she’s started to understand it.

Next, the narrator reveals that they are in a conversation, but it’s unclear who they’re talking to. Most interpreters of the song have assumed the context of a human relationship, and I think this is definitely one level of analysis you could look at. However, in truth, I think the broader dialogue is taking place between the narrator and life itself. Let me explain:

Life manifests itself through living things, including people. The narrator has been told by life that moving past loss is an “everyday decision,” but she feels conflicted about doing so. She sees in “double vision” and finds it hard to “see the way” forward.

In simple terms, this means that people have been reminding her about the importance of acceptance and perseverance. However, she can see both the good and terrible sidesof life, and it’s unclear which one is more real. This is the “double vision” being described.

The pre-chorus looks at the terrible side, whereas the chorus looks at the good. In the pre-chorus, the song famously repeats, “Haven’t I given enough?” This is done to point out the things life takes away from us. In times of suffering, it can seem like the demands of life will never end.

On the flip side, the narrator says, “I know you’ll take me with you” in the chorus. What could this mean? I think it has to do with the nature of loss. Loss, essentially, is parting ways with something or someone. It seems like a separation, but in reality, the narrator is recognizing that the exchange of experiences and energies between the two parties never goes away.

In this sense, loss is an illusion. It’s the end of something, but it’s also the beginning. This is what Brian Oblivion meant by the “transient nature of life.” The fact that someone or something is now gone does not mean that life has actually left you; it has simply changed forms. The same could be said of our own deaths.

The “fool with the slowest heart” remains attached to what they have lost. However, once you’ve accepted that life will always take you with it (and vice versa), things become clearer. You learn to look for life in new, unexpected places, such as the “spaces between walls.” It’s in everything – from the smallest lily to the most lovable human beings.

That’s all well and good in theory, but loss hurts! This is why verse two takes us to the most extreme version of loss: death. The image of a graveyard is a clear reference to this, and “every city” has one. Exhausted by death, the narrator describes “passing out” in the backyard as “night turns into day.”

What does this bizarre story represent? Well, there are several meanings. Firstly, it’s important to note that night is becoming day, not the other way around. Although the narrator is suffering, she’s beginning to understand and move past the darkness.

The song’s title, “Gilded Lily,” is based on an idiom that describes trying to improve on what is already perfect. When human beings attempt to hold onto things as they are, they try to improve on the natural course of life (which is change and transience). We suffer because we desire a certain state of being or outcome rather than embracing the cosmic order.

In the bridge, the narrator seems to submit to life and the ways it will change her. This is what she means by asking it to stretch her arms “as long as they need to be.” When she says, “Turn off all alarms and lie to me,” she’s requesting that life bring her peace. She wants to participate in the illusion that her experiences are unique while recognizing that all things are just life wearing different masks.

In summary “Gilded Lily” is about accepting suffering by saying ‘yes’ to life and all of its twists. This includes loss, suffering, pain, joy, and both the old and the new. Rather than gilding the lily by insisting on a certain state of affairs eternally, we should accept that life’s transience is already perfect.

The Story Behind “Gilded Lily”

The entirety of Offering was written with suffering in mind, and “Gilded Lily” is no exception to the rule. According to Brian Oblivion in this interview, a “series of tragedies” and even deaths rocked Cultsto their core before they produced this song and its companions.

Evidently, the emotions they were feeling at the time carried through. “Gilded Lily” has experienced something of a resurgence through social media platforms like TikTok, where young people are using it to “soundtrack” their own struggles. When Cultssaw this resurgence and these interpretations, they responded positively.

Not only did they enjoy the appreciation of their art, but they also catered to the new audience. Cults released a slowed-down and a sped-up version of “Gilded Lily” to imitate the TikTok remixes. All three versions have been heard by millions of ears, meaning the song can only be considered a success.

The next time you play this moody tune, let these pieces of background information bring it to life!