The Smashing Pumpkins – “Cherub Rock” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

“Cherub Rock” by The Smashing Pumpkins is a biting critique of the music industry and the grunge scene of the ’90s. Songwriter Billy Corgan takes a hard swing at the record labels, critics, and even the fans who define what is “cool” or “authentic.” He’s also talking about the conflict within, the struggle to remain true to oneself when everyone else has their own opinion of who you should be. In essence, the song is a rebellious anthem that questions the societal norms and expectations that often limit individual creativity.

Ever wondered why “Cherub Rock” still resonates after all these years? Stick around to unravel the lyrical genius behind this Smashing Pumpkins classic. It’s more than just a grunge anthem.

“Cherub Rock” Lyrics Meaning

“Freak out / And give in.” Right away, Billy Corgan is laying down the conflict. To freak out is to rebel, but to give in is to conform. It’s that tension that pulses through the whole song. “Doesn’t matter what you believe in / Stay cool / And be somebody’s fool this year,” he continues. Corgan is calling out the hypocrisy in the music industry where the focus is more on trends than authentic talent.

The lines “Who is righteous, what is bold / So I’m told” dive into the idea that the industry has a pre-packaged set of values. These values are often presented as universal truths, but are actually curated to fit a commercial narrative. Who gets to decide what is cool or righteous? Mostly those in positions of power within the industry.

“Who wants honey? / As long as there’s some money” repeats like a mantra. Here, Corgan touches on the idea that many are willing to compromise their integrity for a taste of success or “honey,” as long as there’s money involved. It’s a stark reflection on the materialism that often precedes genuine artistic expression.

“Hipsters unite / Come align for the big fight to rock for you.” In these lines, the criticism extends to the audience as well. The “hipsters” and the “cool kids” are often the first to jump on new trends. However, they can be just as judgmental and exclusive, defining what should be considered good music.

“All those angels with their wings glued on / ‘Cause deep down / They are frightened and they’re scared / If you don’t stare.” Now we get to the crux. Corgan is saying everyone is putting on a show. Those who act like they have it all together are often the most scared. They stick on “angel wings” to look the part, but deep down, they’re just as insecure as anyone else.

The Story Behind “Cherub Rock”

When Billy Corgan wrote “Cherub Rock,” The Smashing Pumpkins were riding a wave of success, but not without its challenges. The band was often viewed as an outlier in the grunge scene. They were from Chicago, not Seattle. Their music had elements of goth and dream pop, breaking the grunge mold.

Corgan felt alienated and often spoke about how the media treated the band unfairly. There was an external expectation to fit into a predefined category, which led to frustrations within the band as well.

Yet, despite the personal and professional pressures, “Cherub Rock” emerged as a song that captured the zeitgeist of a generation struggling with identity and authenticity. It also gave Corgan a platform to vent his frustrations about an industry quick to put artists in boxes, and a culture obsessed with surface-level interpretations of what’s “cool” or “righteous.”

By pulling the curtain back, “Cherub Rock” serves as an enduring critique of the machine that often undermines artistic freedom. The Smashing Pumpkins may have been criticized for not being a “true” grunge band, but with this song, they proved that authenticity isn’t defined by a genre or a scene, but by the integrity of the artists themselves.