Vance Joy – “Riptide” 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.

“Riptide,” by Vance Joy, presents a captivating journey into the world of raw emotions, personal fears, and the yearning for love. It narrates the story of a man entranced by a woman’s voice, so much so that he yearns to become her ‘left-hand man’, a reliable support in her life.

The song encapsulates his deep-seated fears – from the simplistic dread of dentists and darkness to the more complex fear of engaging in meaningful conversations. But at its core, “Riptide” is about confronting one’s fears for the sake of love.

Dive in for a deeper exploration.

“Riptide” Lyrics Meaning

From the very first lines, “I was scared of dentists and the dark/I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations”, Vance Joy presents us with an intimate peek into the speaker’s psyche. These are common fears, but their acknowledgment sets the stage for a tale of vulnerability.

In the next lines, “Oh, all my friends are turning green/You’re the magician’s assistant in their dream”, the green envy of friends suggests they are captivated by the same woman, further indicating her allure. But she isn’t the magician; she is the assistant, perhaps revealing a perception of her as unattainable or distant.

“Lady, running down to the riptide/Taken away to the dark side/I wanna be your left-hand man” forms the crux of the song. The riptide and the dark side could symbolize the chaos and darker aspects of life, which she seems to be drawn to. The speaker yearns to accompany her through these trials, demonstrating his commitment.

Repeated lines “I love you when you’re singing that song/And I got a lump in my throat/’Cause you’re gonna sing the words wrong” suggest the speaker’s affection isn’t dependent on perfection. The ‘lump in his throat’ symbolizes emotional vulnerability and fear, probably because he fears her mistakes might lead her astray.

“There’s this movie that I think you’ll like/This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City/This cowboy’s running from himself/And she’s been living on the highest shelf” brings forward the escapism theme. The woman, much like the cowboy, is avoiding her reality, living on a ‘high shelf’, away from life’s harsh realities. This adds to the speaker’s fears, enhancing the urgency in his desire to be there for her.

The lyrics, “I just wanna, I just wanna know/If you’re gonna, if you’re gonna stay/I just gotta, I just gotta know/I can’t have it, I can’t have it any other way”, express a plea for clarity and commitment. The speaker craves assurance that she will stay despite the fears and insecurities that haunt him.

Finally, “I swear she’s destined for the screen/Closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you’ve ever seen, oh” portrays the speaker’s high regard for the woman. He sees her as a star, elevating her status and making his fears and desires even more poignant.

“Riptide” is a deeply emotive song, weaving together themes of fear, yearning, and love, and reflecting the all-too-human struggle of navigating these complex emotions. Its universal appeal lies in its authentic portrayal of vulnerability and the longing to connect, despite the inherent fears that such a connection may bring.

The Story Behind “Riptide”

Understanding the context of “Riptide” and the mental state of the songwriter, Vance Joy, at the time he wrote it, gives a fresh perspective to the song.

Joy, born James Keogh, wrote “Riptide” over a span of several years. It started as fragments of a story that Joy put together, reflecting different stages of his life. A significant part of the song was inspired by Joy’s own experience of falling for a girl and his struggles in expressing his feelings. This insight adds an authentic layer of vulnerability to the song, making it relatable to anyone who has ever found themselves tangled in the web of unspoken love.

The song was also penned during a time when Joy was making a transition from playing Australian rules football to a career in music. This significant change in his life path could be the reason behind the undercurrent of uncertainty and fear that runs throughout the song.

The use of the phrase “Riptide,” a strong sea current that pulls away from the shore, could be seen as a metaphor for the major shifts in Joy’s life at that time. He might have felt swept away from his comfort zone, much like the subject of his song.

His reference to being scared of dentists and the dark might seem literal, but they represent more than just childhood fears. They serve as a metaphor for facing the unknown or uncomfortable situations in life – a theme that aligns with the fear of change and the future uncertainties that Joy was likely experiencing during his transition from sports to music.

The line “I swear she’s destined for the screen, the closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you’ve ever seen” is a tribute to Joy’s infatuation with Pfeiffer, who he saw in “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” This reveals a youthful, almost dreamy side of Joy, further infusing the song with a blend of reality and fantasy.

In conclusion, “Riptide” is a reflection of Vance Joy’s personal experiences, fears, dreams, and desires. It stands as a testament to his journey, filled with the complexities of life, love, and personal growth. His ability to weave together these elements into a heartfelt song resonates with listeners worldwide, making “Riptide” a timeless piece in the realm of indie-pop music.