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Meaning of the song ‘What Ever Happened?’ by ‘The Strokes’

Released: 2003

The Strokes’ “What Ever Happened?” is a track that marries the raw energy of garage rock with the reflective melancholy that defined the early 2000s indie scene. This song delves into themes of disillusionment, the desire to escape the burdens of memory, and the complexities of interpersonal relationships. It’s a poignant exploration of the desire to be both forgotten and remembered, cherished yet left alone.

The opening lines, “I wanna be forgotten / And I don’t wanna be reminded”, set the tone for the song’s exploration of existential angst. The speaker expresses a desire to escape the weight of their past, possibly hinting at the pressures of fame and the constant reminders of one’s missteps or regrets. This is followed by an interplay of dialogues, “You say, ‘Please don’t make this harder’ / No, I won’t yet”, illustrating a tense negotiation within relationships. This repetition hints at a cycle of conflict and reconciliation, possibly reflecting the repetitive strains of being in the public eye or in a tumultuous personal relationship.

The verse, “Oh, dear, is it really all true? / Did they offend us and they want it to sound new?”, throws a punch at the music industry and popular culture, criticizing how originality is often repackaged as mere innovation. The lines take a jab at the superficiality of media, reality TV, and the endless countdowns that recycle culture without soul or acknowledgment of its roots, asking, “Whose culture is this and does anybody know?” This reflects a broader critique of how society handles art and culture, stripping them of their essence and repurposing them for mass consumption.

A particularly intriguing line, “I wait and tell myself, ‘Life ain’t chess'”, speaks to the unpredictability of life. Unlike chess, where each move can be calculated, life doesn’t follow a predictable course. This line encapsulates the theme of the song—navigating through the uncertainties of life and relationships, acknowledging the solitude that often accompanies the journey when he says, “But no one comes in and yes, you’re alone”.

The brief yet evocative, “Oh, Tennessee, what did you write? / I come together in the middle of the night”, might be an allusion to Tennessee Williams, an American playwright known for his lyrical and emotional works. This line could signify searching for meaning or solace in the arts or the act of creation, which often comes when one is alone with their thoughts at night. However, the acknowledgment that “that’s an ending that I can’t write” illustrates a feeling of powerlessness, acknowledging the limitations within which personal and artistic expressions exist.

In the repetition of the desire to be forgotten and not reminded, alongside wanting to be beside her, wanting to be admired, we see the paradox of human connection and alienation. The song encapsulates the complexities of maintaining individuality and dependence within relationships, and the longing to escape the cycle of desire and disappointment.

In summary, “What Ever Happened?” by The Strokes isn’t just a song; it’s a narrative packed with existential questions, a critique of popular culture, and a reflection on the human condition. The Strokes masterfully weave these themes into a composition that’s as introspective as it is outward-looking, questioning the nature of fame, individuality, and the very culture we consume and participate in.

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