What Is Calvin Harris' "My Way" About? There Are Many Interpretations Of The Song — LISTEN
While it already feels like we're deep into fall, Calvin Harris is bringing back your summer in Ibiza with his new release. Seriously: if you're ready for a tropical dance party, the Scottish DJ has you covered. And, if you're allergic to having a song looping over and over in your head for the next two millennia, I'd suggest skipping, because this is catchy AF. But it's not all about the melody. The lyrics are fairly pointed, and, if you've listened to the song a few times over, you might be asking yourself what is Calvin Harris' "My Way" about? Great question.
Harris' fall opus can be read on a few different levels — and I'd argue that it's deliberately constructed in a way to appeal to multiple target groups. If you're a tabloid journalist (or a lover of celebrity gossip), it would be very easy to read this song as an outpouring of emotion on Harris' part about his relationship with pop songstress Taylor Swift. However, the lyrics are vague enough for it to function completely impersonally: it's the sort of song where most listeners will be able to apply it to their own lives in a myriad of different ways. Oh, and it's also definitely about the "millennial whoop." Let's explore.
The Personal Interpretation
It's worth noting that Harris opted to use his own vocals for the song instead of collaborating with a vocalist as usual. This feels like Harris prompting the listener to think that the song may be more personal to him than his other material. The dogged reiteration of "You were the one thing in my way," followed by the joyful calypso rhythm, feels like Harris' message to the world: post-Taylor, I'm doing just fine, thank you very much.
The irony of this is that all the factors that make the song seem like Harris' most personal offering to the world — the post Hiddleswift split timing, the novelty of a Calvin Harris song with Calvin Harris vocals — undermine this. It's all too perfect. Maybe the song is meant to make us ask these questions, meant to get us talking, while it has no personal meaning at all.
The Impersonal Interpretation
I believe a good pop song has one defining quality: as many people as possible should be able to find some sort of solace or excitement or emotional reaction to your piece. As much as I can imagine tabloids the world over reporting that the song is a blistering attack on Swift, details are thin on the ground when it comes to lyrics. It's hard to read too deeply into a song whose chorus is effectively "my way, my way, my way." Harris told iHeartRadio:
[The] song's kind of about breaking out of a situation that you thought was a good thing. Then, you're way more comfortable out of it and it could be anything. It could be a job, or it could be a relationship. I had kind of the idea for the concept for a few years, but I didn't know how to work out how it sounded.
This is exactly what the song sounds like: its lyrics are emotional, but without detail, so you can apply them to basically any situation. From this perspective, the song's about finally having the courage to make a break with a situation that no longer suits you.
The Millennial Whoop Interpretation
On August 20, Patrick Metzger wrote a convincing essay for The Patterning, arguing that there was one musical tic that has spread like flu through modern pop: the "millennial whoop," a "sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale... A singer usually belts these notes with an 'Oh' phoneme, often in a 'Wa-oh-wa-oh' pattern." This pattern is probably one of the most dominant aspect of the lyrics, where over half of the words are "my way," sung in the same whooping fashion Metzger describes.
The millennial whoop idea has proved almost as infectious as the sound itself, with it being written about by the AV Club, the Guardian, the NME and with Quartz making a video about it. Could this be Harris' attempt to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the sound pattern via releasing his most millennial whoop-y hit yet now?
Whatever Harris' true intent behind this banger of a pop hit, its triple threat of Taylor Swift hints, universal but curiously emotional statements, and millennial whoop patterning means it's sure to be September's most viral hit.