British synthpop chanteuse Ellie Goulding is climbing the charts once again with her second big Stateside hit, "Burn" (co-written by OneRepublic's seemingly ubiquitous Ryan Tedder). It's the lead single from 2013's Halcyon Days, a bonus-track reissue of 2012's Halcyon. And on the wings of her hauntingly ethereal voice, we're encouraged to either a) celebrate and embrace love, hope and determination, or b) celebrate and embrace how great a good night at the club might make us feel.
So which is it?
Goulding's pulsating rhythms propel an odd, orbital perspective—like a view of the Burning Man music festival from 80,000 feet. "We, we don't have to worry 'bout nothing," she begins, "'Cause we got the fire, and we're burning one h‑‑‑ of a something/They, they gonna see us from outer space, outer space/Light it up, like we're the stars of the human race."
Those lyrics frame the song's overarching theme: The incendiary beauty of, it would seem, human beings who are engulfed by a transcendent, almost primal yearning to shine bright in the darkness.
"When the light started out they don't know what they heard," Goulding continues in the song's (oft-repeated) pre-chorus. "Strike the match, play it loud, giving love to the world/We'll be raising our hands, shining up to the sky/'Cause we got the fire, fire, fire/Yeah we got the fire, fire, fire."
It's possible to hear those lyrics as affirming the basic joys of being human. And to be human, Goulding seems to suggest, is to burn with a passionate desire to love the world, to be visible in a way that makes a difference in the lives of others.
Goulding isn't necessarily singing about anything explicitly religious. But the feelings she (along with the help of Tedder, who hails from a Christian background) articulates here do at least hint at a kind of spiritual longing. Fire. Euphoric feelings. Music. Mankind. God?
Looking at things from that perspective, what Goulding's describing seems not too far removed from something like worship: raising our hands in awe and celebration, even as a sense of deep wellbeing floods our souls.
The difference, of course, is that Goulding is much closer to worshiping the feeling itself rather than the God who inspires such reverence and awe. And besides, maybe all that burning and passion has a more down-to-earth source: the throbbing of the lights and speakers at a really happenin' dance club.
"We don't wanna leave, no," the next verse tells us. "We just wanna be right now, right now/And what we see is everybody's on the floor acting crazy, getting loco till the lights out/Music's on, I'm waking up, we start the fire, then we burn it up." So when Goulding sings about this kind of burning, it's clearly of a more fleshly origin—the biological burn that comes from surrendering to a frenetic night of dancing amid pounding, hypnotic beats.
The latter interpretation is supported by the song's video, in which Goulding and a whole bunch of friends do indeed dance the night away in a field surrounding a lone runway at a desert airport. As the runway's landing beacons pulsate in the night, the pretty people gathered there distribute bowling-ball-sized orbs—which begin to pulsate too.
As it ends, we see the lit-up initials e.G. as the camera retreats to a high-altitude perspective. It's another hint, albeit unintentional, that as much as we long for transcendence, we'll likely wind up worshiping only ourselves or our feelings if God's not fully in the frame.