The Genius Of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”

Behind a classic example of Tears For Fears’ understated approach to new wave.

Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” is a track with several interpretations. This is just one reason of many why, along with “Shout” and “Mad World”, it has stuck in the public imagination for years after its release. The track is a classic example of the band’s understated approach to new wave, but what exactly makes it grab the attention of music fans worldwide so much?

The duo, composed of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, met as teenagers. Before Tears For Fears, they formed two other bands – one teenage experiment which was short-lived, and the 1978 band Graduate. This saw them develop an uncanny ability to capture human emotion. Songs such as “Shout”, with its simple yet novel hook, show a precocious level of experience. Beyond this, Orzabal’s lyrical themes sit between new wave hedonism and the gloomy philosophy of goth. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” doesn’t encourage lust for power so much as criticise it. Yet, with a characteristic sophistication, the duo also appealed to humanity’s hidden nature too. Ultimately, it can’t be denied that there is a darker element to why this track resonated with so many people so quickly.

“There’s a room where the light won’t find you, holding hands while the walls come tumbling down.”

Roland Orzabal

The song’s secret is the way it talks about domination. At its heart, ”Everybody Wants To Rule The World” is accessible because it covers unavoidable parts of the human experience. On another level, the genius of Orzabal and Smith gives us ambiguous lyrics that can work both literally and as a metaphor. The song hints at a disaster, political or romantic, as the bridge reaches a climax with one of new wave’s most memorable couplets. “There’s a room where the light won’t find you”, Roland Orzabal sings – “holding hands while the walls come tumbling down”. In some ways, this brings to mind a dystopian future. However, it just as strongly symbolises the collapse of a relationship.

To great reception, Phonogram released the track on 22nd March 1985, as the third single off Songs From The Big Chair. It came third on the album’s tracklist and featured a pulsing, rhythmic bassline and a surprisingly upbeat, iconic riff. The band claimed that it was intended to offset some of their darker work. Yet underneath the music, the covers which followed still read between the lines for something more intense. And, although Smith and Orzabal recall they wrote the song in under two weeks, it shows a lot of subconscious thought. As part of their sophomore record, they had already gained a reputation for lyrics that hit all the right places. It seemed that even when they didn’t try, the two still connected with many.

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” was a chart hit in the UK, where it reached number 2 in the Billboard Top 100. However, it was in America that it really took off, due to its heavy rotation on MTV as a result of its eye-catching music video. This was filmed in California, and, although the pair went on to say they disliked the process of filming it, it nevertheless gained them a lot of success.

In the end, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” works so well because of the way it acknowledges humans are not perfect. It accepts and admits to the darker sides of human nature, and leaves it up to the listener to take from it what they will.

Featured Image by Raph_PH

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