Elton John’s “Circle of Life” Lyrics Meaning
The title of this song (“Circle of Life”), as used in the lyrics therein, reads a lot like ‘que sera sere’, i.e. ‘what will be will be’. In other words, the vocalist is tasked with pointing out different general experiences we may collectively or individually go through.
And this is not only us humans but also, in keeping true to The Lion King, the animal kingdom also. For instance, when he points out “eat or be eaten”, that’s a statement we largely attribute to the creature world. But then “live and let live”, i.e. ‘do your thing and also let others do theirs’, is more applicable to the human experience.
And overall what Elton seems to be saying is that different beings have different destinies – “the wheel of fortune” as he puts it. Or better stated, in the “circle of life” there are some constants, such as the sun which shines above us all. But individually there are variations, i.e. some of us succeed, and some of us fail.
Some of us may go through life virtually untouched, while others “have to live with… scars”.
And beyond that what living on this Earth also entails, especially as far as people are concerned, is a thirst for curiosity. But ultimately the world is too big for any of us to actually see or do everything.
Additionally there is only one line of this song, which is found at the end of the first verse, which is actually philosophical, as in offering advice to the listener. And that is we should never take more than we give. And apparently heeding said admonishment will lead to one being a productive member of the “circle of life”.
What is “Circle of Life” really all about?
Based on the above, it’s almost as if, no offense, but this song isn’t about anything or at least nothing definitive. Rather life in and of itself is a grand experience which, similar to the concept of not being able to do it all, cannot be encapsulated in like a singular song.
Rather there are a myriad of experiences, variables if you will, which are not only individual specific, but also shall we say species specific. That is the “circle of life”. It is such that none of us, when “we arrive on the planet”, know exactly what our future is. Thus it is up to us to “find our (own) place” in the grand scheme of things.
Who wrote “Circle of Life”?
This song was written by Tim Rice and Elton John. The former wrote the lyrics first, upon which Sir John composed the music. In fact according to Rice, Elton was able to do so in about an hour and-a-half.
Everyone knows who Elton John is – one of the greatest musicians of contemporary history. Tim Rice is likewise distinguished, having also earned the English title of “Sir”, though he specializes more in theatre than pop music and as such is not as known.
And Chris Thomas, the producer of “Circle of Life”, is actually a regular collaborator of Elton John’s. He has also worked with other world-renowned acts from across the pond such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
And all three of them trace the start of their musical careers back to the 1960s.
Release Date of “Circle of Life”
“Circle of Life” officially came out on 31 May 1994 as part of “The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”. The Lion King, as you likely already know, is a Disney film. And thus this track was issued by the company’s own label, Walt Disney Records.
Multiple Versions of Song
There are actually two different versions of this song. The one performed at the beginning of The Lion King features vocals primarily by an American actress/singer name Carmen Twillie. At the intro of this version is a chant rendered in Zulu. FYI, Zulu is a very popular South African language.
The singer who chants in Zulu is a musician from the aforementioned country known as Lebo M. And basically, said chant serves the purpose of biggin’ up the main character of the film.
Then the second version is mixed more like a pop song and is also found on The Lion King album. Though this rendition is sung by Elton John in conjunction with a group called the London Community Gospel Choir.
His version also differs lyrically from the one found in the film. For instance, the aforementioned intro is not included. And it was also Elton John’s rendition that was made into a music video, as directed by Richard Baskin.
This Carmen Twillie version won a Grammy Award in 1995 in the category of Best Instrumental Arrangement with Accompanying Vocals.
The year prior, the song in general was nominated for the coveted Best Original Song trophy of the Academy Awards. However, that award rather went to another track from The Lion King, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (1994), which by the way was another John-Rice-Thomas composition.
“Circle of Life” by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize
A new version of The Lion King was released in 2019, and likewise came a new rendition of “Circle of Life”. And that time around the vocals were performed by another South African musician, Brown Lindiwe Mkhize (with the same Lebo M. opening).
Even More Glory
This track – and even specifically its title – has enjoyed a universal presence in American media, with “circle of life” becoming its own idiom.
And the song itself was once used for instance by US President Barack Obama, as a joke, during an interview he gave to the White House Correspondents’ Association.
The song was also a notable hit chart-wise, breaking the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart, reaching number 1 in Canada and charting in 15 nations overall.
Additionally the Carmen Twillie version achieved gold status and the UK and US, and Elton John’s version also went gold stateside.