Meaning of “Nine Million Bicycles” by Katie Melua
“Nine Million Bicycles” is a song recorded and performed by Georgian-born British singer and songwriter Katie Melua. The lyrics of this love song see the singer expressing her deep love for her significant other. Among other things, she tells him/her that just as it is a fact that there are “nine million bicycles in” the Chinese city of Beijing” so is it a fact that she will love him/her until the day she dies.
According to Melua, the song’s inspiration came when she and fellow English singer-songwriter Mike Batt took a trip to Beijing, China. During a tour of the city, their interpreter/tour guide told them that the city alone had nine million bicycles.
Upon the pair’s return to England, Batt wrote a song around the idea of “nine million bicycles” being in Beijing. FYI: Batt not only discovered Melua but also went on to manage her career and write many of her songs. Besides his work with Melua, Batt is also famous for being a member of the English novelty pop group The Wombles.
According to Melua, the song’s juxtapositions a “trivial idea” of nine million bicycles against “I will love you till I die” – an idea she feels is very important.
But are there really 9 million bicycles in Beijing?
In the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the population of Beijing was at 13,569,194 and 19,612,368 respectively. This, coupled with the fact the song was written in 2005 and the fact that bicycles are one of the commonest forms of transportation in Beijing, the estimate of 9 million bicycles being on the streets of that city sounds pretty reasonable.
Facts about “Nine Million Bicycles”
- “Nine Million Bicycles” was written solely by Mike Batt. Contrary to popular belief, Melua didn’t take any part in the writing of the song. As a matter of fact, a great deal of Melua’s songs are written by Batt.
- Aside writing “Nine Million Bicycles”, Batt also produced it.
- The track was released on 19th September, 2005 from Melua’s second studio album titled Piece by Piece.
- English music video director Kevin Godley directed the music video of “Nine Million Bicycles”. In addition to directing music videos, Godley is also know for being the drummer of the English rock band 10cc.
- The flute played in the song is a Chinese bamboo flute. The flute was played by the noted British flute player Adrian Brett.
- The song was one of the 10 finalists vying for the United Kingdom’s The Record of the Year award in 2005. However it lost to “You Raise Me Up” by the Irish pop vocal group Westlife.
- The song was a hit in many countries across the globe. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked at number 5, making it the first top 5 UK hit of Melua’s solo career.
Did “Nine Million Bicycles” win a Grammy Award?
Till date, the song has neither won a Grammy Award or been nominated for one.
Has this song been covered?
Since it’s release in 2005, a number of artists have covered it. For example, in 2007, English multi-instrumentalist Hank Marvin recorded an instrumental cover version of this song.
What is the meaning of the line “we are 12 billion light-years from the edge” from the song?
In the line above, Melua is basically saying that our universe has existed for 12 billion years and that is a guess – a guess which cannot be said to be true.
In 2005 (shortly after the song’s release), renowned British scientist and science author Simon Singh strongly criticized the song’s lyrics. According to him, the part where Melua talks about the age of the universe being only 12 billion years (“we are 12 billion light-years from the edge”) is inaccurate. According to Singh, not only did the singer get the age of the universe wrong but she also called it a guess, which he finds very frustrating.
Interestingly, after Singh’s strong criticism of Melua’s lyrics, he eventually met with her. The meeting led to Melua re-recording a humorous version of the song with the song’s opening verse being rewritten as follows:
Below is the original version of the song’s opening verse which according to Singh contains factual errors:
Singh had earlier stated that he found the opening verse above “deeply annoying” and that it just went to show that the singer was ignorant about “cosmology” and “the scientific method”.