Meaning of “Rebels” by Matchbox Twenty

Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas (vocalist) and Paul Doucette (drummer) wrote this song (“Rebels”), with the latter also producing it alongside Gregg Wattenberg.

This is the third track on the playlist of the band’s LP “Where the Light Goes”, as put out through Atlantic Records on 26 May 2023. And by this point, it now seems that one of the subthemes of the project may have to do with childhood.

But as for “Rebels”, it’s more of a coming-of-age song than being centered on youth per se. And what Rob is observing in this piece is that “we’re all rebels when we’re young”, as in having been dedicated to being countercultural, having our own individual styles or however you want to put it. But now, he feels the addressee has reached an age where he or she needs to get over such ideologies. 

Or as seems to be the underlying message of this piece, the answers to adult problems are not found in our childhood. Therefore yearning to go back to yesteryear in the name of counteracting internal discontent, as an adult, is akin to folly.

“We’re all rebels when we’re young
I think it’s time you let it go now
When you get angry with yourself
You blame the rebel that you sold out
You blame the rebel that you sold out”


All in all, Thomas is using “Rebels” to suggest that glorifying the defiance often associated with youth isn’t an effective strategy for resolving issues in adulthood.

Fans’ Comments on “Rebels”

ANDY says:

“This song holds a special place in my heart, reminiscent of the days when ‘Real World’ from Matchbox Twenty’s debut album ‘Yourself or Someone Like You’ back in 1996 captured my soul. It’s incredible how my favorite track has evolved over time, transitioning from songs like ‘Last Beautiful Girl’, ‘Mad Season’ and ‘She’s So Mean’ to now, ‘Rebels’. Don’t get me wrong, those earlier songs still hold immense value to me. They represent a significant part of my teenage years. However, since the release of ‘Rebels’, it has struck me on a whole different level. Its resonance is unique, capturing my emotions and thoughts in a way that feels deeply personal and relevant to my current journey. It’s a testament to Matchbox Twenty’s enduring talent and their ability to create music that listeners across generations can relate with.”

ANDRE says:

“With this song, Matchbox Twenty gets me into a state of reflection and introspection about my past and the choices I’ve made during my youth. The opening verse sets the nostalgic tone, precisely in the line, ”Cause you can’t go back to 16′. The song gets me reflecting on my struggle to maintain a sense of self and navigate challenging circumstances. ‘Rebels’ captures a theme of self-judgment and the pressure on me to conform as I grow older. It also makes me feel some sort of disconnect between what I wanted and what I have attained, highlighting a sense of dissatisfaction. It speaks to my frustration of feeling lost and running out of time, yet acknowledging the impossibility of going back to the past.”


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