Placebo’s “Surrounded by Spies” Lyrics Meaning

It is very much understandable if a listener is unable to ascertain the true meaning of “Surrounded By Spies” based solely on its lyrics. That’s why under such circumstances we are ever grateful when the singer/writer himself offers a detailed explanation. And that is exactly what Brian Molko has in this case. 

And his explanation is a tad bit complex itself, as in the process the Placebo frontman even drops the term surveillance capitalism. But as that classification implies, what he is really griping about is how new technologies and social media have contributed to a lack of privacy. 

Moreover, the vocalist sees us users as pretty much going along with the flow, working alongside the man to exploit our own personal lives in the name of making him dough. And so on and so forth. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be completely out of order to refer to Molko as a Luddite of sorts.

Song’s Lyrics

That said, it should be noted that the lyrics of the song are filled to the brim with metaphorical language. Furthermore, many of the assertions made in them, when compared to others, read as if they are totally unrelated. For instance, what does a “world leader going under the knife” have to do with the vocalist and addressee “go(ing) to Sweden in the back of a cab”? 

How does seeing someone “jump from a burning building” relate to the following:

  • the “ex-drummer’s nose stuck in the past”
  • a “suspicious bag on the platform” 

And who’s the addressee anyway?

But perhaps that the point is to illustrate how, in the information age, we are overloaded with media.

Let’s say that 30 years ago when newspapers, hardcopy books and television with limited channels was the norm, there was only so much media we can expose ourselves to on a daily basis. But now, with the internet and social media, things are different. A person can literally read or watch videos on all of the subjects mentioned in this song, in less than an hour at that. 

And even though the vocalist does not overtly criticize this overflow of information, it can be gleaned that he does indeed perceive it as being excessive.

Song Title (“Surrounded by Spies”)

The song doesn’t lyrically expound on what is meant by the narrator being “surrounded by spies”. But again, based on Brian’s own explanation, we know that assertion has something to do with, at least in part, the lot of us being ‘practically turned into a paparazzo’. 

So it’s like from his perspective we’re documenting too much. And in doing so, we become the main invaders of our own privacy even. And even though everyone obviously does not share this view, perhaps the point being expressed in this song, as relayed via what appears to be the bridge, is that this cameras-everywhere type of society does perturb some people. The vocalist himself is definitely one of these people!

Lyrics of "Surrounded By Spies" by Placebo

Summary

All in all, Molko has a problem with the information age and how it is invasive of our privacy.

Molko talks about "Surrounded By Spies"

Facts about “Surrounded by Spies”

This track is from Placebo’s album “Never Let Me Go”. It was released by Elevator Lady Ltd. on 9 November 2021.

Beside vocalist Brian Molko, currently the only other core member of Placebo is fellow multi-instrumentalist Stefan Olsdal. And the two of them are individually credited with writing as track. The duo is also collectively acknowledged for producing it with Adam Noble.

According to Molko, the initial inspiration behind this song wasn’t a general beef with modern society. It was rather because he discovered that his “neighbors were spying on (him) on behalf of parties with a nefarious agenda”. 

So that revelation would more directly explain why this track is entitled so, even though the idea of actually being spied upon doesn’t particularly come across in the lyrics. The only exception would arguably be the “faces on the bathroom floor” line.

In terms of the aforementioned incohesion of different parts of this song, it appears that was done so intentionally. Or as reported, Placebo utilized what is referred to as the “cut-up technique”.

This is a writing technique made popular by a mid-20th century American writer named William S. Burroughs (1914-1997). It involves the cutting up of written text and proceeding to rearrange them in order to compose new ones. Iconic singer David Bowie was known to often use this technique. FYI, Placebo have a collaboration history with Bowie.

Surrounded By Spies

Did Placebo release “Surrounded by Spies” as a Single?

Yes, they did. It is the second single that came out from their “Never Let Me Go” album. The album’s first single was “Beautiful James“. It should be noted that “Never Let Me Go” is officially Placebo’s 8th studio album. And interesting to note is that it is their first album as a duo.

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