System of a Down’s “Dreaming” Lyrics Meaning
When you’re a mainstream musical act who decides to bring it to the powers that be in song, there’s really only two approaches that can be utilized towards realizing that objective. One would be to criticize the system directly, such as for instance the Edwin Starr classic, War. But even in that case the vocalist doesn’t allow himself to get too nifty. And why? This is because at the end of the day, no matter what anyone may say, it simply isn’t wise to go about overtly dissing the government, especially of your own homeland.
So then we have other pieces like the timeless “Hotel California” where listeners can very much tell that the singer is directly confronting the beast. But since music is in fact an art form, metaphors, allegories and other types of poetic language are often utilized to convey such ideas.
And that is presumably what we are dealing with “Dreaming”. This is a song that is very critical of the present state of things. However, it uses shrouded language to relay such a conclusion.
The Lyrics of “Dreaming”
That said, this song is anything but easy to understand on a lyric-by-lyric basis. A number of sources have put forth that the narrative is about how dreaming may sometimes conjure up troubling memories from one’s past and even “cause insanity”.
And that does appear to be the thesis sentiment, so to speak, of this piece, if one were to rely solely on the bridge in terms of ascertaining this track’s meaning. And to illustrate the point, the singer apparently uses the example of an army widow, i.e. a lady whose husband or someone that she truly loved died in combat.
Actually, it is not specified if said loved one has passed way. But just hearing news that he might have causes this lady to ‘lose her head’. And let’s say that the implication is that he has in fact died or if anything is missing in combat. So now, she is one of such individuals who for the foreseeable will be mentally plagued, in her particular case by the loss of a loved one.
Is “Dreaming” an Anti-War Song?
And that particular narrative would imply that “Dreaming” may be an anti-war song. But again, such does not appear to be the case based on the verses and chorus.
Issues of Human Rights
As far as the verse goes, we have no choice but to go out on a limb in interpreting it. And first of all, the word ‘indigenous’ points to the traditional, native people of a land.
Now when you use such terminology in a piece of writing that is critical of the system, invariably it is utilized to point to an idea. And this idea would be of said individuals being mistreated by governments. These governments would be akin to colonial or imperial powers, even if not in name then in practice.
Even though Serj Tankian doesn’t harp on the matter, that is what we’re compelled to believe. It is very possible that he dropping such a term would allude to some type of mass social malady going on in the modern world. Or as he puts it, “human right is a private blue chip”.
That is a very ambiguous and obviously metaphorical statement. But “blue chip”, most generally put, is actually a word related to high-end finance. So the implication would be that SOAD is asserting that human rights are not available to everyone per se but rather those who can afford it, i.e. the elite.
And whereas we may be overstating the matter, most readers would likely agree that in this world, the rich have it easier. More money often does in fact equal more leniency, for lack of a better word, from the legal system.
“Generation of Bottled Water”
Shortly thereafter comes perhaps the most confusing line of this entire piece. And this is where Serj states that “we’re the prophetic generation of bottled water”. Now “bottled water”, as innocent and useful a product it may be, is itself symbolic when used in such context.
What it symbolizes of in this case is not specified. But it is connected to the concept of “causing poor populations to die”. And logically speaking that reads like another reference to indigenous people.
So once again we are going to go out on a very broad limb. In doing so, we would say that the general concept the vocalist is speaking to is that weaker people of the world, such as the indigenous, are being victimized. Victimized by who? Simply put, by the powers that be.
And these people not only being bested in human rights’ abuse in and of itself but also have other less-than-desirable consequences. An example would be the inevitable environment degradation that follows, which most negatively affects them or ‘causes them to die’. That’s something that Al Gore and the rest of the climate change gang don’t appear overly-eager to talk about, how their own elite-capitalist classes have practically propagated the destruction of the environment more so than any other group.
But again, it ain’t like SOAD is just going to come out and say something like that. So it is very much possibly that the aforementioned “bottled water” is an analogy for modernization, urbanization or what have you. And while we in more privileged society are enjoying such innovative benefits, they are coming at the cost of the poorer, indigenous people of the world.
You, the Listener
Finally comes the chorus. This is actually the only part of the song where it reads like the vocalist is directly addressing the listener. And again, this is highly poetic language we’re dealing with here. But what it appears SOAD is putting forth is the average person’s ignorance. They are saying something like the average person is too ignorant for their own good.
The vocalist may be, as implied by the verse, referring to a particular type of ignorance. And this is the kind of ignorance that causes us to blindly go about living our lives without regard to how the manufacturing of our luxuries may be detrimental to others.
Or more generally speaking, as concluded by a number of scholars, it’s like there’s so many terrible things going on in the world that we simply ignore. Meanwhile, let’s say that it’s not human nature for us to be so indifferent. Therefore adopting such a disposition causes us to lose ourselves, in a manner of speaking.
What “Dreaming” is all about
So even though we supported the aforenoted thesis statement that this song is in fact about being unable to get over bad memories or experiences, as you can see that explanation does not encapsulate the meaning of “Dreaming” in its entirety. Instead the band also uses the opportunity to come off like concerned anthropologists, if you will.
And putting all of these diverse ideas together, what this piece actually boils down to, perhaps most simply explained, is that we live in a pretty messed up world. The world is so messed up that most of us , whether by circumstances or our own indifference, are powerless to do anything about making it better.
System of a Down
System of a Down (SOAD) is a band from the Californian city of Glendale. They have been rockin’, heavy metal style, since the 1990s, with their most recent studio album being released in 2005.
Along the way they dropped three Billboard 200 chart toppers. Hypnotize, the album that “Dreaming” is derived from, being is among them.
Release Date of “Dreaming”
“Dreaming” was not released as a single. It came out with the rest of “Hypnotize” on 22 November 2005. Columbia Records was the company behind the entire project’s release.
Despite apparently having given up on studio albums, the band remains musically active to this day. In fact they dropped a couple of singles, “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz“, in 2020. And throughout these years the band has basically consisted of the same four core musicians:
- singer Serj Tankian
- guitarist Daron Malakian
- bassist Shavo Odadjian
- drummer John Dolmayan
Who sings lead vocals on “Dreaming”?
Whereas Tankian may be the lead vocalist of the group, in the case of “Dreaming”, both he didn’t handle it alone. He and Malakian held down the said responsibility together on this tune.
Writing and Production
Tankian, Malakian and Odadjian also wrote this song. And it was produced by none other than Rick Rubin. Rick handled that task alongside Malakian.