The Smiths’ “Girl Afraid” Meaning
“Girl Afraid” happens to be one of my favorite songs by The Smiths. The lyrics are about a person whose insecurities prevent them from really knowing that the person they love loves them back.
Throughout the song, it is never made clear whether the featured male and female are in a relationship. Some have argued that the pair are already in a relationship. Others have argued otherwise. But what really is happening here is this: a meaningful relationship never happens because of the fear felt by both participants.
In the first verse, we are introduced to a girl who likes a certain boy but is “afraid” of his intentions towards her. Does he or does he not like her the way she likes him?
She goes on to express her disappointment over how he has absolutely no interest towards her. According to her, “he never really looks at” her the way she wants him to. This is despite the fact that she keeps projecting a body language that tells him she is interested in him. And she has even given him so many signs to let him know this, but he just isn’t interested in these signs.
To note, it is not clear if this is what is actually going on. It is very likely the girl is just being paranoid about the whole situation.
The room downstairs
At the end of the first verse, she states that she regrets putting in so much effort in trying to have a meaningful relationship with him. It is at this point that we get hints that she might be in a relationship with him and even lives in the same house with him. We get these hints via the girl’s own words: “In the room downstairs he sat and stared”.
She definitely would have to have been in the same house with him to have observed him sit “in the room downstairs” and stare blankly, presumably at her. It is very likely that this room downstairs is the couple’s bedroom. Apparently it is in this very room where she puts in even more effort to make herself attractive to him. But he allegedly shows a total lack of interest in her, which makes her come to the conclusion that he would never find her desirable.
The verse concludes with her vowing to “never make that mistake again”. And what mistake is she talking about? The mistake of sacrificing so much just to make herself desirable to him.
In the second verse, attention is turned away from the girl to the “boy”. And just like her, he too is also filled with the fear of her exact intentions towards him. Does she truly love him? Is she just playing games with him?
In his mind, he feels she is with him only because of his money. He is forced to feel this way because according to him, he has noticed that “everything she wants costs money”. He even goes on to say that he knows she doesn’t like him because she apparently once said so.
To note, it is very likely that he has misread her actions and statements. This might all just be in his head. Put simply, he is paranoid.
“Prudence never pays and everything she wants cost money”
After coming to believe that the girl is only interested in him for his money, he is understandably very disappointed. Apparently he had always been careful (prudent) when it came to falling in love so as to avoid being the victim of a gold digger.
However, despite being very prudent in that regard, he feels he achieved nothing because he still ended up with a girl who only wants him for his money. So he is in a situation where he is afraid that being prudent in life might actually not be the solution since it yields no positive results. How can prudence pay when being prudent was what led him to this girl who is only interested in making him spend money on her?
The room downstairs
At the end of the second verse, we are transported to the “room downstairs” again. Here, we find the “boy” and the “girl” again. This is the same room where the “girl” battled with disappointment and regrets. The “boy” is also overcome with disappointment as he looks at the girl just sitting and staring blankly in a manner he believes shows him no affection.
And just like her, he too ultimately concludes that she doesn’t really like him and vows to never repeat this grave mistake again. And what mistake would that be? The mistake of falling in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back.
All in all, we have a case of a boy and a girl who actually love each other but are filled with the fear that the other doesn’t love them back. The girl’s fear makes her believe that the boy has no good intentions for her since he doesn’t like her. The boy’s fear also makes him believe that the girl is with him for money and not because of love.
Both fears, which are birthed by their insecurities, sadly end up destroying what could have been a beautiful relationship.
Song’s Title (“Girl Afraid”)
The title is apparently Morrissey showcasing his ability to play with words in a brilliant manner. When he says “girl afraid“, he is actually playing with this word: “girlfriend“. He does the same with “boyfriend” when he says “boy afraid“. Examples like these are what make Morrissey one of the finest wordsmiths of his time.
When was “Girl Afraid” released?
The Smiths released this as part of their very first compilation album which they titled “Hatful of Hollow”. The album, which was released on November 12, 1984, was marketed by these singles:
As usual, Morrissey and Johnny Marr are sole writers of “Girl Afraid”. Morrissey wrote the lyrics and Marr the music. According to Marr, the iconic guitar parts of this song were created spontaneously.