Vampire Weekend’s “Unbearably White” Lyrics Meaning
The inspiration behind this track, according to Vampire Weekend’s lead singer Ezra Koenig who also wrote the song, is based on strife between White people concerning who actually fits the bill to be classified as ‘White’. And the title seems to have been derived from a 2015 article (which mentions Vampire Weekend) about White artists dominating the indie music genre, as in non-White indie artists automatically being classified under different genres.
However, such a racially-based influence is difficult, if not impossible, to derive from the song based solely on its lyrics. Rather the track plays out as if it is centered on a relationship and a bunch of other seemingly unrelated topics.
The beginning of the song starts with Koenig stating that this relationship has more or less come to an end. He flees to a mountain to get away from who is seemingly his lover. When he reaches the peak of it, he notices the snow on top is “unbearably white”. Later he finds himself in a city that is “unbearably cold”. His lover eventually walks into his bedroom and starts writing in a notebook, with the page she’s writing on being “unbearably white”. And such symbolism using the adverb “unbearably” is present throughout the song.
As aforementioned, these references to whiteness specifically are actually allusions to “infighting among White people about who is marginally more or less White”. But for a person to actually come to that conclusion just by reading or hearing the lyrics seems virtually impossible.
Maybe the chorus, which concludes with Vampire Weekend singing “to learn what kept us together… is what kept us alive” is more-indicative of that idea, as it sounds almost like a protest against White genocide. In other words, considering his own explanation of this track, those lines can be interpreted as a call by Koenig for White people to stick together in the name of survival, even if only in the indie music industry. Or maybe this song is just him and the boys poking fun at the seemingly-insignificant racial tone of the aforementioned article.
Honestly speaking, for one to truly understand the complex symbolism present throughout this track, one would probably require an audience with Ezra Koenig himself. And for what? So he could shed more light on it and give a more-detailed explanation.
What Vampire Weekend has said about “Unbearably White”
Here are Koenig’s exact words regarding the meaning of “Unbearably White”:
All in all, the lyrics of “Unbearably White” are about vain infighting amongst White people. However, they fail to get that point across in a comprehensible manner.
this is so incorrect… ezra may be white but hes also jewish, the idea that he would “call for White people to stick together in the name of survival” or “protest white genocide” like those aren’t both literally neonazi talking points is just so ridiculous
Ratmond, honestly speaking, the lyrics of “Unbearably White” are not the easiest to decipher. However, we tried to cover every angle based on that ambiguous statement he made about its origin. And we know we also stated that he may have indeed been mocking the original article that the title of the song was derived from which stated that indie music was too White, but its apparent we didn’t make that point clear enough.
Ratmond, you may have disagreed with what we wrote, but you see that you didn’t try to explain the lyrics yourself. And if we aren’t mistaken, we believe we also put in the post, only Koenig himself knows what he was talking about.
After all is said and done, we hope we didn’t come off like an accusation of Koenig being racist if he’s not. In our analysis, we tried our best to specify that it’s just a theory.
All in all, we are glad that you brought this to our attention. Highly appreciated, Ratmond.
I think he is making a comment about White Genocide, but almost embracing it. The singer has been “pulling away” and doesn’t seem to want to keep the relationship (whiteness) alive. I came to this site because I recognized that in these lyrics. I, too, am White and Jewish and I embrace the end of the “pure” White race. I have no desire to keep that purity alive and would rather see it demolished so that there is no more “pure” white race for anyone to care about “protecting”
I’m pretty sure it is about [expletive] on someone’s face
Not gonna lie, I thought originally this was about injustice in the music industry as I’m sure they said one record label wouldn’t sign them up because they were so “unbearably white”
I guess the lyric “its hard on the body, its hard on the mind, to learn what kept us together is what kept us alive” could be indicative of white privilege and how acknowledging this privilege is somewhat uncomfortable for musicians (and white people in general) who have benefitted from it. White people and bands continue to thrive at the expense of other races and cultures, and this oppression has incredibly deep roots: hence the term “unbearably white”
I believe this song is about the impact of Unacknowledged White privilege on an interracial relationship. When I listen to the song thinking about this meaning, most of the lyrics fit. It was released in 2019, so Ezra would have been in his relationship with Rashida Jones who is mixed race.
It starts, “Baby, I love you, but that’s not enough.” Love if is not enough without acknowledging the impact of racial oppression. “Pulling away has been unbearably buff” means that to acknowledge his white privilege means he has broken the white code, which assumes that whiteness is normative, and so it has been unbearable/socially unacceptable, but also made home stronger (buffer) personally. “I ran up the mountain, out of your sight. The snow on the peak was just unbearably white” means that he, as a white man has access to heights that she does not and when he gets to the top, it is surrounded by white people in the positions of power. “The city was freezing, an elegant flow. The wind at the doorway was unbearably cold” means that though society can appear sophisticated and elegant, it is characterized by a lack of emotional warmth that is not welcoming to people of color and immigrants coming in from the outside. “You walked to the bedroom, sat down to write” refers to the fact that even when a person of color is in the privacy of their own home/bedroom, and wants to express their most intimate thoughts, whiteness is still pervasive, which of course is also true in intimate personal relationships with a mixed race couple.
An avalanche is the “black lash” from powerful white people that comes down on people of color when they advance and the poetic voice is offering a warning to stay vigilant. (“Don’t cover your eyes”). “It’s what you thought that you wanted, it’s still a surprise” refers to people of color wanting to integrate and advance and perhaps at times naively thinking that white people have moved on from racism, but time and again realizing it is not the case. “It’s hard on the body/mind” refers to the toll racial trauma has on people of color. “To learn what kept us together, darling, is what kept us alive” refers to the awareness or acknowledgement of whiteness. Being aware of whiteness, which most white people are not, has kept them together, because loving was not enough, and being aware of the dangers of whiteness kept them alive. This line also confirms that the “ pulling away” in the early lines did not refer to the two people in the relationship pulling away because they are together. “Sooner or later, the story gets told, to tell it myself would be unbearably bold” refers to the fact that despite oppression and pervasiveness of whiteness, BIPOC stories eventually are told and for him to tell them, as a white man would be whitesplainig.
These lines also show how he is beginning to understand what his role is as a white anti-racist. “Presented with darkness” refers to how the education system eliminates important racial stories, “we turn to the light” refers to his, for lack of a better work wokeness, being aware of BIPOC narratives. To be smart means that he would have known well what he was presented but to be bight is to shine a light on narratives other than the dominate white narrative that includes assumptions of meritocracy, individualism and just world. This is one interpretation. I have read others, but this one makes the most sense to me.
can we be friends pls
Maybe he was poking fun at an unbearably pretentious headline which tried to racialize the genre of music he plays by denouncing it as “too white”, ignoring the fact that he is Jewish (a widely persecuted minority group) and that people constantly play fast and loose with racial classifications to suite their arguments anyways.