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Analysis: "Riptide" By Vance Joy

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Tina Fotouhi

on 11 October 2015

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Transcript of Analysis: "Riptide" By Vance Joy

" By Vance Joy

Literary Devices
Literary Devices
Though it is not very long, "Riptide" by Vance Joy is a very meaningful song, that sends an abstruse but profound message. In order to truly understand this song, you must really look into it more deeply, and especially pay attention to the literary devices used in it. Joy uses idioms and metaphors as primary literary devices, to not only add an artistic aspect to his song, but to convey a deeper meaning and send a more profound message to his listeners, about the story he is telling.
In this song, Vance Joy is telling us the story of a relationship he had, at some point, with a very beautiful girl. At first, their relationship was going very well, and was making Joy’s friends jealous of him. As time went by, the two lovers started to drift apart as the girl started to make bad decisions and took on a more dangerous lifestyle. Joy is still in love with this girl, and he tries hard to get her back, but can only hope to take the position of her friend. Joy's use of literary devices are what help this concealed story slowly unfold, in a rather perplexing manner.
"Oh, all my friends are turning green"
This is an
, and a re-worded version of the common figure of speech: "turning green with envy". Through this idiom, the artist is telling us that his friends are turning green with envy (getting jealous of him) for winning over this gorgeous girl.
"You're the magician's assistant in their dreams"
This is a
. A magician's assistant is usually a very beautiful woman, intended to take the attention away from what the magician doesn't want the audience to see (his mistakes). Through this metaphor, the artist is not only saying that the girl is very beautiful, but also that she is catching the attention of his friends and distracting them from their daily lives and from reality.
"Lady, running down to the riptide/taken away to the dark side"
Both of these lines are
, that come together to imply one idea. A riptide is an offshore current that often
beach goers and
causes them to drown
. This set of metaphors is telling us that the girl is starting to get herself into bad situations (possibly an addiction) and embracing a dangerous new lifestyle ("the dark side").
"I wanna be your left hand man"
I got a lump in my throat
/'Cause you're gonna sing the words wrong"
This is an
. To "have a lump in your throat" means to feel nervous or sick. Through this idiom, the artist is telling us that the girl's new lifestyle and her actions that are out of character ("you're gonna sing the words wrong"), are making him feel sick and are giving him a bad feeling.
"There's this movie that I think you'll like/This cowboy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City/This cowboy's running from himself"
These three lines are most likely an
, summarizing the 1969 film "Midnight Cowboy". In this film, a Texan dishwasher packs up and moves to New York City, hoping to make a living for himself, but is
never able to truly escape his past
. In this allusion, since Joy is the one telling the girl about the movie, he is acquainting us about how he was telling her that by leaving him she won't be able to escape the memories, and that it will be a big mistake.
"There's this movie that I think you'll like/This cowboy decides to quit his job and heads to
New York City
/This cowboy's running from himself"
Within this allusion, there is another
, to New York City. In the movie he is talking about, the cowboy moves to New York City, which is known as the land of opportunity. Through this allusion, the artist is adding on to what he was telling the girl, and how she thought that leaving him would be a good opportunity for a better life.
Presentation By Tina Fotouhi
This is a
. In the music video, this line is sung accompanied by a few scenes, for example: cutting a plant's leaves (causing its death), and pulling a lime off a tree (causing its death). As you can see, both of these actions are causing the death of the objects in them (the plant and the lemon). In this case, through this metaphor the artist is telling us that his relationship with this girl is falling apart; that they are nearing the death of their relationship.
"I wanna be your
left hand man
Within this metaphor (partly explained in the previous slide), there is an
. The phrase "left hand man" is an allusion to marriage (the wedding ring is worn on the left hand, the groom holds the bride's left arm while walking down the aisle, etc.), or a relationship. A left hand man is also a metaphor meaning a man who is seen on the side by a woman who is with someone else. Through this allusion (combined with the metaphor), the artist is telling us that he would like to stay in the relationship with this girl, but can only hope to take the position of her friend, as he watches her find someone else.
"There's this movie that I think you'll like/This cowboy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City/This cowboy's
running from himself
Within this allusion, there is also an
. In the movie Joy is talking about, when the cowboy moves to New York City, he is trying to escape his past. This idiom is telling us that the girl is trying to escape her past and her memories, which she will never forget, since she can never escape herself. This is what Joy is explaining to her, by telling her about the movie.
"And she's been
living on the highest shelf
This is a
containing an
. Something on the highest shelf (usually is a store) is the most delicate, and is meant to be kept safe and out of the way. Through this idiom, the artist is telling us that he had always put this girl before anybody or anything else, safe and secluded from everything. He is also saying that because of his protectiveness of her, she doesn't have a very good sense of reality, which is probably the cause of her recent recklessness.
"Oh, and they come unstuck"
This is a
. Joy is talking about how, since he had been putting her before anyone else (explained in the previous slide), he is starting to drift apart (“come unstuck”) from his friends . This metaphor could also mean, and be adding on to, the fact that their relationship is falling apart. In the music video, this is illustrated by two popsicles being pulled apart.
Closest thing
Michelle Pfeiffer
that you've ever seen, oh"
This is a
, containing an

Michelle Pfeiffer, a gorgeous, famous actress in the 1980s. By comparing her to Michelle Pfeiffer, using a simile (by using the words "closest thing"), Joy is implying on the fact that the girl is very beautiful, and how he still really wants her.
" By: Vance Joy
Meaning & Conclusion
"Riptide" by Vance Joy is a very catchy and well-written song, but what makes it even better is the artist's consistent use of literary devices, especially metaphors and idioms. This song is sending its listeners a message about the inevitability of a relationship, and how you cannot rely very much on an acquaintance that you have (romantic or not), as you will probably be let down and disappointed. This song is also sending us a similar message about life in general. It is saying that you should not rely or count too much on something, as there is a chance that it will not work out the way you wanted, causing you to get discouraged.
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