Who's Our Brother in Avicii's "Hey Brother"?

Swedish DJ Avicii's "Hey Brother", from his debut album True (2013), is a weird panoply of dance/electronic beats and mixing, with a bluegrass vocal overlay that lends the song a strange, haunting quality despite its upbeat rhythm. The lyrics tend to point towards the sense of loyalty between siblings who will always be there for each other, regardless of the disappointments life may throw their way. The music video for the song takes this in a different direction by depicting the relationship of two brothers, later revealed to be father and son, and the pain at being separated through war and death. In this sense, the idea of brotherhood is taken to a more universal level, pointing to the brotherhood of those who are not only related by blood, but by nationality, by causes, and by strife. Although Avicii's song does not necessarily subscribe to this, the lyrics can also be taken to an increasingly universal level by making the song about the brotherhood of all mankind, and, with a Christian interpolation, about the enduring faithfulness of Christ, our Brother, on our behalf.

The lyrics lend themselves to a Christological interpretation because they are in their very nature redemptive. The brother and sister referred to in the lyrics are "far from home" and afraid they may "lose it all". They are faced with undefined but obviously tempestuous events in their lives. They are perhaps at a turning point. The poet says in the first stanza: "Hey brother / There's an endless road to rediscover / Hey sister / know the water's sweet but blood is thicker". The fact that the brother needs to "rediscover" the road and the sister is coming to an understanding of the difference between water and blood signifies that they have come to certain turning points in their lives from which they are uncertain of where to go. They have come to a crisis and the future is unclear. The poet offers his support and love to his brother and sister in their time of trial, signifying his undying fidelity and his willingness to do whatever it takes to help them: "If the sky falls down for you / There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do".

Christ approaches fallen and troubled humanity in the same way. When our own plans fall apart and the path we have chosen to take results in a dead end, Christ calls us to the "endless road" of Himself so that we may travel to eternal happiness. He is the Way by which we all may attain the joys of Heaven; in following Him, in walking His road, we are able to rediscover our purpose and our end, our telos. The events of our life begin to fit together in a new way and we are able to see with more clarity the road before us into our future. Similarly, Christ calls us away from the "sweetness" of water to something deeper and more lasting: the "blood". Christ's blood is the family tie that remains stronger and more integral to our existence than any other fleeting attraction to any worldly thing, be it success, pleasure, fame, wealth, or even a beloved person. The new covenant that has been ratified in His blood is a stronger bond than anything else we can experience in our lives. There is no tie on earth that can demand our submission or obedience like this bond can. And yet, He does not demand it of us; He invites, He calls, He reminds, He urges, He persuades. But He does not force our response to this love. Instead, like the poet, He uses the language of love and fidelity to encourage us to respond to Him with a return of that same love and fidelity: "If the sky falls down for you / There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do". When we are in danger of losing everything, of having our world cave in upon us, there is nothing Christ would not do to save us. He has already done everything necessary to save us. His incarnation as man, His passion, death, and resurrection, the entire process from womb to manger, from Egypt to Nazareth, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the cross to the tomb to the right hand of the Father, is one great outpouring of love and fidelity on our behalf, not only to hold the sky up so that it doesn't crush us, but to remove the sky entirely so that there will be no limit to our flight after Him.

The question of interpersonal relations becomes important in the second stanza, in which the brother and sister are asked: "Do you still believe in one another / ...Do you still believe in love, I wonder". When our relationship with Christ, the ground of our being, is weakened, so too is our relationship with others. We often cease "believing" in one another in many senses. Primarily, we lose the conviction of the inherent goodness of each and every individual; we no longer "believe" that we are capable of goodness or virtue, and these things begin to be seen as alien concepts, almost unnatural to what it means to be human. As our belief in our inherent goodness begins to wane, so too does our trust in one another as brothers and sisters in a human community. We become strangers to each other, suspect creatures who may rob us of our happiness, and the Hobbesian "state of nature" begins to look like a very realistic view of humanity. In this sort of atmosphere, it is almost impossible for love to exist. If we do not believe that there is anything inherently good in another person, then there cannot be anything there for us to love. We can only love those things that we perceive to be lovable, or "good"; without a certain belief in the goodness of humanity, we become essentially unlovable creatures. Under these conditions, "love" becomes a veneer for personal wish fulfillment. We "love" others only in order to serve ourselves. We become little Freudian monsters who see our interpersonal relationships as nothing more than means to the end of the goals of our id: sex. Freud even goes so far as to say that any "love" that is non-sexual is actually just "goal-inhibited" love; it is "love" waiting to achieve its end of self-fulfillment. Our interpersonal relationships break down in the worst way when our essential goodness and, therefore, lovability are denied.

It is only through Christ that these basic concepts of our humanity can be fully integrated and upheld. It is in the union of the perfect Divine love of the Trinity with the humanity of the person of Christ that the fullness of our human potential for goodness, love, and happiness is actualized. And it is when we turn to Him in love and faith that we can truly love both ourselves and others. This can be a difficult hurdle for many people, but the third stanza of the song brings out beautifully the response of Christ to all our misgivings about choosing to follow Him. The brother and sister make response to the poet with questions: "What if I'm far from home? / ... What if I lose it all?" The poet responds with his unconditional fidelity: "... I will hear your call / ... I will help you out". No matter how far we travel away from Christ, the moment we turn to Him in faith, He is with us. No matter how difficult our lives become, no matter how low we sink, He is ready to lend us His strength and shoulder the burden of our crosses for us. This is the love with which He is willing to love us, a love that does not criticize or reject, but a love that is willing to give everything of itself in order to bring the beloved to perfect bliss. The repeated phrase, "There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do", becomes a constant reminder that there is nothing that can be too much for Him who has taken on the sin of the entire world and wrestled it, even unto death. The loyalty of Christ to us, his fickle and fallen brothers and sisters, is beyond anything our sisters and brothers of this world can hope to offer, however sincere their love for us. Only Christ can say with complete certainty that He has done and will do everything possible for our good. All we need do is desire it of Him.

Naturally, this interpretation of the song is entirely my own. I'm not necessarily trying to promote Avicii's "Hey Brother" as a definitively Christian song in any way. But the song itself brings these thoughts to my mind and stirs up a religious connotation for me, so that's what I'm sharing with you. If the song is now a "Christian" song for you because you've read this, I hope it improves the song for you. If not, it's still a decent song without any Christological associations whatsoever. Enjoy it for what it is to you.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!

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