From the Archive: The Heroine's Demons
This story still haunts me, it’s such a vivid premise. I’d love to write more on this someday. And I still adore both these songs <3 Originally written: May 17, 2015
I do this thing sometimes where I imagine elaborate back stories about the situations in song lyrics. I’ve done this (mostly just in my head) for a lot of songs over the years, especially if the lyrics contain a narrative or any hint of character development.
At one point, I realized that I had my imaginary back stories for two of my favourite songs set in the same fictional universe. And then I started to think… could the two songs be flip sides of the same love story?
Character #1: The Girl (“Juliet”) // Lyrics: Unwoman – The Heroine Character #2: The Boy (“Romeo”) // Lyrics: Imagine Dragons – Demons
So first, let’s look at the facts we have in the songs. Both of them (at least in my head-canon) are set in a post-apocalyptic world under threat from an encroaching enemy. Both contain mentions of a play, and feature an ominous, possibly-metaphorical curtain call. The girl is portrayed as privileged and sheltered, and is complaining about a rogue boy. The boy is a tortured rogue complaining about his sheltered love interest from whom the truth must be hidden. It’s perfect!
The “plot” and the characters are super vague, but the images of the falling city and the underground theatre have really stuck with me. I really feel like I’ve seen the underground play image somewhere before. In my head it looks a bit Phantom of the Opera, except if the entire theatre/stage was moved downstairs into the Phantom’s lair. That type of aesthetic for the aristocratic hideaway, crossed with the steampunk battle sequences from Sucker Punch on the outside.
The story goes something like this…
We are in a post-apocalyptic city, the last bastion in a dark landscape devastated by an ongoing conflict. The city’s leadership is divided between the rebels (who are actively fighting to protect the city against the forces of darkness) and the privileged upper classes, who have continued to ignore the conflict.
The wealthy nobility have thus far carried on with their lives as though nothing is happening, believing they are safe in an underground stronghold. They seem oblivious to the seriousness of the situation, believing that the city can never fall, and they refuse to accept that the side they’re on is losing power quickly. Already, the outer reaches of the city have succumbed, leaving only the inner city walls standing between the inhabitants and complete annihilation.
Unwoman: The city is war-torn and nearly impassable
Imagine Dragons: When the days are cold, and the cards all fold
Against this backdrop, a love story in the style of Romeo & Juliet plays out. Our Romeo is one of the leaders of the rebel faction and a defender of the city. Winning the battle and saving the city is everything to him; he abandons the life he had before and gives himself over to fighting the forces of evil. However, he worries that he’s becoming consumed by the conflict, that he’s being taken over by the darkness he’s trying to fight. He wages an inner war against his own demons as the fighting drags on and the situation becomes more hopeless.
Imagine Dragons: When you feel my heat, look into my eyes It’s where my demons hide Don’t get too close, it’s dark inside It’s where my demons hide
Our Juliet is his lover, the sheltered daughter of a wealthy aristocrat, who dreams of acting onstage. She’s not happy with Romeo’s involvement in the war and the rebellion, and would have preferred to find a way for him to join the aristocrats in their “safe” underground city stronghold until the conflict “blew over.” He is furious that she refuses to understand why he has to fight in the battle himself, and why he just can’t hide from what he perceives as his duty. The pair are very much in love, but their clashing ideals are tearing them further and further apart.
Unwoman: I asked just one thing of you, to be here Did I not let it slip that I was sincere And though I’ve been spoiled by pretty privilege I am no child throwing a fit
As the conflict worsens and more of the outer city falls to the enemy, Juliet is cast in her first leading role in a play. She repeatedly asks her lover to come underground and watch her in the play, but he always refuses. He is in complete disbelief that they are still obliviously staging a play when their world is crumbling around them.
Romeo tries to get through to her, and the two quarrel about it. He tried to shelter her from the true horror of what was happening at first, but now he just wants to open her eyes to reality – they can no longer hide, it’s too late. Juliet just wants him to be with her, and argues that he’s ignoring her feelings and their love by putting himself in constant danger.
Imagine Dragons: I wanna hide the truth I wanna shelter you
But with the beast inside There’s nowhere we can hide
Unwoman: I go through the motions again and again
But you are not here to see them
I go through the emotions again and again And this time I actually feel them
Romeo sees in her an unwillingness to accept the truth about how bad things are – they’re all going to their graves, so it’s pointless for them all to continue this masquerade of indifference. Juliet sees in him an inability to empathize with the people he’s trying to protect. Why can’t he understand her need to seek beauty even amidst the chaos? She argues that she knows full well how real the horror is, but she chooses to seek solace in her art. She believes that the people need comfort – so the show must go on. The audience needs this last shred of joy, even if everything is truly hopeless.
Imagine Dragons: So they dug your grave And the masquerade Will come calling out At the mess you’ve made
Unwoman: All these people came all this way Faces stained with loss but smiling as they’re crying
It’s now the closing night of the play, paralleling the last stand of the city. Inside the playhouse underground, it’s the final curtain call. Juliet had hoped to entice Romeo to safety underground by making him promise to watch the closing performance, but he does not appear, choosing instead to join the last stand for the lost cause.
Imagine Dragons: Don’t wanna let you down But I am hell-bound
Though this is all for you Don’t wanna hide the truth
Unwoman: You said you’d come see me Here underground Now it’s closing night And you can’t be found
From Juliet’s point of view, he has chosen a lost battle over being with her at the end. From Romeo’s point of view, he is still fighting to the last to protect her – if there is one final chance to save her and everyone else, however small, he must take it.
Unwoman: So you’re a coward or could never love me Or you have fallen to the enemy
Imagine Dragons: Your eyes, they shine so bright I wanna save that light I can’t escape this now
Outside, the last city wall is breached and it crumbles, just as the curtain falls in the underground theatre. The play is over, and so is the battle. The lights go out.
Listen: Unwoman on bandcamp // imaginedragonsmusic.com Photo of Unwoman by Audrey Penven