In the spring of 2015, Major Lazer hit billboard paydirt with the smash hit “Lean On.” If you don’t know it by name, you probably recognize it from the Pandora channel they play at your gym, or that Google Nexus commercial, or somebody’s ringtone. “Lean On” has been played over a billion times on Spotify and over two billion times on YouTube.
Since its release over two years ago, the independently-released, crossover club hit has been ubiquitous, and roundly praised by critics. Remarkably, the explicit Messianic theme of post-Apocalyptic survival permeating this mid-tempo electro-banger has generally gone unnoticed by commercial and critical audiences alike.
A collaboration between Major Lazer, DJ Snake and Dutch singer MØ, the infectious “Lean On” has all the markings of a sentimental composition about love and aging.
It isn’t though. It is a prophecy foretelling the fast-approaching Apocalypse, and a chilling vision of the world to come.
The song opens on a wistful note:
Do you recall, not long ago,
We would walk on the sidewalk?
All we did was care for each other.
So what happened? Well, a verse later, we get a sense that this relationship was doomed, not by its own dysfunction, but by the enormous, irresistible, colliding forces of a world breaking apart around it.
The singer asks:
What will we do when we get old?
Will we walk down the same road?
Will you be there by my side?
Standing strong as the waves roll over.
When the nights are long,
Longing for you to come home,
All around the wind blows.
We would only hold on to let go.
The narrator asks her romantic partner, will you be by my side when global climate change melts the polar ice caps, tips the sea level, and sends the ocean crashing over our heads; when the Wars of Armageddon blanket the sky with ash, starting a nightfall of a thousand years; when the decay of civilization is so great as to render the familiar road home as something barren, perilous, and unrecognizable?
To be sure, this is a complex romantic inquiry, one that echoes almost verbatim the prophecies of the Armageddon as they are phrased in the New Testament, and which forecast a day “in which the great looming mountain of God’s just and holy wrath is poured out against unrepentant sinners, led by Satan, in a literal, end-of-the-world, final confrontation.”
If you squint your eyes, don’t think too hard about it, and dismiss the nagging voice in your head that says “this guy’s a raving lunatic,” you can probably see how Major Lazer’s smash hit is practically a word-for-word foretelling of these events.
It is, however, also a surprisingly ambitious and humanist look at love. Major Lazer suggests that all you really need to survive the Apocalypse is someone to lean on.
And also a gun, because according to Major Lazer, an inevitable part of the breakdown of civilization is society’s descent into various warring tribes. In other words, “Lean On” is the musical equivalent of a hypothetical film called Mad Max: Rolling on Ecstasy.
The refrain demands:
Blow a kiss, fire a gun.
We need someone to lean on.
Blow a kiss, fire a gun.
All we need is somebody to lean on.
In the aftermath of the Apocalypse, those who are left behind to fend for themselves in the wasteland will likely splinter into various militarized, nomadic bands, wherein survival will depend entirely on one’s access to firepower and willing partners for procreation and the perpetuation of the species. Presumably, Major Lazer’s producer Diplo and DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire are among the survivors in this scenario.
Perhaps not quite so sanguine about the apocalypse as other Billboard-scaling harbingers — “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” both come to mind — one could argue that Major Lazer takes an optimistic, even doggedly survivalist perspective on an otherwise grim topic.
Listeners clearly empathized with the song’s cautious optimism. Indeed, for a brief time after its release, Major Lazer’s “Lean On” was the single most streamed song on Spotify. In 2016, it was eclipsed by Drake’s “One Dance.” Soon thereafter, Ed Sheeran’s “The Shape of You” claimed the all-time top spot on Spotify.
Ed Sheeran owns the top song on a leading music streaming service. If this isn’t a sign of an impending Armageddon, it may at least be justification for one.