Everybody Wants to Rule the World has earned its place as a classic song. Originally sung in 1985, its themes became regular players in other Tears for Fears songs. Break it Down Again, Sowing the Seeds of Love, and even Shout all touch upon the themes of Everybody Wants to Rule the World. The covers of Everybody Wants to Rule the World show us the metaphorical room where the light won’t find you, and how we can access this room. How we can survive, and what precautions to take as we pursue freedom and pleasure.
Original: Tears for Fear (1985)
Everybody Wants to Rule the World warns us everything can come to an end at a sudden halt. Enjoy the good things while we can. We never know when one’s quest for power might just get in the way of our dreams and disrupt our puny lives. For an 80s pop song, Everybody Wants to Rule the World is quite dark!
The beat (at a tempo of 112 beats per minute and a 12/8 time signature) bears a striking resemblance to a military marching beat. Through this beat, if we close our eyes, can imagine ourselves following the orders of our society – marching down the streets in an orderly fashion, and in unison with the rest of our comrades. Marching to the military beat, like good little citizens.
When we hit the bridge of Everybody Wants to Rule the World, the time signature and tempo changes. We’re free as we hide in the “room where the light won’t find you.” We feel hopeful! Oh, sure, we return to our normal tempo, despite the fact that we failed…but Everybody Wants to Rule the World is ok with that. In fact, the song argues that trying to break free of this “indecision, coupled with a lack of vision” is a victory in itself. The line “so glad we almost made it” shows us that the failure mentioned earlier was worth it!
Everybody Wants to Rule the World tells us to fight the powers that be and pursue our own lives – despite the fact we most certainly will fail.
Cover: Gloria Gaynor (1990)
I try not to judge a cover by the artist’s biggest hit song – but with Gloria Gaynor’s cover, I can’t help but think about “I Will Survive.” Both songs talk about freedom, despite great adversity. I Will Survive gains the freedom, whereas Everybody Wants to Rule the World enjoys the freedom only while it lasts. Still, both songs strive for the speaker’s own wishes. Gaynor empowers us with both “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “I Will Survive.”
As far as the sounds of Gaynor’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” we get a bit a of a soul sound in the vocals. Gaynor’s vocals sound as though she’s singing a gospel hymn, as opposed to a cold war anthem. In a way, the soul vocals fit as they brings a new inspiration to the song – the kind of inspiration we find at church.
Gloria Gaynor takes Everybody Wants to Rule the World as not only an anthem for life, but a call from God.
Cover: Fenomenom (2004)
Warm synths greet us on the Fenomenon cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Add some soothing vocals, and we feel ourselves falling into a sense of security….be it false or real…we don’t seem to care. That, essentially, is the brilliant interpretation of Fenomenon in a nutshell…the feeling of safety.
When we get to the bridge, we do not hear the powerful and almost commanding vocals telling us about the room where the light won’t find you. Instead, we get an almost wimper of a voice….as if the speaker is trying to keep a calm and secretive voice. Speak soft, act normal, and they won’t know we’re trying to escape their negative utopia.
Fenomenon paints a picture of Brave New World Meets 1984 with their cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
Cover: Patti Smith (2007)
On the surface, Patti Smith’s cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World sounds like…well….just a cover of a pop song. However, anyone who knows Smith’s history of political activism knows for certain the meaning of Everybody Wants to Rule the World would not be lost on her. No, Smith must be saying something if she’s covering this powerful of a song.
So…what is Smith saying? All we have to do is look at the instrumentation to find out. Smith replaces the original version new wave sound with a standard, modern rock sound. This tells us the message of Everybody Wants to Rule the World is not just relevant to the cold war era. No…this is a timeless message, and one that we all must take heed of! There will always be someone who wants power at the cost of the common people. Some of these people will achieve such power, and any perceived freedoms we have will be taken. We must care about our freedoms and our happiness while they last.
Patti Smith tells us Everybody Wants to Rule the World will always be relevant.
Cover: Lorde (2013)
Lorde’s version of Everybody Wants to Rule the World sounds darker than any other cover of the song to date. So dark, in fact, I feel like Lorde misses the point of the song. Well….maybe not. When we get to the infamous bridge…we get a bit more of a hopeful tone. We get the sense of revolution.
Yes….at the start of the Lorde cover, those who would take over our lives are in full power. Their seems to be no hope….but yet the people find hope. The more upbeat tones in the second half of the song indicate that the common people fought back, and won!
Yet…Lorde’s version of Everybody Wants to Rule the World shows us something in the last notes of the song. When she sings “The World” at the very end of the song, we realize the darkness is back. We realize the new regime, the one that filled us with hope is just as power hungry as the last regime. We are in an endless cycle of hope, revolution, occupation, domination, and despair. Today’s conquest will fuel tomorrow’s revolution. Tomorrow’s revolution will fuel the next conquest. Everybody really does want to rule the world.
Lorde’s cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World shows us a cycle of revolution and conquest.
Cover: Scott Bradlee (2013)
Scott Bradlee’s cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World has an interesting early 1900s style, coupled with all the hisses and snaps of an early phonograph (or possibly a wax cylinder). Of course, this specific version of Everybody Wants to Rule the World was recorded for the the Bioshock Infinite soundtrack. If you know nothing about the Bioshock series, think Ayn Rand’s fiscal libertarianism mixed with an art deco and steampunk aesthetic.
With that context in mind, Scott Bradlee’s Everybody Wants to Rule the World shows us a different interpretation of the song. We see those seeking “the most of freedom and of pleasure” are doing so at the expense of others. Their individuality costs the finances, and maybe even the lives of people less fortunate and powerful. Of course in Bioshock Infinite (spoiler alert), this selfish pursuit of freedom and pleasure does not end well. Everyone dies in the flying city of Columbia (just like everyone dies in the underwater city Rapture). Suddenly, “the room where the light won’t find you” becomes a sinister place. A place where the goodness in the world refuses to shine. A place where you hide yourself, and a place where you die when the walls come tumbling down.
The Scott Bradlee / Bioshock version of Everybody Wants to Rule the World warns us of the dangers of selfish pursuits and freedom without responsibility.
Tribute Covers: Ninja Sex Party / Weezer
Two covers from the current decade seem to serve as what I like to call “tribute” covers. Ninja Sex Party (from 2013) and Weezer (from 2019), both add their own flares to the song of course – but the message is the same.
With that being said, the message is two fold. Both Ninja Sex Party and Weezer say “We love this song” with their individual covers, but they also say the same thing as Patti Smith. Both bands say “this song is still very relevant” by adding modern touches. With Ninja Sex Party, the keyboards are updated. With Weezer, they rely more on guitars. Neither cover sounds like a new wave song. Both covers want to talk to us about the meaning of the song.
Ninja Sex Party and Weezer both show us that Everybody Wants to Rule the World is just as relevant today as it was during the cold war. Everybody still wants to rule the world.
What do these versions tell us about where the light won’t find you?
If you compare the covers of Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Scott Bradlee and Gloria Gaynor, you get two sides of the same coin. One is a call from God, one is a call from God not to go too far….to take responsibility. This is significant, as those who the Scott Bradlee cover talks to (or at least about) might claim to hear a cry from God. They lie to us and themselves, and say their fiscal irresponsibility will work itself out, because it’s God’s Plan. The Room where the light won’t find you is God’s shielding….but in reality, this room is a place where these people hide from God.
As far as Ninja Sex Party, Weezer, and even Patti Smith – they make it known that the message of Everybody Wants to Rule the World will always be relevant. It was relevant in the cold war, it is relevant now, and it will be relevant now.
Lorde and Fenomenon go even further. Both versions paint an apocalyptic future, where the lyrics of Everybody Wants to Rule the World might save our lives. The refuge where the light won’t find you serves as a shelter from not only the physical harm, but also from the lies.
Which cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World works the best?
The Gaynor and the Fenomenom covers sound awfully dated. I love both covers mind you, but their sound just does not hold up. As far as Ninja Sex Party and Weezer – eh – they’re pretty basic. I guess if you don’t like the style of the original, their styles will do. Personally though, I would much rather have the Tears for Fears version over the aforementioned four.
We cannot rule out the Patti Smith version. Smith’s updated version really grabs our attention. Of course, Smith’s voice always seems to have that effect on me. The same can be said about Lorde’s cover. Yes, Lorde’s Everybody Wants to Rule the World is dark! oh, but it still gets our attention – and sticks inside our minds. Tears for Fears themselves most likely agree. Three years ago, I saw Tears for Fears live, and they played the Lorde version of the song while entering the stage (then of course Tears for Fears played their own version).
With that said – I prefer the original. I love Tears for Fears, and as much as I love the Lorde version – listening to it on repeat only depresses me. I can stomach Smith’s version multiple times, but again – I personally prefer the original version.
That, my friends, is the point…I prefer. Individuality. Maybe you like the Weezer version more, maybe the Lorde version. Maybe you even like the Fenomenon version. That’s your choice. That’s your freedom and your pleasure. This is the room where the light won’t find you. As long as you keep your responsibility – pursue your own self.
Keep your individuality, people. Like what you like. Even if it’s a hammer dulcimer version of Everybody Wants to Rule the World.