REM: What's the Frequency, Kenneth? Meaning
Song Released: 1994
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What's the Frequency, Kenneth? Lyrics
Much of this song is nonsensical, but the title was inspired by a real life incdent that made headlines: in 1986, CBS News anchorman Dan Rather was attacked and beaten up on the streets of New York by a man who reportedly kept yelling at Rather, "Kenneth, what's the frequency?"
It turned out later, the man was chizophrenic, and often heard voices in his head, including a voice he identified as "Kenneth." This man came to believe that the television was beaming the voices into his head, and he went to CBS studios, hoping they could tell him the frequency the voices were being transmitted on, so he could make the voices stop.
That explains the title- what about the song itself? Michael Stipe claims it's about an older man's unsuccessful attempt to understand youth pop culture. He's trying to find "the frequency" that will help him understand modern kids, but ultimately, he doesn't get kids at all. That's partly because a LOT of youthful culture and humor is extremely ironic and cynical... which can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
The line "Irony is the shackles of youth" suggests that cycnicism and irony/sarcasm can be a trap, a trap that prevents young people from having any real ideals or taking any real action to make the world better.
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What's the Frequency, Kenneth? lyrics
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