What does Mad World mean?

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Tears For Fears: Mad World Meaning

Song Released: 1982

Covered By: Gary Jules (2003), Jasmine Thompson (2013), Taylor John Williams (2014)

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Mad World Lyrics

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All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my...


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    Oct 7th, 2008 10:44pm report

    Contextually speaking, here are what the song writers say about their own song: (from wikipedia)

    Lyrically the song is pretty loose. It throws together a lot of different images to paint a picture without saying anything specific about the world.

    —Roland Orzabal
    It's very much a voyeur's song. It's looking out at a mad world from the eyes of a teenager.[1]

    —Curt Smith

    All around me are familiar faces
    Worn out places, worn out faces

    -The familiar faces, worn out places, and worn out faces indicate that he has seen all their is to see, and that to him (an adolescent, teen), all faces look the same, worn out and tired of life.

    Bright and early for their daily races
    Going nowhere, going nowhere

    -The daily races are our lives, busy and hectic. The narrator conveys the meaning that everybody seems to wake up bright and early, as if for a purpose, but in the end they go nowhere, because there is no purpose in life.

    And their tears are filling up their glasses
    No expression, no expression
    Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
    No tomorrow, no tomorrow

    -The tears fill up their glasses, and you can imagine the meaninglessness and bitterness they must feel, if they are to drink their own tears, as the song indicates. To drink your own tears without expression is very extreme, because sadness indicates that there is meaning in life, and something to be sad about, but no expression, and no tomorrow, indicate that the narrator is indifferent, so worn down as to not even feel sad or angry, but rather he would like to drown his sorrow.

    And I find it kind of funny
    I find it kind of sad
    The dreams in which I'm dying
    Are the best I've ever had

    - The funnyness he talks about is a very dark emotion, it is a bitter, mocking type of funny that corresponds with sadness. A sad type of funny. This is the way he feels about his life, because he dreams of dying, the only relief from a meaningless life that contains no hope for feelings of purpose and fulfillment.

    I find it hard to tell you
    'Cos I find it hard to take
    When people run in circles
    It's a very, very
    Mad World

    -The reason he finds it hard to tell you is because he is about to reveal the song's theme, it's ultimate message: THERE IS NO MEANING IN LIFE. He doesn't find this hard to take, but what he DOES find hard to take is that people are still willing to live, which he describes as "running in circles." A Mad World, is not an angry world, but mad as in crazy, insane, meaningless.

    Children waiting for the day they feel good
    Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
    Made to feel the way that every child should
    Sit and listen, sit and listen

    The child stage is the most innocent of humans, and their desires are innocent, they just want to feel good, like the type of happiness a child feels during his birthday. But also note, that the narrator wants us to consider why we as humans feel the need to celebrate the birth of our lives, which he views in an ironic tone, consistent with the feeling of the song. "Happy birthday", and "sit and listen" are repeated twice, to sound mechanical, routine, mundane, and ultimately meaningless. Even to sit and listen, to try and learn the meaning of life, is in a way, meaningless.

    Went to school and I was very nervous
    No one knew me, no one knew me

    -Remember, school is a social place, not just a place for learning. It is where humans interact. This is where he is nervous, where he feels isolated, and alone. He is INSIGNIFICANT.

    Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
    Look right through me, look right through me

    -The teacher is a figure of authority and knowledge, as well as wisdom. Although the teacher teaches lessons of life, He/she looks right through the young narrator. Once again the narrator reminds us that we are Insignificant.

    So what picture does this song portray?
    A dark, mad world, with no purpose, very nihilistic.
    Life is insane, because people pretend to live.

    The themes:
    Life is meaningless
    Individuals are insignificant.

    What is important about this song is that it is not a grown man who is lamenting life, but a young child, who feels he has seen all there is to see, and has realized very early, that life is meaningless. He is lamenting this realization, and in a way, has given up.


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    Oct 29th, 2006 10:50am report

    I think you cannot understand the true meaning of the song unless you personally have experienced this type of empty and painful childhood. Here's my interpretation.

    "all around me are familiar faces
    worn out places
    worn out faces"

    this expresses how everything and all people no matter how grand do not cause any emotional reaction even though he knows it should. Just emptiness.

    "bright and early for the daily races
    going no where
    going no where"

    this states that he feel he wakes up for nothing. No matter what he does good or bad has no meaning. Just emotional emptiness.

    "their tears are filling up their glasses
    no expression
    no expression
    hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
    no tomorrow
    no tomorrow"

    he sees others in there sorrow and how much they hurt and feels that all experiences even the good ones always lead to ruin. So he thinks what is the point of anything. Tomorrow holds no good because it will always end badly. Just emotional emptiness.

    "and I find I kind of funny
    i find it kind of sad
    the dreams in which i’m dying are the best i’ve ever had
    i find it hard to tell you
    i find it hard to take
    when people run in circles its a very very
    mad world
    mad world"

    because all is empty only extreme emotions exist, there are no gray areas. So its a little funny (an extreme emotion) a little sad (the opposite extreme emotion). This kind of emotional turmoil is hard to talk about and hard to endure. Because of this emptiness all he can see is endless pointless behavior (no real impact on anything). Just emotional emptiness.

    "children waiting for the day they feel good
    happy birthday
    happy birthday
    and I feel the way that every child should
    sit and listen
    sit and listen
    went to school and I was very nervous
    no one knew me
    no one new me
    hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
    look right through me
    look right through me"

    this describes how he started with this blissful innocence and then as time goes he trys to fit in, to be part of the social groups. But he always fails. He sees innocence, eagerness to fit in and then a need guidance to help him. But the help never comes "look right through me" indication that he is transparent empty. Just emotional emptiness.

    It is a song completely unrelated from a book character, etc. It is a song to describe how truly hard childhood can be for thoughs who never really fit in. Never really belonged to anything for whatever reason. This depression to apathy emotional flux is very bazaar at times you feel happy that you are sad because at least that gives you some emotion to feel other then that horrible emptiness and at other times you feel sad that the only time you are happy is when you feel sadness.

    I'm sorry if this is hard to grasp. But in a way that is the point. You can only experience it to understand it. The behavior and emotion is crazy thus making life a very "mad world".

    When in that state you cannot look at the future the present is so painful that there is no tomorrow. It fit the donnie darko character so perfect in the movie. But it isn't about the movie or a book it is just about how horrible life can be when you get stuck inside yourself.

    However I do like the quote that has been relay concerning the interpritation of this song "life is a comedy to those that think and a tragedy to those that feel." this quote is totally off base when related to this song. Those that feel also do think, that is what makes the empty emotion that much more painful.


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    Apr 10th, 2009 4:08pm report

    i really like this song, finally one that's about something other than relationships

    it's meaning is worded very loosely, it lets you interpret it yourself

    this is what i got from it:

    everyday is the same, we wake up, emotionless drones, as we follow our daily routines, everything is planned even our feelings, we all conform, try to fit in with everyone else.
    it all seems really pointless to him, as he believes dying would be better than this empty life, or maybe because it;d be something new, a way to escape the repetition. there'll only ever be today, never a tomorrow. as children, we're taught to sit and listen, the way all children should, to feel happy on our birthday, it just shows how controlled we are, living with one track minds, wanting more but never going for it. always going around in circles makes it a very, very mad world.


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    Nov 19th, 2018 11:04am report

    It's about someone who is severely depressed.


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    Apr 9th, 2017 4:49pm report

    it just seems so depressing and it makes me kinda start to get suicidal thoughts. it does seem to say how meaningless life is, and that we do do all the same things everyday. when he said that "the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I ever had" I did not know if he wanted to kill himself or not, it kind of confused me


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    Aug 7th, 2015 8:53am report

    i like aeroplane jellyyyy!!!!!!!


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    Jun 16th, 2015 6:19pm report

    I think the song means that for a teenager he feels life is up nothing more in this world for him as for him the world as become a crazy, depressing,gone to wast place and that he does not wont to live in a world with such disgrace and pain.for he feels out of place and for he feels nothing any more.that no one wants to care for him and that he would be better of not in this world then to wast the rest of it being mirarble.


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    Jun 18th, 2014 6:34am report

    I've killed myself multiple different ways inside my head, as a kid, n thousands now as an adult, but here I am still living, maybe physically but not mentally..this song describes me perfectly:|


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    May 5th, 2013 5:23pm report

    I believe that this song is basically saying that life is meaningless. The stuff he talks about makes it seem that he is either a small innocent child, or a teenager who has given up at a very young age. He talks about getting up bright and early for the daily races, going nowhere, he's talking about how people will get up early for a useless purpose, if you read the lyrics, you can see these bitter undertones.


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    Aug 14th, 2012 8:42am report

    I thought it was about an old man who feels as though he wasted his life. He had lived the rat race life and now sees that he was so busy with day to day life that he did not truly live. And he feels regret about this. He can see the errors of others clearly because he now feels he spent his life chasing after something that is of no importance to him now money and fame ect. He should have thought outside of himself and connected with others to avoid his loneliness. Each of the verses had been about himself at one point or another in his life.
    My interpretation was inspired by the slower version. Adam is an awesome and terrific singer but he sings with energy that does not seem to match this song. The other guys lack of energy to me seems to be a better fit. This made the song more believable for me If I had just heard Adams version I probably wouldn't have been so curious about this song or have read all of your interpretations of this song.


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    Jun 13th, 2012 6:20am report

    This song calls close to my heart, for it is a lament about how the world isn't pure like we thought. We believed that the world was perfect when we were young, that we were invincible. I'm 15, and this song basically is exactly how I feel, that the world is filled with the teachers who have forgotten how to actually see, and people who have never truly been joyful.


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    May 25th, 2012 5:11pm report

    we are so dependent on others for our own identities, that's what's mad.

    Every individual has their own perspective of what is special, but society sets it's own rules and borders.

    All of us are increadibly special children, and ought to be alowed to develop our great and special potential.
    However, the way we are special is not always loved or appreciated by others.
    We need to be loved by others, because it is society which dictates the norm.

    Most of us feel like we're freaks or invisible, and we cannot show how special we all are, because not enough people will listen,or be interested in us if we don't conform to the norm.


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    May 10th, 2012 5:43am report

    This son is actually dedicated to his mom bc she past away . He said it him self .


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    May 7th, 2012 5:32am report

    its about isolation, alienation, being depressed, suicidal sad, lost, lonely. feeling unloved. no one around you really knows you or is emotionally present. no one cares about you. everyone is fake and pushes the hurt under the rug. the message to you is just shut up and listen, follow rules, don't make waves. be a good child. perform. smile even when you feel like crying. look good. be of service. its scary when the grownups yell at you so you listen but inside you are in so much pain. you just want to be safe and warm and loved and nourished but instead you are in a cold world of hypocrisy. they don't see you as a person, but more like a machine. just obey


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    Feb 1st, 2012 2:57am report

    I think ultimately, yes its about life and death, and how everything, every situation seems to repeat itself, and he / humans are ultimately bored by this existence, he has however, never withessed or been affected by death, and thus, the dreams in which he is dying are the best he has ever had, because it is a new, unexplored emotion or event, thus, his dreams of leaving this world being the best henhas experienced, mak it a very mad existence.


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    Oct 11th, 2011 10:53am report

    @ anonymous 5th october. You dont need to go far in Africa. Infact you should base this song in europe. In africa , they already know their fate, they accept they are slaves to these twisted machine N.W.O [ Joint forces of multi - cooperative companies].
    The worst slaves are those who do not know that they are enslaved. They remind me of the frog that was put in a hot watered pot and jumped out because it was hot , but when the pot was filled with cold water and slowly the heat increased, it felt warm and enjoyed the water when it was too hot for it to notice , it died without finding time to escape. The people in the west are the frog in the cold watered getting heated up. Look at Greece , look at USa. You think it is going to end there. We are all sheep , being groomed to serve our masters. Once the shepherd is tired of us , He will decide our fate. We are running in circles because the system was desgined this way. We know it is a bad system , but we still do it day and night. We are sat like sheep waiting for a leader in the flock to lead the way to challenge the shepherd. THe only way to end this Mad mad world is through another entitiy, because man has failed to redeem himself from these evil shephereds . Who work day and night to keep us enslaved. My hope relies on an outward Entity - Jesus Christ Himself with his legion of angels . This is the only army that will ge rid of this infestation , taking down the Devil and the Mystery Babylon on its way. I cant wait for this day.


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    Oct 5th, 2011 10:33am report

    I just realized how perfect it is for a hopeless society as some in Africa.

    Hearing this video with pictures of african people suffering from famine and a hopeless society gave me the goosebumps. I really think it fitted.

    Far more than any concept based on the western civilization

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


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    Sep 19th, 2011 9:25am report

    Just look at people's faces on the London Underground during rush hour and you can sense the truths conveyed in this song. We are merely defecating and suffering animals living out our mortal and insignificant lives in a meaningless and pitilessly indifferent universe.

    The true ramifications of accepting this are too painful and unbearable for most people to bear. I interpret this song pretty much exactly how Curt from Tears for Fears described it because I've experienced existential despair since I was a child and thus the song spoke to me directly.

    Now, as a man in my mid-thirties, I am an antinatalist.

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