Frontman Chris Martin told Rolling Stone
that he christened this song and the album "Viva la Vida" - meaning "long live life" or more literally, "the life lives" - after he saw the phrase on a painting by Mexican artists Frida Kahlo. He explained: "She went through a lot of s--t, of course, and then she started a big painting in her house that said 'Viva la Vida.' I just loved the boldness of it."
The movie Frida
, starring Salma Hayek, is about her life. You can see the painting that inspired the title in Song Images
Both this and "Violet Hill
" debuted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for week ending May 24, 2008. It is a rare feat for an act to have two songs debuting in the same week.
This song was released exclusively on iTunes, and was featured in a commercial for the music-download service that showed stylized images of the band performing the song. The spot hyped the song nicely, presenting the name of it at the end - helpful since the title doesn't appear in the lyrics.
Bassist Guy Berryman explained to Q magazine July 2008 about this song that features lyrics about cavalries, missionaries and kings: "It's a story about a king who's lost his kingdom, and all the album's artwork is based on the idea of revolutionaries and guerrillas. There's this slightly anti-authoritarian viewpoint that's crept into some of the lyrics and it's some of the payoff between being surrounded by governments on one side, but also we're human beings with emotions and we're all going to die and the stupidity of what we have to put up with every day. Hence the album title."
Q magazine asked Chris Martin about the lyric on this song "I know Saint Peter won't call my name." The Coldplay lead singer replied: "It's about… You're not on the list. I was a naughty boy. It's always fascinated me that idea of finishing your life and then being analyzed on it. And it's that runs through most religions. That's why people blow up buildings. Because they think they're going to get lots of virgins. I always feel like saying, Just join a band (cackles head off). That is the most frightening thing you could possibly say to somebody. Eternal damnation. I know about this stuff because I studied it. I was into it all. I know it. It's still mildly terrifying to me. And this is serious."
Drummer Will Champion told Q magazine February 2008 that many of the tracks on the album share a theme of "trying to remember what's important in your life, rather than being carried away by the trappings of other things."
Coldplay hired Brian Eno (David Bowie, Talking Heads, and U2) to produce this album. X&Y saw the end of what the band calls "Oldplay" and they felt they wanted to start off fresh and explore different directions. Guitarist Jonny Buckland explained to Rolling Stone: "We felt like the first three albums were a trilogy, and we finished that. So we wanted to do something different."
Bassist Guy Berryman told Rolling Stone about working with Eno: "It wasn't so much that he brings like a sound or something to it. He brings lots of ideas about everything, even down to like how we structured our day."
When this reached to Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, Coldplay became the first British male group to score a second top 10 hit on the Hot 100 in 17 years, (they'd previously reached #8 with "Speed Of Sound
" in May 2005). In 1991 both Jesus Jones ("Right Here, Right Now
" and "Real Real Real.") and the Escape Club ("Wild Wild West" and "I'll Be There") scored their second (and last) US Top 10 hits.
The album sleeve is a reproduction of Eugène Delacroix's painting Liberty Leading The People, which commemorates the French Revolution of 1830. The music video, directed by Hype Williams, features the guys performing in front of a blurry backdrop of the painting.
Chris Martin spoke to MTV News about this song: "I think everything we're trying to do at the moment is about not starting again so much as breaking down what we've built up before and trying to build something different and hopefully better, or worse in a good way. And this song is one of our favorites, because none of us are doing anything on it that we've ever done before. But we really enjoy playing it. The longer you go on as a band, the harder it is to surprise yourself."
A little-known US group called Creaky Boards accused Coldplay of stealing this song's melody from a number they wrote in 2007 called, ironically, "The Songs I Didn't Write." Andrew Hoepfner, Creaky Boards' singer and songwriter, alleged that Chris Martin attended a Creaky Boards concert in New York in October 2007. Coldplay vigorously denied the allegations claiming that on the night Martin was supposed to be watching them, he was actually working at the Air Studio in London. Additionally this song was written and demoed seven months before the night in question.
When this hit the summit of the US Hot 100 with Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl
" as runner-up in June 2008, this marked the first time that Capitol has had the top two slots on the American singles chart in the same week for over 40 years. The previous instance had been in September 1967, when the label had Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe
" at #1 and the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love
" at #2.
Coldplay were the first British group to hit #1 on the Hot 100 for over ten years. The previous British group to top the US singles chart was the Spice Girls with "Wannabe
" in February 1997.
The album broke the record for most iTunes downloads in a single day, previously held by Jack Johnson's Sleep Through the Static .
By the time this had reached #1 in both the UK and US, a promotional video had yet to be released to accompany it.
This was the fourth US chart-topper this century and the first by a group not to feature its title in the song's lyrics. The others have been "Dilemma
" by Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland, "Foolish
," by Ashanti and "Family Affair" by Mary J. Blige.
Chris Martin told The London Times November 28, 2008, he saw this song about a deposed dictator reduced to "sweep[ing] the streets I used to own" as being "really positive." He explained that he saw it as "more like a turning-over-a-new-leaf kind of song." Martin added that its like I've messed up, "and I don't mind being punished, but I can get redemption."
The Viva La Vida
album was the most downloaded set of 2008 on iTunes, with more than 500,000 digital copies sold since its release in June. The second most downloaded album was Jack Johnson's Sleep Through the Static
, followed by the soundtrack to Juno
Meanwhile the title track of Viva La Vida
was the second most downloaded single behind Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love
On December 4, 2008, the American rock guitarist Joe Satriani
filed a lawsuit against Coldplay, accusing them of plagiarizing the melody of "If I Could Fly" from his 2004 album Is There Love in Space?
. Satriani alleged that Coldplay had "copied and incorporated substantial original portions" of his instrumental track. It was announced on September 15, 2009 that the two parties had settled their legal entanglements and Satriani's lawsuit alleging copyright infringement had been dismissed, with both parties potentially agreeing to an out-of-court settlement.
This reached #1 on the Hot 100, Hot Digital Songs, Adult Top 40 Airplay, Triple A Airplay, Modern Rock Airplay and Adult Contemporary charts. It was the first song to reach the top position on all six tallies.
This won for Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2009. Coldplay performed it on the broadcast, where the album also won for Best Rock Album. Beating out Metallica for the award, Chris Martin explained, "We're not the heaviest of Rock bands - we're more like limestone, a little softer, but just as charming."
Viva La Vida was the best selling album worldwide of 2008 with 6.8 million copies sold. AC/DC's Black Ice was the second best seller of 2008, followed by the Mamma Mia! soundtrack.
In addition to Joe Satrini's lawsuit, Yusuf Islam claimed this resembles his 1973 song, "Foreigner Suite," which he recorded under his old name of Cat Stevens. Coldplay drummer Will Champion responded to the claims of plagiarism to HamptonRoads.com
by claiming the band are a victim of their success. Said Champion: "It's tough when people accuse you of stealing something, when you know that you didn't. So, we accept that it's part of the territory and know it is only for some reason, God only knows why, the successful songs that seem to be the ones that are accused of being stolen. So you go figure it out." Her added: "There are elements of our music that I've heard in other people's music. It's interesting but a very difficult thing to define. There are only eight notes in an octave and no one owns them. And there are probably about 12,000 songs that feature the exact same chord progression. I think it lies on an intent to steal, which we certainly have never done and never would. So, it's unfortunate but it's the way people are. That's that. We're confident we haven't done anything wrong."
This picked up the award for Song of the Year at the 29th Annual ASCAP Awards in London.
This was voted Festival Anthem Of The Year at the very first European Festival Awards held on January 13, 2010.
Weezer released a live cover of this song among a series of bonus tracks on the Deluxe edition of their album Hurley. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Coldplay opened their set at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show with a performance of this song. The were joined on stage for this segment by members of the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), which added strings.