This is the fourth single from Bastille's debut album, Bad Blood, which references the Roman city of Pompeii that was destroyed by a volcano in 79AD. "It's a moment of reflection and introspection, but they're trapped in time so it's a moment that'll go on for an eternity," frontman Dan Smith explained to NME.
Here are a couple more songs on our database that reference the ancient catastrophic event: "Cities In Dust" by Siouxsie and the Banshees "Vesuvius" by Sufjan Stevens. And on a lighter note, here's the theme song to Frankie Howard's entendre-strewn '70s sitcom Up Pompeii.
Rare for a hit song, the title never shows up in the lyrics. So why is it called "Pompeii"? Dan Smith told The Daily Telegraph that he was imagining what the dead inhabitants might have to say to one another. "It is essentially about fear of stasis and boredom," he added. "Being quite a shy, self-conscious person, I was afraid my life might get stuck."
Smith explained the song's meaning to The Sun: "Pompeii is actually an imagined conversation between two charred corpses reflecting on the city."
He added: "But that's why I don't like explaining a lot of my songs literally as it sounds bonkers – a song about two corpses yet the crowd are happily dancing along!"
Structurally, this song is fairly standard except for the "ayyyy ay-yo ayo" vocals that make for a killer hook. This chant opens the song, is repeated in the choruses, and is used for a vocal break after the second chorus (about 2:08 in), and also in the fade-out. In lieu of a title, this is the most memorable aspect of the song. With the "ay-yo"s carrying the song, the chorus doesn't come in until :50, which allows Bastille to except the "don't bore us, get to the chorus" rule of songwriting.
Dan Smith was not a professional musician when he wrote this song - he was a bartender and student of English literature. Smith wrote the song in 2010 on a laptop in his bedroom after reading about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He didn't think anyone outside of his circle of friends would ever hear the song, but when he posted some tracks online, they got enough attention to earn his band a deal with Virgin Records. "Pompeii" was included on their first album and became their breakout hit.
Despite the song's subject matter, it gets an energetic reaction when performed live. "It's pretty funny to watch people drunkenly jump around to it at festivals," Dan Smith told Rolling Stone.
Bastille got a blast of exposure when they performed this song at numerous high-profile venues, including the Coachella and Glastonbury festivals, and on Saturday Night Live when they were the musical guest on the January 25, 2014 episode.
The members of To Kill a King, a British folk-rock band, provided backing vocals on this song.
Smith told NME that, as of 2013, he's never been to Pompeii, but the band was looking forward to visiting the Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum in Camden, England, where "they have an ashy frozen dog corpse, which I'm looking forward to. And a loaf of bread, a real ancient loaf of Roman bread."
The video was directed by Jesse John Jenkins, who specializes in fashion photography. In the clip, Dan Smith runs through an oddly inhabited Los Angeles, escaping to the desert of Palm Springs.
Carter from North CarolinaWow thank you for your comment Ryan that really explained everything to me instantly. I've been wondering exactly what it was hinting to since 2013 :)
Ryan from Cary, NcI think he's saying that the inhabitants of Pompeii were already destroyed even before the volcano. Based on what archaeologists have learned from the ruins it was a city given over to vice and sin. I think the author is saying that given almost 2000 years to reflect, the ghosts of Pompeii might conclude that things had not really changed at all... they were stuck in an existence that lacked development or goodness and with the eruption their predicament simply became literal. I also think that the in the video, they are trying to bring to our attention that many of us are no better off, already burned to ash on the inside by the materialistic and pleasure seeking lives we lead today.