Bat For Lashes (Natasha Khan) opens her third album, The Haunted Man, with this song in which she's thinking about her grandmother during the Second World War. She told NME that with this record, "I really wanted to go back in time and write songs about experiences that my grandmother might've had when my grandfather was away at war, or that my mum might've had with my dad… There's a lot of healing and putting things to rest; just being kind to the people who've done wrong because they've been unconscious what they're doing."
We hear Khan singing ecstatically, "Thank God I'm alive," on this song's refrain. She explained to Mojo: "Lilies is about letting go - it's very pro-life. I get very emotional singing the, 'Thank God I'm alive 'bit, although other people have told me it's quite uncomfortable to listen to something quite so ecstatic and open-chested."
Khan penned this song one night on her couch after watching the 1970 film Ryan's Daughter. The movie tells the story of a young Irish woman who is bored with her marriage and has an affair with an English soldier. The singer readily related to the woman's feeling of emptiness. "There's a scene where the female character is going out at night to meet this soldier," Khan recalled to Pitchfork: "It's dusk, there are all these lilies, and you can see how heady and fragrant the air is. All the pollen is blowing on her skirt, and she's looking at this man - it's so sensual and exciting. She's been so deathly bored and trapped in her own existence. That's exactly how I felt."
Khan filmed the video at Hornet Workshop animation studio in Brooklyn. For the song's climax, she had to sit mouthing "thank god I'm alive!" frame-by-frame for over nine hours, as part of a stop-motion sequence. The clip's director, Peter Sluszka, told NME: "The most interesting sequences were the ones in which we animated Natasha. I liked it when we encased her in the translucent armour. That required a lot of pain on her part."
After returning from New York and a failed relationship, Khan found herself in an empty flat in Brighton struggling with writer's block. The "Thank God I'm alive" lyric was born out of a sense of desperation for inspiration to strike. "It was a desperate moment. I was sitting on my sofa with my auto-harp and the whole song is about begging for inspiration, being dried up, alone, and waiting," she told The Independent. "Through writing the song I'd taken myself from this desperate place to this feeling of existential joy."