Don't let this one fool you. Most of this song is about how wonderful the world is, a "sweet romantic plac with beautiful people everywhere." But at the end, it turns around with the line, "But not for me."
Jerry Casale of Devo told Songfacts: "We wanted to get everybody into a mood where people thought Devo was saying the world was really nice and saying the world was beautiful, then it turns out to be one man's opinion, which is mine, which is, while the world could be beautiful, it's not for me because of what I'm seeing."
Devo was founded by Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh
, who were both at Kent State University when four unarmed students were shot to death by the US National Guard. This had a profound effect on Jerry and Mark, who developed the idea of "De-evolution," meaning that humans were devolving rather than evolving. Devo made short films to accompany their songs with the idea of releasing them on Laser Disc, a promising technology that was a huge failure. Even though Laser Discs didn't work out, MTV launched in 1981 and created a market for music videos. With very few videos to choose from, they put Devo's "Whip It
" in heavy rotation, but when music videos became more common, MTV abandoned Devo.
Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale tried to sing like Stan Ridgway of Wall Of Voodoo
") on this track. "I don't know why, but we could imagine Stan singing that song," Mothersbaugh said. "So we were both trying to fake his accent and Jerry did a great job so he ended up singing on the record."
The song was written with the video in mind. "The video idea preceded the song," Jerry Casale told Songfacts. "We start off with silly imagery taken from archival film libraries of just stupid stuff - Americana pop culture stuff from the past and silly imagery of silly people, then slowly start warping it over darker and darker things - Ku Klux Klan race riots, war, suffering, atomic bomb, starvation. It transforms from one thing to another."
Rage Against The Machine covered this on their 2000 album Renegades, the last album the band released. They turned the song into a sad, sentimental dirge. When they played it live, they performed it on acoustic guitars.
Many of Devo's songs have been used in commercials. The ads often misinterpret the songs or clash with Devo's philosophy that people should think for themselves. Says Casale, "Today, when people use Devo's music in commercials, they either completely miss the point or excise the irony on purpose. Target used 'It's A Beautiful World,' and of course, left out the line 'For you, for you, but not for me.' They just made it a beautiful world straight up."
When Devo's songs are used in commercials, the band re-records them so they can keep the performance rights. Early on, they signed some bad contracts and never made much money from their songs. Allowing their songs to be used in commercials means they can finally make some money from them.
As for how they feel about their songs being used to sell products, Mothersbaugh says: "We were so far out of left field that we were always intrigued with the idea of making commercial art and fine art intersect. We were always really impressed with people that did a good job of it and felt like there was much more of a chance to change things then to just butt heads. Some of our better successes were things that were more subversive."
Mothersbaugh runs Mutato Muzika, a company that makes music for many TV shows, movies and commercials. Casale is a successful director who has worked on many music videos and commercials. He directed all of Devo's videos.