There's a lot going on in this song, both musically and lyrically. It touches on drug addiction, but doesn't have the somber tone that many songs about addiction have. The song can also be interpreted to be about how society views death or about Christ.
Guitarist Daron Malakian, who wrote it with lead singer Serj Tankian, explained: "The song is about how when people die, they will be regarded differently depending on the way they pass. Like, if I were to die from a drug overdose, everyone would say I deserved it because I abused drugs, hence the line 'Angels deserve to die.'"
Chop Suey is a Chinese stew made with meat or fish, plus bamboo sprouts, onions, rice and water chestnuts. They used it for the name of the song because it describes their musical style, with lots of stuff thrown together. The title is not in the lyrics.
Paul - Westlake, OH
The original name of the song was "Suicide," but Columbia Records made them change it to make it radio friendly. In the beginning of the song, you hear lead singer Serj Tankian say "we're rolling suicide." The title is a bit of a play on words - "Suey-cide."
Ronnie - Pompton Lakes, NJ
The video was directed by Marcos Siega, who has also worked with blink-182 and Papa Roach. It was shot in the parking lot of a cheap hotel near where the band grew up in Los Angeles. Before the shoot, they posted a note on their website inviting fans to come down and participate. Since they were not well known, they thought they would get about 500, but instead 1500 fans showed up. The fans (mostly kids) were instructed to swarm the stage so they could help capture the energy of their live shows.
Rick Rubin, who had worked with Slayer, Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, produced the Toxicity album. Speaking with Rolling Stone about "Chop Suey," he said: "It's an unusual song because the verse is so frantic. The style is so broken up and unusual. It's both difficult to sing and arguably difficult to listen to, but then the chorus is this big, soaring, emotional, surging, beautiful thing. And then it's got this incredible bridge:
Father, father, father, do you commend my spirit?
Father, why have you forsaken me?
It's just real heavy, biblical and grand. It's so unusual that it goes between these crazy rhythmic explosive verses into this emotional, anthemic ending."
This was the first single from System Of A Down's second album, Toxicity, and their breakout hit. The band was an unlikely success story, emerging in mid-'90s Los Angeles with unpredictable, often lyrically inscrutable songs with very high pulse rates. They're all of Armenian descent, and early on many of their fans were friends from the Armenian community, which led many labels to believe they had just a small niche. Rick Rubin, one of the more adventurous figures in music, signed them in 1997 and turned them loose, releasing their first album (which he produced) in 1998. After about a year of touring, it became clear their appeal was widespread - they were in many ways an antidote to the boy bands that were dominating pop music at the time. By the time they released Toxicity on September 4, 2001, they had a substantial and fervent fanbase. The album went straight to #1, defying predictions from years earlier that they would only appeal to Armenians.
"Chop Suey" was climbing the charts when it was silenced by the events of September 11, 2001. Just about every radio station pulled it from their playlists in an effort to be as sensitive as possible after the tragedy. Even though the song had nothing to do with terrorism, it was considered far too aggressive. The line "I cry when angels deserve to die" was a little too heavy for most program directors and listeners at that moment. When things settled down, the song returned to the airwaves pretty much where it left off, since there weren't many songs released in the weeks after 9/11.
We have Papa Roach to thank for clearing a path on MTV for cathartic songs that reference suicide. Their "Last Resort
" video, also directed by Marcos Siega, hit the network in 2000 and was highly censored, with not only the word "suicide" edited out, but also related references like "bleeding" and "took my life tonight." By the time System released the "Chop Suey" video, which aired unedited, it was clear that young people were finding connection and meaning in these songs, and were in no danger of attempting suicide simply by hearing the word.
Jesus said, "I commend my spirit" in Luke 23:46, which is most likely where that part of the song came from. The line "Why have you forsaken me, in your eyes forsaken me?" is likely referring to Isaiah 49:14, which says "The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me."
Simon - Anchorage, AK and Elliot - St. Louis, MO
SOAD named the album Toxicity in honor of Los Angeles, which they considered a "Toxic City." They grew up and went to school near the seedy area of Hollywood and wanted people to know that it wasn't all glamorous.
The lyrics have many possible interpretations and permutations, but one guy who has never paid attention to them is the band's drummer, John Dolmayan, who said in a Songfacts interview
: "Most of the time when I listen to music, I listen to the melody and the way the lyrics syncopate within the song, but not necessarily the lyrics. I'd say the closest lyrics I pay attention to are Rush lyrics – those are more like stories."
In 1896, the new Chinese ambassador to the United States, Li Hung-Chang arrived in New York with a large staff including three cooks. He was determined to impress the Americans with the values of Chinese culture and cuisine and he gave a dinner party to which he invited distinguished members of both the American and Chinese communities. To make the event memorable, he instructed his chefs to include in the menu an entirely new course which would appeal equally to western and eastern palates. The result was a mixture of chopped bean sprouts, celery and meat in a soy sauce, all finely cut up and served under the name of Chop Suey, the English "chop" combined with Chinese "bits," spelled phonetically "suey." (From the book Food for Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World by Ed Pearce)
In 2007, Avril Lavigne did a live cover of "Chop Suey"
that didn't go over well with System of a Down fans. It was described as "Choplicated."