Song Lyrics Analysis: You Know You’re Right by Nirvana

Time for another installment of Song Lyrics Analysis where I discuss the meanings of certain songs. Today, I’d like to talk about You Know You’re Right by Nirvana. For reference, here it is on YouTube:

Here are the lyrics:

I will never bother you
I will never promise to
I will never follow you
I will never bother you
Never speak a word again
I will crawl away for good

I will move away from here
You won’t be afraid of fear
No thought was put into this
I always knew it would come to this
Things have never been so swell
I have never failed to feel [fail]

Pain [x3]
You know you’re right [x3]

I’m so warm and calm inside
I no longer have to hide
Let’s [There’s] talk about someone else
Steaming soup begins to melt
Nothing really bothers her
She just wants to love herself

I will move away from here
You won’t be afraid of fear
No thought was put into this
I always knew to come like this
Things have never been so swell
I have never failed to fail [feel]

Pain [x5]
You know you’re right [x12]
You know your rights
You know you’re right
You know your rights
You know your rights
You know your rights
Pain

Listening to it, you probably think you hear “failed to fail,” but I think the first time he says it, he’s saying “feel” with an accent that makes it sounds like “fail” as a homophone double entendre. Pretty clever. Then I’d say the second time he’s saying failed to fail.

Like I’ve said before, there are as many interpretations of an item of art as there are interpreters, and even the artist may not claim to have the only valid interpretation. That said, it would be nice if the song lyricist would publish their lyrics to give us a head start to understand their intent. This song has lots of mis-hearings because Cobain sings the lyrics rather ambiguously. Fail vs feel and steaming soup against her mouth vs sterling silver begins to melt vs steaming soup begins to melt and right vs rite. It’s a mess.

Most people believe this is an anti-Courtney Love song because she is a total bitch who doesn’t ever think she’s wrong, and maybe he’s singing about how he is going to leave her, and she only loves herself anyway. (And maybe if he’d left her earlier, he would be alive today.)

But all good lyrics, poems, scriptures have multiple levels of meaning. Another way to interpret this song is Cobain is singing to his drugs (again)- specifically heroin. In Spanish, heroin is feminine (la heroína), so nothing really bothers heroin. Heroin just wants to love herself. Heroin tar is the soup that melts on the spoon before getting sucked up into the “gun” for injection. With little thought he’s thinking about leaving heroin use- but he’s not going to promise.

He experiences pain because of his heroin use, but also he experiences pain in withdrawal.

In the middle of the song he goes back to heroin use (feeling all calm and warm inside, soup melting). Then he says he’s leaving heroin and the cyle starts over.

But also, the song could be the heroin singing to Kurt. Still works.

You know your right is the toughest lyric to jive with the heroin interpretation. I’m guessing that the heroin has told Cobain that he’ll never leave her, so he is singing back that she’s knows she’s right. But then at the end he sings “You know your rights,” and I don’t have a good drug interpretation for that. In the spouse interpretation it would be the legal stuff that happens during divorce.

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