Narrative Analysis of Linkin Park’s “Hands Held High”

Namecheap.com by Ben Stanton From Mason media critics United
For several years now I have been a fan of the band Linkin Park. They are quite popular and have been together for about fifteen years now and have come out with six major albums. They are very popular outside the United States as well. According to Wikipedia “They are the only musical act in the world that formed after the millennium to have sold over 50 million records worldwide.” Linkin Park has a unique music style combining the sounds of rock and rap. Most of their songs are upbeat and may have angry themes usually having to do with being fed up with something or some internal struggle. Until their latest albums, Linkin Park has never really come out with politically themed songs. Linkin park has always been involved with charities and been promoting causes. The band gets involved and often promotes things like equal treatment of all people but their music has never reflected any of that until their last couple albums.
The Album “Minutes to Midnight” was released in 2007. Not only did the album have a new more mature sound for the band, but for the first time they released a politically themed song. “Hands Held High” was written and sung by Mike Shinoda, Linkin Parks figure head. In the song, Shinoda rants about the war in Iraq and the Middle East. He expresses his dismay for the Bush administration and oil tycoons getting rich while average people in America cannot afford to put gas in their cars anymore.
The album was a huge success. “Hands Held High” was not considered one of the more popular songs on the album, however a lot of people loved it. People who enjoy politically themed music are now more attracted to Linkin Park’s music.
I am going to analyze the song “Hands Held High” using narrative analysis. I will look deep into Shinoda’s message and see how different narrative elements are used to motivate the audience to act. My goal is to answer the question: is relating closely to the audience a good way to motivate the audience to action? I will show how the story meets the standards or does not meet them. I will also take a closer look at the different themes in the song.
The album “Minutes to Midnight” was released in 2007. This was in the middle of Bush’s second term as President. Bush’s approval ratings were at an all time low. The war in Iraq was going on overseas. In America, gas prices were the highest they have ever been.People started losing jobs. The economy was failing. Linkin Park could not ignore this.


War has always had an impact on music. Look in recent history back to the Vietnam War. Many musicians took a stand and expressed their ideas about what was going on. J.W. Anderson in an article on the internet talks about this era:
Musicians of this generation took the guitar strumming troubadour from the coffee houses, plugged them in, and sent the music and the message into the college dorm rooms and the homes of the youth of America. This generation was not going to sit idly by while the government lied to the people about what was going on in Vietnam. (Anderson, 2009, p.2)
Much like the musicians during the Vietnam War, Mike Shinoda is not the type to sit idly by while the government pushes people around. He took a stand and wrote the song “Hands Held High.”
The song contains many of the elements of a good narrative. The setting is, as we just discussed, the world during the second presidential term of George W. Bush. There are different physical locations that the story takes place: the streets of America, at home with your family, soldiers overseas, countries were the war go on. Basically everywhere that’s affected by the current war is the setting of this narrative.
The narrator of this narrative is singer and songwriter Mike Shinoda himself. The song is in first person. The song is Shinoda speaking what is on his mind. He relates personal examples as well as tells in a critical light what is happening in our country and over in war zones. In the beginning of the song Shinoda says “turn my mic up louder I got to say something… I jump in my mind and summon the rhyme I’m dumping, healing the blind I promise to let the sun in” (Shinoda, 2007). From the start Shinoda tells the audience what he is doing and that he has something important to say. He establishes himself as the narrator.
The audience for this musical narrative is you. The lyrics of the song are directed at whoever is listening. Shinoda tries to relate the song to you by bringing the issues he sings of to you directly. The “you” that Shinoda speaks to is not just Americans but also people in countries where the war is taking place. He relates to them when he says “there’s bombs on the buses, bikes, roads, inside your market, your shops, your clothes” (Shinoda, 2007). He also relates to them by speaking of a Mosque. Shinoda puts Americans and Muslims in war countries on the same level in his song giving us the sense that we are all peers, innocent victims of power hungry rich people. That is whom he directs his comments towards.
There are several characters in this narrative. Mike Shinoda is the main character. We get the story from his perspective. President Bush is another big character. Although his name is not mentioned, it can be inferred that Shinoda is talking about Bush when he says “a leader so nervous in an obvious way, stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay, and the rest of the world watching at the end of the day, in their living room laughing like what did he say” (Shinoda, 2007). You are also a big character in the narrative. Shinoda directs his lyrics at you. He also speaks to people over in Iraq and other countries where the war takes place. Soldiers become characters in this narrative. Shinoda pulls them in when he says “do you see the soldiers, they’re out there today, they brush the dust from bulletproof vests away” (Shinoda, 2007). Rich oil company executives are also characters in the narrative.They do not have the nicest light shed on them. Shinoda refers to them when he sings “like they don’t understand you in the back of the jet when you can’t put gas in your tank and these f***ers are laughing their way to the bank cashing the check…” (Shinoda, 2007). The narrator’s family plays a role in the story. Shinoda refers to his dad and to his brother in different parts of the song. The variety of characters used makes it easier for people to relate to the song and the issues presented.
The plot of this narrative is rather simple. Mike Shinoda is fed up with the war and our society catering the rich and abandoning the poor. He stands up and says something and wants other to do the same. He tells people to “say something that you know they might attack you for” (Shinoda, 2007). He talks of all these bad things happening in the world, recognizes that it is overwhelming, but tells people to keep trying and keep fighting. The song ends by repeating “with hands held high into a sky so blue as the ocean opens up to swallow you” (Shinoda, 2007). That is the main message. The ocean of evil in this world will swallow us up if we do not keep looking up and fighting for better things.
As all narratives do, this song features several themes which add to the political commentary. The main theme of “Hands Held High” is actually stated in the song: “When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die” (Shinoda, 2007). Shinoda thinks this is unjust and protests against that fact throughout his song. In reality though, this ugly truth has been around for ages and would be near impossible to fix. Back in 1990 R. Dahrendorf talked about a rich poor division that tends to occur during wartimes. He says “the poor fight anddie, the rich sells arms and profit. The world economic system is dominated by a few big traders” (Dahrendorf, 1990, p.1). Shinoda’s intentions are good, but one song is not going to change a worldwide truth that has been in existence for a long time.
Another theme in the song is uncertainty. The song leaves the question of “whose next” or “what’s next” in your mind after you hear it. Shinoda sings “…taken and bound and found later under a tree, I wonder if he had thought the next one could be me” (Shinoda, 2007).There is also uncertainty expressed towards our leaders when the lyrics say “meanwhile the leader just talks away, stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay, the rest of the world watching at the end of the day, both scared and angry like what did he say” (Shinoda, 2007). As I was preparing for this critique I browsed youtube to see what videos were up using this song. There was one video I liked that was a montage about the war in Iraq set to the song “Hands Held High.” It showed images of soldiers and people affected by the war. It showed pictures of family members crying over fallen soldiers. It showed pictures of our leaders who run the war overseas. There was an image of President Bush’s face that was made up of pictures of all the soldiers who had fallen during the war. At the end of the montage he had a question mark appear over some of the images. I sent the creator of the montage, Quentin Harringer, a message asking him why he had included the question mark and he said it was because of the uneasiness that comes from thinking about what our leaders are doing in the war. About Bush specifically he said “honestly a majority of our nation, I feel, had the same uneasy feeling that I did about him and his administration.” The question mark was able to connect the uncertainty theme of the song to his montage.
There is also an underlying religious theme in the song. The first thing we hear in the song is a pipe organ playing peacefully. This gives the feeling that we are in a chapel. Although the words of the song are angry, the music itself feels like a prayer. In between verses that Shinoda sings the rest of the band comes in and sings for the chorus “amen,” repeated five times. Shinoda also depicts himself as a Christ-like figure in this narrative when he says “healing the blind I promise to let the sun in” (Shinoda, 2007) which refers to Christ in the New Testament healing the blind as well as other people. Mike also says in the song “it’s ironic at times like this you pray but a bomb blew the Mosque up yesterday” (Shinoda, 2007). Then at the end of the song it repeats “with hands held high into a sky so blue” (Shinoda, 2007). Hands held high, the title of the song as well, is talking about people praying, hoping, and doing what they can to create a better world. We raise our hands to God as the ocean of turmoil in the world crowds around us. Mike Shinoda wants us to take hold of that hope and fight against the injustice in this world. That is why the song is a calm prayer and an angry rant at the same time.
We have looked closely at the different narrative elements that go into the song “Hands Held High.” Shinoda uses lots of different events and characters and settings in his narrative to relate closely to the audience. He also directly speaks to the listener when he says “you.”The ocean is going to swallow you up. You can’t put gas in your tank. I would say that Mike Shinoda is effective in bringing the audience into these problems. He relates to us directly. It makes the problems more tangible and something we cannot avoid. Relating to the audience as closely as possible is indeed a good way to motivate people to action.


References
Shinoda, M. (2007). Hands held high [Recorded by Linkin Park]. On Minutes to midnight [CD]. Burbank, California: Warner Bros. Records Inc.
Dahrendorf, R. (1990). A united Europe: Economic problems. Talk to Public Meeting, 40th Pugwash Conference, NoPg. Retrieved from Peace Research Abstracts database.
War: Effects of War on the Economy: Information from Answers.com. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
Harriger, Q. YouTube - Linkin Park "Hands Held High" - My War Video. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VE_u74_KDc.
Anderson, J. Anti-War Music. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from http://www.jwsrockgarden.com/jw02vvaw.htm.
Linkin Park - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linkin_Park.

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