Several theories have been put forth regarding the meaning behind the song "Viva La Vida," written and performed by British rock group Coldplay on their album of the same name. One theory is that the song references the Catholic Church. The song's lyrics, essentially the musings of a deposed king, contain several biblical references. A painting symbolizing the French Revolution, an uprising against Catholic monarch King Louis XVI, is central to the album's artwork. While no one theory has been confirmed by lead singer Chris Martin, or Coldplay's other band members, each musician has discussed a belief in God and an understanding of Christianity in past interviews.
The Song's Title
Chris Martin has stated that the song and album title were inspired by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's final painting, "Sandia con leyenda: Viva la vida," which translates to "Watermelons with legend: The life lives." The painting resembles an ex-voto, a work of art that, in Catholic tradition, is created to give thanks to God. It is believed Kahlo inscribed the title on the painting to thank God for her life and her artistic ability. Martin has said he admired the boldness of the painting. He also has suggested the song and album were a bold move on the band's part in that the music is a departure from their previous work.
The king referred to in "Viva La Vida" is thought to be Louis XVI, king of France at the time of the French Revolution. Louis, a devout Catholic, came into power upon the death of his grandfather. During his reign, Louis was forced to sign a measure placing limits on the Catholic clergy's rights. It was passed without the clergy's knowledge. Louis believed he had committed a grave sin in signing the measure, which may explain the lyrics, "I know St. Peter won't call my name." Louis later received Holy Communion from a priest who had refused to sign an oath supporting the measure. Because this action may have contributed to his execution at the guillotine, Louis is recognized as a Catholic martyr.
The lyrics to "Viva La Vida" are filled with references to people and events described in the Bible. In describing a time when the singer "ruled the world," he boasts that "seas would rise when I gave the word," which references Moses' parting of the Red Sea. "One minute I held the key" alludes to Jesus giving St. Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. "Pillars of salt" references the story of Lot's wife, whom God changed into a pillar of salt. The story of John the Baptist is alluded to with the words "my head on a silver plate."
The Music Video
The official music video for "Viva La Vida" also contains several images alluding to Catholicism. Eugene Delacroix's painting, "Liberty Leading the People," is used as a moving background in the video. A small white cross is depicted in a passing cloud, but there is no cross in the actual painting. It has been suggested that the red "V" painted on Chris Martin's shirt may symbolize the Vendee region of France where Catholic citizens were murdered during the French Revolution. Thin ropes can be seen on Martin's hands. Louis XVI's hands were bound just before he was beheaded. Louis resisted being bound, until his priest reminded him Christ's hands were bound before the Scourging.
- Christianity Today: Viva La Vida
- Biography.free-people.net: Frida Kahlo: 1907-1954 (Coyoacan, Mexico)
- The Sun: Backlash Will Never Go Away: Coldplay: Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
- Biography.com: Louis XVI
- Justus.Anglican.org: Louis XVI of France, King and Martyr
- Keeping It Catholic: Viva La Vida: What Does the Song Really Say?
- Andreas Rentz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images