Breathing. It’s as simple as taking in air, letting it fill your lungs, and letting it out. It is an action that comes naturally to us humans. But in poetry and literature, breathing takes on a whole level of symbolism. It refers to several things depending on the context – it is to be alive, it is ease, it is suffocation, it is rest, it is freedom. The difficulty of breathing is to illustrate suffocation and anxiety; and full stoppage of breathing is death.
One little word, yet so many definitions.
Maybe due to its nature of being easy to be taken in many ways, there are plenty of songs with the word ‘breathe’ as its title. It may be such an abstract word, but we all seem to know what it means and can easily interpret them. It translates well to any language and applies to many instances, which makes wordplay so much easier and all-embracing.
The first song that comes to mind is probably one of the most obvious choices: G-Dragon’s 2009 track, “Breathe.” The second promotional track from his debut solo album, Heartbreaker, it starts off seemingly tackling the lonely world of being idol, before delving into his heartache.
I can’t breathe no more
I can’t sleep no more
In this crazy world, the cold heart of the city, I’m alone
I can’t live no more but I can’t stop no more
Even if I close my eyes I can’t hear your breathing anymore
With the repeated hook of “I can’t breathe,” it’s easy to understand what the song is about: the feeling of suffocation from outside forces. “I don’t even care for the feeling like I’m being squeezed.” While on the surface it does seem like it is about his love life, one can put their tinfoil hats on and say that it is a brief glance of being alone despite the popularity.
With a similar theme of relationships is Infinite’s “Breathe” from their second full-length album, Season 2. This time, they are not talking about not being able to breathe due to outside forces, but rather suffocation during a relationship.
I like you too and it’s nice being together all the time
But don’t overdo it, I’ll get sick of you at this rate
Whoever I met, wherever I go, whatever I do
Pretend you don’t know even if you do,
Pretend you haven’t seen even if you have
Stop caring so much
Let me breathe, let me breathe
Give me space to breathe, give me space to breathe
Infinite’s “Breathe,” simply put, talks about their lack of freedom.
Not settling for simple talk of how they suffocate from their loved ones being too clingy, Infinite furthers it by talking about a vicious cycle where their girlfriend “cross[es] the line,” making it her duty to make other girls know that they are together. Even when singing about being alone, the song makes it a point that the woman is the one sticking too close, where one can easily stop caring about the woman.
It also makes it a point to paint the woman with stalker tendencies that Infinite are getting sick of – making the song easy fodder for people to say that this song could potentially be about sasaengs who might make Infinite feel as if the lyrics “Even when I’m home alone, I feel like I’ll see you” stick a little too close for comfort.
Another is a title track from Miss A, “Breathe,” which followed their hit debut track, “Bad Girl Good Girl.” This strays away from the theme of suffocation and uses breathing to paint a picture of how a female feels at seeing her crush.
Because of you my heart drops
Because of you my body wants (ya)
Every time I catch your eye
Every time you snatch my mind
Because of you my heart drops
no oh no oh no oh oh
I can’t breathe
It’s another universal theme – the feeling when you see they girl or guy that you like, and how you feel your breath hitch in your throat, especially if the person looks your way. In this song, breathing is used to illustrate the mix of nervousness and adrenaline rush when your crush looks your way. Unlike the previous tracks, this is seen in a more positive light, and looked upon happily as well.
The last is a track released just earlier this year, Lee Hi’s “Breathe.” It is perhaps the most abstract of them all, fitting since SHINee’s Jonghyun, who does have a reputation for his expressive prose, wrote it.
It’s okay if your breath gets short
No one is blaming you
You can make mistakes from time to time
Everyone else does too
Different from the other tracks, it tells the listener that it is okay to breathe, to sigh, despite the failures. It serves as a reminder that other people have failed and yet continue on, to not shoulder the blame. It is the track that takes the theme of breathing and makes it inspirational, with a meaning that everyone can take to heart and relate with.
Here, breathing is seen as a coping mechanism. Take a deep breath, let the air fill your lungs, and release it to the world, allowing this to become a vehicle of releasing your worries and failures. Lee Hi’s “Breathe” additionally reminds people that one can get too caught up in one’s own troubles, but so does everyone else, so when one says those words “I’m alright,” even when you are not, it’s understandable. There is an empathy that is weighed into those words, and it is universal.
Breathe is a simple word, yet has so many meanings and ways when applied to any kind of lyrics. These are just a handful of songs that take the theme and run with it. Are there any others you know of?