Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Florence + the Machine assume their rightful place on the throne.
Florence Welch has assumed a wide range of identities over the past 15 years. Since she first formed Florence + The Machine in 2007, Welch has been a punchy indie rocker; an empowerment anthem siren; a beguiling chanteuse; a dancefloor diva; a witchy woman; a poet. Like David Bowie before her and contemporaries like St. Vincent, Welch isn’t only writing and recording music with Florence + The Machine — she’s developing personae complete with richly-imagined aesthetic worlds that accompany every release.
But no matter how meticulous artists are when trying to control their image, they can’t fully prevent becoming projections of whatever their audience wants them to be. Florence + The Machine’s new song “King” finds Welch grappling with the weight of those expectations and the uncertainty that comes when you’re given to be the author of your own story.
“As an artist, I never actually thought about my gender that much,” Florence says in a note accompanying the release of the song. “I just got on with it. I was as good as the men and I just went out there and matched them every time.”
But now, at 35 years old, Welch is feeling the “tearing of my identity and my desires,” as she says. “That to be a performer, but also to want a family might not be as simple for me as it is for my male counterparts.”
While the origins of “King” feel incredibly personal to Welch, like the best Florence + The Machine songs it offers a more universal message. “I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king,” Welch repeats, planting a flag in the ground and attempting to self-actualize via a mantra. It’s a song filled with self-doubt and pain. Ultimately, Welch determines she needs her “golden crown of sorrow” and her “bloody sword to swing,” trading comfort for creative fulfillment. “The very thing you’re best at is the thing that hurts the most,” Welch sings.
And while a stirring string section and saber-rattling percussion lend “King” an anthemic quality that hearkens back to “Shake It Out” and other motivational Florence + The Machine tracks, “King” is no liberation hymn. It’s more of a pop-rock lament, casting Welch as a powerhouse boxed in by the unwritten rules of a patriarchal society. “And I was never as good as I always thought I was, but I knew how to dress it up/ I was never satisfied, it never let me go/ Just dragged me by my hair and back on with the show.”
You may be able to eventually choose your own path, but what other parts of yourself — the bride, the mother — are you prepared to lose in the process?
— Spencer Dukoff