Imagine Dragons has been dropping hit songs for a while now, and “Zero” is no exception. Released in September 2018, “Zero” was written and recorded for the end credits of the Disney movie Ralph Breaks the Internet. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’re likely familiar with the song. Though not the Imagine Dragons’ all-time top hit, it has garnered a lot of attention in its short life span to date.
In “Zero,” Imagine Dragons takes the entire theme of Ralph Breaks the Internet, which is about loneliness and self-acceptance, and captures it with lyrics about meaning, purpose, and identity.¹ The movie and the song give insights into our current culture by looking at the unique struggles that millennials and Gen Z have due to the internet’s influence on daily life.
Take a look at the lyrics music video that, even with its moments of absurdity (a cat game virus), is a glimpse at struggles of identity and purpose.
Being a Zero
Reflected in the title, the song is all about being a zero. But what does that mean? Zero literally means “nothing;” one dictionary definition is “an insignificant person or thing.”² Imagine Dragons’ lead singer, Dan Reynolds, certainly relates to this and even said the lyrics were somewhat autobiographical. He recalled times growing up when he wasn’t a popular kid or a band kid and he wasn’t good at sports. He was vulnerable and didn’t feel valuable.³ The chorus, over and over again, gets at the heart of the issue:
Let me tell you what it’s like to be a zero, zero
Let me show you what it’s like to always feel, feel
Like I’m empty and there’s nothing really real, real
I’m looking for a way out
Are young people struggling with this today? The lyrics suggest this isn’t just a teenager problem, it is also an issue that adults struggle with:
I remember walking in the cold of November
Hoping that I make it to the end of December
27 years and the end of my mind
Do young people feel as if they’re empty and at the end of their mind? If they’re really at the end of their mind, surely no good can come from that. Depression, anxiety, unhealthy habits, and even suicide should be no surprise if young people are struggling with low self-worth.
Why do young people feel like a zero? For Reynolds, feeling like a zero was partly the result of not being popular or good at things that other kids were. But what role has the internet played in that feeling?
The Internet’s Influence
The lyrics and the music video seem to present two ways that the internet affects young people, and perhaps how it contributes to feelings of worthlessness and purposelessness.
First, the internet is, in a word, chaos. At one moment in the lyrics music video (timestamp: 0:55), advertisement after advertisement is popping up on the screen. It’s an accurate picture of society’s beliefs and expectations bombarding students today. Perhaps they are coming through news sites, college university sites, social media, product advertisements, pictures of photoshopped models, etc. Throughout the world, including the internet, standards are presented. Even if those aren’t positive standards and shouldn’t be sought after, young people might feel worthless if they find they don’t measure up. These messages might be saying “You’re not good enough” or “You’re not excelling” or “You’re a zero”.
Second, there’s the influence of social media. Perhaps it’s the fact that young people can constantly view their friends’ posed “successful, happy” images and posts. People typically aren’t posting their real life hurts and tears and blemishes. Their perfect Instagram photos measured against your real-life look in the mirror will often look vastly different—and that’s okay! But do young people know this? Or do they wrap up their identity in the fact that they’re alone at home browsing Instagram while their friends are apparently hanging out at the beach, living the dream?
How are young people’s perspectives different, and perhaps distorted, because they’re viewing the world through the lens of social media?
“The Truth Will Set You Free”
Remember the song lyrics about needing a way out? Twice in the chorus Reynolds says, “I’m looking for a way out” before seeming to find any answer.
Then the song slows down, reducing the background noise to highlight four lines:
Let me tell you ’bout it, well let me tell you ’bout it
Maybe you’re the same as me
Let me tell you ’bout it, well let me tell you ’bout it
They say the truth will set you free
Reynolds acknowledges that he’s not alone—that maybe this is a prevalent issue in society—before uttering the perhaps most intriguing line of this song: “They say the truth will set you free.”
Of course, it’s unclear exactly what he’s talking about here. Is he referring to the truth of simply being transparent and honest with those around you? Or could he be referring to the truth and hope found in Jesus Christ? Even if it’s the latter, he doesn’t seem to hold on to it, but rather goes straight back into the chorus, saying two more times that he’s looking for a way out.
Can we help young people hold on to words of truth and to really embrace the freedom they—and all of us—have in Christ? Understanding that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of God and that we are loved by him reorients our identity, showcasing our worth and value. We find our true purpose in glorifying God and resting in his love as we love others (II Corinthians 3:18).4 Let us show each young person that we know that they, and all humans, are made in the image of God—and that makes them worth infinitely more than zero.
- What messages on the internet and in culture communicate that you’re not enough?
- How does the “comparison trap” on social media make you feel like a zero? How can you use social media effectively to create positive rather than negative feelings? Or is the answer to limit social media use?
- In what or whom do you find your identity? How does being made in God’s image and loved by him challenge that?
- What do you think your purpose is? How does being called to glorify God and love others, making disciples in his name, reshape or inform your purpose or gifting?
- “Social Media Isn’t Your Teen’s Biggest Problem” — Kristen Hatton
- “Who Am I? A New Way to Define Identity” — Melissa Crutchfield
- Ch. 7 “Does My Life Have Meaning?” and Ch. 8 “Hearing the Call” in The Secret Battle of Ideas about God — Dr. Jeff Myers
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- Tim Peacock, “Imagine Dragons Write and Record End-Credit Song ‘Zero’ for ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet,’” udiscovermusic.com, September 19, 2018, https://www.udiscovermusic.com/news/imagine-dragons-zero-ralph-internet
- Merriam-Webster, s.v. “zero (n.),” accessed March 22, 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zero
- Dan Reynolds, quoted in Kojo, “Meaning of ‘Zero’ by Imagine Dragons,” songmeaningsandfacts.com, October 23, 2018, https://www.songmeaningsandfacts.com/meaning-of-zero-by-imagine-dragons
- For more on what Scripture says about identity and purpose, see Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:14, Matthew 28:19–20, Luke 10:27, Ephesians 1:3–10.