Are You a ‘Natural’?

When people think of modern rock music, the band Imagine Dragons probably comes to mind. Since 2012 they’ve been releasing music that has been topping the charts. With singles like “Demons,” “I Bet My Life,” “Thunder,” “Believer,” “Whatever it Takes,” and “Radioactive” (which holds the record for the most weeks spent on the Billboard Hot 100), Imagine Dragons has become one of the most popular rock bands of the decade. Part of the appeal of Imagine Dragons is that their music often goes beyond the shallow themes of most rock songs. Much of their music speaks of overcoming pain and obstacles, and learning to accept yourself.

One of the band’s newest singles is the song “Natural,” which served as the pump-up anthem for the 2018 ESPN college football season.

On first hearing the lyrics seem rather simple. If we think of it in terms of the ESPN anthem, it’s about crushing your enemies on the football field. Never give up, never surrender. You’ve got to push through. Stand strong. Be the hunter. We’re going to make it. We will never give up! But as we look closer, and if you watch the music video, the lyrics become rather confusing. The lyrics are actually much deeper . . . and darker. The song clearly goes beyond just pumping people up for a football game.

Note: the music video is creepy and contains scenes that may be disturbing or offensive to some viewers.

“You Gotta Be So Cold”

Will you hold the line
When every one of them has given up and given in, tell me
In this house of mine
Nothing ever comes without a consequence or cost, tell me
Will the stars align?
Will heaven step in? Will it save us from our sin? Will it?
‘Cause this house of mine stands strong

The song begins in a creepy old house filled with rotting and decaying things. We’re given the idea that there is a sort of doom over the place. Indeed, the song raises questions about fate and destiny. When all seems lost, will we stand? Will heaven step in, will it save us? Or are we on our own? Will we fight against our fate? Will we stand strong?

That’s the price you pay
Leave behind your heart and cast away
Just another product of today
Rather be the hunter than the prey

Despite the darkness that is overshadowing the singer, he seems determined to make a stand; but it will be costly. In order to make it, he’s got to leave his heart behind. He would rather be a hunter than the prey. If that’s what it takes, that is what he will do. In fact, he indicates that is the natural thing to do.

  And you’re standing on the edge,
face up ’cause you’re a Natural
A beating heart of stone
You gotta be so cold
To make it in this world
Yeah, you’re a natural
Living your life cutthroat
You gotta be so cold
Yeah, you’re a natural

If you are going to survive in this world, you have to be cold, you have to be cutthroat. In the music video, lead singer, Dan Reynolds, is shown digging a grave. At this point in the song, he starts filling it in. And there is someone in it . . . alive. Did you catch that? He’s burying someone alive. What on earth is going on?

A Dog-Eat-Dog World
In the press release for the song, lead singer Dan Reynolds referred to our world as a “dog-eat-dog” world.¹ In this sort of a world, you take what you can get before someone else does. You look out for yourself. Everyone is out to get you, the only way to stay on top is to strike first. Taking care of yourself is the number one priority, even if that means pushing others aside to get what you want.

This line of reasoning fits right into the secular worldview of Darwinian evolution. The fittest survive. The weak will be subdued. If we are going to “make it in this world” we have to be cold. We have to look out for our own interests. You can’t bother about you neighbor down the street. You are priority number one. If you follow this line of thought, you really do have to “leave behind your heart.”

Reynolds went on to say, “Living in a dog-eat-dog world can bring out the worst in you, and sometimes, the best. It would be a lie to tell you I haven’t become somewhat skeptical about some things in the last decade of my life. However, I believe that when you truly learn to love yourself, the judging eyes and hateful words become meaningless.”²

Sometimes it can bring out the best in you? Really? As we watch the video, it seems like the dog-eat-dog mentality usually brings out the worst in people. Reynolds says that “‘Natural’ is about finding yourself and being willing and able to stand up to whatever adversity comes your way.”³ But is it? It seems that rather than finding yourself in this vision of life, you actually end up losing yourself in your ‘natural’ impulses. All of the people in the song, including Reynolds, seem to be falling apart, decaying, dying, or almost dead. Though the song champions perseverance and victory, at what cost does it come? Is it worth it if you lose your soul?

Actually, the song doesn’t really seem like it’s about standing up to adversity as much as it seems like it’s about taking out people who get in your way. We are shown images of a dead bird and a cheetah mauling a zebra. The idea is clear, we are animals. Following our ‘natural’ impulses, we must prey on others to survive.

“A Bit of the Truth”

Will somebody
Let me see the light within the dark trees shadowing
What’s happening?
Looking through the glass find the wrong within the past knowing
we are the youth
Cut until it bleeds inside a world without the peace, face it
A bit of the truth, the truth

We need to face the truth, Reynolds says. This is a dog-eat-dog world. You’ve got to arm yourself and be ready to fight, like the girl in the video.

Deep inside me, I’m fading to black, I’m fading
Took an oath by the blood of my hand, won’t break it
I can taste it, the end is upon us, I swear
Gonna make it
I’m gonna make it

This is our fate. The end is upon us, we are fading. Towards the end of the song, there is a brief image of animals attacking one another. It is an apt image of the world that Reynolds is describing. But is this the truth?

The Christian worldview offers us an entirely different view of life. The Christian worldview sees death, destruction, violence, and sin as foreign enemies in our world. It is true that the world is corrupted by sin, but this is not the way that it was made to be. It is not what is “natural.” Though the desire to take what you can get at the expense of others may feel natural, in reality, it is unnatural. It is the opposite of what God intended.

In fairness to Imagine Dragons, they would not advocate the sort of dog-eat-dog behavior that happens in the music video. What Reynolds says about the song indicates that he is not for that. But the song and accompanying music video show the logical outcome of a belief in the idea that this world is really meaningless—without God, without morality. If that is the way the world really is, then the message of the song makes sense. Why not look out solely for yourself? Why not take what you can get, no matter who gets in your way?

Of course, this is not the place to explore the full arguments for Christianity or an atheistic worldview. However, if Christianity is true, then these impulses are unnatural. There is a better way to live. A life lived to the glory of God—loving him and others—and in so doing, becoming who you were really made to be. “Natural” may work on a sports level to get you hyped about making that touchdown pass and crushing your opponent on the field, but it’s a false vision of life, and an appalling way to live.

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Ben Keiser

Ben Keiser is a writer, teacher, and student of theology, whose chief interests include biblical theology of heaven and earth, C. S. Lewis, and early Christianity in the first three centuries. Ben has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He resides in Colorado where you can often find him hiking in the mountains.