Viva La Vida: Music, Art, Religion, Politics, Sport, Sex

By N Mark Castro

Seldom has one song managed to combine so many of life’s elements than Coldplay’s Viva La Vida which, in Spanish, can have two meanings: “Long Live Life” or “Live Life”.

And though there have been various and vague interpretations as to the meaning of the song, one thing remains certain: that the song’s Spanish title was taken from a painting by 20th century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, which translates into English as “Long Live Life.”


I am a bitch. I am a painter.

Chris Martin had been vocal in describing his choice for the title of the song, referring to Frida Kahlo’s signature pain and passion. “She went through a lot of shit, of course, and then she started a big painting in her house that said ‘Viva la Vida’, I just loved the boldness of it.”

And due to the highly intelligent lyrical composition of the song, it can’t be helped that so many historial references have been drawn from it: French Revolution, poignant rise and fall of kingdoms, empires, if not governments, and the highly debated Biblical references which have been embedded in the music.

“Viva La Vida” soars in with a grandiose instrumental arrangement and sweeping lyrics detailing the pain of being deposed from a lofty position. The big sound of the song constantly verges on becoming overblown, but Coldplay know how to walk the tightrope perfectly. Bells and chimes and orchestral swells are all there on the chorus, but Chris Martin’s voice still pierces through like a clarion call. Lyrically, the pain of the protagonist is clear, but the sweep of words about Jerusalem bells, Roman cavalry, and Saint Peter give “Viva La Vida” an air of intelligence rare in today’s most popular pop songs.

-Bill Lamb


The glorious opening track is built around a repeating string section with a percussion background but what also generated additional interest in the music was their unique video, wherein it seemed that the band was performing against a blurry, warped version of Eugène Delacroix’s La Liberté guidant le peuple

Liberty Leading the People (28th July 1830) 1830 - Eugene Delacroix -

The song generated so much debate on the meaning of the song “Viva la Vida” because it contained so many Biblical references,  such as, “pillars of sand”,  which is a reference to the biblical parable given by Jesus about the fool who built his house on sand, and the wise man who built it on solid rock, while “pillars of salt” is a reference to Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt.

“I know Saint Peter won’t call my name” refers to the popular tradition of St. Peter guarding the gates of Heaven. He is often depicted in art as holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven per the Petrine doctrine and the Biblical reference in Matthew 16:19. He is also commonly depicted with the book of life reading off the names of those individuals who had believed in Jesus Christ as per Revelation 20.

The term “… my head upon a silver plate” enters both to religious and political repercussions as it refers to the beheading of St. John the Baptist when Salome demanded from the King that his head delivered to her upon a platter.

And, as mentioned earlier, the French Revolution.

The band members themselves have wisely played it up by not corroborating any of these claims, and have referred only to kings and revolutionaries in general, rather than any particular king.


“Viva La Vida” was the entrance music for Birmingham City Football Club, and as if this 4 year old song has not had enough impact in popularity among the fans of the world’s largest sport, it also became the official music for the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final.

An embarrassing anecdote wishes to be inserted at this point. I was invited early this year to a private dinner with the visiting FC InterMilan, during which such time, a photo-ops was arranged onstage. Standing right next to me was one of their popular players who gamely exchanged howjados with me, to which I replied: “Are you any good?”

He looked at me funny and probably wondered to which rock I have lived under, but he graciously took it for a joke and said, “You’ll see tomorrow man.”

At least I survived that embarrassing part.

That said, another reason that this 4 year old song generated additional attention was when it was used as part of Apple’s Inc.’s iPod + iTunes advertisement campaign, exposing it to the millions of dedicated users of Apple products.

And as a testament to the impact of this song not just in Apple products but in the life of Steve Jobs … they were asked to perform for his memorial, which is truly fitting.


What’s quite interesting to note is that Yusuf Islam stated that the song is very similar to his song “Foreigner Suite,” recorded under his former stage name, Cat Stevens. He said “My son brought it to my attention and said: ‘Doesn’t that sound like ‘Foreigner Suite?’ But Islam later said, “They did copy my song but I don’t think they did it on purpose,” adding, “I don’t want them to think I am angry with them. I’d love to sit down and have a cup of tea with them and let them know it’s okay.”

Real artists care only about one thing — music.


Naturally, you can’t speak of Coldplay without including this woman —

And why she would carry not one but two of his offspring.

And part of the perks of being married to a rockstar is your blanket authority to plant some PDA onstage.

As a testament to this Grammy Award winning song, it also became the sixth song in digital history to reach the 4 million mark in paid downloads, which has likewise exponentially increased in sales to become the third best-selling song by a British act in the digital era.

Even Lady Gaga did her cover of the same song.

And if you think that Coldplay’s video version is nothing but a studio recording, you should hear them perform it live and feel the intensity of one song that covered the entire spectrum of life.

Next life, I’m going to be a damn rockstar …

Or at least the manager.


About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on August 5, 2012, in Gallery, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Usually I do not read article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, quite nice article.

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