[BEHIND THE LYRICS] ‘Head Above Water’

by Emily Medlock

On September 19, 2018, rock star Avril Lavigne debuted a new single from her upcoming album Head Above Water. This was her first single since 2015 and her first album since 2013. But why? Why did Lavigne go five years without making music? The reason for this is quite grim. She was struggling with Lyme disease, which is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium and spread by ticks. She sheds light on this dark time in her life in a letter to her fans.

“Thank you for waiting so patiently as I fought through and still continue to fight the battle of my lifetime,” Lavigne wrote. “One night, I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die. My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, ‘God, please help to keep my head above the water.’ In that moment, the songwriting of this album began. It was like I was tapped into something . . . Lyrics flooded through me from that point on.”


Billboard calls this new song, “Head Above Water”, a “spiritual epiphany” and I couldn’t agree more. Already the song has peaked at number two on Billboard on both the US Christian list and the Japan Hot Overseas list. Now, just let that sink in for a moment. There are millions of Japanese citizens blasting this song on their radio, singing the nonsensical lyrics. At one point, many of them will realize that they want to know more. Avid Japanese fans of Lavigne will investigate the lyrics and find out more than we could have hoped for.

To date, the song has reached the Hot 100 on over 25 different Billboards. Now, that’s quite a reach. And it’s already been streamed over 17 million times on Spotify. So, what’s more? Before we go on, here are the full lyrics to “Head Above Water” with a simple breakdown:

“I’ve gotta keep the calm before the storm
I don’t want less, I don’t want more”

There’s nothing that will send you under faster than losing your calm. No one calm has ever drowned. God isn’t just love, put peace as well, and losing your peace is letting darkness in. Lavigne knows that this peace is an important part to weathering the storm. 1 Corinthians 14:33 states, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”

“Must bar the windows and the doors
To keep me safe, to keep me warm
Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for
Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore”

How do you keep yourself from withering away? How do you keep yourself from drifting away from God, your family, your faith, your beliefs, your own true self? It’s not an easy task. There are 7 billion people on this earth with 7 billion different minds. We will all drift away at some point in our lives, the point is…do we seek God when we realize we can’t see Him anymore? Do we realize we can’t do it on our own? There’s only one Being who has ever parted a sea before.

“And my voice becomes the driving force
I won’t let this pull me overboard”

This is where Lavigne decides to call out to God. This is when she realizes she can’t do it on her own. She remembers the One who parted the sea. You can’t sit idly by and expect God to take care of the messes in your life. It takes a genuine voice and a will to fight.

“God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Don’t let me drown, drown, drown
Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown”

Now the chorus is, as always, the focal point of “Head Above Water”. This is Lavigne’s prayer. She surrenders, asking God to, simply put, save her. She wanted to live, and this time to thrive. Lo and behold, three years later, she’s performing this song as a relatively healthy 34-year-old with a new will to live and make a difference with that life.

“So pull me up from down below
‘Cause I’m underneath the undertow
Come dry me off and hold me close
I need you now, I need you most”

Although you can ask God to keep you afloat, what if you’ve already gone under? The only thing you truly need in this life is the Lord. Once you have a true relationship with Him and an acceptance of the you that He created, everything else will fall into place. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

As a child, there’s nothing more comforting than the touch of a loving parent. Imagine you’re five-years-old, unable to swim. You wander over to the deep end of the swimming pool just to take a peek, wondering why everyone is so drawn to it. The next thing you know, you’re five feet under, unable to breathe, your short life flashing before your eyes, arms flailing around you. But before you can sink to the bottom, your father’s hand reaches down, pulls you up, wraps you in a towel, and holds you close to his chest. You can hear his heart beating beneath his chest. In your mind, you were so close to death. But the entire time, he was watching you, never leaving your side. You could wander all you want, but he never wandered.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving earthly father. But that’s the beauty of our Heavenly one. All we have to do is open our hearts to Him.

“And I can’t see in the stormy weather
I can’t seem to keep it all together
And I, I can’t swim the ocean like this forever
And I can’t breathe”

For many of us, we may say, “Well, you’re drowning because you went off the deep end.” Saying that someone got their self into a bad situation is a valid point. But have you ever heard the phrase, “Smoke gets in your eyes”? It can be heard in a song from an old American vocal group, The Platters. You see, when you believe you are in love, it feels like fire. In that fire, you seem to thrive. But when that fire inevitably goes out, and everything is burning out, the smoke appears (which is much deadlier than fire). This toxic smoke clouds your vision and won’t let you see any misstep you are about to make. It encourages you to give up ever trying to see the light again.

There is only one flame that will never go out, that will always shed light on the truth and never cloud your vision. Christ (true love) is the only eternal flame.

“God, keep my head above water
I lose my breath at the bottom
Come rescue me, I’ll be waiting
I’m too young to fall asleep”

Putting it straightforward: Lavigne thought she was going to die in her early thirties. That is one scary thought. Sometimes, it takes a near-death experience to make us realize how young, small, and yet so important we are. Realizing your own worth is actually one of the most humbling experiences you will ever go through.

Now listening to the song, you will get chills connecting this to the songs that could be labeled angry, anti-Christian and vulgar. It’s just proof that God can keep any head above water. Lavigne was raised in a Catholic home in Canada but seemed to have pushed God to the back burner as she continued her career in music.

Lavigne may have gone through a lot but think about it this way. If she hadn’t, would she have written this song? On the same hand, if she had never gone so secular, so out there, would anyone even listen to her? Would millions of people be listening to “Head Above Water” right now? Would they be questioning themselves and their beliefs, saying, “Hey, this is Avril. If the rebel Avril is seeing truth in this religion, maybe I should find out more about it. If Avril has taken comfort in this God she’s never spoken of before in her songs, then maybe I want to learn more about Him too.”

With great power comes great responsibility and it appears that Lavigne is finally learning that. She has the power to reach millions of people with her voice and she has decided to use that power to bring glory to God.

Emily Medlock is a freelance writer who specializes in video games, movies, viral content, Christianity, music and YouTube video scripts. Visit her online at emilymedlock.com/blog.

One comment

  1. Hello Lisa. Thank you so very much for your comment and our hearts are with you and with your son. We are overjoyed knowing this song has made such an impact your lives. God bless!

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