The Existential Dread in Smash Mouth's "All Star"

By Will Peisch | 1/26/16 12:34pm

I feel very lucky to be a writer for Dartbeat, because it gives me a chance to prove I’ve got my finger on the pulse of current pop culture. That is why I’ve chosen to share with you a lyrical analysis of Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit “All-Star.” While the lyrics are likely burrowed into your subconscious, you probably haven’t realized that, under scrutiny, the song is a cautionary tale about finding meaning in the pursuit of instant gratification.

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an "L" on her forehead

Courtesy of FOX

We start out the song with the lead singer of Smash Mouth and Guy Fieri clone, Steve Harwell, telling listeners that he was warned that the world would eventually roll him, which is terrible advice as it makes no sense. From context clues, we can deduce that this advice came from the main female character on Glee.

Well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

Death waits for no one, especially not Smash Mouth. Fieri-clone “hit[s] the ground running” to live the hedonistic and timeless lifestyle of the ska-punk musician. Though his pursuit of happiness has just begun, Fieri-clone laments the cost of becoming brain-dumb as a result, as if to suggest it might not be the best choice for someone who admittedly "ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed."

So much to do, so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the back streets?
You’ll never know if you don’t go
You’ll never shine if you don’t glow

For the record, there is a lot wrong with taking the backstreets. What backstreets lack in providing positive life choices they make up for in murder. While “you’ll never know if you don’t go” may seem daring, keep in mind it’s a dare coming from a self-proclaimed stupid person.

Side note: It’s a bit ironic that the people you’d be least likely to see on a backstreet are the Backstreet Boys.

Hey, now, you're an all-star, get your game on, go play
Hey, now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid

It’s interesting to note that though Smash Mouth says their intention is to “live for fun,” they make performing sound like such a bore. You’re an all-star? Start the thing you’re good at and play, you monkey. You’re a rock star? Walk on stage then get paid those sweet, sweet “Shrek 2” (2004) soundtrack royalties. No mention of the joys of being a rock star, unlike Nickelback’s ode to rockstar-dom, “Rockstar.”

And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold

To further paint the all-star lifestyle as an empty, joyless existence, Smash Mouth subtly twists the phrase “All that glitters is not gold” to ironically portray the lack of fulfillment they feel following their hedonistic dream of “living for fun.”

It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder
You're bundled up now wait ‘til you get older

In this couplet, Fieri-clone warns his listeners to avoid the mistakes that he has made. Fieri-clone failed to take Glee girl’s advice that while you may feel warm currently, the cold world will eventually roll you, a fate that sounds as painful as it does vague.

But the meteor men beg to differ
Judging by the hole in the satellite picture
The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim
My world’s on fire. How about yours?
That’s the way I like it and I’ll never get bored

By referring to the depleting ozone layer as the “hole in the satellite picture,” and the people in charge of observing said hole as “meteor men” instead of “meteorologists,” Smash Mouth again calls attention to how their career choice has dumbed them down.

Somebody once asked
“Could I spare some change for gas?
I need to get myself away from this place.”

I said “Yep, what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change.”

Not only is Fieri-clone’s response to someone ostensibly begging for money both rude and pretentious, it shows how disconnected from reality the all-star lifestyle has made him. Though Smash Mouth may have set out to live for fun, they’ve become bored with getting the show on, leaving them cold on the inside. His inhumane treatment of this hypothetical person hypothetically asking for gas money reveals the monster that fame has forced Fieri-clone to become.

What many to consider to be an empty song seemingly designed for turn-of-the-millennium movie soundtracks and trailers is actually A cry for help and a cautionary tale to us all. One moment, you’ve got a hit song that gets you paid, laid and a 1999 Kid’s Choice Award nomination. The next moment, you’re the punchline of an amateur columnist writing for the blog of a college newspaper you’ve never heard of. The gratification one gets from “living for fun” fades quickly, but it’s the long-term commitment to help others that persists.

Click here for a rendition of “All Star” that better reflects the no-longer hidden anguish of the song.

Will Peisch