Rejected Midterm Papers: Why "Shut Up and Dance" is about a Fractured Relationship

By Will Peisch | 5/26/15 10:10am


The song wasn’t originally meant to be on Walk the Moon’s second album, titled “Talking is Hard” (2014). In the song’s Spotify commentary — an actual Spotify feature that no one asked for or needed — Petricca says, “We needed an anthem,” which is musician-speak for “studio heads ‘needed’ us to make an earworm so people would remember all the lyrics to the song after listening to it once then buy our album.” For further explanation of this anthem phenomenon, feel free to watch this entire 40-second video.

As for the lyrics themselves, according to an interview Petricca did with American Songwriter: “The story of “Shut Up and Dance” is based on a true story of hanging out there with my friends. This girl actually told me to shut up and dance with her. We took it back to the studio and it spun out very quickly after that.”

I assume the “it” they brought back to the studio is referring to the story and not the girl. Petricca, though, goes on to mention the girl in the song who told him to shut up is his current girlfriend, so it could mean both things — who knows?

Given that “Shut Up and Dance” features a real couple, I’m sure that they will be as shocked as I was to learn through lyrical analysis that the song is really about their flawed relationship.

Petricca’s side

After listening to the song, it is clear that Petricca is head over heels in love with this girl. He sings, “deep in her eyes / I think I see the future,” which implies that he is either willing to spend the foreseeable future with this girl or that Petricca is dancing with clairvoyant Raven Baxter from That’s So Raven.

Petricca also sings, “this woman is my destiny / we were bo(und)(rn) to get together / bo(und)(rn) to get together.” Music lyric websites disagree whether the lyric is “born” or “bound,” but Petricca’s point is clear — there is no such thing as free will.

You may now be thinking, “Wow, this guy has really fallen for this girl that he’s shutting up and dancing with. I would be incredibly sad if I found out there was evidence in this song that the feelings weren’t mutual.” If this accurately describes you, you might want to close your browser screen now and write your own “Shut Up and Dance with Me” fan-fiction instead.

The girl with the backless dress and beat-up sneaks's side

While some would argue the girl’s dialogue in “Shut Up and Dance” is underwritten and one-dimensional, a closer look at all she says reveals she may in truth be a very unpleasant person.


• "Oh don't you dare look back / Just keep your eyes on me."
• “Shut up and dance with me!”
• "Ooh-ooh-hoo / Shut up and dance with me."

I think we all love the experience of being threateningly told by a dance partner to stare at them and nothing else, emphasizing that you should not look at what’s behind you under any circumstances. Additionally, being told to shut up is always an awesome feeling, especially coming from someone you think is your destiny — even more so when it’s prefaced by “Ooh-ooh-hoo.”

As unpleasant as some of this is, I can sort of understand where she is coming from. One time, a girl I was dating kissed me to get me to stop talking after I accidentally said something stupid about our relationship and tried to dig myself out of the situation, not to brag or anything. A kiss would usually suggest that someone was doing something right. That, however, can be undermined when it’s prefaced by several polite variations of “you can stop talking if you’d like.” It was probably the nicest way anyone has helped me out of painting myself into a corner. Maybe that’s why girls will occasionally date jerks. They’re making out with them to prevent them from saying anything obnoxious. So I get where this mystery girl is coming from when she says “shut up,” even though it’s totes rude. Nick may be fun to dance and make out with, but he seems a little lost in his own world sometimes.

Why Nick Petricca should “shut up”

In an interview with Billboard, Petricca was asked, “[Shut Up and Dance] is from your 2014 album, Talking Is Hard. What does that title mean?” to which he responded,

“People of our generation are scared to express ourselves. We're stuck on our phones communicating with people on the other side of the world, but find it hard to hold a conversation with people across the table. It's about getting out of your head.”

Reading this, you can assume that if Nick Petricca’s girlfriend told him to shut up, it was probably justified. After a few more interviews, it becomes clear that unlike myself, Petricca is a dorky romantic with some likable qualities, who spends a lot of time in his head and sometimes doesn’t realize that it’s okay to stop talking. As a reminder, we’re not dealing with Mick Jagger here, we’re dealing with this goofball:

Taking into consideration this new angle, the song takes on a slightly more nuanced meaning. Nick is a guy who makes absurd long-term plans in his head — “this woman is my destiny” — while the girl just wants to dance and shut up. As a reminder, the thing that provokes Petricca’s girlfriend into telling him to shut up is Nick saying, “you’re holding back,” which sounds less like a rock anthem and more like an insecure significant other.

While Petricca is probably aware of his own flaws — the line “the discotheque Juliet teenage dream” could suggest that he’s knows the dangers of quick flings, or maybe that he forgot the ending of “Romeo and Juliet” — it worries me that the song gives no resolution to the issue. There is no mention of actual dancing in the song — they only talk about it. Nick shows no intention of shutting up, and right after Petricca says he sees the future in this girl’s eyes he says, “this is my last chance.”

While I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that Nick and his girlfriend have since broken up, I also couldn’t find any evidence to the contrary. Though I think I’ve proven myself to be an expert in all things “Shut Up and Dance”-related — future employers/girlfriends/both take note — I have no idea what this “last chance” is referring to. It’s a frustrating feeling to want to know something I have no business knowing — this is the entire tabloid/entertainment news business model — so I’m writing an open letter to Nick Petricca. Mr. Petricca, I know you’re an avid Dartbeat reader, so if you could blitz me a quick message regarding your current relationship status and what “last chance” means, I swear I won’t write any more articles about your songs.

Will Peisch