Miike Snow’s “Genghis Khan”

Taking a look back at the irresistible alt-pop tune and the implications of its historical references

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Jackalope Recordings Limited, (c) 2016

Last summer, this song seemed to be everywhere. It was constantly played on my local mainstream alternative radio station, Live 105, and I swear I heard it in commercials and in the supermarket. It may have not been THE song of the summer, but it was definitely a contender in the alt-rock world, and it was definitely always stuck in my head. The question is: what makes it so good? Let’s dive in.

As soon as the song begins, after some catchy “Ooh”s, the singer begins by explaining that his “lover” (this is not the perfect term for this situation, but it is the one we’ll use to make things more clear) is not a consistent one; there are “no labels to put on” this relationship, and this is something they only “dip into when we need.” This verse draws the listener in with its ominous tone, and when the singer segues into his anguish regarding his lover possibly seeing someone else, we get a powerful chorus with a full instrumentation. It is not an explosive pop chorus, but a fizzling and assertive declaration of a need for control that is vaguely dangerous and totally catchy.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this song is the quirky lyricism and its questionable references to Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan was the leader of the Mongol Empire between 1206 and 1227, and was responsible for tens of millions of deaths in his expansive conquest; he was utterly brutal and unafraid to massacre large groups of people if they stood in the way of land he wanted to acquire. He is a recognized villain in history, and it is a bit surprising that the lead singer of Miike Snow, Andrew Wyatt, is so quick to compare himself to such a bloodthirsty historical figure. However, urban legend also portrays Genghis Khan as a man of many sexual endeavors (supposedly he fathered hundreds of children), which adds to the complexities and layers of how the phrase “I get a little bit Genghis Khan” is used in this song.

The singer only explicitly mentions the other men his lover is seeing, and how he hates that. He never mentions that he sees plenty of other women, but by comparing himself to Genghis Khan his hypocrisy is implied for the audience; the narrator is clearly a character with some inconsistencies and faults. He bluntly states, “I don’t really want you, girl,” yet he is maddeningly possessive of her, even though he has as many lovers (if not more) than she does. This also relates to how Genghis Khan behaved towards the land he conquered; he may not have had the right to control all the land he conquered, and because his attention was spread across so many different areas, he did not have the capability to give each conquered land the attention it needed to thrive. Yet he still fought brutally to control and attain more and more territory. He was fiercely greedy and violent, and our singer is confessing to getting “a little bit Genghis Khan,” although there is nothing “little” about Genghis Khan; this man was extreme in every sense of the word, and the singer’s attempt to downplay this comparison is impossible. This phrasing hints to the listener that he is hearing the opinion of someone who may truly be psychotic, which completely alters the way one hears this song.

This song is ultimately a confessional though, and that is most clear in the bridge, where our vocalist croons, “I wanna make up my mind, but I don’t know myself.” This man is tortured by how he wants to torture this woman, and the fact that he does not understand his possessiveness is disturbing and dark. This directly contrasts with the bouncy piano line that continues to drive this song, and the way it goes up and down the scale reflects how the narrator is repeatedly changing his mind in determining his feelings and how to go about this conundrum. The drums are also very light, but they unceasingly push the song along, as if demonstrating how the singer cannot escape these toxic thoughts of having complete control of a woman he has previously been involved with but does not admittedly love.

This song is catchy, summery, and purely fun, but when you uncover the lyrics and the history that they relate to, the message of the song and its anguished toxicity become clear and disturbing. The bounciness of the song suddenly becomes eerie, although there is something eerie upon your first listen, even if you are not initially totally conscious of it. This is what makes this song so great, and still so refreshing. Take a listen below, and be sure to check out the rest of their album, iii — there’s some really cool stuff there (which my cousin got me hooked on!). Catch them on tour this summer.

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