Can’t Miss the Atomic Bomb

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By Catherine Cromer                                                                                                                          The concept of music videos in relation to semiotics is an interesting case study as the visual signs provide meaning to the music that may not have previously perceived by the listener. The lyrics to a song are subjective in that even though a listener understands the words, what the listener identifies the words with can take a different meaning or symbolize different events for every person. Songs have different meanings to different people and even when all people can cognitively make sense of the lyrics linguistically/grammatically and we can comprehend it in the semiosphere, it is not possible for anyone to interpret the song through the same mediation of meaning. When a music video is thrown into the fray, it presents a infinite slew of signs and symbols as structured by the songwriter/band and video director, and meaning making in this context can is dependent not only on easily interpreted signs, but also on the structure of interpretation by the viewer based on prior social and cultural experience. For instance, the song and music video for the The Killers single “Miss Atomic Bomb” relays a number of signs and metaphors through it’s name and lyrics alone. Looking at the segment of lyrics below, including the song title, there are numerous linguistic signs and metaphors for the listener to interpret.

Miss Atomic Bomb
Making out we’ve got the radio on
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

In the instance “Miss Atomic Bomb,” the use of the understood title of Miss typically as a young single female is a signifier for Atomic Bomb, turning it into the signified concept of a person, one who has a dramatic and explosive effect on the singer.

Racing shadows in the moonlight
We’re taking chances on a hot night
And for a second there we’d won
Yeah we were innocent and young

Adding to this, we can look at Beneviste’s notion of the duality of the individual and the other and the time and reality that the discourse represent. The use of I, you, and we help to establish the transition between past and present and are symbolic forms of narrative relating the point of view of the singer that is familiar to listeners from the old boy meets girl, star-crossed lovers genre.

The dust cloud has settled, and my eyes are clear
But sometimes in dreams of impact I still hear
Miss Atomic Bomb, I’m standing here
Sweat on my skin
And this love that I’ve cradled
Is wearing thin (Miss Atomic Bomb)
But I’m standing here and you’re too late
Your shock-wave whisper has sealed your fate

This last verse uses the symbolism of the metaphor Miss Atomic Bomb to create further meaning indicating a less-than happen ending in the singers memory. Words such as impact, shock-wave and dust-cloud have sociocultural connotation when interpreted under the context of the words “atomic bomb” in creating a devastating and irreversible effect. Using Pierce’s theory of first, second and thirdness, first the words begin abstractly as a group of letters strung together. Second, the words are recognized and a perceived meaning of each word is understood. Third, the possibility of the meaning of the lyrics takes place in each individuals understanding of the mediation between the words.

In my own personal experience, my interpretation of the song changed drastically once I watched the music video and learned about the meaning imposed by the The Killers in relation to their other music. The semiotics involved in the visual aspects of the video alone provide infinite amounts of signs to be deciphered.

The Killers-Miss Atomic Bomb-Battle Born 2012

This video allows for a lot of discussion on the different forms of mediation that communicate meaning in the video. Several dualities present themselves such as the switch between past and present, the transition between animation and real-life and the the juxtaposition between the  world of the animation and desolate desert landscape of the real-world. There are several instances of icon, indexes and symbols that give new meaning-making in the video, such as the symbolic nature of the diamond ring as sign for engagement and love, the image of the spinning clock to indicate the passage of time. The way in which we interpret the signs whether through Peirce’s model or Saussure’s model, allow us to understand the story of music video even if we turned off the sound by recognizing the different segmentation of the video, one that is very familiar to our culture of stories of lost loves or Romeo & Juliet scenarios. The combination of song and video propose a new meaning for the song and a new way for watchers/listeners to interpret it, or to combine their previous interpretation of the song with the symbols presented in the music video.

To add one more note of complexity to the semiosis of “Miss Atomic Bomb,” the video is a follow-up to the single “Mr.Brightside” that the The Killers released on their first album in 2004. The meaning making behind this video and the continuation of its story in “Miss Atomic Bomb” provide a whole new segment to analyze. 

The Killers-Mr. Brightside-Hot Fuss 2004