Culture

It probably takes less than a second for Big Little Lies fans to recognize the warbling guitar and choral “ooooooh” of the theme song, “Cold Little Heart” by English singer Michael Kiwanuka. The soulful track is the first on Kiwanuka’s 2016 album Love and Hate, and for many viewers, it’s forever tied to the hit HBO show about secrets, violence, family, and death in the well-to-do beach town of Monterey. As soon as the song starts, you’re basically primed to think about Madeline, Jane, Celeste, Renata, and Bonnie.

“Cold Little Heart” makes a perfect theme song because of its haunting, memorable melodies and Kiwankuka’s ragged vocals, but the lyrics also have a meaning that illuminates the themes of the show, which returns to screens on Sunday night for a second season.

Here are the lyrics to “Cold Little Heart,” via Genius, with annotations about the lyrics’ meaning.

Big Little Lies: Music From The HBO Limited Series

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[Verse 1]
Did you ever want it?
Did you want it bad?
Ohhh, my
It tears me apart
Did you ever fight it?
All of the pain
So much pride
Running through my veins

The opening verse introduces a yearning so deep that it takes a huge toll on the person experiencing it. But the thing that’s desired causes some internal conflict, too—or is something that would cost too “much pride” to ask for. It’s not explicitly stated what “it” is—but given the title of the song, a good guess would be: love.

[Pre-Chorus]
Bleeding, I’m bleeding
My cold little heart
Oh I, I can’t stand myself

This passage conjures up an image of a person devoid of love and warmth—which has all “bled” out of his “cold little heart.” We talk about a generous, loving person having a big, warm heart, and this person is on the opposite end of the spectrum; when a heart is cold and bleeding, it speaks to someone who’s emotionally dead inside. Per the verse, the narrator might be someone who’s fought love before, and he “can’t stand” that impulse in himself, because it’s actually what he needs.

[Chorus]
And I know
In my heart, in this cold heart
I can live or I can die
I believe if I just try
You believe in you and I
In you and I
In you and I
In you and I

Here, the narrator acknowledges that the decision whether to accept love is up to him. He’s addressing another person, who he thinks (or is trying to persuade himself) has more confidence in their relationship.

[Verse 2]
Did you ever notice
I’ve been ashamed
All my life
I’ve been playing games
We can try and hide it
It’s all the same
I’ve been losing you
One day at a time

This verse confirms the idea that up until now, the narrator has never been up to the task of a robust relationship. In fact, he’s caused problems in love before by “playing games,” and he knows that this time he’s letting someone down again in exactly the same way.

[Pre-Chorus]
Bleeding, I’m bleeding
My cold little heart
Oh I, I can’t stand myself

[Chorus]
And I know
In my heart, in this cold heart
I can live or I can die
I believe if I just try
You believe in you and I
In my heart, in this cold heart
I can live or I can die
I believe if I just try
You believe in you and I
In you and I
In you and I
In you and I
In you and I
In you and I
In you and I
In you and I

[Outro]
Maybe this time I can be strong
But since I know who I am
I’m probably wrong
Maybe this time I can go far
But thinking about where I’ve been
Ain’t helping me start

The song ends with the most straightforward statement yet about the narrator’s shortcomings in relationships: Knowing about his past failures, he’s intimidated and isn’t confident that he can do better this time around. It’s a fatalistic view, uttered by someone who doesn’t believe he’s ever going to get better at being “strong.”

“Cold Little Heart (Radio Edit)” by Michael Kiwanuka

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