This is one of those songs (one of several on The Suburbs) that begs the question “how many ideas can you pack into a pop song and still have it remain a great piece of music”? In this case, a helluva lot; considering the fact that its chorus is a single repeated word and that the verses contain less than 115 words, this is an especially dense song.
Let’s go downtown and watch the modern kids
Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids
They will eat right out of your hand
Using great big words that they don’t understand
As we’ll see later in Sprawl II, we have to go downtown to observe this breed of millennial youth, because after growing up in the suburbs, these kids have been forced to move into the city to find their own kind. They’re probably educated (from a liberal arts institution, I’d guess), and they try to sound educated with their vocabulary of big GRE words. That third line, combined with the cooing sound of the chorus, makes me wonder if Butler isn’t equating these modern kids with pigeons…
They say, ‘Rococo, rococo, rococo, rococo…’
They build it up just to burn it back down
The wind is blowing all the ashes around
Oh my dear God, what is that horrible song they’re singing?
This verse brings back more of that conflagration-language from Neon Bible, as well as probable connections to Month of May that we’ll examine in more depth in that song’s entry.
They seem wild but they are so tame
They’re moving towards you with their colors all the same
They want to own you but they don’t know the game they’re playing…
Some have charged that Rococo as a whole (and the song’s final verse in particular) seems to hammer pretty hard on what many would identify as modern ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’ culture, and I’ll admit it’s easy to see why. Funeral– and Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire was almost universally embraced by the exact folks the band sang about (millennial kids raised in the suburbs), but when the band won their Grammy for The Suburbs, suddenly they had become ‘mainstream’—and since hipster culture is chiefly concerned with consuming media from origins of obscurity up to the point it becomes ‘cool’—and the kids who had made the band popular in the first place started jumping ship on charges of ‘selling out’.
I don’t think that the band is being too hard on these ‘ironic’ White kids in this song, but I am grateful that somebody with ‘indie cred’ has finally held up a mirror to these kids so that they might see that they’re just another cog in the Machine.
In this album’s conceptual framework, ‘wild’ is equated with the uncivilized and the anti-suburban; why then, if these kids seem so wild, are they really tame?
Indie media-outlet Pitchfork astutely describes the kids in Rococo as “a certain type of pseudo-rebellious, cynical youth” (emphasis mine). What keeps these plaid-clad masses from being truly rebellious is that these kids’ rebellion itself is a product of the corporate cool-hunt commoditized and sold right back to them. As long as they seek to define themselves by the products they buy, they are enabling the System to continue.
As another uncommonly-discerning, deserves-to-be-quoted-in-full SongMeanings user observed,
“It saddens me this song is being reduced to some “nana-nana-boo-boo” towards the hipster culture. This is a beautiful band, not only because their songs are big, but so seem to be their ideas and their hearts. This is a band that seems to love humanity too much to waste their time with some petty, hipster, turf-war anthem.
This song is not condemning youth, but feeling empathy and sympathy for them, no matter what music they listen to. They are being promoted an empty lifestyle of materialism and worshiping of the self. This promotion is a “dangerous game” being played [by] those selling it, because they are selling the soul of western-culture.
People are separated into tribes, based on hip-hop, country, pop, emo, etc.[“now the music divides us into tribes” (Suburban War)], but they are all being sold an empty road map for a vain and disconnected society where the most important person is the self. …
This is being sold by “wild” people, like Lady Gaga, but she is not Lady Gaga, but actually a rather “tame” woman from the Bronx. Lady Gaga is a McDonald’s version of the club kid scene, “downtown”, in places like New York City. I use Gaga as one example, but think of how many popular songs in any genre today are just commercials for the person singing them and an empty, materialistic lifestyle that goes along with it. They are commercials for the self and [have] nothing to do with how the self relates to others.
Also, the songs are usually meaningless at their core. Just some babble that is like an rated-R nursery rhyme. Yet no one is stopping to ask what it all means, when the answer would be: Nothing.
So, Arcade Fire chooses a seemingly gibberish phrase to use for their chorus in this song, yet if you look into its meaning, it actually describes most of popular music. Most popular music is just a disgusting effigy to the artist singing. So, modern popular music could be defined as “rococo art”.
They are saying they are trying to give you something, trying to send a message, and therefore, make a connection with anyone willing to listen. (wastedhours, Song Meanings)
In the end, the album’s “first truly menacing song” (and the album’s first act) closes with screeching, apocalyptic feedback over a lone harpsichord picking out the chords, likely to connect this song to its namesake art-period.