Lyrical Analysis: “DLZ” by TV on the Radio

The lyrics can be found here.  You can listen to the song below:

“DLZ” (‘Deals’) by TV on the Radio is a song that deals with “evil” and how it spreads.  The first half of the song describes how a loathsome protagonist rises in power; the second focuses on his impact.  Right away, the song hits you with a massive scale of sound, a crooning arriving from the highest dimensions of the cosmic sphere – the song is profound long before learning what’s being sung.  This elaborates the scale of the protagonist’s misdeeds, as if to suggest this is a dictator, high-end arms dealer or Walter White from Breaking Bad.  When the song closes, all that’s left is a quiet chanting: “This is beginning to feel like the dawn of a loser forever”.  While every human is mortal, one’s impact lives on longer than their life – good and bad.  If we take up “loser” characteristics, they may be passed on, forever.

Indirect metaphor is painted over “DLZ”’s lyrics like a coating.  Taken as a whole, however, all these symbols paint but one color – an angry crimson.  Furthermore, the paint is being thrown in frustration against the canvas, as if the painter has been remaking the same painting over and over, growing weary in the process.  Indeed, the first line of the song, “Congratulations on the mess you made of things,” is sung with condescension and jest, summing up the song’s tone in half a sentence.

“To reconstruct the air” is impossible and the protagonist fails in his attempted reconstruction (making “a mess of things”).  Oxidation is a process in which electrons are lost – this may seem out of place until making the connection that the song is describing the loss of the soul in three sentences.  For going against what’s natural (“reconstructing the air”), you’ve dug yourself into a hole from which you cannot escape (the “mess you’ve made” / “compromise you owe”) and now you’ve lost your soul (the soul representing the electrons lost in oxidation).  Ironically, it’s beginning to feel like the dog (the loathsome protagonist) wants a bone (is starting to feel guilty / wants a break).

If the first verse provided exposition into how the protagonist turns evil, the second describes why he remains evil.  He “forces his fire” then “falsifies his deeds” – his malicious wishes are subjected to the world and when it’s time to answer consequence, he covers up ever being involved in the first place.  The song implies not only does the protagonist avoid accusation; he becomes rich off of his misdeeds.

Unfortunately, no amount of fortune could ever fill the vacuous void of his soul; regardless, the protagonist still tries to satisfy this emptiness with further wealth and power.  This is the beginning of the end, the point of no return – when evil becomes impossible to sustain with a sane mind (“This is beginning to feel like the dog’s lost her lead”).  Again, the song is implying the protagonist has found great success, perhaps even admired by many, but has lost the spark (oxidation/soul) which made him admirable in the first place.

It is now when Tunde cries out “This is beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never” – this is beginning to feel like there is no going back.  There is no hope, escape or plan-B.  The protagonist is so consumed by greed that he’s essentially dying (“curling up slowly”) and now looks to bring the rest of the world down with him (“finding a throat to choke”).  He descends down this self-made spiral so fast and with such reckless abandon, it could be compared to a train running itself off the tracks (“barely controlled locomotive”).

At this point, the only thing in his future is downfall – with a tunnel-vision, he ignores all outside perspective and hope (“consuming the picture”).  Again, the song references the protagonist’s desire (“static explosion”) to pass along his disease to whomsoever gets in his way (“devoted to crushing the broken”) so that they too will suffer in the same hell (“shoving their souls to ghost”).

What’s the result?  Eternal admiration; his likeness objectified into stone (“eternalized; objectified”).  His “sights” were set powerfully upon the top and the song has revealed the extent of his success.  However, this is where he begins to face criticism, as Tunde once again observes, “This is beginning to feel like the bolt’s busted loose from the lever” – he’s gone mad with power.  Unhinged, derailed, insane – the public is catching on.

The narrator now enters the song as a second character, the antagonist in this case, and asserts how impossible it would be to ever fall victim to the protagonist’s evil nature (“Never you mind, death professor! / Your structure’s fine; my dust is better!”).  This insult about “dust” seems to say “Regardless how massive or complex these structures are (“eternalized; objectified”), there’s more substance to be found in the dust from my footprint, however small it’s impact may be.”  Additionally, in the same stanza is a jab toward those who are “weak” enough (“your victims”) to be swayed by the promise of power, to the point where they give everything to reach it (“fly so high”) only to realize that at the lowest pit of hell, there’s nothing to do but drag others down with you (“all to catch a bird’s eye-view of who’s next”).

Swept away in hatred for the protagonist, the narrator continues preaching upon his soapbox.  “Love is life!  My love is better!” Tunde declares.  It’s emancipation from any remaining connection the narrator has to this narrative of evil.  He theorizes if more people weren’t “confused with who’s next”, our “eyes could be the diamonds” – our transcendent focus would astound all, the same way a diamond’s shine would catch anyone’s attention.

He elaborates — “Your shocks are fine – my struts are better” – while power’s hypnotism is profound, the ability for the narrator to cast it aside allows him to rant (“strut”) with superior ease.  Still, there’s another reference to how many are swayed by twisted promises (“Your fiction flies so high”) and how these people are past the point of self-correction, for they are tumbling down the spiral (“Y’all could use a doctor / who’s sick? / who’s next?”)

Pen-ultimately, the narrator sings how his love is electric, crystalizing into the psyches of everyone whom experiences it.  Thus, the impact will last longer than any statue or monument.  Promising how “all could be the diamond fused with–” the narrator interrupts himself: “—who’s next?”  Does he question who is next to rise, or fall?  The song ends soon after.

Though filled with abstract metaphor, the song’s overall tone is quite simple to grasp.  From here, you can translate this general narrative into something much more specific.  It is easy to fixate on the song’s phonetic title, “Deals”, as if to say this is a song about the power structure in our society and how TV on the Radio have an antidote – musical expression (“electrified – my love is better!”).  However, the song is as applicable to trust issues in a relationship as it is to a critique on organized religion.  Regardless what you choose to read into and what you choose to exclude, the ending of the song is very much about liberation and the mentality one develops when freed.  What you are being liberated from, is up to you as a listener to decide.

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19 thoughts on “Lyrical Analysis: “DLZ” by TV on the Radio

  1. Thank you for this really clear and elaborate explanation. It helped a lot in understanding the lyrics. It has a profound meaning and moral. It has changed the way I think. Thanks 🙂

  2. Magnificent analysis! The only remark I’d make is about the affirmations of the antagonist-narrator (“My love is better”, for instance): IMO, these do not just establish the differences between protagonist and narrator views of life, since in the song these phrases are almost shout outrageously, as in an attempt to recover a lost, previous upper-hand, suggesting the two characters are somewhat related before the spreading of evil caused by the protagonist.

    By the way, it is amazing how the lyrics seem taylormaid to Walter White in Breaking Bad.

  3. I am amazed and impressed the thought and time devoted to telling the story behind DLZ in an unencrypted way has been done both clearly and concisely. I am grateful to the owner of this work and if I am honest came here out of shear laziness, I often listen to the song and try to figure it out and have arrived at the same conclusions but not on the same level of depth or how concise the work is. BRAVO !!!!

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  5. I just got Netflix and I’ve started to watch tv shows. Since watching these shows, I’ve found some great music. Right now I’m watching Breaking Bad. What a great song. I wanted to find the true meaning of it and found this site. Thank you.

  6. I am a big fan of Breaking Bad, and i loved the song, but to know it in such entirety was something very different. It’s one level up, Yo !. Nice work. A big thanks.

    • I honestly don’t remember! However, I’ve been listening to (and thinking about) this song for a very long time. Obviously, Breaking Bad inspired this interpretation, but you must remember, the song came before the show, so I wouldn’t be surprised if WW’s character was partially inspired by “DLZ”!! Considering the song plays at his “point of no return” in the show (it’s an integral moment in his character arc!), I wouldn’t be surprised!

  7. Great analyisis!, the song seems to have been custom made for Breaking Bad, personally feel that the meaning is more simple but still profound, with several references about a drug dealer and junkies (fiction flies high, weak victims…)

  8. It was really interesting to read your detailed and deep analysis about the song, thank you. It was also surprising, because till this time i thought, i understand the song – but i didnt find my interpretation in your text. As you might recognized, my english is not that good, that’s why im curious what you think. Iwould like to know if you can imagine my interpretation as a possible wayof understanding the song or am i just simply lost in the text.

    Sooo.. i understood the song as a “letter” to the human kind, to the civilization and especially to the science – the human way of thinking. Not just because the album called “dear science”, but the scientific words it uses. Im simplifying, now, but for me it shows how the curiosity of mankind “messed it up” , how we lost the subject we r searching for. Well maybe its unnecessary to get deeper into it.

    I hope im not spaming your blog now and thank you again!

    • Yeah, I agree with your analysis. I saw an interview a while ago, in which the band mentioned that the whole album was like a letter to “Science”, informing science that it has a lot of work ahead of it in order to get our world back on track.

      That having been said, literary analysis tends to be valuable in uncovering the way you think about things. So whenever someone brings a different, yet coherent idea of what a set of lyrics means they’re sharing a little piece of how they think and understanding their interpretation is a way of broadening your own way of thinking.

      Differences also may arise in opinion depending on the context in which you come across the song. Interpretation through the lens of Breaking Bad may bring about different ideas than those in the context of the album.

      • I remember that interview!

        The notion of a letter to science definitely influenced my interpretation, especially the part in which Tunde writes about the "Death Professor" and how his structure's fine, but (our) love is better.

  9. Great interpreation! I’d add, to me its Deals with the devil, and how it affects you. Oxidation is the compromise you own = you can live, but the Dog (God reversed) wants her bones = pay up.

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