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Meaning of the song ‘Carousel’ by ‘Melanie Martinez’

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Released: 2015

Melanie Martinez’s “Carousel” is a haunting pop ballad that taps into the dizzying whirl of an unfulfilled romance, using the metaphor of a carousel to symbolically depict an obsessive pursuit of love that feels like an endless, disorienting ride. The lyrics unpack a narrative of relentless love-chase that leaves the protagonist glued to a cycle of yearning and disappointment, punctuated by vivid carnival imagery.

Let’s start with the chorus, which encapsulates the entire thrust of the track: ‘Round and ’round like a horse on a carousel, we go.’ The carousel in this context is a metaphor for a romantic merry-go-round that isn’t moving forward, stuck in an exhausting cycle. The uncertainty, ‘Will I catch up to love? I could never tell, I know,’ expresses the frustration of an unrequited love. And as she states ‘Chasing after you is like a fairytale,’ it’s clear this is a pursuit that seems magical in nature, yet ultimately fruitless. Our protagonist is stuck, glued to this carousel of unresolved feelings.

Then we have the carnival barker’s call ‘Come, come one, come all… You must be this tall to ride this ride at the carnival.’ But this isn’t your average fairground ride. This line is an ironic nod to the high emotional toll that such an obsessive chase requires. Importantly, it emphasizes that love isn’t always as joyous as it’s often depicted—it’s filled with highs and lows, like a frenetic ride at a carnival.

Here, Martinez introduces the valuable insight: ‘And it’s all fun and games, ‘Til somebody falls in love.’ She’s expressing the sharp reality that a casual flirtation can suddenly become serious, and when that happens, things change. ‘But you’ve already bought a ticket, and there’s no turning back now.’ This piece indicates the point of no return, when feelings have been invested, and the emotional cost has been paid.

Both pain and longing are evident in the lyrics, ‘Why did you steal my cotton candy heart? You threw it in this damn coin slot.’ The stolen cotton candy heart — a symbol rendered poignant in its fragility and sweetness — provides a stark contrast to the more indifferent image of a thrown coin. The resultant feeling of being stuck, symbolized by the repeated phrase ‘Riding, riding, riding’ drives home the mind-numbing repetitiveness of this emotional carousel.

In summary, “Carousel” takes us on a spinning journey through love’s dizzying highs and crushing lows that leave hearts ‘stuck’ on repeat, articulating the intoxicating yet frustrating experience of unrequited affection. Martinez mastered the art of weaving a complex tale of love and longing into a powerful pop song, and it’s this evocative storytelling that sets her apart in the realm of pop music. Bold in her approach, she’s not afraid to present the less glamorous side of love, painting it as a carnival ride that’s thrilling yet terrifying, exciting yet ultimately exhausting.

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