Dark Light

Released: 2017

“The Devil You Know” by X Ambassadors is a relentless exploration of the challenges associated with embracing familiarity over the uncertainty of the unknown. It taps into a universal sentiment, casting it against the backdrop of the ceaseless hustle for success and material wealth.

The recurring phrase, “The Devil you know, The Devil you don’t,” dominates the lyrical landscape of the song and is a vernacular English phrase. The saying, which has roots in old Irish and English idioms, suggests that it’s better to deal with an unpleasant or difficult situation or person that is familiar (i.e., “The Devil you know”) than to risk the uncertainty of a potentially more dangerous unknown (i.e., “The Devil you don’t”).

In the context of this song, X Ambassadors use this phrase as a mantra, implying that the protagonist of the song chooses to stick with what is familiar to them, despite its challenges. Reflected here is an almost fatalistic acceptance of the grind and hustle, acknowledging that the pursuit of success can be fraught with as much danger as dealing with the devil himself. The repeated phrase, “‘Cause wherever you go, wherever you go, With the Devil you know your never alone,” furthers this sense of an unending cycle – a tacit acknowledgement that one can never really escape their circumstances or shake off past experiences.

The hook “Make that money pile up, baby, pile up higher,” drives the narrative of striving for financial success as a form of validation, an all-too-common tale in pop culture. Despite the devilish complications this ambition might entail, the protagonist still optimistically encourages the metaphorical ‘money pile’ to grow higher.

From my vantage point, the song is not so much a celebration of wealth or familiarity, but a recognition of their intrinsic complications. It’s a pop-music exploration of the human condition, wrestling with the inherent troubles of ambition, comfort zones, material wealth, and the fear of the unknown. In doing so, X Ambassadors hold a mirror to our societal values, urging us to reflect on what we consider more dangerous – the familiarity of the known devil, or the intangibility of the unknown devil.