As the winter sun set over Tokyo in early February, 2009, Chris Martin and Coldplay prepared for the greatest performance of their careers. The groundbreaking and most popular song from their album Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, “Viva la Vida”, was one of the many highlights of the night that emphasized everything grand about Chris Martin, Coldplay, and every one of their live performances. Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, provides a majority of the flash and pageantry for an overall uncontroversial band. Despite their humble nature, 20,000 fans packed the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan to witness Coldplay’s smash-hit world tour and more specifically their number one single, “Viva la Vida”. This deeply emotional song tells the story of a fallen warrior on his last stand; who once was a revered hero but now sees every one is after him. While some may point out that “Viva la Vida” is widely popular because of the throwback melody and pounding drums, it cannot be ignored that Chris Martin and his electric delivery helped it be the renowned song it is today. Chris Martin, in his “Viva la Vida” performance in Japan, uses physical demonstrations of passion and authority to enhance, along with the lyrics, the true message of the song to people who do not speak his language.
Chris Martin’s iconic rebel jacket represents Coldplay’s message unlike most other band or artist’s outfits. Before even uttering a word or playing a note, fans tend to judge a band based on what they are wearing. In order to portray “Viva la Vida” accurately, Martin utilizes his attire–specifically his distinctive coat–to achieve this goal. This coat looks much like an 18th century British battalion jacket but with a twist (see images 1 and 2). Featured on the jacket are numerous patches and badges that make it appear worn and tattered almost as if he has joined a rebel cause. This is precisely the message he wants to portray through his performance. In the song’s very first verse he sings:
“I used to rule the world,
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning, I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own”
This verse entails that while once all-powerful and influential, he now is among the many that he ruled and is seemingly forgotten. The jacket he dons is similar in the fact that it once depicted pristine honor but now is ragged and unassuming.
While his outfit may suggest “Viva la Vida” is a depressing and solemn song, after a single listen one realizes it is quite the contrary. The upbeat and passionate song is epitomized as Chris Martin struts about the Tokyo stage. As he jumps and runs across the stage, tens of thousands of fans cheer in awe at his ever confident, lively performance (see image 3). He looks fans directly in the eyes as if he is singing to them, he pounds his chest in accordance of the beat of the drum and he gestures with his body and hands the lyrics of the song, all to depict his mission to expose the true, translated message to “Live Life.” Much of the song’s lyrics are based around his fall from grace and this warrior’s life coming to a close. The words “viva la vida” are never explicitly said in the song, but the message implied is to take advantage of your opportunities and live every moment as if it is your last. And Chris Martin does just that, connecting with fans by high-fiving them, relishing the support he is receiving. One of the more memorable parts of the performance is towards the end right before the final chorus where he should be chanting, “Ohhhhh Oh Ohhhh Oh.” Instead, playing off the audience energy and the overall emotion of the song, he sticks the microphone out towards the crowd to let them be heard. Unsurprisingly, they respond in breathtaking unison. This is not simply a ploy by Chris to get the audience involved. Much like the song suggests, this soldier or fallen hero is sought after by the people he once ruled and feels them bearing down upon him. Chris represents this frightening circumstance as he sings:
“One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
I discovered my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand”
While seemingly simple lyrics, they speak to how quickly power vanishes. As the song states, he once dominated over everyone, holding the all-powerful “key,” but soon finds that with it you are sought after. Moreover, his prevailing, stable kingdom really is vulnerable and unstable like sand. Still, he is able to keep his head up and enjoy his final moments. This message is depicted while the audience is chanting; it is almost as if they are after him (for alternate reasons, of course) and Chris savors this unique moment. His ability to bridge the gap between lyrics and performance and offer an analogy for the audience to relate with provides integrity and power to himself, his band, and his audience.
In addition to his lyrical analogy, Chris Martin’s commanding and isolated presence on stage contributes to the rebellious tone of the song. Throughout the entirety of the live performance, he sings alone, unlike many of Coldplay’s other upbeat songs such as “Lover’s in Japan,” which also was performed during this concert. In “Lover’s in Japan,” Chris spins around with lead guitarist Johnny Buckland and eyes all the band members, acknowledging their immeasurable contributions. Chris Martin humbly demands the crowd’s attentiveness during one of the “Viva la Vida” choruses by walking out onto the side stage which juts out into the crowd. Martin aims to deliver the message that he is alone in this battle when everyone has given up on him. Martin’s line, “My missionaries in a foreign field,” indicates that he is desperately alone and even his fellow rebels are stuck somewhere else. Against all odds, however, Martin continues to belt the lyrics, captivating viewers in the process. A true rebel yell. This specific tactic is used to focus the audience’s attention solely upon himself as this song is truly a one-man show. Nevertheless, this performance is still a collective effort for the entire band. Drummer Will Champion is providing background vocals and beating the bell along with guitarist Johnny Buckland on violins who is producing the symbolic, rebellious sound to the performance. While the spotlight does not shine upon the other Coldplay band members, Chris Martin could not deliver his authoritative and honest performance without their help.
Martin’s emanating emotions also help augment the true meaning of “Viva la Vida” to an audience that ultimately does not understand a word he is saying. Keep in mind that Coldplay is performing in Tokyo, Japan for this concert so it can be assumed a majority of the crowd knows very little to no English. This obstacle inhibits Chris Martin and his band from portraying their message. However, it is overcome with Chris’ spectacular ability to speak the universal language: passion. From his raw vocals to his animated dance moves, Chris Martin is a drug no fan can get enough of. His unwavering, honest passion is illustrated between the lines, “People couldn’t believe what I’d become/ Revolutionaries wait.” As his voice rises what seems like octaves, the dedication to hit the note perfectly resonates with fans. It shows he is prepared to sing his heart out every night unlike many current pop artists. During Ashley Simpson’s infamous performance on Saturday Night Live she was caught lip syncing one of her popular songs and then subsequently denied it, blaming her band for playing the wrong song. Honesty and passion, two things Chris embodies in his performance, are nonexistent in Simpson’s debacle. Chris’ seemingly trivial note change echoes the underlying intent of the song. Many artists may disregard the difficult note and allowed their vocals to slip a bit, but Chris reiterates to “Live Life” because he never knows when he will be dethroned. The most memorable moment of the performance is undoubtedly when, after completing the final chorus, Chris lays down on stage eye level with the first row fans (see image 4), and elates in the chants of, “Ohhhh Oh Ohhh Oh.” At this moment, the crowd’s hearts simultaneously melt. Martin, just out of arms reach from the audience, lies on stage extremely vulnerable. Granted, none of the fans are out to attack Chris, but he plays off the emotion of the song that suggests he has been killed. It is almost as if Chris Martin’s portrayal of “Viva la Vida” is telling the lyrical story through physical demonstrations: he finally gets caught at the end and has died, but a smile resumes on his face displaying that he has lived every last ounce of life left in him. His energy spent on what can be viewed by many as the greatest musical presentation of his career, he chooses to spend his time alongside the fans instead of backstage before the encore. His audience appreciates his raw, compassionate emotions and further embraces the song’s message because of them. Specifically, as the song comes to a close, the camera focuses on a particular star-struck fan (see image 5). With her hands on her face and tears forming in her eyes, she breathes in Martin’s passion. Her facial expressions are of someone that witnessed a death of a hero, but knows that he gave all life he had left. It is evident that she truly feels for Chris and comes to terms with his message. To an audience that likely does not speak English, Chris Martin’s performance of “Viva la Vida” guides them to understand the intent and inspires their soul.
In front of a crowd of 20,000 people in Tokyo, Japan, Chris Martin enriches the message of the deeply emotional song “Viva la Vida,” through passionate and commanding physical actions to a non-English speaking audience. Every second of Martin’s inspiring performance reiterates his goal to live every moment as if it is his last. From his rebel jacket to his isolated delivery, the idea that power slips through your hands like a liquid is evident in every verse he chants, every breath he breathes, and every gesture he makes to the audience. While it is really the band’s show, Chris Martin singularly captivates the crowd. Chris’ unerring enthusiasm and sincere actions assures each one of “Viva la Vida’s” lyrics are delivered just as the song’s message intends them to be. While many musical artists passionately perform their songs, no other artist is able to honestly portray their song’s message through emotions and actions like Chris Martin, making his “Viva la Vida” performance a once-in-a-generation hit.
“Coldplay Live from Japan (HD)—Viva La Vida.” YouTube. TomaLaBananas, 30 July, 2010. Web. 23 October, 2012.
Military Heritage Photos. “Royal Marine Uniform.” Photograph. Military Heritage. n.p. n.d. Web. 15 October, 2012.
Zuma Wire West Photos. “Chris’ Viva La Vida Jacket.” Photograph. Coldplaying. Coldplaying, 22 December, 2011. Web. 15 October, 2012.
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