Muse: A Truth That Can Cause “Sunburn”
A muse is a mythological creature, capable of inspiring an artist. The term was used by the ancient Greeks and we keep using it. Building a bridge through time, maybe we can say that if the rock band Muse had lived during classical antiquity, its muse would have been Euterper, the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne that inspires musicians. Her name means “the giver of pleasures”.
What you might not know is that Muse’s name was not always the same. In fact, the band had many: the first was Gothic Plague; then they changed it to Fixed Penalty, and later it became Rocket Baby Dolls. With the last, the group led by Matthew Bellamy decided to enter a contest of amateur musicians.
Against all odds, the Rocket Baby Dolls ended up winning the competition, in a performance that made history when the group destroyed their instruments on stage. The success was responsible for the decision of changing their university plans and quitting their jobs to seriously invest into a music career.
It was then that Matthew Bellamy came up with the idea of changing the band’s name again. This time they chose the name “Muse”. Apparently, the vocalist was inspired by Samuel Theoun, his Art teacher, who referred to the Greek muses in one of the classes. According to the band’s biography, the group liked the name because it reflected their goals and philosophy at the time.
According to Mark Beaumont, author of the Muse’s biography, the name Muse was capable of portraying “the sense Matt had that he had somehow ‘summoned up’ this band, the way mediums could summon up inspirational spirits at times of emotional need.”
Muse: The Meaning of “Sunburn” to the Band Members
The band became known to the wider public in 1999, after the release of their first album, “Showbiz”. The record included the song “Sunburn”, which was also chosen as the fourth single. The lyrics were written by Matthew Bellamy and the critics say that it shows slight differences from the band’s actual style. Let’s watch the video.
“Sunburn” tells a story of greed that leads to a “guilty conscience”. The music video shows what appears to be a young babysitter, alone with a little boy in the sitting room. When the boy falls asleep on the sofa, she goes upstairs and tries to steal a necklace of pearls. Suddenly, she looks at a giant mirror and is confronted by her own guilt – a guilt that “burns like the sun”. Unhappy with herself, the babysitter cries and, in despair, throws a jar into the mirror. While that is happening, the kid on the ground floor wakes up and decides to go upstairs. Walking slowly, the little boy finally enters the room to find the broken mirror, the jar in pieces and the babysitter sitting on a chair.
The music video was directed by Nick Gordon and stars Brooke Kinsella. The scenes are filled with meaning on subjects like the struggle with ourselves to do the right thing. The child can be seen as a symbol of innocence or someone who has not been “contaminated” by our materialistic society. Some say the lyrics may refer to some of the band’s problems prior to the success, when they struggled to find enough money to get by.
According to Muse’s drummer, Dominic Howard, the song is about “moving into a new world, mentally or physically”. In his own words, the lyrics were written during a time of change: “We’d gone from painting and decorating and signing on, to flying first class to LA!”. Therefore, the dichotomy between fame and dazzle can be another subject of the song.
“Sunburn” is one Matthew Bellamy’s personal favorites, being easily recognizable by the piano sound. In fact, the song was the reason why the singer started playing piano again after a long interruption. “That was the first time I played piano in years, and I had to spend two or three days just practicing ‘Sunburn’, which is a pretty simple part”, he stated.
There is also another version which says that the song is about a difficult break up, referring to a previous relationship of Matt with a girl he regrets to have left. In fact, the lyrics refer to a “she”, who “looks like the sun”. In this line of interpretation, the verses could be a reference to the problems caused by direct exposure to the sun. Like the celestial body, the girl is so pretty that he couldn’t take his eyes off her, even knowing that she meant trouble.
Muse: A Long Career of Successes
Together with the already mentioned Mathew Bellamy (vocals, lead guitar and piano) and Dominic Howard (drums), the band also includes Christopher Wolstenholm (bass guitar and back vocals). The three childhood friends filled the world’s biggest concert halls, and their acclaimed live performance at Wembley Stadium was recorded in their live album and DVD, “HAARP” (2008).
A total of 6 studio albums, 2 live albums, 1 compilation, 3 extended plays, 31 singles and 40 music videos are enough to prove the band’s success. During its whole career, the band won or at least was nominated for every music award, such as the Mercury Prize, MTV Music Awards or Grammy Awards.