The Sorrowful Meaning of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” Song Lyrics

Come on, skinny love, what happened here?

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“Skinny Love” is likely indie-folk outfit Bon Iver’s most well-known song. The band, fronted and founded by singer/songwriter Justin Vernon, released the song in 2007 ahead of its 2008 album For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon penned the track, along with eight other songs on Emma, while secluded in a remote cabin in his home state of Wisconsin. The frontman had been going through a painful period in his life, and thus, the haunting tune “Skinny Love.”

But what exactly do the song lyrics mean? And why is this love “skinny”? Read below to find out.

The meaning behind the song lyrics

“Skinny Love” is a song about the painful pleading of one lover to another. The narrator is begging for the relationship to work, despite knowing that it ultimately will have to end. 

Come on, skinny love, just last the year, the narrator pleads. 

In a 2011 interview with Pitchfork, the media outlet wondered whether or not the love interest in “Skinny Love” was written about Christy Smith, Vernon’s former girlfriend. 

“To say that ‘Skinny Love’ is about Christy would not be entirely accurate,” he replied. “We dated and she’s an incredibly important person that I lived with for a long time, but it’s about that time in a relationship that I was going through; you’re in a relationship because you need help, but that’s not necessarily why you should be in a relationship. And that’s skinny. It doesn’t have weight. Skinny love doesn’t have a chance because it’s not nourished.”

And there you have it, folks. A “skinny love” is one that cannot last. It is a relationship of deprivation. 


What makes this song so particularly sorrowful? The answer lies in Vernon’s wordsmithing and falsetto vocals. Let’s check out some of the lyrics below. 

Pour a little salt, we were never here. 

The imagery of pouring salt is interesting. It invokes the healing properties of the mineral—anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties—but also the damaging properties of salt when poured upon the earth. The phrase and practice of “salting the earth” dehydrates the soil to the point of preventing crops from growing. A metaphor for a skinny love, perhaps? 

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind

Ah yes, the iconic chorus. Here’s where things really start to fall apart. The repeated usage of the past tense of the verb “tell” pokes holes in the narrator’s relationship with his lover. He wanted things to be “patient,” “fine,” “balanced,” and “kind.” But as we know, that didn’t happen.

And now all your love is wasted
And then who the hell was I?
And I’m breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

And a quick note on the album title that houses “Skinny Love,” For Emma, Forever Ago. “Emma isn’t a person,” Vernon revealed in 2009. “Emma is a place that you get stuck in. Emma’s a pain that you can’t erase.” 

Birdy covers “Skinny Love” 

Just as popular as Vernon’s rendition is the cover version that British singer/songwriter Birdy released. Birdy, born ​​Jasmine van den Bogaerde, dropped her rendition of “Skinny Love” as her debut single in 2011. The song saw international success and reaffirmed the song’s importance in today’s pop culture.

So, while Vernon’s relationship may not have lasted, his song “Skinny Love” most certainly has.

(Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)

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