The Empowering Meaning Behind Imagine Dragons’ “Believer”

Believer” is one of Imagine Dragon‘s career-defining hits. But it was born out of pain. In 2015, lead singer Dan Reynolds publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints of the spine. Rather than being defeated by the debilitating ailment, along with his battle with depression, Reynolds used his pain as fuel for his music. This tenacity led to one of the band’s biggest hits.

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Meaning Behind the Song

Pain is the driving force behind “Believer.” The bold lyrics find Reynolds sharing his innermost thoughts, proclaiming himself as the master of my sea who is fired and tired of the way that things have been. There are hints of depression and anxiety weaved throughout, the song opening with the lines: First things first / Imma say all the words inside my head while later revealing: I was chokin’ in the crowd / Building my rain up in the cloud. It all builds up to the anthemic chorus where he belts: Pain you made me a believer, believer / Pain you break me down, you build me up / Believer, believer / My life, my love, my drive, it came from / Pain you made me a, you made me a believer, believer.

“The song is about how pain made me a believer,” Reynolds explains to People. “It’s made me a believer in myself, it’s made me a believer in my art and work. I wouldn’t have my art if it wasn’t for pain. It takes somewhat of a healthy place to appreciate it because when you’re in the midst of it you don’t appreciate it. You’re just upset.” The singer says that the meaning of the song is inspired by specific painful moments ranging from feeling anxious in crowds to the overwhelming pressure of the band’s superstardom, as well as the struggles of Ankylosing spondylitis.

“Anything that was a source of pain in my life and just rising above that, finding a place of perspective where I could be appreciative of the pain in my life and make it my greatest strength,” he continues. “A lot of my greatest strengths are due to my greatest weaknesses or flaws or physical ailments. It brought me discipline, gratitude and compassion.”

[RELATED: The Origins of Imagine Dragons]

“Believer” was released in 2017 as the lead single from the band’s album, Evolve. It was written by bandmates Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee, and Daniel Platzman, alongside Justin Tranter, Alex da Kid, and producers Robin Fredriksson and Mattias Larsson. It was their ninth single to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart and marked their return to the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 since “Demons” in 2013, peaking at No. 4.

Tranter has a different account of the writing session that is also deeply personal. Tranter, who is bisexual, non-binary, and a longtime supporter of LGBTQ youth, recalls how there was another person in the studio the day they were writing who was making “homophobic, racist, and misogynistic” comments.

“I, of course, pushed back being the person that I am, and tried to navigate the conversation with as much dignity as possible. It definitely got heated,” Tranter tells American Songwriter. “When we left the common space in the studio, Dan was like ‘I should probably tell that person that they are not allowed to be in here while we’re here.’ I thought that would be the right thing to do. Then we wrote ‘Believer.’ It’s Imagine Dragons’ biggest song and my biggest song. Most people think he’s singing ‘Hey, you made me a believer’ but the line is actually ‘Pain, you made me a believer.’ It birthed this amazing relationship between me and that band and it came from this moment of both of us trying to be better people.”

Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for On Location

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