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“Viva la vida” – Coldplay (Song of the year in 2009)

Viva la vida – Coldplay (with sheet music)

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Viva la Vida

Viva la Vida” is a song by British rock band Coldplay. It was written by all members of the band for their fourth album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008).

The lyrics to the song contain historical and Christian references, and the track is built around a looping string section in unison with a digital processed piano, with other layers gradually being added as the song builds.

The track was released on 13 June 2008 as the album’s second single, debuting to critical acclaim and commercial success. “Viva la Vida” reached the top spot of the UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100, becoming the band’s first number-one single in both the U.S. and U.K. The song won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in 2009 and has sold over 9.44 million copies worldwide, with 6.94 million being in the U.S. on the digital sales format alone.

Background

The song’s Spanish title, “Viva la Vida”, is taken from a painting by 20th-century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. In Spanish viva is an expression used to acclaim someone or something, so “Long Live Life” is an accurate translation and the painting reflects the artistic irony of acclaiming life while suffering physically. When asked about the album’s title, referring to Frida Kahlo’s strength, enduring polio, a broken spine, and a decade of chronic pain, lead singer Chris Martin said: “She went through a lot of pain, of course, and then she started a big painting in her house that said ‘Viva la Vida’, I just loved the boldness of it.”

During the album’s production, “Viva la Vida” was one of the songs that had polarised each member’s opinion over which version they should choose. In an interview, Martin recalled: “We did quite a few different versions and went round the houses a bit and eventually settled on those treatments for it.”

Musical Composition

The lyrics to “Viva la Vida” are narrated by a protagonist who says he “used to rule the world”. Martin has explained the song lyric “I know Saint Peter won’t call my name” in an interview with Q magazine: “It’s about … You’re not on the list” to enter the Pearly gates. When asked about the song, bass guitarist Guy Berryman said: “It’s a story about a king who’s lost his kingdom, and all the album’s artwork is based on the idea of revolutionaries and guerrillas.

There’s this slightly anti-authoritarian viewpoint that’s crept into some of the lyrics and it’s some of the pay-off between being surrounded by governments on one side, but also we’re human beings with emotions and we’re all going to die and the stupidity of what we have to put up with every day. Hence the album title.”

Unlike the then-typical arrangement of Coldplay songs, in which either the guitar or piano is the prominent instrument, the track mostly consists of a string section and a digital piano playing the song’s upbeat riff, along with a steady bass drum beat, percussion (including a timpano and a church bell), bass guitar, and Martin’s vocals; there is limited use of electric guitar. All the strings are arranged and conducted by violinist Davide Rossi, who is one of the main collaborators of the album. Rossi’s strings comprise the main driving force throughout the song, with a strong beginning loop that supports Martin’s voice, until the choruses where the symphonic power of the orchestra takes its fullest shape.

The prominent chords played by the string section throughout the song (and in the chorus of “Rainy Day”, another of the band’s songs) are very similar to those used by “Viva la Vida” co-producer Brian Eno in his piece “An Ending (Ascent)”, meaning they could have been suggested partially for the song by Eno.

The song is written in the key of A-flat major. Its main chord progression is D♭/E♭/A♭/Fm. The time signature is 4/4 and the tempo is 138 beats per minute.

Release and promotion

“Viva la Vida” was initially released only with iTunes Store pre-orders of Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends on 7 May 2008 – the “new edit” version of the song – which led to the song’s temporary exclusion from the UK Singles Chart. It was released as a download-only single on 25 May 2008, and a physical CD single in Europe on 29 July 2008 to coincide with the release of the single’s music videos. “Viva la Vida” was well-downloaded in the internet, becoming iTunes’ best-selling song of 2008.

The song was used as part of Apple Inc.‘s iPod + iTunes advertisement campaign. Coldplay performed the song live for the first time at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards. It has since gone on to make many media appearances, including being featured throughout the episode “A Person of Interest” from the paranormal drama Medium, as a song played on the radio in the episode “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” from the teen drama 90210, used as bumper music on Bill Bennett‘s “Morning in America” radio talk show, and on the international soundtrack to the Brazilian soap opera A Favorita which helped push “Viva la Vida” up the charts in Brazil, where the telenovela had been shown.

In 2009, Solange Knowles covered the song. Lady Gaga also covered the song for BBC Radio 1. A live version of the song appeared on Coldplay’s 2009 live album LeftRightLeftRightLeft. It was also used in an episode entitled “Million Dollar Maybe” of The Simpsons. The song was covered in the seventh series of The X Factor by the boyband One Direction in 2010.

Music & videos

The official music video for “Viva la Vida” was directed by Hype Williams and premiered at Coldplay’s official website on 1 August 2008. The video depicts the band performing against a blurry, warped version of Eugène Delacroix‘s painting La Liberté guidant le peuple, ending with the band members crumbling into rose petals.

A second, alternate video was shot in The Hague, the Netherlands, directed by Anton Corbijn and released alongside the first. This second version is a tribute to Corbijn’s video for Depeche Mode‘s “Enjoy the Silence” and portrays Chris Martin as the king from whose perspective the song is sung. During the video, he carries Delacroix’s painting. At the end, he hangs the picture up in a white stall on top of a hill. As he sings the last chorus, his bandmates surface heading his way, tying in loose ends from the “Violet Hill” video.

“Viva la Vida” has become the band’s highest charting single. Fueled by high digital sales, the song peaked at the top spot of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, becoming the band’s first and, to date, only US number-one single and their second top ten on the Hot 100.

Coldplay were first accused of plagiarism of “The Songs I Didn’t Write” by American alternative band Creaky Boards, for the melody of “Viva la Vida”.Creaky Boards’ band member Andrew Hoepfner claimed that Martin had heard them playing the song at a live show in October 2007. The band released a video clip, in which it compares sections of both songs. Coldplay denied the claim. Band spokesman Murray Chambers said Martin was working in AIR Studios in London at that time, having checked the singer’s diary.

In addition, Coldplay had recorded a demo version of “Viva la Vida” in March 2007, long before Creaky Boards performed it live in October of the same year. Creaky Boards later retracted the accusations and speculated that both songs may have been inspired by the video game The Legend of Zelda.