Nadine Shah

The Meaning Behind Nadine Shah’s Lyrics in her Mercury Prize Shortlisted Album, Holiday Destination!

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Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination: Place Like This, 2016 -Lyrics Meaning

Nadine Shah’s most recent album Holiday Destination hit the shelves in 2017. The political, post-punk indie singer discusses feminism, racism, immigration, and British society, in an album that brings the sound of the 2000s into the modern-day. Let’s learn the meaning behind the lyrics used in the songs from the album Holiday Destination by Nadine Shah.

Holiday Destination is her third album. The album title Holiday Destination comments on the refugee crisis and the current treatment of refugees in Greece. Shah’s brother has been making documentaries on the refugee frontline for years. Her brother’s experiences are one of many source materials that inspires Shah’s album.

The meaning behind ‘Place Like This’, ‘Out The Way’ & 2016 from Holiday Destination

Let’s dissect the meaning behind the lyrics of the songs from Holiday Destination track-wise.

1. Place Like This

Shah’s velvety Northern accent glides across a summery indie-rock backing track in Holiday Destination’s first track ‘Place Like This’. The lyrics of ‘Place Like This’ comment on the places that refugees are forced to leave. The songs repeated line ‘home and place like this’ captures the stark difference between environments that were once homes that have been destroyed by war.

Holiday Destination’s album cover shows a building that was once a home, crumbling. The building is littered with holes made by bombs in the walls and in the roof. A young man stands in the remains of a destroyed wall; his legs are crossed as he looks down at the viewer. The miserable reality of war casualties is captured in the last lines of ‘Place Like This’. ‘Under night and undercover,’ she sings, ‘Underlies and under mist. Lies another undiscovered. In-home and place like this’.

As the song comes to an end a chorus of voices chanting ‘Say it loud Say it clear. Refugees are welcome here’ moves into the silence left by ‘Place Like This’. This is a common chant used in British protests about Brexit, housing evictions, deportations, and immigration. Ending the song with this chant makes Nadine Shah’s work undoubtedly political.

2. Holiday Destination

Part I

The second song is the album’s namesake; ‘Holiday Destination’ comments on the insane argument that refugees in Greece are bad for tourism. Over a driving rock beat, Shah merges the experiences of refugees with the experiences of holidaymakers. In verse two of the song, she sings ‘Throw me upon the ocean. Drag me blind throughout the night. Keep the journey moving. From the dark into the light’. These are experiences that could be shared by overindulged drunken tourists in Greece and by refugees fighting for their lives.

These lines show the similarity between people who choose to travel to foreign lands and those who are forced to. This song brings into question the vocabulary we use to express the same acts by people of different societal or financial status. Australian expats in Greece, for instance, are viewed and treated very differently to Syrian migrants and refugees, though, in reality, both these groups of people are leaving their birthplace to set up home across seas.

Part II

‘Holiday Destination’ also comments on the ‘fatalities in the water’, referring to the bodies that wash up on Greece’s shores of refugees who do not survive the journey. The song repeats the line ‘how you gonna sleep tonight?’ presumably aimed at the oblivious holidaymakers living ‘best time of your lives’ while others are struggling to survive.

3. Out The Way

Part I

Nadine Shah was born in a seaside town in the 1980s in North East of England to a mother of English and Scandinavian descent and a father of Pakistani heritage. Shah also comments on her own experiences of racism in the UK in Holiday Destination’s ‘Out The Way’. The official video for the song shows Shah in black and white, with a bloodied face, surrounded by people dressed in old-style English farmers’ wear. They nod in a threatening, melodic manner at one another as she sings.

Part II

As the song reaches its climax they wave guns, passports and the bible in Shah’s face, grabbing at her clothes. Amongst the repeated lines of ‘You say out the way! Out the way! Out!’ Shah sings, ‘Where would you have me go? I’m the second generation don’t you know’. She personally comments on this lyric in an interview with The Guardian, ‘swirling her G&T, [she says] “people were starting to say to me on social media: ‘Go back to where you come from’, and I was like: ‘What? Whitburn?’”

Shah is culturally Muslim and one of the few established POC on the indie-rock scene. She tells The Guardian that “islamophobia is totally on the rise, it’s terrifying. My cousins, who have brown skin and are full Pakistani, they’re still getting shouted at in the street.” She also comments on people fleeing from war-torn countries in ‘Out The Way’, asking ‘Where would you have them go? A generation searching for a home’. This is a direct question for the British public who are anti-immigration, for political figures that are turning away refugees and for the forces that are deporting vulnerable individuals residing in Britain.

4. 2016

In Shah’s song ‘2016’ she touches on her experiences with endometriosis, aging, and the political climate. She expresses feelings of resignation in the beginning lyrics; ‘Since turning 30. I don’t know what’s happened to me. I am watching too much tv. All these real-life murder mysteries. I read the contents on the back of food packaging. I am told it is good for me. Now my friends are all detoxing’. She then goes into the global background, which she recognizes has contributed to her feelings of hopelessness.

‘Cruel 2016, was the year that took our idols’, she sings, commenting on the deaths of Prince, David Bowie, and others. She remarks on Donald Trump winning the presidential election in 2016, ‘What is there left to inspire us. With a fascist in the White House’ and on climate change, ‘Natural disasters, all this waste and waste, and burning. See the temperature is rising. Unlike friends who are detoxing’.

Conclusion: Holiday Destination

The genius of Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination is that anyone could have her album on in the car and sing along to her lyrics without realising the message she intends to deliver. Nadine Shah’s musicians create a sound that is resonant of the Artic Monkeys with a sprinkling of wind instruments that are reminiscent of a Middle Eastern flute. Shah relates her personal feelings to a bigger global picture. Her strong earthy voice captures a feeling of frustration, anger and melancholy that sweeps across our generation.

Have you given a listen to Holiday Destination? How can you interpret the meaning behind the lyrics used in Holiday Destination by Nadine Shah? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “The Meaning Behind Nadine Shah’s Lyrics in her Mercury Prize Shortlisted Album, Holiday Destination!

  1. Great analysis of the Nadine shahs album Holiday Destination, I resonate really strongly with the lyrics in this album and really chime in with the writers perspective. I find it applicable to current affairs and that we all need to make a change in our daily habits and make a difference in this current climate.

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