Blue Lights by Jorja Smith is about racist police violence

I wanna turn those blue lights

Into strobe lights

Not blue flashing lights

Maybe fairy lights

Those blue lights

Into strobe lights

Maybe even fairy lights

Not blue flashing lights

Some people associate their youth with party nights in the club (where the “strobe lights” flash on the dance floor) or with long days in the children’s room at home (where girls often have a string of lights made of “fairy lights”). But for British singer Jorja Smith, it was another flash of memory that inspired her 2016 debut single “Blue Lights”. What preoccupies her from her native English town of Walsall to this day are above all the “blue lights” of the police cars.

The police officers themselves, the so-called “Blue Lives” (in America there is a counter-movement to “Black Lives Matter” called “Blue Lives Matter”), do not appear once in the song, and there never is a confrontation – but it has to not at all. Smith, who was only 18 when it was released, presented herself as a lyrical, sensitive copywriter with her first single. The song reveals itself to be a criticism of racist police violence at first hearing, but it does well with many allusions, nuances and contradictions around the topic.

After the above intro, which wishes the blue lights to be transformed into something else, harmless, and which is placed under every chorus like a magic oath, the song begins as follows:

Don’t you run when you hear the sirens coming

When you hear the sirens coming

You better not run cause the sirens not coming for you

What have you done?

“Don’t you run” is ambiguous in English and Smith’s sentence melody has both meanings. Either it’s a question: don’t you run away when you hear the sirens come? Or it is an imperative: Don’t run when the sirens come! The syntactically superfluous, slightly colloquial “you” in “don’t you run” gives the command a particularly pleading urgency.

But does it remain with this attitude that there is no reason to run away from the police? Not long. The last line “What have you done?” Is actually a rhetorical question that can be used to express the extent of an error and which is then followed by an exclamation point. In “Blue Lights” this question has to be taken literally: What did you do that could lead the blue lights on your trail? An answer to this is sought in the following stanzas.


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