About this analysis

Why create this website?

Manson's style of writing can often be hard to understand, and that leaves the listener with a glaring mystery when experiencing the band's work. Indeed, interpretations of Manson's lyrics are a common endeavor within the fandom, however even after 3 decades of collective effort, there is still a lot that hasn't been covered, and as a teenager discovering the band's work I often wished there was some sort of guide that would be able to answer all the questions I had. This website is me writing the kind of guide I wish I had many years ago.

What makes Manson's lyrics so difficult to understand? Well, there's a bunch of things.

Sometimes it's because of all the references he throws into the lyrics. Here's an example from the song The Golden Age of Grotesque, that's essentially written entirely out of references:

So my Bon Mots, Hit-boy Tommy Trons
Rowdy rowdies, honey-fingered Goodbye Dolls
Hellzapoppin, open your Third Nostril
Put on your black face and your god is gone

Sometimes it's the highly symbolic nature of his lyrics. Here's one example from the song Valentine's Day, where a literal interpretation isn't at all possible:

She was the color of T.V.
Her mouth curled under like a metal snake
Although Holy Wood was sad
They'd remember this as Valentine's Day

Sometimes it's because there's a story behind the song that sheds new light on its contents, such as how Little Horn was inspired by an apocalyptic dream he had.

Sometimes it's the way he plays with language. Here's an example from Dried Up, Tied, And Dead To The World where he uses imagery to communicate an idiom:

You cut off all of your fingers
Trade them in for dollar bills
(Meaning: you sell your body, an idiom for being a prostitute)

...and many more examples.

Finally, there's also the general structure of the lyrics, which often feel like you're given snippets of imagery that all tie together given the right context, but the context itself is left for the listener to decipher.

Hopefully, with the help of these articles, you will be able to navigate all of these literary twists and turns and see the songs in new light.

About the analysis

The articles in this site were written to be just as accessible for newcomers as to longtime fans. No prior knowledge is assumed, and in fact, it is my hope that someone entirely unfamiliar with Manson's work can read through the articles and gain in-depth understanding of the work.

The analysis contained herein does not presume to be the canonical way to interpret Manson, since his writing style is specifically designed to avoid such categorization. In an interview for VICE magazine, he said that:

For me, I think that confusion and chaos are what art should be. I don't want to ever have to explain my art. Art should explain the artist. If you create something that's confusing, it's something that at the very least makes you have a question. You'll ask, what does that mean? Why is someone doing that? When art can be explained easily, I don't think it inspires people to have thoughts of their own. I think the artist's role is to ask questions, not answer them. I wouldn't want to explain what I do, whether it be music or a painting. I'll talk about why I do something, yeah. If you get to a point where you are defined as one thing only, if you're confined into that one box, you become at risk of being extinct.

But nevertheless, this analysis is written with an attempt to come as close as possible to an informed interpretation. This is done by considering things that Manson said in interviews, studying the works of art that are known to be influential for the albums, and also by making sure that the analysis is coherent; if the verse and the chorus don't quite agree with each other, it means that there is a different way to look at the song that will make sense for both.

Regardless of what you read here, don't let this stop you from having your own interpretation of the lyrics. The meaning of art emerges at the intersection between the artist's expression and the listener's world of associations. As interesting as it is to study where the expression came from, never forget that you yourself are a key ingredient in the experience as well.

Band eras and document scope

One of the fun things about this band is that it completely reinvents itself with every new album. The music changes, the band's look changes, the art design changes, the lyrical themes change; pretty much everything about the band changes from one album to another. This led fans of the band to divide the band's career into "eras" defined by the albums.

An era in the band's career begins when an album is released and lasts until the follow up album. It encapsulates the album itself, as well as all the things the band has done since (music videos, live show theatrics, off-record songs, etc.) until a new album officially ends the era and begins a new one. While this document is primarily concerned with analyzing the albums themselves, other elements of the era will also be briefly analyzed to complete the picture.

Discography overview

Like most bands, Marilyn Manson started by independently recording demo tapes. Most of these tapes were recorded under the band's original name, Marilyn Manson and The Spooky Kids, and so those years are collectively referred to by fans as the 'Spooky Kids' era. The initial concept for the band back then was darkly cartoonish, very theatrical, but also thoughtful. The lyrical contents focused on criticizing American culture and mixing childhood symbols with dark concepts to point out that things that seem childish often have deeper meanings.

Portrait of An American Family cover

Once the band got signed, their first release was Portrait of An American Family, an album consisting mostly of rerecorded Spooky Kids material. In retrospect, the band was not entirely satisfied with the way that album turned out, and with how it was promoted, but although they were ready to start working on the next album, they were sidelined by the record label (who was still trying to market Portrait) into making an EP.

Smells Like Children cover

At the request of the label, they recorded Smells Like Children, an EP that the band really didn't want to make, and ended up being a catastrophe of remixes, weird audio experiments, and a few cover songs. Nevertheless, one of the cover songs on that album, a dark rock rendition of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, became the band's first hit, and paved the way for their mainstream success.

Antichrist Superstar cover

The band's next album was the infamous Antichrist Superstar, a concept album about a downtrodden character who lets his contempt for society propel him to power at the price of losing his humanity and becoming a monster. This album brought the band worldwide success and made Manson a target for protests and bomb threats by fanatical Christians.

Mechanical Animals cover

With the success of Antichrist Superstar, Manson became a big enough star to move to Hollywood, and the next album, Mechanical Animals, became an exploration of show business and of being human in an environment that sees you as a product. It was a radical departure from their dark, industrial sound, sounding a lot more melodic and electronic.

Holy Wood cover

On April 20, 1999, two disturbed teenagers went on a shooting spree in their high school, killing 13 and then committing suicide. The media propagated the idea that the shooters were Marilyn Manson fans (even though they weren't), and once again Manson found himself at the heart of controversy. His next album, Holy Wood, was designed to be a reply to all the accusations he sustained during that time, pointing his finger to the glorification of violence in America.

The last three albums- Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood- are referred to as the Triptych, because they are supposedly tied together similar to a trilogy of movies or books. Manson himself supported this idea, referring in interviews to Holy Wood as the "beginning of the story" (Antichrist being the middle, and Mechanical Animals the end). However, when looking at the history of the albums, they were much more a product of the life circumstance surrounding them than of a premeditated grand plan, and although fans have come up with many theories about how to tie the albums into a coherent story, there really isn't much about them that suggests they are a continuation of one another, except perhaps the fact that they follow the thread of Manson's own life.

The Golden Age of Grotesque cover

With the Triptych done and a decade of social commentary behind him, everybody wondered what the next album's topic was going to be. That album was The Golden Age of Grotesque, and it was inspired by swing, burlesque, cabaret and vaudeville movements of Germany's Weimar Republic-era, specifically 1920s Berlin. It was the last album that the band had written as a team effort (although Born Villain is somewhat of an exception).

The Golden Age of Grotesque was followed by an extended hiatus from making music, as Manson became simultaneously disenchanted with the music business and discouraged from pursuing his Rockstar lifestyle by his then fiancé (and later wife) Dita Von Teese. A greatest hits album was released, but aside from that, Manson mostly concentrated his artistic efforts into painting and directing. Eventually, the irrevocable differences that were brewing between him and his wife even before they got married finally reached a tipping point, and Dita filed for divorce after one year of marriage.

Eat Me, Drink Me cover

Manson came out of his marriage utterly depressed, but then found solace in a relationship with Evan Rachel Wood, an actress who was twice younger than him. These life events ended up being the topic of his next album, Eat Me, Drink Me, which was unusual in the sense that this time he was writing about himself, rather than about some philosophical concept. It also marked a shift in the way he was making music, from writing music with a full band ensemble to mostly writing music with a main collaborator.

The High End of Low cover

The High End of Low continued Manson's experimentation with writing about his own life, which was only going further downhill as his depression and self-destructive behavior seemed to get out of control. It was also during this time that Evan broke up with him, and that became an underlying arc to the album's narrative. This album was written in collaboration with Twiggy, who left the band after Holy Wood, and now rejoined Marilyn Manson, much to Manson's delight.

Born Villain cover

The poor sales of the previous record and Manson's public disdain for the record label led to Manson being dropped by Interscope Records, which he was perfectly happy about. Armed by his new creative freedom, Born Villain was fueled by Manson's desire to get back to his old self after two albums that were driven by depression. He chose the concept of a villain because in stories, it's always the villain that causes things to change and move forward.

The Pale Emperor cover

Born Villain did not end up being the comeback Manson intended it to be, but the follow up album- The Pale Emperor- did everything Born Villain wanted to do and then some. It featured a new, bluesy musical direction, and songs that were developed semi-improvisationally, making it an album that did not start from a predefined concept, but rather one whose biblical and Faustian themes emerged during development.

Heaven Upside Down cover

Heaven Upside Down continued Manson's successful collaboration with Tyler Bates. It is Manson's least thematic album, but it does tell a story about someone who thinks they can take on the world, only to be sidelined by yet another failed romance, a narrative Manson is all too familiar with.


Q: What is your approach for the analysis?
A: Essentially, I have two rules that I follow when writing the analysis:

  • The interpretation should be coherent across the entirety of the lyrics, not just parts of the lyrics. This is where I most often see other analysis fail. Sometime people give interpretation to select parts of the lyrics (whatever happens to be the least confusing in that particular song), and the interpretation is perfectly reasonable when the lyrics are seen in isolation, but when you examine the rest of the song, it doesn't fit the interpretation. In these articles I always favor the interpretation that is coherent with the entirety of the lyrics, not just parts of them.
  • The interpretation should be as informed as possible. I read all the era interviews, watch the referenced movies, read the referenced books, and so on. Anything Manson has stated as being relevant is used as a starting point for the analysis.

Q: How do you approach treating Manson's autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, as a source, given that we know that a great part of it is fiction.
A: I consider whatever is written in the autobiography to be another artistic decision that is connected with Manson's art. If Manson chose to attach a certain story to a song, then he intended that story to by part of the song's lore, and thus interpretive framework.

Q: In 2020, Evan Rachel Wood accused Manson of abuse. How do you factor these claims in the analysis of songs that were written during that era, and specifically songs written about Manson's relationship with Evan?
A: I try to be guided by what the song says, rather than interpreting it "in light of" the version of their relationship history that I find the most credible. Most of the analysis doesn't actually require me to pick sides for it to be complete, so I do not dive into it needlessly.

Q: When are you going to post articles about the rest of the discography?
A: These articles take a very long time to produce. Months, actually. I cannot give you a date.

Q: How can I contact you?
A: DM me on Reddit u/DepthMagician