Who's "they"? The critics? The fans? Cannibals?
Luckily we're talking about Metric and not Lord of the Flies or The Island of Dr. Moreau, so it's safe to assume that the lyric is meant to be more metaphorical than literal. When Emily Haines went to Argentina seeking songwriting inspiration, she was feeling pretty insecure about what people were going to think of her next batch of songs: "I felt like there was a gridlock, creating a paralysis in me, that nothing was ever gonna be cool enough, nothing was ever gonna be referential enough; I'm either gonna sound like somebody else or not somebody else, and just too much context."
This parallel construction offers a rather poignant example of double meaning.
The diametrically opposed "hard" and "soft" and "tough" and "tender" become even more interesting when you change the first words from adjectives to verbs, and back again. Is it hard (i.e. difficult) to be soft? Or hard (i.e. firm), still the opposite of soft. Likewise, "tough" and "tender" are words that we usually associate with meat ("Waiter, my filet is a little too tough, could you give me a more tender piece?"), which makes sense considering that the majority of this song is about hearts and tissue and organs. However, the lyrical strength of these two lines stems directly from the fact that they can be interpreted in many ways. Is it tough to be tender, just as it's tough to be understanding?
Although many of Metric's previous albums dwell on what's wrong with the world, Fantasies has a decidedly more positive feel.
Just as the speaker of the song goes from feeling terrified at the sound of her own heartbeat to allowing that fear to be her liberation and joy, so too has the band evolved from making music that criticized the world to music that is more hopeful: "In North America, the past eight years have been like the Dark Ages, a pretty grim time. It's felt as though corruption was rampant, as though justice was nowhere to be found, that everything was lies, that elections were rigged, that things were falling apart and nobody cares, and that the only way forward was cynicism. What we found when making this record - which coincided with the election of Barack Obama, and this larger movement - is people saying: 'I'm not going to sit back and passively allow things to go so poorly anymore.' You don't have to be a radical to have a basic sense of value and worth as a citizen; you can say 'I don't agree with this!' and not feel futile. With us, I feel like previous records were us trying to make a very concise list of what's wrong with the world, but now I feel as though that list has been published, and we're all well aware of what's not working, and there's no need to lament that. Now, it's more exciting to look forward." - Emily Haines (Source) "[The title Fantasies is about] the idea of dreaming, we're dreamers... There was a quote that kept us in line on the content, which was a guy who said something in a hotel party: he thought it would be interesting if our next record was not so much about pointing out what's wrong with the current state of the world, but possibly dreaming about the world that metric would want to live in, and shedding light on a possible future that would be a better world to live in. That idea stayed with us. We're trying to envision a world that doesn't have a shopping list of problems, the four of us feel like we're entering an age of hope instead of an age of pessimism." - James Shaw (Source)