At first I was afraid / I was petrified
Petrifying fear: isn’t that some sort of sign that things might not be going well?Deep Thought
Why, yes. Yes it is. Just ask Eminem and Rihanna, resident pop music experts on questions of domestic violence and relationship troubles. Fear is a bad, bad sign.
We’re not trying to claim that this song is about dating violence, but Gaynor’s description of a relationship from which she has to aggressively escape does suggest that there may have been some bad dynamics going on. Fear may suggest that you are being manipulated or intimidated out of doing what you want. A petrifying fear of leaving the other person is a common sign of relationship abuse. Now try to get THAT out of your head every time you hear “I Will Survive” at a roller rink.
Kept thinking I could never live / Without you by my side
Gaynor’s music gives the impression of personal tragedy, but her personal life is actually quite peaceful.Deep Thought
Unlike a lot of pop superstars, and VERY unlike the lyrics suggest in her biggest hit, it seems Gloria Gaynor’s romances have worked out well for her. She has been married for over 30 years to her manager, Linwood Simon, and they live happily together in Gaynor’s home state of New Jersey. Rarely has her private life made the news, and she likes it that way—the aging singer won’t even divulge her age to the press.
I should have changed that stupid lock / I should have made you leave your key
Metaphor, or scary movie?Deep Thought
Locks and keys show up frequently in songs, poems and literature, often serving as metaphors for emotional obstacles. If this line is a metaphor, what does it mean? Well, simply that it’s sometimes easy for an old lover to worm his or her way back into your life. There are countless couples in off-and-on relationships who are never able to move on because they are unwilling to slam the door closed once and for all, and it seems like Gaynor has only just now discovered that she has to be the one to close—and lock—that door forever.
But what if it’s literal? If that’s the case, then Gloria Gaynor has a problem: her ex keeps breaking into her apartment. Not cool. Call the cops.
Oh no not I / I will survive
This line became an iconic representation of both women’s rights and gay rights in the late 1970s.Deep Thought
Of course, as you might have read right here on Shmoop, each era seems to have its own female anthem and its own gay anthem. We’re not going to pretend that there is something terribly different about Gloria Gaynor’s take on this ongoing musical theme of empowerment of marginalized groups, as most of these anthems are similar in their message of hope and freedom, but it can’t be denied that this line was heard so frequently from the 1970s onwards that it will remain a familiar celebration of female independence for decades to come. It seems that “I Will Survive” will survive, too.