At first I was afraid
I was petrified
Petrifying fear: Isn't that some sort of sign that things might not be going well?
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're 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.
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. (Emphasis on seems.)
She was married for over 30 years to her manager, Linwood Simon, and they lived together in Gaynor's home state of New Jersey. Unfortunately, even after years of a "happy" marriage, Gaynor split from her husband in 2005. She recalled, "It was a fairytale for about 20 years. [...] I was married a lot longer than he was... Let's just say we just grew apart." (Source)
I should have changed that stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
Metaphor, or scary movie?
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.
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 onward that it will remain a familiar celebration of female independence for decades to come.
It seems that "I Will Survive" will survive, too.