Blue Lights: by Jorja Smith
“Blue Lights” by Jorja Smith begins with a tune of dreamy synthesizers that set a somber tone for the introduction as she sings, “I wanna turn those blue lights into strobe lights, not blue flashing lights, maybe fairy lights.” From the beginning, the lyrics are profound, and it is evident that there is a story she is trying to tell and a message to convey. The blue lights she refers to are the flashing lights of police sirens, which signify danger and fear among the black community. She wishes that they were instead lights associated with joy and comfort, such as magical fairy lights or strobe lights such as those one would find at a party. She transitions into the first verse, singing, “Don’t you run when you hear the sirens coming. You better not run ’cause the sirens not coming for you. What have you done?” In this verse, Smith conveys how black people should not live with a guilty conscience and fear the police if they know they have done nothing wrong. However, they do not know how to live differently due to police stereotyping and racism that affects black people’s lives every day. Black people have to prove their innocence every day because, for the black community, the police are not a system of protection but oppression. Even though this song was released in 2018, it is more relevant right now than ever before due to the recent murder of Goerge Floyd, which has fueled the continued fight to abolish the police force and dismantle its systematically racist and harmful roots.
This piece was written in reference to a song called “Sirens” by Dizzie Rascal; the line “Don’t run when you hear the sirens coming” is the chorus from which she sampled. Alongside her university coursework, “Sirens” inspired her to write her own song as a way to speak out to young black children. Smith visited schools in her hometown and interviewed kids, asking them how they felt about the police. The most common answer was, “F*** the police!” in which she further questioned if their answer was because they have done something wrong to get otherwise entangled with the police, and they all responded that there was no reason; they simply hate them. In the justice system’s eyes, black children, especially boys, are not viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers. Black children are viewed as older and perceived as guilty due to prejudice and unconscious dehumanization, which causes black children to lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence. This song is based on and inspired by Smith’s friend, whom she noticed carried a knife in his bag, and she was terrified for his life because a black man cannot merely own a weapon as a white man does without reaping the consequences of a profoundly racist system.
In the chorus, Smith repeats her introductory lyrics speaking of the blue lights and wraps up the chorus saying, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, blue lights should just pass you by.” Through this chorus, Smith alludes to a perfect world for black people where flashing lights are just flashing lights, and if you have done no wrong, then those flashing lights will simply pass you by. Smith introduces the second verse singing, “Gun crime into your right ear, drugs and violence into your left, default white headphones flooding the auditory, subconscious waves you accept.” These lyrics speak to our racist society’s stereotypes and expectations instilled to keep black people in a life cycle plagued with violence and crime. The white voice and experience are alluded to by the “default white headphones” forced into black people’s ears to maintain control and determination over their lives. The use of the word “default” connotes how this is how it has always been for black people due to the environment created by white people, by default. They have become poisonous “subconscious waves” that black people have been forced to accept. This verse has an immense effect through Smith’s approach of using headphones as a metaphor to criticize the complacency and prejudice embedded in our society as a way to keep black people subliminally grounded in a system of oppression.