Matt Maeson’s story is a strange one. He was raised in a strict Christian household and was forbidden from listening to secular music till he finally decided to rebel at the age of 15. His parents played in Christian metal bands, so music was part of Matt’s life since toddler-hood. Wanting to create music of his own, he released his debut single, “Cringe”, in November 2016. At this time, its success was nothing to write home about, but in August 2019 it grew incredibly popular, and remained at No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs Chart for four weeks.
Cringe (Stripped) is a stripped-down version of the original song, forgoing the guitars, drums (and claps), and a rock-choir vibe for a more intimate piano only approach. This allows the lyrics to shine even more and highlights Maeson’s soulful vocals.
What does the title mean
The word “Cringe” in the title is used in the traditional sense as a verb, rather than the now common use of the word as an adjective. The meaning remains mostly the same however, being Cringe (Stripped) sees Maeson calling out to his lover because of his secret, and how she seems to be reacting in a worse way than expected (“Do I make you cringe?”). The meaning of the lyrics has caused quite a bit of speculation among fans. There’s even an entire Reddit thread dedicated to the topic. However, thanks to YouTube, we have an interview in which Matt shares his own thought process behind the lyrics of the song.
Matt explains that he wrote Cringe during a difficult time in his life. He had moved out of home, and having received a Christian raising, he felt the allure of trying all that he had been forbidden previously. This led to several arrests and a drug addiction. During such a hard time, all his friends who he thought would help him, turned their backs on him instead. Thus, the lyrics to Cringe (Stripped) came to life.
Matt doesn’t go into more detail regarding the meaning of the lyrics or address the lines individually. He even adds that it was “about a lot of different things”, so let’s dissect it some more.
Verse 1 – What does it mean
“Lover come over
Look what I’ve done
I’ve been alone so long, I feel like I’m on the run
Lover come over, kick up the dust
I’ve got a secret starting to rust”
The song starts in a very mocking tone. Matt has symbolized all the friends he had trusted as a single “lover”. His friends had already betrayed him in reality, but this “lover” has not. Using this contrast, Matt talks sarcastically about his helplessness as something shameful, something that he has to hide. He tells her, “Look what I’ve done” as if he had made a mess instead of being in a mess. This is likely the way his real life “lovers” saw it. He talks about being alone and on the run, again highlighting that his trust had been misplaced. He mockingly tells his “lover” to kick up a fuss over his trouble.
What does the chorus mean
“She said I’m looking like a bad man, smooth criminal
She said my spirit doesn’t move like it did before
She said that I don’t look like me no more, no more
I said I’m just tired
She said: you’re just high
And I said I saw you in the water
And I said I saw you in the water”
In the chorus, Matt is more direct with his complaints. He says that his “lover” accuses him of being a bad person/criminal (a nod to Michael Jackson), and that his spirit isn’t pure like it used to be. This second line is important as most of Matt’s friends were Christians and members of the same Church. He is again accused of changing, to which he replies that he is having a rough time. But she says “you’re just high”, which could mean that she thinks he is just making excuses about finding it difficult to change his habits.
The line “I said I saw you in the water” is perhaps the most debated line in the entire song. Water has strong connections to Christianity. Perhaps Maeson is saying that he had seen through the purity of his friends in Church, and seeing them in water could also signify their shallowness (which contrasts baptism). Another more likely interpretation is reflection. “Saw you in the water” could mean that he sees his “lover”/fake friends in a reflection. This indicates their similarity. For all their airs about him being a bad influence, they are no saints either. And neither is he any less of a person than them because he has made bad choices.
Verse 2 – What does it mean
“Lover come hold me
Heads on the fritz
Gaudy intoxicated feelings comfortably mixed
Lover come hold me, could you forget
I’ve got a secret, digging a dent”
In verse 2, the tone switches from sarcastic to earnest. Matt is genuinely in need of some love and care and wants to comforted, not taunted, as he says his mind is not working properly. The line “Gaudy intoxicated feelings comfortably mixed” doesn’t seem to add anything, but serves as a filler line to continue the mood of the song. To this purpose, words like “gaudy” and “intoxicated feelings” are used, reaffirming the themes of false show and addiction prevalent throughout the song.
Maeson then repeats the line “Lover come hold me”, but this time it is a plea not to comfort him, but to forget he ever “wronged”. Here the tone reverts to sarcastic again. This is punctuated by the phrase “digging a dent”, which could mean he is falling further into sorrow without help. But its meaning could also be that he dug himself into a hole by trusting his friends. (The word “dent” has been provided by Musixmatch, but some other sources have different words like ditch or debt).
What does the bridge mean
“Sweating all your sins out
Putting all your thoughts back together
Oh, we just don’t blend now
All of my attempts seem to weather
Oh, I make you cringe now
Don’t I make you cringe?
Oh, I make you cringe now
Don’t I make you cringe?”
In the bridge we have a moment of realization and the lyrics finally become matter of fact. “Sweating all your sins out” is a very interesting line, as it could mean that in their desperate and artificial attempt to be “holy”, Matt’s “lover” has pushed him away. However, it could also mean that through her abandonment, she committed a great sin as well. Either way, it is clear that their minds work differently and that their bond was false. He had tried to find friendship in her, but he failed. And she is simply embarrassed by him for being in the situation he is in.
What does the outro mean
“And I said I saw you in the water
(Do I make you cringe?)”
After a repeat of the chorus there is a final section where these lines are repeated constantly, which hammers home the point made earlier. “I saw you in the water”: You are not holy. “Do I make you cringe?”: I disgust you? Matt seems to be questioning how his friends could shun him when they themselves were wrong. And it is on this note of emotion that the stripped song ends.
The meaning of any song is up to interpretation. Though Matt Maeson has given his insights on Cringe (Stripped), he has not been specific. Even within the context of being abandoned by loved ones during times of need, there is ample room in the lyrics of the song for debate.