What It's About
"Common People" tells the story of a rich, pampered girl who wants to go slumming. She likes the poor in the way you like a mutt you play with for a while in a public park, before going home to your nice estate. The singer, one such common person, takes her up on her offer of free booze while showing her the world of the poor, telling her to basically fuck off. You cannot know what it is to be poor unless you are poor, and attempts to claim otherwise are merely insulting.
I must confess, however, that I remember when this song came out, and to my discredit, I never listened to the lyrics. All I noticed was Jarvis Cocker's uber-stylish, fey, mystic, and slick spoke/sung vocal. All I heard was the deliberately synthetic and soulless keyboard arrangement. And though the lyrics are clearly acidic to anyone taking the time to listen, it seemed the whole arrangement only served to hide that vitriol. Yes, of course one could argue the merits of a technique that accentuates darkness by juxtaposing it with a happier delivery (as we'll see in the Lily Allen entry below), but it just didn't have that effect on me here. It didn't make sense until the remake featuring Ben Folds, William Shatner, and Joe Jackson.
Angriest LyricsYou'll never watch your life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do.
Sing along with the common people, sing along and it might just get you thru'
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.