My World’s On Fire: We Asked Smash Mouth If ‘All Star’ Is About Climate Change

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Nearly twenty years have passed since Smash Mouth’s “All Star” came out. And for a solid decade, maybe more, I’ve been obsessing over its lyrics. The song, to me, has always been about climate change. Did it predict our indifference toward environmental catastrophe?

Was “All Star” actually a prescient harbinger that we foolishly ignored?

Seriously, though. Two cryptic verses in the otherwise posi hit-song are seemingly about global warming and the ozone layer. Certain lines are more literal than others, but the larger metaphor is self-evident:

It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder
You’re bundled up now wait ’til you get older
But the meteor men beg to differ
Judging by the hole in the satellite picture

The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim
My world’s on fire. How about yours?
That’s the way I like it and I’ll never get bored.

Others share my theory, too. A Reddit user posted a similar interpretation of “All Star,” claiming that it’s about “a man’s turn towards existentialism…after realizing the Earth’s inevitable destruction at the hands of global warming.” Precisely. Plus, the song elegantly navigates popular climate rhetoric, such as “global cooling,” which skeptics used to falsely debunk the idea of global warming. (But the meteor men beg to differ…)

Yeah, this is dark. But “All Star” wasn’t always intended to be motivational. Earlier this year, Smash Mouth tweeted a photo of the song’s original lyrics, which were written by the band’s guitarist, Greg Camp. Instead of shooting stars breaking the mold, Camp had the verse ending with: “Wave bye bye to your soul.”

I recently interviewed Camp about the actual substance behind “All Star.” We also chatted about his personal thoughts on the environment, fan theories, and Smash Mouth’s infamous Twitter account.

And yes, the song is kind of, sort of, definitely about climate change.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Motherboard: I’ll cut to the chase. Is “All Star” about climate change?
Greg Camp, guitarist and songwriter for Smash Mouth: It’s not completely about climate change but it has elements, or a few lines in the lyrics, addressing a “hole” in the ozone layer and global warming.

I think the height of the ozone layer freakout was during the 80s and 90s. When you wrote this song in 1999, was the collective fervor over ozone depletion something that influenced your lyrics? Did you mean for it to be so nihilistic?
In the 90s, there were all sorts of theories being introduced to the public which began a wave of consciousness. Car emissions laws got tighter and activists were trying to do away with aerosols and other products they believed to be harmful.

I don’t know about it being nihilistic though. I set out to write more of a personal and collective self affirmation song. We were reading a lot of fan mail—you know, the kind that came in an envelope in the mail. And a lot these kids were having a tough time growing up, so we wanted to give a little hope back. I think the song is all around more positive than cynical. Though that sort of humor pops up a lot in my lyrics.

Someone once tweeted at you , asking if the song is pro-global warming. You gave a cryptic response. Any updates to that?
I don’t recall my response so no new updates. I know that it’s still a controversial issue and some think that it doesn’t exist.

Have you guys seen the fan theories about the meaning behind “All Star”? Some of them are really deep, like the protagonist of the song being on the run from government operatives. There are a few good ones on Reddit.
I’ll have to check those out. But I assure all those conspiracy theorists out there that you can’t hide from Big Brother. Haha.

You’re a California guy, and Californians tend to be pretty environmentally-conscious. Would you say that climate change is something you worry about in the near or short term?
Well like most people, I’m concerned. And my family and I do our part to try to lessen the size of the footprint we leave here, but it could be that ozone holes are supposed to open and close, and water levels are supposed to rise and fall throughout the centuries.

Environmentally conscious companies still have factories and pollution is inevitable. But could it be possible that this is the natural cycle of this planet? I’m sure we aren’t helping matters, but even before the combustion engine was invented and smog was an issue, Los Angeles was called “Valley of the smokes” for its layer of brown haze caused by fires.

The recent election caused a lot of artists to put their politics out there. Does Smash Mouth align with any party or political ideology?
I can’t speak for everyone in the band. But I think we can all agree that we just want, and hope for, a peaceful future for all of the world’s nations. That sounded like I was trying to win a pageant. [Laughter] But really I feel fortunate to have a platform through music to speak up. I try not to get too preachy but it’s our duty, as artists, to at least open up the floor for conversation.

Can we just parse a few verses here?

A lot of people seem to think these are about climate change. Does “gets colder” relate to global cooling, which was a big theory back then about Earth getting colder, as opposed to warmer? Are the “meteor men” meteorologists? And is the “hole in the satellite picture” a reference to the hole in the ozone layer?
It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder
You’re bundled up now but wait ’til you get older
But the meteor men beg to differ
Judging by the hole in the satellite picture

It’s really saying that the world is cool—not in temperature, but with word play. I’s saying to enjoy your youth because life continues to get harder with age. And then, yes, the “meteor man” is the scientist who is reporting what they can see from space and how climate change is an issue. It goes on to lighten up the subject like, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

The water and ice bit seems pretty self-explanatory if “All Star” is about climate change. Is that what you were getting at? Are the last two verses about the subject’s indifference toward personal and global destruction? Or is he a climate change denier who embraces the world being “on fire”?
The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim
My world’s on fire, how about yours?
That’s the way I like it and I’ll never get bored

Again, just playing with words, but I guess the sentiment is: life is short, see the world, enjoy the action, get involved, be extraordinary, and don’t let haters get you down.

And finally, something a lot of us have been wondering: Who does Smash Mouth’s tweets?
It’s a combination of everyone in the band, overseen by management. The actual process is wild and can get heated.

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