December/January 2023

by Dr Mark Baynes

X-Factory: Kimbra – Save Me

by Dr Mark Baynes

X-Factory: Kimbra – Save Me

I’m not quite sure why but Kimbra hasn’t really been on my radar before. We primarily listen to music to be moved emotionally, and our taste and intrigue is ultimately guided by personal aesthetics. Of course, I did appreciate Kimbra’s contribution to Gotye’s quirky breakup song Somebody That I Used To Know, but I guess nothing has caught my attention since.

Until now. The release of Save Me comes after a creative hiatus, perhaps resulting in a change of direction for the Hamilton-born, these days US-dwelling artist.

So what is so different about Kimbra’s latest single Save Me I ask myself? This article looks at the music and music video in X-Factory style, to try and perhaps uncover the reasons why this track is so compelling.


Save Me is a song about vulnerability, helplessness, and honesty. According to Kimbra, via NME, Save Me was inspired by ‘a singular moment’, with its lyrics following the singer as she ‘searches her insecurities with hopes that someone will save her from herself’.

Thematically, the song is said to explore ‘how two internal realities can be present at once: chaos and contemplation, rage and still life force’. These lyrics speak to themselves I think, and reflective honesty like this feels like a refreshing change to the hyperreality recurring narrative often driving the popular musical canon. Let’s first look at the lyrics.

I’m the accident waiting to happen, it’s just a matter of time / Back of the car again wondering why I got so determined to say

I lack the courage to take care of myself / Well, ain’t that a turn on babe? / Turn this car around I need somebody / To hold me when the morning comes

Go on and save me / I’m sinking into my feelings / And I’m scared they’re gonna drown my confidence / Go on and save me / I might look capable but I’m not / These days you’re all that I’ve got

I’m the acrobat turning around inside of your circuitry mind / under the covers, I don’t wanna come out till you make me feel alive

I’ve got the money to take care of myself / But I spend my time on suffering / Just this time around I need your body / If only when the morning comes

Go on and save me / I’m sinking into my feelings / And I’m scared they’re gonna drown my confidence / Go on and save me / I might look capable but I’m not / These days you’re all that I’ve got

See what I mean? I may be a sucker for darker themes and certainly, there seems to be a growing worldwide trend towards writing about what lurks in the shadows (in which case fashion has perhaps caught up with my musical tastes). Save Me is a song about the fragility of the human condition.

Music and Production

So how does the seriousness of Kimbra’s Save Me reflect in the music and production? Well, for a start, the backing tracks keep out of the way. The groove is maintained primarily by simple quarter note chords played on the one and three, followed by the kick drum on the two and four providing backbeat. This is broken occasionally – like in the pre-chorus and second verse which are more delicate – but overall the music provides a simple foundation. But wait, there is more, a kind of chaos exists in the music too. Keys played in the first part of the pre-chorus at 49 seconds feel random, like chimes blowing in the wind, joined by a reversed reverb and violin in the second part, providing a slightly ominous vibe. The chorus is stronger but reversed piano and vocal effects provide an alternative subtext, and anthem gone wrong, a morose gospel choir?

The single’s key centre isn’t straightforward either; the verse using constant structure over B, C and D chords; the pre-chorus bounces around ambiguously through both E major and E minor, G major, and B minor, during which some chromatic voice leading adds horizontal harmonic nuance. The chorus is more stable using the home of D major, yet overall harmony is deceptively ambiguous, yet quietly powerful.

Intelligent use of reverb is a key production tool in Save Me, in particular contrast between sections where reverb is liberally applied compared with other sections where the section is conspicuous in its absence. For example, the pre-chorus at 49 seconds has no reverb on the vocals, a stark contrast between the verse where the vocals are almost drowning in it. This is one of the most affectual aspects in the production of this song, the feeling that you are inside the protagonist’s head, remarkable.


And then there is the video. Floating rocks suspended in time, darkened veins, barren Icelandic landscapes, sand blowing over the dunes, cracking facades, and reversed cinematography all help provide a timeless backdrop to a sombre narrative. This cinematic video, directed by Yvan Fabing, combines nature with dream-like fantasy, a striking and emotive balance of both real and surreal.

In conclusion

If this song is a moment suspended in time, of chaos and contemplation, then all of the parts are effectual in supporting that narrative. The chords are peaceful yet disjointed, the production simple yet haunting, the lyrics are daring yet conceding, and the video presents two contrasting realities. This is an important and original song, and the courage required to be original, honest, and open is not lost on me. Save Me is powerful in its persistence to find meaning in the shadows and although it’s unclear whether it is autobiographical or an exploration of an idea, it is clear that Kimbra is not afraid to move in this direction with boldness and style.

Dr Mark Baynes is Programme Leader for the Bachelor of Musical Arts degree at MAINZ, Auckland; a degree program that fosters students’ ability to find their own musical voice, culminating with the creation of a capstone project such as an album, film score or music for game audio.