"World Leader Pretend" as written by and Peter Buck Bill Berry....
I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it's all, it's all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I used them well

This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down

I've a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated
I demand a rematch
I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I've practiced them well, I fitted them myself

It's amazing what devices you can sympathize (empathize)
This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down

Reach out for me and hold me tight
Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me, let my machine talk to me

This is my world and I am world leader pretend
This is my life
And this is my time
I have been given the freedom
To do as I see fit
It's high time I've razed the walls that I've constructed

It's amazing what devices you can sympathize (empathize)
This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down

You fill in the mortar
You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar
I raised the wall
And I'm the only one
I will be the one to knock it down

Lyrics submitted by scaredforthisworld, edited by picturesofthesun

"World Leader Pretend" as written by Peter Buck Bill Berry

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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World Leader Pretend song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentI tended to agree with 'the narrator' pov here. I mean it really seems something about facing up to personal fears that you have created&fed along your life. And as more you take time to start this inner war, more those fears have grown inside yourself, and, at the same time, only you know all the tricks that you have used to deceive yourself on putting the beginning of that 'war' off ("I've a rich understanding of my finest defenses / I proclaim that claims are left unstated, / I demand a rematch / I decree a stalemate / I divine my deeper motives / I recognize the weapons / I've practiced them well. I fitted them myself"), thus only you are able to break this vicious circle where you put yourself ("It's amazing what devices you can sympathize...empathize / This is my mistake. Let me make it good / I raised the walls, and I will be the one to knock it down").

    "You fill in the mortar. You fill in the harmony" and "This is my life / And this is my time / I have been given the freedom / To do as I see fit"

    So it's only in your own hands the 'key' for opening that 'door' which will make you leave all those 'ghosts' behind for finding some inner peace at last. Or you can choose to keep on carrying heavy 'weights' upon your back if you decide to be an eternal victim of yourself.
    circusjuggleron October 13, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI listen to this song when I feel like hating myself. Like after a break-up I'll put this song on cos I think about how much of a dick I've made myself then I'm usually ok. Amazing song though, has deep meaning to me.
    grandmabillon July 04, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI always took it as a Cold War song, about building up nations only to have to turn around and fight them (that "Orange Crush," from the same album, dealt with Vietnam only furthered the idea). But there's definitely a melancholy to the song that makes sense if it's more psychological, about fighting through your own defenses.
    DF Ashon September 11, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIn interview in Rolling Stone - From Art School to the Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Gives a Tour of Their Discography, "Stipe: For me, the big moment is 'World Leader Pretend.' It's a tribute to Leonard Cohen, using military terms to describe a battle within. I was so proud of the lyrics and my vocal take that I refused to sing it a second time. I did it once. That was it."
    brilliant song
    feydehwayon October 30, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOne of the neat things about this song (and a lot of R.E.M.) is how it plays with words. Like of course the raise/raze thing. Another example is the ambiguity of the line "This is my mistake, let me make it good." Does this mean "let me fix my mistake?" Or is the narrator trying to say (using some sloppy grammar :->), "leave me to make my mistake the right way, the way I want to make it?"

    I don't think this song is "about" politics at all, although my feeling about R.E.M. has always been that their songs are about whatever you make of them; I think the intended meaning has to do with someone fighting an internal war .

    That said, being a gen-Xer, I can totally understand why a lot of people are reminded of the Cold War by this song, both because of the suggestive lyrics and because of when _Green_ came out (Gorbachev was doin' his thing, the Berlin wall came down the following fall - November '89, I think it was...jeez I feel old).

    The imagery (mind you, this is just the imagery, not the deeper meaning of the song) makes me think of a world leader - the head of a superpower (it doesn't matter whether he's a "good guy" or not; I get a sense of him being rather arrogant and self-centered, the sort of person who thinks he knows what's best for the whole world and is happy to force it on the rest of the world) - sitting at a table covered with maps and reports and things, studying it all and trying to plan military tactics, perhaps accompanied by generals and advisers and suchlike (people who generally share his opinions, whom he appointed to tell him what he wants to hear), looking for weak spots in the enemy's defenses while trying to ensure that his country is protected, trying to get allies (allied nations and/or his political allies) to take risks instead of doing it himself, coming up with ways to use the war as an excuse to suspend civil liberties, push his domestic political agenda, etc.: the war is doing more harm to him (i.e., his country, possibly also him personally, by giving his political opponents ammunition against him) than to the enemy.

    It particularly brings to mind these faux-wars like the Cold War, the War on (Some) Drugs, the War on Terrorism, as well as literal wars like the proxy wars that tend to spring up out of these "wars," or the US wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Or for a less current example, the Wars of the Roses, in which people found themselves fighting their own cousin (the dispute that started the whole business was between Richard II and Henry IV, who were 1st cousins) or even their brother or sister, all over obscure medieval rules of inheritance.
    picturesofthesunon December 08, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentActually, I think the title of this song serves specially for provoking the real world leaders with their supposedly high self-esteem and their blind arrogance, which don't let them see how stupid they are indeed while the 'walls' around them are becoming bigger and bigger...
    circusjuggleron October 13, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWow.

    George Bush, anyone?

    REM is telling an opposite story.

    But, World leader, pretend---do yo see it?

    This is my mistake, let me make it good. Um....

    I raised (razed) the wall, let me be the one to knock it down.

    Raised the wall. Reminds me of the proposed wall between Mexico and the US.

    There are so many political parallels in this song. I hope the US learns from history.

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
    ceremoniouson September 23, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI do not think this is meant about any political figure, real or imagined. It's a about a formerly self-centered person realizing his self-absorbed mentality doesn't work. He realizes that no, he's not the center of the world; it's not all about him. He thought he was or should be the leader of the world, but now realizes he's just been pretending to himself.
    An additional point -- not necessarily related to this song, but probably -- even miserable wretches can be self-centered. I once met a woman who was so wrapped up in her grief that she had made it her identity; it was her world. She's build up the walls, and it's up to her to knock them down.
    voiceofheroldon February 09, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think it's a very personal lyrics from Stipe, about being gay and trying to assuming it publicly, but creating courage to do it.

    "I rased the wall, and I'll be the one to knock it down" is like trying to get out of the closet.
    cuca108608on November 21, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn Q magazine stipe said (regarding the song, and why they printed they lyric in the sleevenote) "I felt the lyric would actually look good to read, and it does read well - there's words like divine and decree, they all start with a 'D', which is good, and things rhyme,but they don't rhyme too much. I can't remember what it's about... Well, somone's at wasr with themselves.....Anyway, in World Leader Pretend, that was me copying Leonard Cohen, using something like military terms to get across a very simple human emotion"
    It wasn't the most coherent article... but i hope it adds some insight.
    scaredforthisworldon March 11, 2002   Link

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