The Ballad of Mona Lisa 

I’m back with another song analysis!

Today… we’re going to look at the story(/s) behind The Ballad of Mona Lisa by Panic at the Disco. 

First off… well, this song is a little bit harder to really grasp and analyze than the stuff I’m used to looking at, so I did some research before coming here to type up the meanings behind the lyrics. And I’ve found that (like a lot of songs) there are multiple ways to interpret the words… and there’s a certain way the lyricist (Brendan Urie) intended for everything to mean, and there’s also a few different ways that weren’t intended, but can also be legit explainations. For now, though, I’m going to stick mostly to my own interpretation as I go through the lyrics. Afterward, then, I’ll go quickly through some other possible interpretations. 

Ready? 

Here goes.

She paints her fingers with a close precision

She’s very careful about how she presents herself to other people. (Or, as Brendan puts it, she’s getting ‘dolled up’ and ‘putting on a mask.’)

He starts to notice empty bottles of gin
And takes a moment to assess the sins she’s paid for

He’s beginning to take notice of her recent behaviors; he’s maybe thinking she’s been reckless.

A lonely speaker in a conversation
Her words were swimming through his ears again

She keeps talking and he’s not listening. 

There’s nothing wrong with just a taste of what you’ve paid for

She got herself into her own mess, so now she has to deal with her own consequences.

Say what you mean
Tell me I’m right

(Although those could be two different things…)

And let the sun rain down on me

Also a contradiction, since sun and rain are kind of two opposing things in terms of weather forecasts, if you get what I mean. 

Give me a sign
I want to believe

…Could be another contradiction? (The bridge is the hardest part of the song for me to grasp, so sorry if I’m not giving much on my interpretation!) 

Whoa, Mona Lisa,
You’re guaranteed to run this town
Whoa, Mona Lisa,
I’d pay to see you frown

Okay, so the song is obviously named after the famous Mona Lisa painting… and so the chorus is making reference to the artwork as well. The Mona Lisa is a painting of a woman smiling, and this is just reflecting that she could basically run a whole town with that smile, and could put on a mask (like in the first line) to shield everyone from the frown (or reckless behavior) that she possesses when she’s not in public. 

He senses something, call it desperation
Another dollar, another day

Okay, now this and the next few lines I can really only interpret as being about a woman in prostitution. This part specifically, though, is like saying she’s selling herself because she’s so desperate for money or a job. 

And if she had the proper words to say,
She would tell him
But she’d have nothing left to sell him

And now she can’t tell him whatever she wants to say, because then she’d ‘have nothing left to sell him,’ and he would probably want to leave her. 

Say what you mean
Tell me I’m right
And let the sun rain down on me
Give me a sign
I want to believe

And this again…

Whoa, Mona Lisa,
You’re guaranteed to run this town
Whoa, Mona Lisa,
I’d pay to see you frown

Mona Lisa wear me out
Pleased to please ya
Mona Lisa wear me out

And, since I’m sticking to the prostitute idea from earlier… pleased to please ya, Mona Lisa!

Say what you mean
Tell me I’m right
And let the sun rain down on me
Give me a sign
I want to believe

Whoa, Mona Lisa,
You’re guaranteed to run this town
Whoa, Mona Lisa,
I’d pay to see you frown

Say what you mean
Tell me I’m right
And let the sun rain down on me
Give me a sign
I want to believe

And then we’re all down to the end…

There’s nothing wrong with just a taste of what you’ve paid for

Okay, so… take a deep breath. 

Before I dive into the overall meanings and junk, I just want to apologize if my lyrically-specific interpretations sound super generic, or way off, or… something. This song was kind of hard for me to completely… get, I guess, so that’s that. But also… being a (halfway decent) songwriter, I know from experience that, sometimes, lyrics don’t really have to have a deeper meaning, or aren’t intended to be anything more than just a mess of words that sound kind of cool, or are just used because they have words that rhyme. 

So, anyway, that’s my excuse, haha. 

…But, back to the song. 

First, let’s just run with my whole ‘story of prostitution’ idea. I mean, it makes sense that Mona Lisa (as portrayed in the song) could be a prostitute. And, for whatever reasons, she’s desperate for cash, making reckless decisions, and drinking a lot more than usual. The ‘he’ in the story, then, I’m going to guess… is probably her boyfriend/ significant other debating on whether or not to leave her, since he’s noticing so many changes in her. 

Another way to take things, though, is (kind of obviously) from what the lyricist has said about the meaning behind the song. Brendan has explained that he actually wrote the song to reflect his inner feelings and conflicting emotions or, in his own words, “On the surface it can seem like just the story of drama between a guy and a girl, [b]ut it’s really about what I’ve been going through, an inner-struggle within myself, and fighting the dualities of my personality.” (Wikipedia is my source if you don’t believe me.) That makes a lot of sense, too. 

Any way you run with it, though, your interpretation can probably fit, even if it’s different from the ones I’ve mentioned. Because, you know… there’s pretty much a million ways to interpret a song, and a million and a half for this one. 

…But still let me know what you think! 

-iKari 

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