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What do the “Cecilia and the Satellite” song and music video by Andrew McMahon mean? by Clifford Stumme, pop music professor

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Even he doesn't know why they made four different music videos for this song.

The last of the four is the "day in the life" one but the mythical one is my favorite. 

I thought the song was about his wife but actually it's about his daughter.

When I heard it on the radio, I thought “Cecilia and the Satellite” was about McMahon’s wife or girlfriend, but I eventually got around to researching it and found that it’s actually about his daughter. When McMahon started writing the song in late 2013, his wife was still pregnant with Cecilia, who, born in February 2014, is now about 1.5 years old.

“Cecilia and the Satellite” was released as part of the album Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness in August 2014, but recently the song revived and (according to “broke into the top 5 on the Billboard Alternative Songs Chart after reaching over 7 million streams on Spotify,” partially due to being included in a trailer for the movie Pan. 


Andrew McMahon is open about “Cecilia and the Satellite” being about his newly born daughter Cecilia. The song is him trying to emotionally understand what things will be like and how life will change once his daughter is born–it’s about him sorting out his feelings about how much he already loves her and wants to take care of her.

The First Verse is preparation for what he’s about to say; he gives context about his own life by mentioning a lot of difficult experiences he has had. He “locked [himself] in a hotel room . . . waiting all night for the walls to move,” and he “loved some girls that [he] barely knew.” These seem to be clear references to drugs and sexual relationships with women who came before he married his now-wife, Kelly McMahon.


He continues to sing about making and losing friends, and crashing his car when he “was 17” with his “mother in the seat riding next to [him].” He’s learned things “from a broken mirror”–a reference to seeing his own face distorted in a way that maybe helps him to see the individual parts of himself more clearly. Having gained this understanding, he’s better able to understand himself and to understand things like “[h]ow a face can change when a heart knows fear.” He’s watched other people and possibly himself age beyond their years because of frightening life situations. (This could be a reference to his own experience with cancer about a decade ago that led him to start raising money to help cancer research.)

About this verse and others, McMahon explains to that “I wanted to be really candid. I wanted her to be able to look back and know who her dad was before she was born, the successes and the failures, and for her to know I’d be there for her through the same highs and lows.” McMahon shows strength by admitting his difficult past and proves to his daughter that he’ll be honest with her, especially when he says, “Through all the things my eyes have seen / The best by far is you.” He loves his daughter and wants to care for her.

In the Chorus, McMahon sings, “If I could fly / Then I would know / What life looks like from up above and down below.” He wishes that he could soar over his daughter not only where she is physically but in the larger context of life so he could see what dangers there are around her or coming up in her life.


If you watch the official music video (the first one of the four above), you’ll see McMahon showing hand-drawn pictures to his daughter Cecilia and the story coming to life in other scenes. The picture book story is about a girl who wakes to find herself in a boat on the ocean. She’s beautiful and innocent (as suggested by the white dress and flower crown). She jumps into the water and swims to land where she plays, runs, and sleeps all day. The next morning, she swims back to the boat and drives it away into the sunshine while McMahon and his daughter finish looking at the last picture.

When McMahon sings, “I’d keep you safe / I’d keep you dry / Don’t be afraid, Cecilia,” he’s connecting the story in the music video to the lyrics. In the video, Cecilia is the girl, and he is the boat that keeps her safe and dry until she decides she wants to adventure out into the world around her. When she’s done exploring and playing, he’s there to welcome her back and to protect her.

He finishes the chorus by singing “I’m the satellite / And you’re the sky.” He keeps watch over her from above, but he realizes that her life gives him more purpose. It’s as if he realizes that her existence is more beautiful for him than his can be for her. No matter how much he protects her, he’ll never be able to thank her enough for the beauty she’s brought into his life.


If you listen to the song, he sometimes pauses right before “And you’re the sky” because he knows it’s a surprise to his audience. He knows they expect him to be the more helpful, useful person in the song when, in reality, he shocks everyone (and elicits thousands of “awwwwws”) when he calls her “the sky.”

In the Second Verse, McMahon sings about his other life experiences and how he’s traveled to Amsterdam, Japan, London, and other places. He’s “been knocked down” but “got up again”; however, “[f]or all the places I have been / I’m no place without you.” His daughter grounds him and means more to him than all of his travels.

Probably the Sweetest Part of the Song (at least according to me), is when McMahon sings, “For all the things my hands have held / The best by far is you.” These two lines clearly give the listener the image of him holding his infant daughter and truly loving her; it wraps up a truly beautiful song about a father’s love with a beautiful picture of that love.

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