Album: Life for Rent
Written after breaking up with her fiance’, “White Flag” explores the loss of a meaningful relationship.
The single opens with strings, setting a wistful, elegant tone. Dido is approaching her breakup with class and frankness. She confesses to her fiance’ in the first verse that she is still in love with him, but she also is upfront about the fact that emotions just don’t end like relationships do. They linger (“I know you think that I shouldn’t still love you/or tell you that/but if I didn’t say it/well I’d still hav felt it/where’s the sense in that?”). She goes on to say that doesn’t want to get back together, she only wants to put her feelings out there.
In the chorus, she sings that “I will go down with this ship/and I won’t put my hands up and surrender/there will be no white flag above my door/I’m in love and always will be.” The metaphor (the sinking ship for their failed relationship) along with the symbolism (white flag for her determination) is excellent pop songwriting. She conveys that their relationship has been war-like with the fighting. However, she is not ready to give up yet.
In the second verse, she blames herself for the end of the relationship and understands why he wouldn’t want to come back (“I know I left too much mess and destruction to come back again…And if you live by the rules of “it’s over”/then I’m sure that that makes sense”). In the bridge, she is somber when she thinks of the first time they will see each other after ending the relationship. She knows that she will act brave, but not feel it: “and when we meet Which I’m sure we will/all that was there/will be there still/I’ll let it pass/and hold my tongue/and you think/that I’ve moved on.”
Her determination grows with the chorus after the bridge. However, by the last chorus there is only a piano accompanying her. It seems as though she has realized she has given it all she has, but the reality that the relationship is over has sunk in for her. She’s alone, but still in love.
Dido could’ve written another album full of variations of “Thankyou” and be complacent in her role as a pop singer with a smash hit. Instead she took the high road by releasing an album based on substance and emotion, not her last hit song.