Single Review: Maroon 5 “Harder To Breathe”

Harder to Breathe
Album: Songs about Jane
Year: 2003

Starting at the beginning of 2002, Maroon 5 was just another rock band vying for attention on Top 40 radio. Then, a year later “Harder to Breathe” hit and so did the backing from major acts like John Mayer, Matchbox 20, and Mandy Moore.

They are also one of the few bands to promote themselves honestly. Lead singer Adam Levine said on the website that he wanted to make a full-on soul record. However, they then opted to blend it with rock. According to, Levine wrote the song because he wanted to “throw something” after being put under pressure to add more songs to the album. He said “I was just pissed. I wanted to make a record and the label was applying a lot of pressure, but I’m glad they did.”

The urgent, anxiety-ridden “Harder to Breathe” finds Levine stressing out and feeling suffocated because he’s not being left alone. In the first verse, he is ticked by being told that he’s not acting the right way. The person (presumably, record label guy) is talking down to him and being overbearing. Levine has had enough and threatens him with violence if Record Label Guy doesn’t stop (“How dare you say that my behavior is unacceptable/So condescending unnecessarily critical/I have the tendency of getting very physical/So watch your step cause if I do you’ll need a miracle”).

Apparently, Record Label Guy is a soul-sucker and now Levine is no longer afraid of him. Record Label Guy realizes this and feels the tension from Levine. Levine, however, takes an elitist attitude and thinks he’s above Record Label Guy. (“You drain me dry and make me wonder why I’m even here/This Double Vision I was seeing is finally clear/You want to stay but you know very well I want you gone/Not fit to funkin’ tread the ground I’m walking on”). Levine, though, wins bonus points for skirting the swear word with a variation of it instead of saying it then having it edited out later.

In the chorus, he tells Record Label Guy that the band is in it for the long haul. But for all his boasting, he’s scared and crumbling under the pressure (“You’ll understand what I mean when I say/There’s no way we’re gonna give up…And like a little girl cries in the face of a monster that lives in her dreams/Is there anyone out there cause it’s getting harder and harder to breathe”). The simile used in the chorus actually suggests something more than anxiety (perhaps unintentional). The emotion it suggests are his deep-seated fears and depression. For instance, he feels like a child and is in the fetal position regarding recording the album. It’s like he’s reverting to a child-like state.

He feels like Record Label Guy is manipulating him and not listening to him at all (“What you are doing is screwing things up inside my head/You should know better you never listened to a word I said”). Although the rest of the verse is unclear. It seems like they wanted Record Label Guy to be shaking in his suit at the sight of Levine. Levine hopes another band does the same thing to Record Label Guy (“Clutching your pillow and writhing in a naked sweat/hoping somebody someday will do you like I did”).

Levine is basking in the control he has and taunts Record Label Guy (“Is it painful to learn/that it’s me that has all the control…Does it sting/when you feel what I bring/and you wish that you had me to hold”).

Maroon 5’s approach is poppier and dance-oriented. If it weren’t for the guitars, it would be an regular pop song. It’s the R&B in their music that differentiates them from the other angsty bands. Being the first to successfully mainstream neo-soul rock, perhaps their popularity will bring Nikka Costa (“Everybody’s Got Their Something”) and Thicke (“When I Get You Alone”) a second chance.


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