The Real Meaning Behind the Theme Song to “Friends”
You are The Rembrandts. They are putting words in your mouth.
During the original run of Friends, forever and always in syndication, currently on streaming, the song is telling you one thing:
You’ll be there for them.
By process of repetition, the song shapes your behavior and cements your beliefs. In this case, it cements your relationship with the characters.
Let me explain, line by line.
“So no one told you life was gonna be this way…”
Pretty straightforward. Everyone can agree life fails to meet expectations. It’s a give-in.
This could refer either to you the viewer or they the characters.
Whether you are the author of your own real life, or whether you’re the creation of a room full of television writers who are plotting the course of your existence over ten seasons and twenty-four-ish episodes each season, your personal story is going to be the culmination of plans, interruptions, improvisations, consequences, and accomplishments. No one could have foreseen the end when they first began.
(Clap, clap, clap, clap)…
Ah, now we get into it.
Why are there claps in the song? Who is clapping?
Ask yourself, “Who usually claps?” In a social construct centered around entertainment and performance, who is it that applauds?
Answer: The audience.
Here’s the hinge where the song turns. In four simple sound effects, the song transitions from a general to a specific perspective. It now expresses the audience’s point-of-view and shall remain there for the rest of its duration.
“You’re job’s a joke.”
We are talking directly to the characters.
First up, Joey. In early seasons of the show, Joey Tribbiani’s acting career was a laughingstock.
Phoebe Buffay grew up homeless and pickpocketing on the streets of New York after losing the two whom she believed to be her parents.
“You’re love life’s DOA.”
Ross Gellar suffered two divorces in the first half of the series, followed by an annulment with the on-again/off-again center of his affection and mother of his second child.
“It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear.”
Ross’s sister Monica felt seconded and sidelined by her parents, to the point in which she calls out her mother Judy for coining a familial term for “making a mistake.”
“Well it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.”
Chandler Bing complains. A lot. About everything.
“But I’ll be there for you, when the rain begins to pour.”
The first statement of the promise.
At this point, the songs’ harmonizing voices surprisingly identify themselves not as a collective “we” but as a solitary “I.”
They are a group and a single entity. Separate because they are distinct voices singing distinct harmonizing notes, but one because they wish to be.
Ask yourself, “What sort of collective joins together for an activity that in our age is a shared solitary experience? Who can be both a simultaneous “I/We?”
Answer: TV viewers.
What is the meaning of the line, “When the rain begins to pour?” Well, ask yourself, what does anyone do when it rains? Simple. Stay inside and watch Friends.
“I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before.”
The repeat of the promise.
Also, when has the “I/We” been there before? Last week. This week and next. During a show marathon. After the brief ads. Skip Intro. You’re back to being with them, for them.
“‘Cause you’re there for me, too.”
The I/we tells these characters:
“Way back when I was in seventh grade, and I had my first rabbit-eared TV in my bedroom, I was there for you. Even when my parents thought it was too inappropriate to watch you, I was there for you. Years later in college, when I gathered with others to watch your final bow, I was there for you.
And you know what? Now that you’re on my phone, you haven’t changed. There was no finale. You’ve endured and stayed the same.
You’re there for me, too.
No matter how my life takes unexpected turns and suffers disappointing pitfalls, you’re there for me, tooooooo...”
Stuck in Your Head
I didn’t need to embed a video of the song. You needed no reference. It’s there. The ability for the song to stick in your head makes it circle round and round until you adopt its beliefs. Your actions follow suit.
Over a quarter-of-a-century later, the process jumps generations. It shows no signs of stopping.
You’ll be there for them. Because the Rembrandts told you to.