Review: Light and Dark themes in “Flicker”

Image Source: U Music

The elegant opening guitar notes of “Flicker” by Niall Horan featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is the exact melodic equivalent of the contrasting light and dark imagery that echoes throughout the song. The beautiful simplicity of the background orchestra partnered with Horan’s voice truly make the lyrics come alive in delicate flashes of “magic electricity.”

The song’s lyrics begin in the dark. As the the muse lays with her head upon Horan’s chest, they both feel the dark emptiness that replaces the space their love once occupied. As the lovers try to grasp at the remains of a once passionate relationship, there is an unspoken agreement that something is missing. He ends the verse with a neutral-sounding statement: “I’m afraid that what we had is gone.”

In this verse, the orchestra takes advantage of the themes of emptiness and plays a simple melody that mimics the death of passion in the relationship. Each sparse note played on stringed instruments echoes a little longer, seemingly only existing to fill the empty space in between words.

Horan then uses the chorus to remember how the relationship began in the first place, and realizes that walking back through these early memories begins to rekindle a spark within him. Suddenly, “there’s a light in the dark,” and instead of trying to find hope to cling to, he creates his own hope based on a flicker in his memory.

The second verse of the song continues with an implied darkness and lyrics that focus on the sound of the muse’s breathing. This breathing pattern follows the theme of focusing intently on simple things that fill empty space. As she sleeps, Horan questions their current predicament and reiterates the last line of the first verse. However, this time, it holds a deeper meaning and there is a sense of urgency that accompanies the idea that what they once had could be gone.

As Horan comes to this realization, a piano is introduced to the background music, which has begun to increase in tempo and volume. The scattered piano notes resemble an auditory version of light flickering in darkness as the very melody of the song embodies the relationship itself.

“Flicker’s” ambiguous bridge resembles the constant back and forth of the relationship as Horan grows to believe his realizations. The flicker of optimism gives rise to a new mindset as the orchestra music swells to parallel the firm and dramatic emotions of passion and hope.