Chop Suey! was the track that helped System Of A Down break into the mainstream music world, a smashing success that came as their very first single. Thanks to some convoluted lyrics, a unique delivery, and being partially banned in the wake of 9/11, many people are confused about the meaning of this hit song. In this article, we’ll look at the success the track brought to the band and the true meaning of the lyrics it contains.
The Huge Success “Chop Suey!” Brought System of a Down
Chop Suey! was one of the most successful debut songs by a band in history. It was the first single released from their Toxicity album in 2001 and introduced the entire world to the complex, crazy style of the group.
Often considered their signature track, System Of A Down earned a Grammy nomination in 2002 for Best Metal Performance for it. It would go on to break into the Top 10 of the US Alternative Airplay charts and rose as high as number 12 on the US Mainstream Rock chart.
For many listeners, this song is the one that put them on the map, and it’s widely regarded as one of the best tracks they have ever produced. Its music video on YouTube has well over one billion views, as it was the first metal song to reach that benchmark, and it’s one of the most-viewed rock videos on the entire platform to this day.
Despite widespread acclaim from fans, the track was met with some controversies. It would be added to the list of post-9/11 inappropriate titles, thanks in large part to lines like “I don’t think you trust, In, my, self-righteous suicide.” It was never banned completely, nor were they forced to record radio-friendly edits, but some stations did avoid playing it, which led to a bit lower chart ratings than it otherwise would have earned.
The Meanings Within “Chop Suey!”
There’s a whole heck of a lot going on in Chop Suey!, so it’s going to take a bit to actually break down.
The title refers to a Chinese stew that’s generally made with a bunch of different leftover ingredients thrown into a pot. The song was originally titled ‘Suicide,’ but it would be quickly changed to avoid any pushback that could—or did—come from the producers at Columbia Records. According to the band, the track is still titled Suicide, with ‘suey’ being suicide chopped in half.
This song is busy, to say the least. The verses are shot out in a rapid-fire style that can make it hard to keep up with what is actually being said. While the lyrics touch on drug addiction, it doesn’t have the same somberness that other songs that take on that theme stay in.
At a quick glance, it seems to jump around a lot. Some people think the track is talking about Jesus in a lot of ways, while others think it’s about how people view death as a whole. But both sides have their reasons and don’t tend to budge off of those interpretations.
There are plenty of lines about deserving to die, death in general, and how the way you die matters. But the song is also heavily influenced by Biblical references. From angels to pulling verses such as “Father, into your hands, Why have you forsaken me,” it makes perfect sense as to why the track has been connected to Jesus.
All of this combined is why a lot of people are confused about the meaning of the song. Thankfully, we have confirmed explanations from band members to take the meanings from.
According to guitarist Daron Malakian: “The song is about how when people die, they will be regarded differently depending on the way they pass. Like, if I were to die from a drug overdose, everyone would say I deserved it because I abused drugs, hence the line ‘Angels deserve to die.’”
Just from that one interview and explanation, we can mostly determine the meaning. The track is a commentary on death, and how the way that we die can impact the way people view us. A terrible accident will leave people feeling much more sorry for you than if you died of a drug overdose because people who do drugs are generally looked down upon and most would think that the death was a matter of time.
But even with such a simple explanation that’s so clearly put out by one of the writers of the song, we can still go a little further.
The Biblical verse “Father, into your hands, Why have you forsaken me?” was pulled at complete random. According to Rick Rubin, he and Tankian were struggling for words on the bridge of the track and opened a book at random to find the words. So, that pretty much quashes any argument that the meaning of the song was purposefully religious.
The rest of the lyrics in the track are mainly about the way society perceives people as a whole. Playing off on the theme of the way you die impacts how you’re viewed, much of the song deals with putting on a mask to be perceived the way you want to.
Here you go create another fable, you wanted to
Grab a brush and put a little makeup, you wanted to
Hide the scars to fade away the shakeup, you wanted to
Why’d you leave the keys upon the table? You wanted to
With the unique delivery style, it can be hard to comprehend the lyrics as they’re spoken, which is why there’s a lot of confusion. It’s also important to remember that, while the track is busy, the lyrics aren’t actually that complicated. The whole choral section above is the one talking about masking who we are to be perceived the way we want to be. At least that’s my interpretation of it.
In the end, it’s sort of a shame that this song was banned in the US—partially— for a while. It was just unfortunate timing to release a track about death right before the 9/11 attacks, especially when they did a few that hit close to home at that time, including Aerials. Chop Suey! remains a metal staple to this day and is widely considered one of the best songs to be released during the early 2000s.
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As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.