Cyberwanderer’s Blog

December 22, 2008

Meaning of Cohen’s Hallelujah Song Lost to Pop Idol?

A song composed by Quebec born, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Leonard Cohen is garnering entertainment news headline the past couple of days because it was about to be declared UK’s number 1 Christmas hits. The song is Hallelujah, the latest cover version done by British Pop Idol Alexandra Burke. It created a bit of a ruckus. A viral internet campaign by Leonard Cohen and Buckley’s fans was launched to try to stop Alexandra Burke from winning, for fear that her version would not do justice to the original meaning intended by Cohen.

The song was a lamentation of old testament stories with sexual overtone. It talks about King David lust and murderous act. It also includes reference to Samson’s hair being cut. The song is more about the fallibility of humans. The cry of hallelujah is not of someone praising the lord (“it’s not a cry from someone who has seen the light”, “it’s a cold and broken hallelujah”). I am not going to go deep into interpreting the lyrics. As most poems can’t be interpreted word for word. There’s no shortage of interpretation even among Cohen’s fan. But one thing for sure, it is not meant to be festive. As an aside, Cohen was born Jewish and adopted the Buddhist religion. It took him about a year to finish the song “Hallelujah”.

Some Cohen fans fear that the pop idolized version does not appreciate the real meaning of the song. Fans voting for Alexandra Burke version most likely are responding to marketing hype and a “follow what hip at the moment” impulse or attitude. Or As The Killers had said on their latest pop hits single “Human”, “being a dancer” (follower) instead of having a thought of their own. One news article went so far as to call it mass hysteria. Just hearing the word hallelujah, Alexandra Burke fan think it’s a Christmas tune. That might be a bit harsh. After all, some people just want to enjoy the music without getting too tangled up in the lyrics.

The internet campaign have not succeeded in unseating Alexandra Burke from the top spot (Burke’s version was declared number 1 and Buckley’s number 2, with Cohen’s version making a comeback at number 36). But as a result of the campaign, a lot of people have stopped and think for a second on what the song is really all about. On that count, I think Cohen fans campaign could be said to have succeeded. Perhaps the song is not festive enough for Christmas, but it could make people stop and reflect on their faith, irregardless of whether that was the original intent of the song or not.

Here are the different versions in youtube. Leonard Cohen version followed by Jeff Buckley’s (with lyrics) and Alexandra Burke.



  1. Ah, but the best interpretation is none of the above. It’s this one!

    Comment by thereginamom — December 22, 2008 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

    • My favorite interpretation is from Leonard Cohen live in London !!And my second best is John Bon Jovy’s version.But K D Lang really gave me goosebumps at the 2010 Olympics.

      Comment by Joseph Raymond Beaulieu — March 23, 2011 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

  2. you’re right. kd lang’s version is definitely the best.

    Comment by Johana — December 22, 2008 @ 7:13 pm | Reply

  3. I disagree. For me, the finest version is the one that made it onto the Shrek film (but not the soundtrack CD) and the Cohen Tribute Album, “I’m Your Fan”. By John Cale.

    Comment by Marcus — December 23, 2008 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  4. i only found the song because i heard alexandras version and i thought wow those lyrics are something… i searched and found jeff and leanords versions and bought them both……i dont like alexandras version but the words draw you in and i would have never found it if i never heard alex sing it… absolutely in love with this song…..and its very rare i give that compliment to a song.

    Comment by michael — December 25, 2008 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

  5. Most versions are so pretty, but to me, the best are Bon Jovi and Il Divo.

    Comment by PAT BRAGG — November 24, 2009 @ 8:58 am | Reply

  6. I love Rufus Wainwright’s version (he has such a distinctive voice) and also John Cale’s more classical interpretation but, for me, k.d.lang’s version puts all others in the shade. Her vastly superior vocals and emotional input make her my absolute favourite! What a brilliant song, even though nobody’s sure of the exact meaning of all the lyrics! Thanks, Leonard!

    Comment by JudyW — February 1, 2010 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  7. you must not have heard the version from watchmen.or seen it?this song is a sex song and there is NO salvation in it.check the movie and see and you will get it,and you will never ever think of this song the same way again.

    Comment by jerry — February 15, 2010 @ 11:03 am | Reply

    • Which Watchmen ???

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  9. I heard this song for the first time in a fellowship but I was shock with the lyrics of the song. This is a great song, I mean the song is amazing. The tune, chords, lyrical compose, they are just awesome. But this ain’t a gospel song. We must not be confused.

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  12. I thought the song “Halleluyah by Alexandra Burke” was a Christian song not untill i saw the lyrics…its not close to a Christian song.

    Comment by Frank Vicky — January 8, 2014 @ 4:46 am | Reply

  13. […] Meaning of cohen’s hallelujah song lost to pop idol […]

    Pingback by Song Meanings Hallelujah | Song Lyrics — October 30, 2014 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  14. Wow interesting revelations…

    Comment by Anonymous — September 2, 2016 @ 4:51 am | Reply

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