Breaking the Fourth Wall in Music

The Fourth Wall is a theatrical term for the imaginary “wall” that exists between actors on stage and the audience. The idea of a “fourth wall” began back in ancient days (pre-1950s) when theater was the primary source of entertainment. It is “the space that separates a performer or performance from an audience,” an imaginary barrier that allows the audience the chance to observe the actions on stage or, nowadays, the story in a movie or TV show. When the actors break through that fourth wall and address the audience with a few words, a smile, or even a wink, the audience transforms from observer to participant, whether they wish to or not. Thus, they are breaking the fourth wall.

Does music have a fourth wall as well? Can it be broken?

In my opinion, of course, a fourth wall exists in music, as it does with any art form. There are so many songs which just tell a story, in no way involving the audience. It is one-sided.

While the fourth wall may be broken during concerts, where the audience is heavily involved, it is hardly broken in actual song recordings. In a live concert, the singer may pass the mic to an audience member who sings along with him. This is a simple example of breaking the fourth wall in performance.

In recording, the existence of the fourth wall is extremely apparent as there is no give and take between the listener and the musician, only give. Artists have attempted to break the fourth wall in different ways:

“All I ever wanted to be, was in your stereo” – Stereo by Mike Mains & The Branches

“And baby, I know I you got your radio on. So this is my, my bad, comeback back song” Comeback Song by Darius Rucker

Alright, second verse” – We Don’t Believe What’s on TV by Twenty One Pilots

“I don’t know if this song is a surrender or a revolt. I don’t know if this song is about me or the devil.” The Judge by Twenty One Pilots

This song by NOFX is a blatant example of breaking the fourth wall. Listen to the lyrics: