Meaning of “Whip It” by Devo

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Whip It,” the 1980 hit by Devo, is often misconceived as a song about sadomasochism, due to its unique and seemingly provocative music video and lyrics. However, the true essence of this song is a satirical take on the American attitude of solving problems and overcoming obstacles. The repeated phrase, “you must whip it,” conveys the idea of confronting issues head-on and overcoming them. The song employs metaphors and unconventional phrases to portray a sense of urgency and the necessity to act promptly when problems arise.

The phrase “Crack that whip” implies the need to take control, and “give the past a slip” refers to moving beyond past failures. This song isn’t about any specific individual, but rather a broader commentary on societal norms and attitudes of the time. The song was written in an era marked by a unique blend of optimism and the pursuit of success, reflecting the collective state of mind of its creators.

Dive in to uncover the layers behind this iconic song.

“Whip It” Lyrics Meaning

“Whip It,” by Devo, unravels the nuances of American culture and societal behaviors during the late 20th century. The lyrics “Crack that whip… give the past a slip” suggest a metaphorical ‘whipping into shape,’ an emblem of control and a directive to move beyond past failures. It paints a picture of relentless pursuit of success and instant problem-solving, a prevailing attitude of that time.

The lines, “Before the cream sets out too long, you must whip it,” are allegorical, with the ‘cream’ representing problems or challenges and ‘whipping’ symbolizing the act of addressing these challenges before it’s too late. This conveys a message of immediacy and action in the face of adversity, reinforcing the idea of the American ‘can-do’ spirit.

Moreover, the use of the phrases like “Step on a crack, break your mama’s back,” are reminiscent of childhood games and superstitions, possibly symbolizing the underlying societal pressures and the ingrained fears and superstitions that dictate behaviors. It can be perceived as a reminder of the prevailing societal norms and the inherent compulsion to conform.

The song’s repetitive mantra, “Shape it up, get straight, go forward, move ahead, try to detect it, it’s not too late,” echoes the relentless pursuit of progress and the importance of rectification and course correction, emphasized by the repeated urging to “whip it good.” This urgency and the emphasis on self-improvement reflect the band’s satirical commentary on the motivational platitudes prevalent in their era.

While “Whip It” is laced with metaphors and layered meanings, it is essentially a satirical exploration of the American psyche, expressing the societal obsession with success, problem-solving, and conformity, all wrapped in the seemingly absurd and unconventional lyrical presentation that is distinctively Devo.

Why Was “Whip It” Written?

“Whip It” emerged during a time of significant cultural and societal shifts, especially in America. Devo’s members were observing the juxtaposition of increasing societal pressures and the constant preaching of optimism and the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’.

This song reflects the band’s observations and their satirical commentary on the American way of life. It’s an embodiment of their perceptions of the societal norms and expectations prevalent in that era. The seemingly eccentric lyrics and metaphors are Devo’s way of highlighting the absurdities they saw in the societal fabric, emphasizing the paradox of enduring societal pressure while being constantly pushed to ‘overcome’ and ‘succeed’.

The mindsets of Devo’s members were deeply influenced by the cultural currents of their time, making “Whip It” a unique mirror reflecting the contradictions and the unspoken pressures of the society they were part of. This background serves to deepen the understanding of the layered meanings and the clever satire encapsulated in the song’s energetic beats and distinctive lyrics.