“Sometimes finding who you are, requires you to lose who you thought you were.” The tweet from NF wasn’t connected directly to the song, but it was the final tweet before the release of “The Search,” apart from a black screen posted to his Twitter three days before the song’s release. The theme is fitting for the meaning of “The Search,” which examines NF’s fears and burdens as he declares that he doesn’t want to identify with them anymore, and wants to leave the current state his mind is in for something better. He wants to find peace
“I’m lookin’ for the map to hope”
Despite the dark tone of the song, the emphasis is on searching for hope. Every confession is one more reason why he believes the hope is worth searching for. “The Search” is a wake-up call and a revelation for both himself and others. It’s a call to get up, and band together to discover how peace can be attained. To do so not in spite of their burdens, but because of the agony those burdens are causing.
As always, while this analysis will use “NF is dealing with...” or “NF thinks...” statements, these are only to explain what he is expressing in the lyrics. While NF is an artist who is largely autobiographical in his songs, it doesn’t mean that everything stated in his songs are or aren’t about him. NF is a phenomenal emotional storyteller, and while those stories are often true, unless he says so, we can’t be sure what elements are about his life. Either way, these lyrics are very raw and personal in nature and tell an intense and moving story.
Verse pt. 1
“Hey, Nate, how's life?”
I don’t know, it's alright
I've been dealin’ with some things like every human being
And really didn't sleep much last night
“I'm sorry,” that's fine
I just think I need a little me time
I just think I need a little free time
Little break from the shows and the bus rides, yeah
Last year I had a breakdown
Thoughts tellin' me I'm lost gettin' too loud
Had to see a therapist, then I found out
Somethin' funny’s goin’ on up in my house
Yeah, started thinkin' maybe I should move out
You know, pack my car, take a new route
Clean up my yard, get the noose out
Hang up my heart, let it air out
NF opens by answering the question: “How’s life?” He replies to the question by saying that he’s human, and he’s been “dealin’ with some things.” The stress of fame has made him realize he just needs a “little break from the shows and the bus rides” after “last year” when he says he had a breakdown. The thoughts in his head that told him that he was losing his way were starting to get “too loud.” His therapist tells him “somethin’ funny’s goin’ on” in his mind (The metaphor of his mind being a house is a reference to his song Mansion), which leads him to want to change his mind and “move out.” The line “Clean up my yard” is most likely a call-back to Intro 3, where he buries his fear in the backyard of his mind.
Verse pt. 2
I’ve been searchin'
“What does that mean, Nate?” I've been learning
Grabbin' my keepsakes, leavin’ my burdens
Well, I brought a few with me, I'm not perfect
Lookin' at the view like, this concerns me
Pickin' up the cues, right? I'm quite nervous
Hate it when I lose sight, life gets blurry
And things might hurt me
It's prolly gonna be a long journey, but hey!
It's worth it, though
Cold world out there, kids, grab your coats
Been a minute, I know, now I'm back to roam
Lookin' for the antidote to crack the code
Pretty vivid; I admit it, I'm in classic mode
Don't need pity given to me, but I can't condone
Talkin' down to me, I'ma have to crack your nose for crackin' jokes
I'm lookin' for the map to hope, you seen it?
Been makin' a whole lot of changes
Wrote a song about that, you should play it
He continues and increases the intensity of his voice as he declares that he’s “been searchin’” and learning. He’s been “grabbin’ [his] keepsakes” (the things in his mind and heart that hold value) and leaving his burdens. He admits that while he is searching for peace, he has still brought some of those burdens with him, and will continue to fight to let go of them. Having left the familiar terrain of his previous mindset, he is concerned by “the view” and confesses that it “concerns [him].” He pushes past his fear, and says that “it’s prolly gonna be a long journey, but hey! / It’s worth it.” With steely determination he tells his fans that “it’s a cold world out there” but they should “grab [their] coats” and join him on the journey. The purpose? To find “the antidote to crack the code”. He’s searching “for the map to hope.”
Verse pt. 3
I get scared when I walk on these stages
I look at the crowd and see so many faces, yeah
That's when I start to get anxious
That's when my thoughts can be dangerous
That's when I put on my makeup and drown in self-hatred
Forget what I'm saying, and—
Where'd the beat go?
Oh, ain't that somethin'?
Drums came in, you ain't see that comin'
Hands on my head, can't tell me nothin'
Got a taste of the fame, had to pump my stomach
Throw it back up like I don't want it
Wipe my face, clean off my vomit
OCD, tryna push my buttons
I said don't touch it, now y'all done it
NF confesses that though he’s made a “whole lot of changes,” he still struggles with his anxiety when he comes face to face with so many fans at his shows. When he “put[s] on [his] makeup,” as he has done by painting a black smile on his face before every show on the Perception Tour, it’s easy for him to “drown in self-hatred” and “forget what [he’s] saying.”
He doesn’t want anymore fame than he already has. He’s “got a taste” and he threw “it back up” because he didn’t want it.
Verse pt. 4
I can be critical, never typical
Intricate with every syllable, I'm a criminal
Intimate, but never political, pretty visual
Even if you hate it, I'll make it feel like you're in it, though
You call me what you wanna, but never call me forgettable
Leave you deep in thought, I could never swim in the kiddie pool
Way that I been thinkin' is cinematic, it's beautiful
Man, I don't know if I'm makin' movies or music videos
Addressing negative comments about his music, NF tells those who dislike his music that while they are welcome to hate it, they should “never call [him] forgettable.” He will “leave [them] deep in thought” and implies that the reason some may not like his music is not for lack of talent, but fear of the raw emotions he can inspire.
Verse pt. 5
Yeah, the sales can rise
Doesn't mean much though when your health declines
See, we've all got somethin' that we trapped inside
That we try to suffocate, you know, hopin' it dies
Try to hold it underwater but it always survives
Then it comes up out of nowhere like an evil surprise
Then it hovers over you to tell you millions of lies
You don't relate to that? Must not be as crazy as I am
The point I'm makin' is the mind is a powerful place
And what you feed it can affect you in a powerful way
It's pretty cool, right? Yeah, but it's not always safe
Just hang with me, this'll only take a moment, okay?
Just think about it for a second, if you look at your face
Every day when you get up and think you'll never be great
You'll never be great—not because you're not, but the hate
Will always find a way to cut you up and murder your faith
He continues to hammer home the idea that his fame and success don’t make him immune to his pain, and that if anything, it is bringing him new anxieties. The rising of sales don’t “mean much [if his] health declines.” The reason for his inner turmoil, he explains, is that “we’ve all got somethin’ that we trapped inside” and rather than let go of it, we try to kill it, but every time it lives, only to “come out of nowhere” and tell us “millions of lies.” The point he’s making with his metaphor is that “the mind is a powerful place / And what you feed it can affect you in a powerful way.” This can be a good thing when we feed good things into our mind, but his tone turns dark again as he says “it’s not always safe.” For example, if “every day when you get up and think you’ll never be great” you won’t be great. Even though someone can be great, if they tell themselves they aren’t and believe it, that self-hatred will “murder [their] faith.”
Verse pt. 6
I am developin', take a look at the benefits
Nothin' to meddle with, I can never be delicate
Am I even relevant? That depends how you measure it
Take a measurement, then bag it up and give me the evidence
It's pretty evident; dependable can never be tentative
I'm a gentleman, depending on if I think you're genuine
Pretty elegant, but not afraid to tell you to get a grip
Proper etiquette, I keep it to myself when I celebrate, ah!
He is developing as a person, and challenges people to “look at the benefits” that are becoming clear in his life. He questions if he’s “even relevant” and quickly answers his own question by saying “it’s pretty evident.” This is the opposite of telling himself that he’ll never be great, as he just warned his listeners not to do. Even though his relevance scares him, he can’t deny that he is impacting the lives of his fans. He takes a few lines to criticize himself by saying that while he’s “a gentleman” if he thinks someone isn't genuine he won’t treat them with the same respect, and he can be brutally honest and tell someone to “get a grip.” By calling out both positive and negative qualities he sees in himself, he is trying to move out of self-hatred and into a healthier view of himself.
Verse pt. 7
It's that time again
Better grab your balloons and invite your friends
Seatbelts back on, yeah, strap 'em in
Look at me, everybody, I'm smilin' big
On a road right now that I can't predict
Tell me "Tone that down," but I can't resist
Y'all know that sound, better raise your fist
The search begins, I'm back, so enjoy the trip
Speaking to his fans again, he tells them to “grab [their] balloons and invite [their] friends” to “the search” for hope as it begins. The balloons are a reference to the music video, and represent burdens. He is telling his fans to pick up their fears and struggles and come with him as they all search for the cure to their pain. It’s going to be a wild ride, and those who join him better put their “seatbelts on” and “enjoy the trip.
Deeper Meaning of “The Search” by NF
Listening to “The Search” for the first time was an inspiring experience, and an exciting one. I’ve been a big NF fan for a while now, and I’m not only thrilled that there’s a new song out, and an album on the way, but I’m goosebump-level on the edge of my seat for what the content of that next album will be. “The Search” tells us that where “Mansion,” and most prominently “Therapy Session” was about pain, and “Perception” was focused on changing the way that pain was viewed, “The Search” will be about moving on to hope, and peace. “The Search” won’t be an easy fix, and it won’t be poppy platitudes. This is NF, and he’s going to explore how he gets to that hope, and show others the way to their peace. It may be a long journey, and painful at times, but “it’s worth it, though.”