The passage of time—marked as it is by memories of the past, hopes for the future and anxiety about how it’s all going to turn out—has been a consistent thematic lens for musicians for decades.
“Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds; “When I’m 64,” by The Beatles; “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” by The Beach Boys; “Cats in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin; and “100 Years,” by Five for Fighting are but a few that come quickly to mind. Songs like these poignantly (and sometimes playfully) confront us with the reality of getting older and all that comes with it—for better or worse.
“7 Years,” by the pop-soul Danish band Lukas Graham (which takes its name from 27-year-old frontman Lukas Graham Forchhammer), is the latest in this long lineage of time-centric tunes. As it looks backward, some of what it recollects isn’t at all positive. But the surprisingly pro-family vision it casts into the future is.
Lukas Graham Forchhammer grew up in an enclave known as Christiania, in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s a small, self-contained neighborhood of about 800 people that, since 1971, has lived by its own rules. The Independent‘s Pete Silverton says of it, “In, but not part of, Copenhagen, Christiania is the closest the modern world has to an autonomous village-size utopian community, a place where dogs run wild and dreamers—Graham’s parents, for example—dream new ways of life. No guns, no cars, no fireworks; lots of street murals; and a house made entirely out of windows.”
And, not surprisingly, drugs. Lots of drugs.
“It also has what is perhaps the world’s biggest open-air hash, weed and drug paraphernalia market, which is one of the main reasons that the district is one of Copenhagen’s most visited tourist attractions,” writes Silverton. “The market is in what the Christiania council calls the ‘green light district’—but everyone else knows as Pusher Street.”
Given such a childhood context, it’s no surprise, really, to hear Forchhammer recalling his own experimentation with drugs and alcohol early in life. The song’s second verse finds him reminiscing, “It was a big, big world, but we thought we were bigger/Pushing each other to the limits, we were learning quicker/By 11, smoking herb and drinking burning liquor.”
In contrast to those lyrics romanticizing the almost-anything-goes “freedom” of Forchhammer’s hometown, elsewhere he articulates his dreams of the future in surprisingly traditional, even conservative ways: getting married, having lots of kids, and then enjoying their presence in his golden years.
It’s a vision of the good life he says his dad handed down to him. “Once I was 11 years old. My daddy told me/’Go get yourself a wife, or you’ll be lonely.'” Accordingly, the 27-year-old imagines meeting the right woman, settling down and raising a family. “Soon we’ll be 30 years old/ … I’m still learning about life/My woman brought children for me/So I can sing them all my songs/And tell them stories.”
And just like that, Forchhammer suggests, another 30 years will fly by. “Soon I’ll be 60 years old/ … I hope my children come and visit once or twice a month/Soon I’ll be 60 years old/Will I think the world is cold?/Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me?/Soon I’ll be 60 years old.”
Regarding this theme in the song, Forchhammer told the U.K.’s officialcharts.com, “I’m also coming to a realization that being a father is the most important thing. My biggest dream is not to be some negative old dude, but to have my kids’ friends say, ‘You’re going to visit your dad? Say hi! He’s awesome.’ I had a perfect father.”
Between reflecting on the past and imagining the future, “7 Years” spends a bit of time in the present. Forchhammer says it’s an optimistic, hopeful place (“I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure”). And he’s certainly making the most of his moment in the spotlight (“Once I was 20 years old/My story got told/I was writing about everything I saw before me/ … Soon we’ll be 30 years old/Our songs have been sold/We’ve travelled around the world, and we’re still roaming”).
The video focuses on the present as well, alternating between scenes of Lukas Graham in Los Angeles and in Christiania (a place rarely seen onscreen given its normally restrictive rules with regard to photography by outsiders). Thus, we see various shots of other commune residents, including a young black boy who lip-syncs the lines about drug and alcohol use mentioned above—further reinforcing that already problematic lyric by dragging another child into Forchhammer’s autobiographical misdeeds.
The singer lingers in a cemetery, apparently paying tribute to his deceased, beloved father. There we see statues of angels, a church and a cross, images that lend a pseudo-spiritual veneer to a song that doesn’t even speculate about the hereafter or what happens when life in an “unfettered” place such as Christiania runs its course.
“7 Years” of whiplash, you might say of this song, then. Liberal, conservative. Immoral, moral. High and sober.
A postscript: This song originally appeared on the album Lukas Graham (Blue Album), released by Copenhagen Records in June 2015. Cover art features a full-frontal painting of a nude woman. The 2016 North American version (from Warner Bros.) bears the image of a young boy in a museum looking at a framed picture of the nude woman on the Danish cover. (His arm and body obscure most of the image’s original explicitness.)
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.