Bands with place names often—though not always—hail from the town that their monikers namecheck. The guys in Boston are from Boston. Chicago is from Chicago. Kansas is from Kansas. Asia is from, well, um, OK … it doesn’t work with Asia.
Portugal. The Man? Not from Portugal. And, in fact, not a man. This eclectic alternative rock band originally hailed from Wasilla, Alaska, before moving to Portland, Ore., to try to make a go of it musically.
That was eight albums and 16 years ago. “Feel It Still” is the group’s first hit to break into the mainstream musical consciousness. It’s fueled by a funky, retro bassline paired with vocalist John Gourley’s falsetto (resulting in a vibe reminiscent of recent offerings from Foster the People and Twenty One Pilots). The song’s catchy melody—which the band freely admits it copped from The Marvelettes’ iconic 1961 hit “Please Mr. Postman”—probably hasn’t hurt its popularity either.
As for the meaning of the band’s name, lead vocalist John Gourley described it to the (no doubt curious) Portuguese website, soundbaites.blogspot.pt back in 2011: “I guess in choosing Portugal, it was just kind of a random choice. We really wanted a country to be the name of our person because a country is a group of people. The man just states that Portugal is a person. So really Portugal is the band’s name and the man is just stating that he is the man.”
If your response to that explanation is at all like mine was, you be thinking something like, “Well, alrighty then.” It’s a response that might very well carry over to this song (and its video) too.
The song begins with the line, “Can’t keep my hands to myself.” Uh oh. But before the proceedings get any more suggestive, they take a bit of, uh, a left turn. “Think I’ll dust ’em off, put ’em back up on the shelf/In case my little baby girl is in need.” About those cryptic lines, Gourley then says, “Am I coming out of left field?” Yeah, probably.
The chorus is perhaps a bit more concrete. “I’m just a rebel for kicks now,” Gourley tells us. “I been feeling it since 1966 now/Might be over, but I feel it still.” Then the revolution jumps forward a couple of decades. “I’m a rebel just for kicks now/Let me kick it like it’s 1986 now.”
Exactly what the rebellion in question here is inscrutable from the lyrics thus far. The second verse clarifies things a little, apparently focusing on poverty and desperation. “Got another mouth to feed/Leave it with the babysitter, mama, call the gravedigger.” To those images of hunger, babies, motherhood and death, Gourley then asks once more, “Am I coming out of left field?”
The final verse perhaps solidifies the song’s focus on justice issues. “We could fight a war for peace,” Gourley sings in his sky-high falsetto. And the last lines seemingly allude to hopelessness (“Goodbye to my hopes and dreams”), social divisions (“We could wait until the walls come down”) and perhaps the tension between inequality and apathy (“It’s time to give a little to the/Kids in the middle/But, oh, until it falls/Won’t bother me”).
Without a secret decoder ring, I felt that the band was trying to make a statement—albeit a deliberately vague one—about social issues. But other than some broad thematic brushstrokes, I really wasn’t sure what kind of feelings “Feel It Still” was actually expressing.
I was generally on the right track, but it turns out the band had something more specific in mind. In an interview about the song with Billboard, Gourley said:
“I think the lyric reflects the way a lot of us feel. It came out of this George Carlin quote, which was something we had talked about quite a bit within our circle of friends. George Carlin would talk about politics and religion but in the same breath he’d also mention he doesn’t vote, doesn’t trust politicians or religion … It comes down to the way our political parties work where it’s basically football teams. If you’re not on Team Trump, you’re on Team Hillary and it’s such a ridiculous way to look at politics and to look at the way we’re voting. I’ll talk s— all day long but at the end of the day I don’t want to vote for anybody. I don’t feel strongly for either one of those people. So many of my friends were for Bernie all the way and said, ‘If he doesn’t get it, I’m not voting.’ It’s a ridiculous process. The fact at all that Bernie had to run as a Democrat is kind of what the song is about.”
I never could have pulled anything that specific out of these lyrics, but apparently those political feelings were the inspiration.
As for the accompanying video, Gourley walks about in overalls and a baseball cap, singing as he meanders through a bar and a junkyard. We glimpse a couple making out passionately behind fogged-up windows in a car. The camera zooms in, oddly, on a topless Barbie doll wearing camo slacks. And there’s a crude hand gesture as well, content that’s a bit edgier than the song’s lyrics themselves are.
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.