Interpretations:This Microphone

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Losing your chance[edit]

I think this song is about losing your chance through over-preparation. The narrator has finished uncluttering and perfecting hir life just in time to realize that it's over.--WhatTheHeckLinnell (talk) 13:24, 20 January 2018 (EST)

Rage against human nature[edit]

"Selflessly hiding all emotions inside" No one wants to hear my negative thoughts, so I'm sparing them the trouble and bottling it up.

"Nobody's figured out my 12 fatal flaws..." I see the errors that nobody else does. I've even made a concise list of them in my head. Or maybe I'm hiding some important secrets that would ruin me if anyone else found out about them. Or, perhaps no one has caught on to the fact that I'm hiding my emotions and causing my own downfall.

"I'm busting out..." I can't do this anymore -- I know I'm right. People must see the problems with the world, or must at least understand they're there. It's undeniable, no matter how much they lie to themselves.

"I tried returning all that stuff to the store..." I want to rid myself of the hubris of mankind, but I fall into the same mistakes as my predecessors. There is no way to escape the cycle of violence, and we will perpetuate all previous tragedy as well as generate new ones in new contexts.

"I'm done explaining reckless displays" Explaining my outbursts will only paint myself in an even worse light because no one will understand why I must fight.

"Kindness is killing all my unfinished dreams and walking away" You can't kill with kindness. I've tried, and met so much failure and stagnation. I will now never realize what I wanted to, because I wasted so much time hiding how I feel and silencing what needed to be said.

"Caring is carting bad ideas to the dump and taking my time" Negativity is necessary to make improvements. I have to get my hands dirty and rid the world of the injustices and errors that it seems only I can see, because I care enough about the outcome to do so.

When choosing between being right and being kind, this song would choose to be right. You can't kill with kindness, at least not anyone but yourself. You'll be stepped all over. My kindness is walking away after all of these bad experiences and failures. The only way to change things for the better is to care enough to get rid of the problems. The only thing that evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

Keeping a public persona when we're hurting inside[edit]

To me, this is all about how we hide our anger, mistakes and ambitions inside of us, not showing who we really are to others. "Nobody's figured out my 12 fatal flaws" and "I tried returning all that stuff to the store / But then I bought more, then I bought more", etc. The person in this song knows all their flaws, their pain, their anger, their sadness, their dreams, their ambitions. They're trying to deal with it themselves, and not let the world in on the fact all these complex things are happening inside.

On the outside, he/she is trying to pretend everything is OK. And rather than tell others, thereby risking risk their anger or judgement, he/she just does what is 'socially expected'. "Caring is carting bad ideas to the dump" - they're trying to work out their bad stuff and be a better person. "Kindness is killing off my unfinished dreams" - instead of telling someone to go 'stuff it' or express what this person's true ambitions are, he/she puts on a happy face, treats others with kindness and let his/her true emotions continue to fester inside. "And walking away, just walking away", "And taking my time, taking my time" - thinking they've successfully avoided the conflict or fear of not being accepted for who he/she is.

But despite this, things do leak out in this person's persona, although others might only see the tip of the iceberg. To me that's the meaning of "Hey, this microphone was turned on all along". We think we've got others fooled into thinking we've got everything under control, that no one really knows what's going on, but we're mistaken. Our raw emotions are actually being laid bare for the world to see.

This "punchline" seems to be pulled from a series of incidents over the past few years, where politicians and/or famous people at one public event or another have been thinking they were saying something in private, not knowing their microphone was accidentally left on, leaving others in attendance in on their private remarks.


I don't know what he did wrong. But I can't shake the feeling that the narrator's crime, revealed inadvertently by a hot mike, is murdering his wife. She would be the "bad idea" he's carting off to the dump, the "unfinished dream" he's killing off.

Or not. Whatever it was, as he commits the bad deed & tries to cover it up, he justifies it to himself as the "caring" and "kind" action of a good, "selfless" public servant. He was really starting to feel good about his prospects - "busting out" to popular acclaim, buying new clothes, declaring himself done with public explanations - until oops! he realizes he's been revealing his "fatal flaws" out loud this whole time to the adoring crowd he just was speaking to. End of career! Off to jail! --Nehushtan (talk) 08:56, 18 October 2019 (EDT)

Kindness is killing.[edit]

A thought I had: When they talk about how "caring is carting bad ideas to the dump" and "Kindness is killing off my unfinished dreams" they mean the being kind and caring is "taking their time" and preventing them from doing all the bad ideas they want to try, and killing all the dreams they once had. The song is about them realizing this and "busting out" and doing something for themselves for once. They aren't "hiding their emotions inside" anymore, which is represented by the microphone. Just a thought. <{[(lansburgh)]}> (talk) 08:43, 2 January 2022 (EST)

The microphone is deliberately left on[edit]

I think that the narrator of this song is somewhat exhausted by the work it takes to maintain their character and keep their secrets. They want to let their guard down, but can't bring themself to explicitly tell anyone else that they need company, so they pretend that letting this information slip is an accident. Oh nooo, whatever will i do? Werewife (talk) 23:37, 9 January 2023 (EST)

This analysis originally written for my AP Lit class[edit]

In “This Microphone,” John Flansburgh uses rhetorical questions, ironic metonymy, and symbolism to depict sacrifice and risk as inherent to self-reinvention, presenting them as necessary for breaking out of self-destructive habits.

Flansburgh’s narrator suffers from emotional isolation, partially self-inflicted, that causes them exhaustion and distress. In the song’s first line, the narrator describes themself as “selflessly hiding all emotions inside, chilly and dry.” This establishes a contrast between the narrator's internal state and the way they outwardly present themself: no matter how the narrator is really feeling, they act with a cold, emotionless demeanor to those around them, using sarcasm (or “dry” wit) to deflect. Despite this, they see their behavior as “selfless,” suggesting that it stems from a fear of being a burden to their peers. Flansburgh portrays this contained emotional turmoil as competitive and militaristic, asking: “who’s keeping score? Who wins that war?” The self-discovery that the narrator experiences from asking these questions renders those same questions rhetorical: the war is a civil war being fought out entirely within the narrator, so any victory is also a loss. No real ground can be gained as long as the narrator’s psyche remains the only battlefield, so the narrator must stop bottling up their emotions and let down their guard. This idea is expanded on in the chorus, with the metonymical assertion that “caring is carting bad ideas to the dump/and taking my time.” The narrator recognizes that the transition to living more openly will not be an easy or fast process, and accordingly emphasizes the need for self-forgiveness and a future-facing outlook. Though they don’t promise to leave the past behind them, they aim to dwell on past mistakes for only as long as it takes to learn how to avoid those mistakes in the future. The narrator recognizes that they will continue to have self-destructive impulses, and commits to recognizing those impulses for what they are and rejecting them. Shortly after this line, Flansburgh introduces the titular phrase, singing, “hey, this microphone was turned on all along.” This acknowledges the risk of decreased paranoia—as soon as the narrator commits to living more freely, they make a careless mistake resulting in their thoughts being broadcast to a greater audience than the narrator may have been ready for. However, Flansburgh’s singing style for this line is calm and unperturbed, indicating that the microphone being on is no calamity for the narrator. It may even be a relief to share their feelings with the world after keeping them contained for so long.

Flansburgh goes on to reveal his narrator’s inner strength by admitting their likelihood of failure. The second verse opens with the narrator recounting that they “tried returning all that stuff to the store/but then I bought more,” revealing that they have previously attempted dramatic changes to their way of living, and that those attempts have failed, casting doubt on whether this upcoming change will last. However, the fact that the narrator is still trying to improve themself reveals perseverance. Though the narrator may fall back into their old self-destructive ways, they refuse to do so without a fight, and if this current attempt fails, they’ll reflect and try again. Details are added with the line “old stories told/in brand new clothes I bought today,” which ties back to the idea of succumbing to materialism, and specifies just how recent the narrator’s most recent lapse in conviction was. Additionally, stories wearing clothes are conceptually similar to ideas in a cart, both of which are examples of imagery that lend tangibility to the narrator’s mental shift. Metonymy returns when Flansburgh sings that “kindness is killing off my unfinished dreams/and walking away, just walking away,” the last line in the song that isn’t a repetition of an earlier line. Flansburgh expands on ideas that were introduced in vaguer ways earlier, making it clear that although the narrator plans to give up, this is not a sad development. Humans have a limited capacity for aspiration, and it can be necessary to let go of old dreams, and distance yourself from them, to begin working toward new dreams. Indeed, doing such a thing can be an act of self-kindness, as it drags the dreamer out of being stuck in the past.

“This Microphone” is a song about the courageous act of continuous personal growth. Flansburgh takes listeners on a journey from the narrator’s commitment to ending their self-destructive behavior, to revelations about failed past attempts to escape their worst self, to the narrator’s resolution to keep trying to break free of the deadweight of their past. We as listeners never find out whether the effort is a success: the narrator’s suffering may be something they go through many more times after the end of the song. Regardless, we can still take the song’s message to heart, and learn the lessons it offers about forgiving ourselves, opening up to others, and persevering, so that we may all feel less alone.

Privacy and Paranoia[edit]

This interpretation is largely about what it meant to me the time I heard it, and still does, and it reflects things in my personal life. Obviously biased, but still I think a valid interpretation.

The song, to me, is a about a person with privacy issues, to the point of having paranoia. He does not want his emotions to come out, and he does not want other people to know him. Really know him. So he hides his emotiones inside. This privacy goes over into paranoia, when he worries about people figuring out his flaws. He hides his emotions, so people wont be able to hurt him. He asks himself who is keeping score of them, who is onto him.

His delusions climax in him (perhaps) believing that he is being spied on through a microphone. He is also very calculated about his actions, as the line "Caring is carting bad ideas to the dump" suggests.

"Im done explaining all these wreckless displays" is the turning point of the song. He cannot do this anymore, so he gives up. The microphone was turned on, and now everyone knows who he is.

Connected to "McCaffertys Bib" and "I Like Fun"[edit]

Idk, I think the line "Nobodys figured out my 12 fatal flaws" is a reference to the line "I used to have 11 Problems but they all went away when I added one more, called McCaffertys Bib" I also believe that in the song "I Like Fun" the narrator is singing about getting a presquiptions for McCaffertys. Considering it was all in the same album. The person in this song has some, issues, to say the least. So he takes those pills.