• Natalie Imbruglia in the "Torn" video. (RCA)
20 years after its release, Nick Bhasin comes face to face with the lyrics of the '90s smash hit for the first time.
By
Nick Bhasin

1 May 2018 - 9:37 AM  UPDATED 2 May 2018 - 8:58 AM

I was only 21 when Natalie Imbruglia unleashed the enormous hit song “Torn” on the world.

It was 1997 and I was a lad just out of uni, looking to make my way in New York City (maybe you’ve heard of it). So I never fully appreciated how the smash hit propelled Imbruglia’s album Left of the Middle to double platinum in less than a year, or paid attention to its ARIA wins and Grammy nominations, and the fact that it would become one of the most popular songs in Australian history in terms of sales and radio plays.

The song turned Imbruglia, whose ancestry is the subject of this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, into a megastar — and the original writers Anne Preven and Scott Culter are still making money from it.

And I certainly never gave the song’s lyrics the serious, academic reading they deserved. I surmised from the title that it was a song about being torn about something. That much was clear.

But torn about what?

And over whom?

Looking back, perhaps I was afraid — or possibly just unprepared for the kind of emotional earthquake the song’s words could induce.

But it’s 20 years later. There have been 35 Fast and/or Furious movies. And Donald Trump is the president of the United States. If I’m not ready to wrangle the untamed realness of the “Torn” lyrics now, I’ll never be.

And it brings no small comfort to know that we’ll be making this impassioned journey together…

 

I thought I saw a man brought to life

Well, we’re off to a great start. Very promising and life-affirming. And possibly about Jesus. Or Superman in Justice League.

He was warm, he came around and he was dignified

OK, it seems less likely that we’re talking about Jesus. But whoever it is, he sounds great.

He showed me what it was to cry

I’m not sure a lot of crying is the sign of a great relationship, but 1997 was a different time.

Well, you couldn't be that man I adored

Things just took a turn. We’re switching from the third to the second person and I’m feeling a little bit like the song is talking about me all of a sudden and I’m wondering what I’ve done.

You don't seem to know, seem to care what your heart is for

Now, hang on. Even in 1997, I knew what my heart was for. It pumped blood to the rest of my body. Wait, you mean metaphorically, don’t you?

Listen, I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. Can we start over?

But I don't know him anymore

Phew. Back to the third person. It’s definitely not about me. It’s about some other guy. That is a relief.

There's nothing where he used to lie

Listen, I don’t want to mansplain how to get through a breakup, but… a throw pillow or two can make an empty bed or couch feel very cosy.

The conversation has run dry
That's what's going on

Very evocative. The silence at the end of a relationship. We’ve all been there. When there’s nothing left to say but “it’s over”. I think we can all rest assured that the right choice has been made here. Everything’s going to be fine...

Nothing's fine, I'm torn

Oh no...

I'm all out of faith

So it IS about Jesus!

This is how I feel
I'm cold and I am shamed

Feeling ashamed is a completely normal reaction to a bad breakup. But why is she so cold?

Lying naked on the floor

I see...

Illusion never changed
Into something real

The lesson here is to never begin a relationship with an illusion. That’s why I don’t date magicians. Anymore.

I'm wide awake and I can see

Look, tomorrow is another day. The sky will be perfect and...

The perfect sky is torn

Oh God…

You're a little late, I'm already torn

I’m so sorry. No one told me what time to get here. Have you talked to anyone about these feelings?

So I guess the fortune teller's right

I’m not an expert on the supernatural, but I’m not sure seeing a fortune teller was the best move…

Should have seen just what was there
And not some holy light
It crawled beneath my veins

Some very serious self-blame happening here, despite the fact that this “fortune teller” was very likely a charlatan. A flimflam artist.

And now I don't care, I had no luck
I don't miss it all that much
There's just so many things
That I can touch, I'm torn

I’m getting whiplash from all these hairpin emotional turns. Also? The best thing to do when you break up with someone is to completely destroy every reminder of that person. Slash and burn!

I'm all out of faith
This is how I feel

I'm cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor

Still?!

Illusion never changed
Into something real

Look, I feel like we’ve covered this and should probably table this issue for now. Let's put a pin in it. That said, I understand the need for emphasis.

I'm wide awake and I can see
The perfect sky is torn
You're a little late, I'm already torn

I promise I got here as soon as I could! Oh God, I feel terrible…

There's nothing where he used to lie
My inspiration has run dry

OK. So what’s going on?

That's what's going on

Got it. I want to say sorry. Is it right to be sorry?

Nothing's right, I'm torn
I'm all out of faith

Let’s talk to a holy person of some kind. There are lots of options out there!

This is how I feel
I'm cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor

I hope there was carpet on that floor…

Illusion never changed
Into something real
I'm wide awake and I can see
The perfect sky is torn

OK, at this point I’d say that this woman clearly needs to be heard — but I think a little action might also be necessary. Can we find this jerk? I mean, who knows what kind of emotional havoc he’s wrought over the last 20 years.

I'm all out of faith
This is how I feel
I'm cold and I am shamed

YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS ALONE! LET’S ALL LIE NAKED ON THE FLOOR!

Bound and broken on the floor

Whoops. Looks like I jumped the gun with the nudity. Where’s my Snuggie?

You're a little late, I'm already torn...

This just went from bad to worse, didn’t it? Well, I can confidently say: Message received. Breaking up is incredibly hard. The pain... the indignity... the lying naked on the floor totally Snuggie-less.

But is there maybe a glimmer of hope? Twenty years is a long time to wait for utter desolation and despair. Please… please tell me things can turn around…

Torn

I guess not.

Follow Nick on Twitter.

Watch Natalie Imbruglia's Who Do You Think You Are? episode at SBS On Demand:

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