NPR

What Does 'Born In The U.S.A.' Really Mean?

It's not enough to say the Bruce Springsteen hit is misunderstood. Its contrasts — between grim verses and a joyous chorus, damning facts and fierce pride — are what give it its anthemic power.
Bruce Springsteen onstage during the Born in the U.S.A. Tour in 1984. Source: Shinko Music

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


If you're listening closely, the lyrics of "Born in the U.S.A." make its subject pretty clear: The 1984 hit by Bruce Springsteen describes a Vietnam veteran who returns home to desperate circumstances and few options. Listen only to its surging refrain, though, and you could mistake it for an uncomplicated celebration of patriotism. You wouldn't be the only one.

NPR's American Anthem series is about songs Americans embrace in ways that reveal who we are — and of them, "Born in the U.S.A." may hold the title for the most, it took time for Springsteen himself to figure out just what the song was meant to say.

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