What Is the Meaning Behind the “Hallelujah” Song?

“Hallelujah” was originally written and performed by Leonard Cohen, who wrote the song in response to his previous commercial and critical failures. Though the song features many allusions to the Bible and the word “hallelujah” itself means “to praise joyously,” the word, in context, is used ironically.

“Hallelujah” was first released in 1984 as part of Cohen’s album “Various Pleasures.” Cohen wrote over 80 verses to the song before eventually trimming the lyrics down to the four verses heard in the final version. The song contains numerous allusions to Biblical figures, such as King David, and juxtaposes religious sentiment with dry, ironic humor. The song has been described as being about the frustration of songwriting itself and Cohen’s personal frustration with the commercial failure of his previous records, despite critical acclaim.

The song remained relatively obscure until a cover version by Jeff Buckley, released posthumously, became a smash success. Since then, “Hallelujah” has frequently been used in movies and TV shows, such as “Shrek” and “The West Wing,” and it is often played at private gatherings, such as weddings and funerals. Other artists who have covered the song include John Cale, Amanda Palmer, Willie Nelson and Bono. “Hallelujah” has become one of the most covered songs in the world, though different artists often perform the song with less cynicism than Cohen.