BILL WOLFF: Welcome back to Protest Anthems, the podcast about all things music, social justice, and protest. In this episode, Emma McCormick discusses Hozier’s 2014 release “Cherry Wine”. His song’s unique take on portraying domestic abuse sparked new conversation of the unspoken factors of domestic abuse, and those who are involved in it. Hozier’s song and video puts focus on the mental reality of domestic abuse and gives audiences perspective through the lens of victims and survivors.


SOUNDBITE: compilation of 911 DVA calls over Hozier’s Cherry Wine chords

[overlapping voices] Hello 911. Ma’am, can I get your name? ¿Dónde está? Does anybody need a parametric? We’re going to be there, Okay? It’s going to be 7071. In just a minute, it should be pretty quick. 

DVA Call:

911 responder: This is 911, what’s your emergency? 

Woman: Yes I need the police department at my home right now. My husband just attacked me. He threw me to the floor and was going to smash a glass in my face. Get away from me Horace get away from me! He’s horrible. 

DVA Call: 

Woman: He’s cutting her, he’s cutting her, he’s cutting her. 

911 Responder: Wait he’s cutting her? 

Woman: With a knife. He’s stabbing her. You need to get here- Code 3- now. Oh! She’s screaming

911 Responder: She’s screaming?

Woman: She’s running. She’s screaming. Oh-oh! He’s got her by the neck. He’s got her pinned. Yes, he’s on top of her, and she’s screaming and he’s got blood all over him, from her.


MCCORMICK: In the past several years, Hozier has become a household name for many music lovers and protesters, becoming famous through his songs’ controversial subject matters, such as homosexuality, sexism, feminism, and domestic abuse. In 2014, Hozier released “Cherry Wine”, a song demonstrating the perspective of a victim of “DVA”, known as domestic violence and abuse. 

As more reporting and documentation of domestic violence and abuse continues to grow with continued research and lessening stigma, the statistics of domestic abuse and violence have grown continuously in the past two decades. Like many, Hozier was shocked by this and used his platform to create the song addressing the victim’s view of domestic violence and abuse. 

His song directly addresses the complex situation of domestic abuse and the difficulty of leaving and handling domestic violence. Cherry Wine exposes domestic abuse through the lens of DVA victims and survivors’ mentalities, going into depth about how many victims cope and deal with their abuse through certain mindsets and strategies that make the situation less traumatizing for themselves. 



 HOZIER: Hot and fast and angry as she can be / I walk my days on a wire. / It looks ugly, but it’s clean, / Oh momma, don’t fuss over me. / The way she tells me I’m hers and she is mine / Open hand or closed fist would be fine / The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine.

MCCORMICK: Despite the modern social justice movements such as Me Too and HeForShe, domestic abuse is still one of the largest issues faced around the world whether it be physically or sexually. As we speak, at least 119 countries have passed laws on domestic violence. However, these laws are not always implemented or implemented appropriately to help victims.

Even more alarming, the USA is one of the worst perpetrators among first-world countries, with an average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, adding up to over 20 million victims in a year. While Hozier’s song was released in 2014, the song perfectly encapsulates the unfortunately all too common and timeless crisis of domestic violence and abuse. 


HOZIER: I think, what do we talk about when we talk about caring for each other? That begins with acknowledging that, and standing in solidarity with them and for me that wasn’t an act of compassion. No, it was a stand for truth.

 MCCORMICK: Hozier stated that the continued issue of domestic abuse in modern societies is an outrageously large problem for countless relationships, families, and generations. In his initial statement for the release of the song, Hozier believed that the song offers an intimate insight into an abusive relationship, showing the cycle of justification that often runs in domestic abuse relationships that control the victim and shames them into submission, while the abuser has the responsibility of their violent behavior shifted away from them and excused. 

SOUNDBITE: Hozier’s interview with ET about Cherry Wine meaning (0:00-0:28)

HOZIER: The song I guess, I suppose, is a love song. But you know, it’s a song written from the perspective of somebody, I suppose, in an abusive relationship and coming to terms with that. Or I suppose not coming to terms with that, and kinda justifying it to themselves or to somebody else. So I suppose it’s about love enduring through an abusive relationship.

MCCORMICK: The impact and meaning of Cherry Wine are different from common protest and social justice songs. Rather than try to empower and uplift listeners through lyrics that encourage or condemn an issue, Hozier chooses to leave his lyrics as the story of someone in a domestic abuse relationship who doesn’t wish to and or have the strength to leave it. His dark and complicated lyrics are poetic in showing the dark underbelly of being in a domestic abuse relationship and living through the cycle of abuse. For context, the cycle of abuse is a four-stage cycle that abusive relationships circle through, involving:

 1) building tension. This is where the abuser begins to react to stressors both internal or external and prompts feelings of powerlessness, anger, paranoia, making the victim hypervigilant to placate their abuser and prevent potential set-off for abuse.

2) incident of abuse or violence. This is where any form of abuse takes place, and often the abuser blames the victim as the cause and triggers as to why they were being abused. 

3) Reconciliation. After the abuse, the abuser attempts to move past the abuse using kindness, gifts, and “love-bombing” to usher the relationship back to a “honeymoon” stage. For victims this stage of devotion and love make them feel more bonded to their abuser and believe they have their “normal” relationship back.

4) Calm. To maintain the newly created “peace”, both the abuser and victim will find some explanation or justification for the abuse. The abusive partner may gaslight, accuse outside factors or the victim for provoking it or deny and minimize the abuse entirely. Through this, the victim is often led to believe and accept their excuses, and even doubt their own experience of the abuse.


SOUNDBITE: Cherry Wine – Hozier (2:35- 3:09)

“Her fight and fury is fiery / Oh but she loves / Like sleep to the freezing / Sweet and right and merciful / I’m all but washed / In the tide of her breathing. / And it’s worth it, it’s divine / I have this some of the time.”


MCCORMICK: Hozier’s lyrics tell about this strain to recognize this cycle of abuse and its mental damage, telling a story of a male victim whose female abuser has put the relationship into the cycle of abuse, and his own mental dealing with the fluctuating behavior. In only two lines, we are privy to the common mental mantra that many victims believe- “And it’s worth it, it’s divine / I have this some of the time.”- the good outweighs the bad, and the abuser gaslighting is their believed reality.

This mindset of coping and rationalization that victims go through to justify or deal with the trauma of abuse and gaslighting is perfectly captured in Hozier’s 2016 music video release with Saoirse Ronan. Ronan plays a domestic abuse victim that spends the majority of the video appearing happily in love with her partner, surrounded by little details of their happy relationship. Interchangeably edited with scenes of Ronan looking sadly into her mirror, she begins to wipe makeup from her eye, revealing a dark blotchy bruise.  The video ends with Ronan and her partner lovingly embracing each other as she puts on a smile. Despite the abuse she’s received she will forgive him and stay with him, even despite the dark situations he puts her in. 

The music video pulls away from the rose-colored lens from Hozier’s composition, exposing the ugly story behind the poetic lyrics. Viewers like us can’t stop thinking of the stark bruise on her face, despite it being surrounded by gentle and loving moments, achieving the visual portrayal of the cycle of abuse. Hozier perfectly portrays the perspective of a victim who is in the mindset of coping and emotional turmoil, with the video focusing not on the brief but intense moments of abuse, but rather the “good” times that surround them. 


HOZIER: But for me, I think that music is political no matter what. I think the hope for it is that it would credit a spirit of resistance and defiance against difficult times, and drawing from a legacy of people who have had their own difficult times.


MCCORMICK: This isn’t to say that victims are blindly in love or all-forgiving to their abusers, but for many, it’s the constant effort to placate and remain passive to avoid further abuse. The trauma stemmed from abuse and violence often renders victims into developing different coping strategies in an attempt to form physical and mental protection. Coping varies in numerous different strategies, ranging from safety planning, formal help, placating, resistance, informal aid, and legal aid, with some being much more commonly used and effective in avoiding further abuse. Unfortunately, the most common coping strategy is through placating and safety planning, both of which are the most immediate and passive mentalities a survivor can use.

Hozier- Album Track by Track (0:34- 1:10)

 HOZIER: To me it’s about- again it’s open to interpretation- the sentiment behind that song was also captured in the song that Carol King wrote called “He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss” and that’s what Cherry Wine is about.

Hozier also is able to convey this dark topic in an extremely profound way through his musical composition and playing upon genre ideals of the audience’s interpretation. The genre of the song plays into context to the song, being an indie-folk song using simple acoustic guitar, Hozier’s deep voice, and the background of birds chirping, making the song tender and gentle to the ears and mind upon surface listening. 


[Hozier’s Cherry Wine Guitar riff with birds chirping in the background]


MCCORMICK: However, just like the circle of abuse and justification that victims of abusive relationships experience, Hozier leads his audiences through the same senses and false safety that is offered within the composition. His harsh and dark lyrics that attack listeners are immediately lulled into a calming, subduing state through its gentle recording. With this, the true meaning, just like the abuse, is sugar-coated amongst the audience assumptions of the music and genre Hozier caters to. 

Hozier’s song brought unspoken topics of how domestic abuse truly is behind closed doors, and the sheer extent of mental manipulation, coping, and damage victims undertake in an effort to survive and placate their abuser. Cherry Wine is a vital step in the fight against domestic violence and abuse. With Hozier’s proceeds from the downloads of his 2016 video was given to multiple different domestic abuse charities and safe-houses, he beyond just raising awareness, but actually contributing to help the issue.  


If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse or violence, please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). For more resources on seeking support, aid, or getting involved, check out the National Domestic Abuse Hotline site