On first listen, someone might mistake Keo & Them’s single, ’Fire,’ for a love song. 

It is not a love song.

The protagonist in the song is tired: Tired of being used; tired of protecting someone who doesn’t respect her or her boundaries; tired of telling herself she doesn’t know why she is hurting; tired of hoping he might treat her better if he could only learn how. 

The song is inspired by Keo’s own experience. During the pandemic, she found herself in a secret relationship. While the formalities of the relationship may have been ambiguous, Keo’s personal boundaries were explicitly clear from the start. As someone with a history of sexual abuse, she did not mince words when it came to communicating these physical boundaries. He acknowledged them and agreed to them at first, but it wasn’t long before Keo was pushed past a place of consent. For a full year, she was trapped in the confusing haze of manipulation and gaslighting about the continued non-consensual acts being perpetrated against her. Finally, he left, ending the abuse, but leaving her with the task of dealing with the trauma still left in his wake. 

The song is a glimpse into her emotional journey through that time. It speaks to her exhaustion, her struggle to continue on in general, her confusion, and the manipulation that keeps leading her to protect the man putting her through this again and again. 

Keo started writing ‘Fire’ in the midst of the relationship, trying to make sense of the turmoil she was feeling, but it wasn’t until after the relationship had ended that she had the clarity of hindsight to help her finish it. The song was initially released in 2022, until it got pulled from streaming services. Though the song’s lyrics are not explicit in their meaning, and though his name has never been publicly tied to the story behind it, the man involved tried to stop the song from being heard. Due to distribution protocol with concerns raised, even without cause or investigation, the song was wrongly removed from streaming services. Now, after fighting for the right to have her story and song heard, Keo’s single, ‘Fire,’ is finally being re-released.

The first verse shows the protagonist being told repeatedly to calm down when she would react to triggering actions to which she did not consent. It portrays gaslighting tactics, repeatedly making her question reality when she challenges the abusive dynamics, making her more confused and susceptible to the cycle. The verse is intentionally brief, driving the point home: Everything she needed to say has already been said before.

The second verse is what the protagonist always hopes her partner would say. It’s the apology she knows she deserves, but the one she never gets.

The last lines, “Keep hope, and keep holding me,” are the crux of the story. Her optimism keeps our protagonist trapped in the abuse — the hope the man will change, that he could be better, that this abusive relationship could still somehow become redemptive love. She hopes that he may change –and that his love, when he gives it, might still change her. She doesn’t see then that she’s hoping that he would heal the very wounds he created. 


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