Can you hear them
They talk about us
Well, that's no surprise
The lyrics contain no explicit reference to gender, so "they" could be anyone from bitchy cheerleaders to philandering middle managers. The opening lines throw out a line of understanding between rocker and listener: I know what you're dealing with. The third person point of view bolsters this connection, asking the listener directly:
Can you see them
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal
Almost immediately, the lyrics swerve from Mom's standard advice to ignore gossip, instead encouraging you to look at them so hard they become insubstantial. They not only have no secrets--presumably this is why they talk about us, so they don't have to face the reality that their lives are so vapid in comparison to the people they gossip about--they also have no defense for this hyper-awareness that disintegrates rumor and lie.
We'll come back to the chorus in a moment.
There's a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
This zen-like advice could have come from Ghandi. At first listen, it sounds like we're going to stoically suffer the slings and arrows, but notice how silence is a weapon, not a wall or a shelter. This echos the previous sentiment that they have no shield, their verbosity makes them vulnerable while our silence fortifies us. The lyrics command us, we must use this weapon.
When you look at them
Look right through them
That's when they'll disappear
That's when we'll be feared
Yeah, baby! We've vaporized those slanderous hussies with our x-ray eyes, and everyone else will cower before us in fear that they might be next to feel the power of our indomitable gaze!
Maybe the intent isn't quite so dramatic, but it sure feels that way.
It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed
Give no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
I used to think that the chorus was the point where "Our Lips Are Sealed" falls down; I mean, after the empowering stanza about annihilating our enemies with a cold stare, this motherly platitude seems so banal. Recently, however, I've considered a different angle on the sealed lips idea. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of the double (possibly triple) entendre in those sealed lips. Are we silent because we're taking the high road, or can we not talk because we're too busy snogging?
Why else are they so jealous?
In a distinct departure lyrically and vocally, the final verse takes a transcendent turn, evoking both celestial bliss and childlike innocence in it's nursery-rhyme rhythm.
Hush, my darling
Don't you cry
Forget their lies
Despite its simplicity, "Our Lips Are Sealed" bears repeat listening (which could explain why the track on the album I found in the Goodwill was nearly unplayable), and rewards us with more than just a top-ten pop single. The concepts of equanimity, passive resistance, and transcendence all run counter to the stereotypical perceptions of everything 80s with it's "greed is good" ethos, but the song's art of silent devastation did presage the spate of American Ninja movies that packed the cinemas through the end of the decade.
Perhaps connecting "Our Lips Are Sealed" to ninja cinema is a tad flippant, but it is true that the Go-Go's entered the slick new decade after shedding the rough skin of the late 70s, and I believe their lyrical optimism reflected the cultural zeitgeist of the United States summer of 1981 when Ronald Reagan survived an assassin's bullet, the shuttle launch returned us to space, and the first DeLoreans rolled off the assembly line (in four years Doc Brown would turn one into a time machine!).