I'm waking up to ash and dust
Whether you want to take this line as an actual description of the world or just a metaphor is up to you. The first way to take it is that the narrator is literally describing the end of the world. This song came out roughly 2 months before December 21, 2012, where a lot of people were predicting the literal end of the world. And a little while after that came the recent North Korean nuclear threats. Both these events give some credibility to the idea that this line means exactly what it sounds like: the end of the civilized world.
But it seems more like the depressing landscape isn’t a prediction of what is going to happen- it is a description of what is going on right now. Sure, it isn’t like the whole world is literally a wasteland, but there are countless political and economic issues destroying the world we live in. That is the way the narrator feels when he wakes up and looks at the world everyday.
Comments from the writer of the song Dan Reynolds steer the meaning away from an actual post-apocalyptic world, but the song can mean to you whatever you want.
“A lot of people probably see a post-apocalyptic world when they hear ‘Radioactive,’ understandably, but we wanted to deliver something that was maybe a little different from that … a lot different from that.”
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