OK, I'm changing this question a little bit since I've discovered a problem with the root of the question assuming the lyrics in the song are "feathers on my breath". Apparently this is a big debate and a lot of people think the lyrics are "fearless on my breath". So which is it, feathers or fearless?

Here are links to the song and the lyrics.

I should note that I've listened to all the covers of this song listed on Wikipedia and three of them use "fearless" and two use "feathers", also one of the ones that uses "fearless" messes up the line "love is a doing word" as "love is a dying word".

As a note, I'm of the opinion that the lyrics are "feathers on my breath" and that the pronunciation is simply strange enough to sound like "fearless". I'm not interested in speculative answers, I need a scan of a lyrics insert or an official source or statement from someone.

  • 2
    For what it's worth, there's a live performance video on YouTube and it definitely looks like Liz is saying "fearless" rather than "feathers". To put it in context though, this is the first time I've ever had any idea whatsoever of what lyrics she is singing. I'm not a huge fan of the Cocteaus but it's always really been a case of accepting the beauty of what she does rather than try to understand the words.
    – Lefty
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 23:47
  • I think listening to the 2006 remaster help prove it is fearless. youtu.be/Kcd-yceje38 Commented May 24, 2019 at 0:19
  • This fan site massiveattack.ie/info/teardrop has it as "feathers". It seems more well-researched than the average lyric spam out there.
    – Amarth
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 19:38
  • That site also claims that the final lyrics are: “You’re stumbling a little… You’re stumbling a little…” Commented May 3 at 1:23

11 Answers 11


I am answering this myself because someone made a really good point as I was discussing it today at work.

A: The word is "feathers"

  • The rest of the lyrics are full of physical, natural metaphors, feathers on my breath for example is a much more natural analogue to teardrop on the fire, water is my eye, black flowers blossom
  • Fearless is an adjective in this context, and the chorus "teardrop on the fire, feathers on my breath" matches the same grammatical structure -- noun on my noun, noun on my noun. This seems like a deliberate, poetic choice.

My only addition would be to point out that the singer uses strange pronunciations of words through the song. The best example to my point being her pronunciation of "breath" as "brayth", yet when she says "feathers" it sounds like "fearless" just as an English speaker would expect "fearless" to be pronounced. I believe she is saying feathers with her iconic strange accent and pronouncing it, "fee-aythers".

  • It also seems to fit with Gentle impulsion / Shakes me, makes me lighter
    – user16
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 23:58
  • See the sheet music for Teardrop which has the full lyrics. You can preview all 6 pages of the sheet music, and the lyric is "fearless".
    – Nate Bundy
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 12:45
  • 5
    @NateBundy do we know that the songwriter has ratified that version though?
    – user16
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 10:27
  • Yea it doesn't sound like feathers at all, the pronunciation feathers is not there at all. Before I looked at the lyrics anywhere I always thought she said fear of sunlight lol
    – Huangism
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 20:32
  • Another example of the unusual pronunciation is in "black flower blossom" where "blossom" sounds like "blew-our-summer"
    – rovyko
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 18:02

Online lyric websites often get it wrong, I've seen it plenty of times, and most of them even just copy each other, because so often I see the same misquoted lyrics on multiple sites. But is it wrong in this case?

If this sheet music of the original Massive Attack version is correct, then it is "fearless" and Jose Gonzalez (et. al.) either changed it or got it wrong.

enter image description here

This is the first page of the sheet music which you can buy from here.

I have read elsewhere that it might even be "fearless" in some parts and "feathers" in others. If someone wants to pay for the sheet music and post more of what they find we might finally know the official answer once and for all.

  • 1
    I think it's quite likely that someone at the publishers has to transcribe the lyrics by listening to the recording, which means their version is probably as good or bad as anyone else's.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 21:14

The answer is "fearless". She is describing the concept of love as a verb in the line before that should be expressed with a sense of complete freedom from fear i.e. to be said such that it is "fearless on my breath".

This is in keeping with the theme of the video showing a fetus - the most vivid representation of human vulnerability - singing these very words to us as a reminder to enter the world without fear.

The effect is at once humbling and awe-inspiring. Great songwriting there.


Definitely "fearless" because the song is about how love is a verb and a doing word. Feathers are not an action. Therefore fearless is the way to go. I've never seen feathers anywhere, I know Elizabeth Frasier does that thing with words where you're not 100% sure what she's singing, but I'm pretty sure that album had lyrics in the original liner ave I'm also almost positive it's fearless. You did give me something to ponder though, thanks!

  • "Fearless" is also not an action, so this line of reasoning does not help us distinguish between "feathers" and "fearless."
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 0:40

Whoever said the original insert had the feather lyrics is incorrect. The original insert (which I have literally just checked in my own cd collection) does not have the lyrics, perhaps the 12" version may have, yet also doubtful as it's not really Massive Attack's style, they're more bothered with artwork (well Robert IS Banksy after all)....so, hard to absolutely definitively ascertain without confirmation from the songwriter/lyricist, however, I've always considered it to be fearless, sheet music has shown that to be the line for decades and it seems only in recent times (post-house) that people seem to have got stuck on feathers and the net has propagated this (aided by an incorrect subtitle in house). Personally, I cant mangle feathers in my ear enough to fit the lyric, no matter how hard I try, whereas there is a very clear l sound in the middle of the world which fits fearless.



I found an actual album liner that was scanned.

Snip: enter image description here

From this specific release:

enter image description here


The lyrics are: feathers on my breath. A tear drop on the fire. Get it? Since a feather is as light as breath. And a tear drop couldnt do anything to extinguish a fire. Metaphors. And I believe the end is..."your stumbling into oz.".


There's a live performance on YouTube titled "Massive Attack - Teardrop with Liz Fraser" from MTV.

At around the 1:20 mark, you can lip read it. Personally, (with the audio off), I'm not seeing her tounge come up to her teeth at Feathers, so I'm going with Fearless.

edit: Also, at the 3 minute mark, you can compare the visuals on her saying fearless compared with breath. Only breath has the tongue between the teeth.


EDIT: After giving it another listen with higher quality headphones, I'm more inclined so say it's "feathers" and defer to the evidence in sanpaco's answer

I wouldn't try to decipher the poetic meaning or structure behind the line as you can easily form a case for either fearless or feathers.

It's also very likely that there is no meaning to the words at all, or the pronunciation is intentionally vague. In this interview, Liz Fraser describes her writing process as one where the words don't have any real meaning beyond adding vocals to the music.

The pronunciation may also be attributed to the singer's accent. Fraser is from Grangemouth, Scotland which is is just 60km East of Glasgow. I'm not an expert on Scottish accents, but it might be feasible to compare the word in the song to the word in a Glasgow accent. A semi-popular example is the Feathers and Steel sketch from Limmy's Show. The word feathers is pronounced with a short eh sound rather than the long ee heard in the song.

So I'm learning towards it being either fearless or left ambiguous by the singer.~~

  • 1
    Why would you not decipher poetic meaning? It is after all a poem... Your answer doesn't really offer a compelling counter argument in my opinion.
    – sanpaco
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 9:19
  • Because the one who wrote the song said the words don't have meaning. So we rely on dialect and pronunciation cues instead. You're free to interpret the song however you want but it won't lead to an objective anser.
    – rovyko
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 5:31

Please check the official music video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7K72X4eo_s See between 1:19 and 1:21. It is undoubtedly clear to me that it is dipicting "feathers", floating aroud, on the unborn child's breath in the womb.

enter image description here


Update 07/03/2022 We also have this live version: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4pi19. I think "feathers" is more profound here. I think Elizabeth Fraser is pronouncing feathers like "fee" "heh" "thers". Yes in the album version, the "thers" sounds like "less" or "lers".

Update 04/03/2022 I've still not found the phantom insert. I just did a quick Google and the default result presents this (hope this is allowed): enter image description here Interestingly it also states the other disputed lyric: "you're stumbling in the dark". I know this still doesn't answer the question definitively.

It is 'feathers on my breath'. I got the original CD which included an insert with the lyrics for teardrop.

  • 5
    Can you share a photo or something of the insert?
    – sanpaco
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 19:11
  • I will post back in due time as I have a vague idea of where the CD may be. The CD was bought around 2001-2002, but I remember reading the lyrics in the booklet/insert.
    – dave88
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 8:25
  • I've still not located this. Happy for the negative - it was such as long time ago. The CD was like the normal Mezzanine album, but remember lyrics in the booklet - they weren't the full lyrics to the songs, just a part of them.
    – dave88
    Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 11:45
  • Again, I stick with what I commented on the original question: "I think listening to the 2006 remaster help prove it is fearless. youtu.be/Kcd-yceje38". 1m8s Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 4:14
  • @UnhandledExcepSean In this version dailymotion.com/video/x4pi19 I'm certain it's because Elizabeth Fraser is pronouncing feathers like "fee" "heh" "thers".
    – dave88
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 12:45

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