Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn't Know Had a Dark Meaning
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
Script written by Oliver Skinner
These pop songs had dark meaning behind them we bet you were oblivious to! “Lights” by Ellie Goulding was a huge hit, but while it could be interpreted simply as a story about facing your inner demons, Ellie actually drew upon memories of her deep-seated childhood fear, sleeping with the lights off, to compose the airy electropop single. How about chandelier? The 'chandelier' Sia actually happens to be singing about swinging from is a metaphor for her treacherous battle with alcoholism.
Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn’t Know Had a Dark Meaning
We think we completely understand the message behind our favourite songs, until we learn the songwriters had something quite different in mind. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn’t Know Had a Dark Meaning.
For this list, we’ll be looking at otherwise fun and upbeat popular songs that are hiding a darker theme, story, or message.
#10: “Lights” (2011)
After dropping out of university and signing with Polydor Records to pursue a music career, Goulding first broke real ground with her smash hit “Lights.” And while it could be interpreted simply as a story about facing your inner demons, Ellie actually drew upon memories of her biggest childhood fear, sleeping with the lights off, to compose the airy electropop single. In fact, the British chanteuse verified her lyrics’ origins in a radio interview in LA, admitting that the anxiety that sets in while immersed in darkness still pervades to this very day, unless she is sleeping with someone else.
#9: “Can’t Feel My Face” (2015)
Who would have guessed that the track that reigned the radio waves all summer 2015 was secretly about… cocaine? It should hardly surprise us that Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, would pen an infectious love song as an ode to drugs instead of a woman. Although casual listeners likely assumed the R&B crooner was so overjoyed about his romantic feelings that he couldn’t suppress a smile, the shady truth is that the MJ-influenced club banger is describing the numbing effects of cocaine. Just putting it out there, you might be finding love in all the wrong place, Abel.
#8: “Turning Japanese” (1980)
Although once falsely reported to be a naughty British euphemism for masturbation, The Vapors’ have stepped forward to set the record straight. “Turning Japanese” has nothing to do with people of Japan … or self-pleasure. So, what sort of metamorphosis were the short-lived new wave group going on about? In reality, the transformation they sung about was simply about changes, and becoming something unexpected. That’s all. Not a terribly dark theme, but one that expresses how adolescence and formative teenage years bring about all kinds of changes, often leaving you feel like a totally different person.
#7: “If U Seek Amy” (2009)
You can always count on Britney to start a scandal, and “If U Seek Amy” is no exception. Throughout the song, the racy lyrics seem to spell out a single desire to: “if you seek Amy” - say it slowly, and you’ll hear a sexual innuendo that has drawn comparisons to the profane wordplay of Shakespeare. However, other have noted that the song is not about looking for a woman named Amy, or sex, but about how the public perceives Spears’ life. The thinly veiled sexual message did get the Parents Television Council up in arms though, with the PTC threatening that indecency complaints would be launched against any radio station that gave the song daytime airplay.
#6: “The A Team” (2011)
Ed Sheeran is known for imbuing his music with a lot of personal significance, and in the case of “The A Team”, his own experiences with being homeless. Sheeran has been open about surfing from couch to couch while he supported himself by playing gigs, so when his career started to pick up steam, he performed a show at a homeless shelter. While the title of the song is about a prostitute addicted to a “Class A” illegal substance, the subject matter is about a girl he met at the gig named Angel (thereby given us the “Angels to fly” lyric). He produced the song in general to raise awareness about those struggling to get by on the street.
#5: “Some Nights” (2012)
Although you may assume fun. is all about having a good time, the indie pop band’s road to stardom was marred with potholes, and they weren’t certain if proceeding with music was the right thing to do. “Some Nights” touches on fun.’s creeping feelings of doubt and regret after making it big in the music industry, far away from the band’s homes and families. Of course, many celebrities are plagued by these same conflicts once they realize their dreams aren’t necessarily all they were built up to be, but fewer artists have the courage to express it in their work.
#4: “Hey Ya!” (2003)
One of the biggest songs of all of the 2000s, “Hey Ya!” had everyone shaking it like a Polaroid picture, but how many were truly privy to what they were getting down to? If you listen closely to the verses, André 3000 is lamenting the impermanence of relationships and expressing an anxiety that they’re ultimately futile because all love, like all things, eventually comes to an end. Hey yeah, that’s … pretty depressing. This iconic track might emit a zen acceptance of our fates, but it isn’t nearly as cheery as we once thought.
#3: “Pumped Up Kicks” (2010)
Foster the People
After being moved by statistics charting the increase of cases of mental illness recognized in teenagers, lyricist Mark Foster wanted to delve inside the head of an isolated youth who goes on a shooting rampage through his school. With an up-tempo, indie rock flare, it's easy to sing along to, but just listen to the lyrics and the tune becomes startlingly dark. Although its aim was to shed a light on gun violence and mental illness, certain radio stations decided to pull the song from air once they learned of its painful context.
#2: “Like a Virgin” (1984)
The essence of this one must be easy to pin down, right? An adolescent Madonna is crooning about the thrill of growing up, finding true love and being touched for the very first time. However, songwriter Billy Steinberg claims he initially wrote the Madonna single as a heartache-tinged ballad following a harsh breakup. It left him feeling emotionally battered, and “Like a Virgin” was his way of working through personal hardship. It was only upon resurfacing from that relationship that a new partner came along to help him feel "shiny and new," and thus the song was able to adapt an optimistic tempo and flourish into the career-making track it was for the rising starlet.
#1: “Chandelier” (2014)
Famously mistaken for a party anthem due to its “1, 2, 3 drink refrain,” the ‘chandelier’ Sia actually happens to be singing about swinging from is a metaphor for her treacherous battle with alcoholism. The release of the single was our first re-introduction to Sia after she donned the blonde and black wig and eschewed the celebrity spotlight. She admits the track has dark undertones, but turning her addiction into art is exactly what gave it such an everlasting effect. “Party girls don’t get hurt,” goes the opening line, and when she says it like that, it’s impossible not to believe her.
Do you agree with our list? What other pop songs didn’t you know had a dark meaning? For more revealing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.