Another Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn't Know Had A Dark Meaning
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
We found even MORE pop songs that you probably didn't know have a dark meaning! Tunes like "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind might be easy to hum along to, but listen a little closer and it's a whole other experience. For this list, we're looking at pop songs that, when you dissect the lyrics or learn the backstory behind them, become much darker than the music and melody would lead you to believe. We won't be including songs that most people already know are subtly dark though - like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, which basically feels like a stalker's anthem. Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for Another Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn't Know Had a Dark Meaning!
Another Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn't Know Had A Dark Meaning
These tunes might be easy to hum along to, but listen a little closer and it’s a whole other experience. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for Another Top 10 Pop Songs You Didn't Know Had a Dark Meaning.
For this list, we're looking at pop songs that, when you dissect the lyrics or learn the backstory behind them, become much darker than the music and melody would lead you to believe. We won’t be including songs that most people already know are subtly dark though - like the “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, which basically feels like a stalker’s anthem.
#10: “Waterfalls” (1994)
In the early to mid-1990s, this girl group dropped hit after another, each one catchier than the last. Released from their CrazySexyCool album, “Waterfalls” is an easy listening, mid-tempo R&B jam with a hook that most of the world can sing along to: “don’t go chasing waterfalls”. Based on that line alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this song was a simple warning against the pursuit of lofty ambitions. Review the lyrics of the verses however, and things get significantly more specific and way more dark, tackling issues like death from HIV, the incarceration of the youth, and drug addiction.
#9: “Poker Face” (2008)
Everyone knows what a poker face is. It’s a blank expression that hides one’s true emotions. The title of one of Gaga’s earliest hits and a single taken from her debut album, “The Fame”, “Poker Face” seems like a simple song about maintaining appearances in public at first glance, especially when maintaining a persona in social situations. As Gaga later explained however, there was far more to her poker face than that. The song is actually about her experience hiding her bisexuality in relationships with men, or more specifically, hiding the fact that she’s thinking of a woman while having sex with a man.
#8: “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (1962)
Recorded by Various Artists, Written by Noel Regney & Gloria Shayne
Yes… this song totally works as a Christmas tune, and in that guise it has gone on to sell millions upon millions of copies and be covered and reinterpreted by countless artists. Most people know the lyrics and can sing along, but far too few realize that the song was actually rooted in feelings of dread, foreboding and desperation. Songwriters Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker - who were married then - were inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis to pen this appeal for peace. At the time of writing, they were apparently so emotional about the conflict – and the potential for nuclear war – that they couldn’t perform the song themselves start to finish without breaking down.
#7: “Steal My Sunshine” (1999)
In 1999, Len gave us this absurdly upbeat, easy listening, feel good tune, which would go on to become a key track in the soundtrack to that summer. The infectious melody makes it the sort of song that’s almost impossible not to bob your head along to, but the song’s sunny sound masks rather dark themes. When you take a closer look at the lyrics and really dissect them, it becomes clear that the song is actually about depression, self-destructive tendencies, and social isolation. With that in mind, “Steal My Sunshine” might be an even more perfect pick me up song for a gloomy day.
#6: “MMMBop” (1997)
Hanson's best known chorus might have been total nonsense, but that didn’t stop a generation of young boys and girls from rushing out to buy the CD and commit it to memory. In between “MMMbops” and “ba duba dops” however, things got a bit more serious. It seems that these young men were remarkably jaded and fatalistic about relationships – especially considering they were just 16, 14 and 11 at the time. The lyrics warn listeners that they’ll soon be old and that most relationships are fleeting. Yikes… lighten up, boys!
#5: “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984)
This Jersey-based singer-songwriter might be considered an American treasure, but he’s not afraid to stir the pot, fight the system or go against conservative values. The title track to Springsteen’s 1984 album, “Born in the USA” has often historically been embraced and appropriated by the masses as a mindlessly patriotic, flag-waving pro-America song. But here’s the thing… the song's lyrics are actually a scathing critique of the Vietnam War and the American people who mistreated and forgot the vets when they returned home. If anything, the song takes a certain type of self-proclaimed patriot to task for their hypocrisy.
#4: “Semi-Charmed Life” (1997)
Third Eye Blind
While Hanson was busy being gloomy, another bit of dark pop was making waves. Also in 1997, Third Eye Blind gave us “doo-doo-doo-doos” and rather than fixate on the impermanence of all things, the San Francisco rockers offered up a song not about love, but about drug dependence and a relationship between a man and a woman he supplies drugs to. The happy tone leads the average listener to overlook the real story, but it’s all right there in the lyrics, with lines like: “She comes 'round and she goes down” and “doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break”.
#3: “Slide” (1998)
Goo Goo Dolls
This late ‘90s hit definitely has a mildly melancholic vibe to it, but the driving nature of the music keeps the whole thing feeling more motivational and inspirational than overtly depressing. However, it’s more than just a love story about two wayward souls finding each other and trying to make it work in this crazy world. As frontman Johnny Rzeznik explained to “VH1 Storytellers”, it’s about a troubled couple trying to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, and debating whether they should get married, break up or go through with an abortion. Talk about heavy subject matter.
#2: “Paper Planes” (2008)
It's the song that made British rapper M.I.A. a major player in the music industry and a household name. Sampling “Straight to Hell” by the Clash, “Paper Planes” is absurdly catchy, and has a great groove to it; it’s the sort of track that you want to crank up and just drive to. And with lyrics like “everyone’s a winner”, “swagger like us” and that super badass gunshot chorus, it’s sure to leave you feeling pumped up, if not downright uplifted. Here’s the thing though… the song is actually an ironic, subversive response to how foreign immigrants are treated, viewed and portrayed by the media.
#1: “Brown Sugar” (1971)
The Rolling Stones
It's too bad about the lyrics, because musically the Stones are in top form. Mick Jagger once described “Brown Sugar” as being a “mishmash” of “nasty subjects in one go.” He might see it as an ambiguous mixed bag, but when you review the lyrics, it’s pretty clearly about the rape of black slaves, and for extra measure, it also disgustingly fetishizes that experience. We’ve discussed many songs with dark meaning, but “Brown Sugar” is the sort of song that probably never should have been written – at least not with this sort of sexuality to it.