As light and catchy as some of the most popular songs are, we often gloss over the meaning behind them. The Daily Vox put together five popular songs that have a deeper – and sometimes creepier – meaning than you think.
Warning: This list may ruin some of your ultimate jams.
Pumped up kicks – Foster the People
This is such a cheery summer jam that’s easy to bop along to. But if you listen carefully, there’s an eerie undertone to the song. Pumped Up Kicks is actually about a kid preparing to shoot his classmates at school.
The group’s frontman, Mark Foster, said he wrote the song because he finds the school shootings in America troubling. He told the NPR Music podcast, World Cafe, the song narrates the story of an unhinged kid driven to random violence.
The chorus goes: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun … You’d better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”
Creepy, we know.
Every breath you take – The Police
Some may think Every Breath You Take by The Police is a tender ballad about love but those people would be very,very wrong. The song is actually about a jealous, possessive and obsessive stalker.
Lead singer Sting wrote the song when he separated from his wife and began seeing her best friend. He told BBC Radio 2 he is angry in the music video because he thought the song was “very, very sinister and ugly”.
The more we listen to it, the more hair-raising it is to hear the lyrics: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
Waterfalls – TLC
Most of us can sing along to the catchy chorus of TLC’s 90s hit Waterfalls but – you guessed it – the song isn’t about water streaming down a mountain. It’s actually about promiscuity, HIV/AIDS, and the illegal drug trade.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes wrote the rap in the song following a violent confrontation with her ex, footballer Andre Rison. In a documentary about her life called The Last Days of Left Eye, the late rapper explained its meaning. The song speaks of HIV and AIDS and how easy it is to contract it. The video tells of a man who didn’t wear a condom with his girlfriend and later watched his AIDS-ravaged body degenerate in the mirror.
These lyrics will show you what we mean: “One day he goes and takes a glimpse in the mirror/ but he doesn’t recognise his own face/ his health is fading and he doesn’t know why/ three letters took him to his final resting place.”
Hotel California – The Eagles
You may know the song Hotel California for its mean guitar solo. The lyrics tell a fictitious tale of tired travellers checking into a luxury hotel. But of course, the actual meaning behind this is much more sinister. There are myriad theories about the meaning of the song ranging from heroin addiction to satanic rituals.
But according to lead singer Don Henley, the song is really about hedonism and self-indulgence in the US. In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Henley described Hotel California as a song about excess, narcissism and the dark underbelly of the American dream, saying there is a fine line between the American dream and the American nightmare.
The most foreboding line? “You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave.”
Wake Me Up When September Ends – Green Day
Each year, at the very end of September, someone will tweet or Instagram a picture with the caption: “Wake me up when September ends” and we’ll remember the iconic Green Day song. It’s the perfect singalong and reminds us of that early 2000s pent up teen angst. But the song has a deeper meaning.
Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it about his father who died of cancer on September 1, 1982. It’s said that Armstrong ran home from his father’s funeral and locked himself in his room. When his mother got home and knocked on his room door he replied, “Wake me up when September ends.”
“Like my father’s come to pass/ Twenty years has gone so fast/ Wake me up when September ends,” Armstrong sings.