If you're really a music lover, you've probably heard the lyrics to certain songs without realizing what they really mean. Many popular songs that are easily misunderstood by fans are quite catchy, so it's easy to get distracted from the true intent of these songs.
As the music industry is quite broad, you may find a mix of songs with simple meanings and others with lyrics that require you to dig deeper. Without wasting time, we are going to unravel the true meaning of some famous songs on the music scene.
"Blank Space" is Taylor Swift's response to the media
The pop song "Blank Space" was released in 1989 and soon became one of the biggest singles recorded by singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. In an interview with music blog NME, Taylor said the single gave the media the impression that she was dating a lot of people.
But "Blank Space" was actually Taylor Swift's response to all the negative media feedback. Also, a commonly misheard lyric of the song was "I've got a long list of ex-lovers". But some fans and a coffee ad thought it was "All you lonely Starbucks lovers."
The famous Baha Men song "Who Let the Dogs Out" is about booing
Are you one of those people who thought the popular upbeat song “Who Let the Dogs Out” was about our four-legged furry friends? Well, you thought wrong. The song was originally composed by Trinidadian recording artist Anslem Douglas before it was released by Baha Men in 2000.
As shocking as it may seem, the original title of the song was “Doggie”, and it talks about men being booed. The men start swearing disrespectfully, the girls answer the calls, and a woman yells, "Who let the dogs out?"
Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" Isn't a Love Song
The queen of country music, Dolly Parton, is known for classic hits like "9 to 5," "Jolene," and many others that took the world by storm. However, one song that remains an all-time favorite for many fans is "I Will Always Love You."
At first glance, it's easy for anyone to believe that Dolly Parton wrote a love song, but she didn't. In fact, she wrote the song for her business partner, Porter Wagoner, in gratitude for her support during the seven years they worked together in the music industry.
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Spanish popular song “Macarena” by Los Del Rio and Infidelity
We may not know all the words to the famous song “Macarena”, but we can never forget the iconic dance choreography. “Macarena” is a cult Spanish popular song that everyone loved in the 90s. The meaning, however, is totally different from what we thought back then.
This super popular hit tells the story of a woman who cheats on her boyfriend with her two friends! The sad and twisted part of the story is that she chose to cheat when her boyfriend was on his way to the army.
Blondie's "One Way or Another" tackles a stalker
Debbie Harry, co-founder of the band Blondie and creator of the 1978 rock classic "One Way or Another," wrote the song from a negative personal experience. According to her, "One Way or Another" may sound like a fun game of hide-and-seek between two lovebirds, but the true meaning of the song is truly terrifying.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Debbie Harry explained, "I was actually chased by a nutcase, so it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event." She wanted people to learn to let go of negative experiences and instead focus on getting on with their lives.
Rihanna's "S&M" isn't just about sex
Anyone who has heard Rihanna's 2010 hit "S&M" would immediately take the song literally and assume it was about getting under the covers. Surprisingly, the lyrics speak of Rihanna's relationship with the media as a bittersweet experience filled with pain and pleasure.
In 2011, Rihanna explained that the song is about her love-hate relationship with the media. She tapped into the odd mix of media positivity and negativity about her life in writing "S&M." RiRi, as she's called, told Vogue magazine: "Sometimes pain is good." Other times, the news is hard to handle.
Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" Is Actually a Breakup Song
Do you remember those times in high school when you would happily sing the chorus of "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" while having fun at a sleepover with your friends? Unfortunately, many people have misunderstood the meaning of the lyrics “I hope you had a great time”.
In 2005, Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day, told Guitar Legends magazine that he wrote the song during a bad breakup with his girlfriend who was moving to Ecuador. According to him, he was trying his best not to get bitter about the whole situation.
"Born in the USA." by Bruce Springsteen it's not about celebrating America
Almost every American remembers the catchy chorus of Bruce Springsteen's 1984 hit "Born in the U.S.A." It was easy to just enjoy the upbeat rock song and ignore the true meaning. But the lyrics were actually a criticism of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.
The war lasted from November 1955 to April 1975. The song was Springsteen's way of making Americans feel good about America despite what had happened. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the singer made it clear that the US involvement was manipulative and led to exploitation.
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Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe" Talks About Stress
Maroon 5's debut album, Songs about Jane, is full of soulful love songs, but "Harder to Breathe" is one song on that album that doesn't fall into that category. Contrary to what many people think, the song is about a pressure-filled relationship with the group's record label.
In a 2002 interview with MTV News, vocalist Adam Levine revealed that the song "comes purely from wanting to play something." The band was in the last few minutes trying to make a record, and since the label needed more songs, they were applying a lot of pressure.
Korean rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" is a social satire
In December 2012, the catchy song "Gangnam Style" became an early viral sensation, with 1 billion views on YouTube. But behind South Korean rapper Psy's lyrics was a subtle, hidden mockery of the glamorous lifestyle of Gangnam's super-rich residents.
Gangnam is a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, popularly known as the Beverly Hills of Korea. In the song's viral music video, Psy made fun of the overly glamorous lifestyle of the rich. However, he stated in an interview with The Atlantic that, when filming the video, he felt pathetic.
The Clash's "London Calling" Isn't About Politics
In the late 1970s, "London Calling" was popularly known as a punk-rock song with a political focus. However, the lyrics talk more about climate change and how it will affect people's lives. The inspiration to write the unique song came after the popular British band read a chilling 1979 London Evening Standard article about how the River Thames would flood the streets of London.
In composing the song, vocalist Joe Strummer initially focused his lyrics on himself, but then broadened his focus to include many other adverse situations. The chorus clearly spells out the songwriter's intent: "The ice age is coming, the sun is approaching / Melt expected, the wheat is subsiding / Engines stop working, but I'm not afraid / Because London is drowning / I live the river."
Ed Sheeran charity song "The A Team"
“The A-Team” tells the story of a cocaine-addicted sex worker. Ed Sheeran was inspired to write the song after visiting a homeless shelter and hearing stories about what people did to survive every day.
Sheeran was so deeply moved by their stories that when he returned home, he wrote the lyrics to the song in a matter of minutes. He performed the song at a benefit concert for Crisis, a foundation that helps the homeless in the UK.
Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" Supports the LGBTQ Community
Lady Gaga has been a leading supporter of the LGBTQ+ community since she burst onto the entertainment scene in 2008. "Poker Face" is one of the title songs from her debut album, The Fame. The singer fully shows her bisexuality through the lyrics.
In an interview with NBC, Lady Gaga said that the song is about being in a relationship with a man but having fantasies about a woman. Because of his double preference, a man has to read his poker face to know what he really wants.
“Imagine” by John Lennon
The graceful, direct lines that glide through John Lennon's "Imagine" go beyond faith in the power of a united world or the result of unity. According to former US President Jimmy Carter, the song has some major communist underpinnings in the song's smooth lines.
John Lennon considered the song as the Communist Manifesto, which favors a classless society. Once the song became a hit, Lennon went back to recording. He explained that for something to be globally accepted, it must be sweetened. You have to "deliver your political message with a little honey."
"Alive" by Pearl Jam
When Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder sang "Alive" for the first time in 1991, he didn't expect people to attach any meaning to the song. A line from the chorus, "Oh I, oh I'm still alive," may sound uplifting, but Vedder made it clear there was more to those words.
As uplifting as the chorus sounds, "Alive" is actually about how Vedder felt as a sad teenager after finding out that his father was actually his stepfather and that his real father had died. Although Vedder was trying to recover after learning of the loss of his father, all he knew was that he was still alive.
Semisonic's "closing time" isn't about the last call in a bar
American rock band Semisonic released their first single "Closing Time" in 1998, and it became an instant hit! Many bars in the US play "Closing Time" as the last song of the night, but that doesn't mean the song is about the last call.
Dan Wilson, who wrote and performed the song, had to explain that "Closing Time" is about the birth of his daughter. Instead of writing another cliché song filled with lyrics that speak precisely about the birth of his child, Wilson decided to hide the true meaning of the song. Millions of people thought the song was about being thrown from a bar, but it's actually about being thrown from the womb.
Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" is about drug addiction
One of the most beloved karaoke songs of all time is “Semi-Charmed Life”. The fast pace of the song can take your breath away as you try to keep up with the lyrics. You may also be surprised to learn that the tempo of the song was meant to reflect the ups and downs associated with substance abuse.
Although Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins has said that he advocates a clean lifestyle, the song's lyrics describe a dirty lifestyle filled with drugs and sex. Jenkins is happy that people are interpreting the song as a happy summer.
Don McLean's classic Campfire song "American Pie" is more depressing than it sounds
“American Pie,” released in 1971, was undoubtedly an iconic and catchy song that seeped into group ditties at campfires and karaoke bars. Unfortunately, the lyrics tell a rather dark story about the state of American society at the time. In a 2015 interview, McLean did not deny that her lyrics were ambiguous.
Usually, people remember the rhyming chorus of “American Pie” sadly saying goodbye to Miss American Pie. The line "the day the music died" makes explicit reference to the 1959 plane crash that killed three music icons: Buddy Holly, J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), and Ritchie Valens.
Iran's 1979 ban on music created the Clash's "Rock the Casbah"
The lyrics "By order of the Prophet / We forbid that boogie sound" are clear indicators that the band Clash wrote "Rock the Basbah" in reaction to Iran's 1979 music ban. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the religious-political leader of the time who declared a ban on broadcasting Western music.
The radical leader felt that music had corrupted the Iranian youth and robbed them of their strength and ingenuity. In a 1991 interview, Joe Strummer, the late lead singer of The Clash, revealed that he wrote the song after the band's management pleaded with them to write shorter songs.
'80s cop classic "Every Breath You Take" isn't so kind
The Police released a classic hit in 1983 called "Every Breath You Take." The song quickly became a song that people loved to sing or listen to when they remembered the people they loved. Now here's the mind-blowing thing: The song wasn't exactly a love song.
If you look closely at the lyrics, you will see the reference to an obsessive individual who ends up becoming a stalker. Sting, the song's composer and the band's vocalist and bassist, explained that the song is ugly, even though people have misinterpreted it as a soft love song.
Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" Isn't An Autobiography
"Mr. Tambourine Man" was indeed one of Bob Dylan's best works and became one of the most popular songs in music history. SincDylan wrote the classic song, many musicians recorded their own versions, but did they really understand its meaning?
Many people assumed that the song was about Bob Dylan and how he found his artistic inspiration in drug abuse. Be that as it may, Dylan wrote the song as a sonnet for a touring musician named Bruce Langhorne. Sometimes they acted together. Langhorne was known for his large Turkish drum with bells on the outside that made it sound like a tambourine.
TLC's "Waterfalls" Targets Social Addictions That Kill
If you lived in the 1990s, you've probably heard of the famous all-female pop trio TLC. This fantastic group broke records in 1995 with their smash hit “Cascadas”. Many listeners thought it was about taking life easy and not making rash decisions. Actually, the lyrics talk about much more complex topics.
"Waterfalls" took aim at serious social problems that became rampant in the mid-1990s. Issues like HIV/AIDS, poverty, crime, and many other social problems were the order of the day. It's safe to say that "Waterfalls" is literally one of the most misunderstood songs of all time.
Bon Jovi's "Always" Is Actually a Very Distorted Song
Do you remember songs like "It's My Life" and "I'll Be There For You"? If yes, then you definitely know that Bon Jovi was one of the most popular bands that thrilled fans with many hits in the 90s. One of the band's biggest hits was "Always".
The song's title and lyrics may depict a deeply romantic love story, but the true meaning is quite haunting. Songwriter Jon Bon Jovi explained that the song is about a sick human being who chases after her girlfriend, who dumped him after he cheated on her.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler and the vampiric love story
"Total Eclipse of the Heart" reached the top of the US singles chart in 1983 and became the biggest hit of Bonnie Tyler's career. While it can be pretty hard to find someone unfamiliar with this 1980s classic, people probably never knew the true meaning of the song.
The song's writer and producer, Jim Steinman, was working on a musical called Dance of the Vampires. The original title of the song was "Vampires in Love". Steinman spent time making various adjustments to the song until he and Bonnie Tyler were satisfied with the final result of the song.
Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" and a Different Kind of Love
The song "Perfect Day" was a 1972 classic that has since been used for many upbeat and upbeat commercials. It was used for PlayStation 4 advertisements and in the popular American sitcom Friends. Irony definitely comes into play here because critics have linked the song's lyrics to Reed's battle with drug addiction.
Over the years many listeners believed the song was about love and how it was powerful enough to make anyone's day perfect. However, what made Reed's day perfect was the warm fuzzy feeling he got from the substance he had just consumed.
Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Didn't Really Make Sense
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" is one of Nirvana's most significant achievements that made the band famous and influenced many young people in the 1990s. The song's title derives from frontman Kurt Cobain's deodorant, Teen Spirit, and no one really know the meaning. real music
Supposedly, the name came from a comment made by Kathleen Hanna, a member of the band Bikini Kill. She wrote on the wall of Cobain's hotel room: "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit." Cobain didn't know that her comment meant that she smelled like his deodorant. He interpreted the phrase as revolutionary and called the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
Phil Collins "In the Air Tonight" has a haunting history
Although Phil Collins' song "In the Air Tonight" has a supposedly dark history, it became a huge hit when it was released in 1981. Word spread far and wide that the song was about how one man watched another drown. and made no effort to help.
What's more, Phil Collins witnessed the entire event and decided to write a song about it. Later, the story became so popular on the Internet that the famous rapper Eminem wrote a few lines about it in his hit "Stan." Later, Collins explained that the entire story was false and generally mentioned how sad he felt after the divorce.
Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends" Was More Tribute Than Political Satire
Green Day's hit "Wake Me Up When September Ends" garnered attention in 2005. However, many people didn't understand exactly what the song meant. The song, from the band's album American Idiot, made many references to the attacks of September 11, 2001. People automatically believed the song was political.
Also, the central idea of the music video was the Iraq War. But would you believe that music has nothing to do with politics? In fact, it was a tribute to the father of singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who passed away when Billie Joe was only ten years old.
"Just Like Heaven" by The Cure and its connection to magic
English alternative rock band The Cure made listening to music in the 1980s something truly special. So it's no news that "Just Like Heaven," released in 1987, became one of the band's most famous songs. However, you may not know what this beautiful love song is about.
The band's lead singer, Robert Smith, revealed that the song talks about hyperventilating, kissing, and passing out on the floor. Some of the song's lyrics also connect to childhood memories of him trying to learn and master magic tricks as a child.
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is not a sentence
One of the best known songs of all time that is still relevant today is "Hallelujah" written by Leonard Cohen. Not everyone knows this, but the song was released in 1984 as part of an album that didn't get much publicity at the time.
The title alone could give the impression that it is a prayer song. However, it is really about desire and relationships. In the lyrics, Cohen references the biblical character David and his infatuation with Bathsheba to get his message across. “Hallelujah” is certainly more than just his title.
The True Meaning of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "American Girl"
Contrary to popular belief, Tom Petty's 1977 hit "American Girl" was not about a University of Florida student who decided to take her own life. Although the second verse refers to a woman alone on her porch, the song is not about suicide.
Over time, the song became an urban myth in Florida for the way the lyrics were interpreted. So what is "American Girl" really about? It really is about embracing all the women of America to enjoy life and relax in a world that has so much to offer.
The Beatles' "Blackbird" and its connection to the civil rights movement
In a 2002 interview with Santa Monica radio station KCRW, The Beatles' Paul McCartney explained that the song "Blackbird" is not really about a blackbird with broken wings. The blackbird is a symbol of black struggle and racial segregation in the southern United States.
In 2008, McCartney spoke in an interview with Mojo magazine and made it clear that the Beatles were fully supportive of the Civil Rights Movement unfolding in the United States. He further said that the blackbird in the song was just a symbol of a person of color.
U2's "One" was more about disagreement than unity
"One" has been one of U2's most popular songs since its release in 1992. Initially, many thought the song encouraged unity and togetherness in all facets of life. But ironically, the song was written when the members of the U2 band were at odds.
U2 were unsure of the future of the band, and surprisingly, that uncertainty led to the creation of beautiful music. Bono, the band's lead singer, wrote the lyrics and gave a perfect explanation of what the song meant. He said: "'One' is not about unity, it is about difference."
Selena Gomez's "Wolves" could be about Justin Bieber
If you know the popular Disney show Wizards of Waverly Place, you definitely know Selena Gomez. Over the past decade, she has gradually built up her music career, and fans are always curious what she stands for when she releases a new single.
Many believe that all of his songs in the last 10 years have been about Justin Bieber. Gomez, however, claims that her 2017 song "Wolves" is very personal, and she has yet to explain what the song actually means. Still, fans claim that the song is about Selena's health or her famous ex, Justin Bieber.
The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" and the battle against substance abuse
The title "Can't Feel My Face" is more than enough to confuse anyone about the meaning of this song. At first glance, the lyrics of this hit single from 2015 would have you believe the songwriters are talking about the excitement of a new romantic relationship.
Anyway, Canadian singer The Weeknd surprised everyone in an interview with the New York Times by talking about the true meaning of the song. He explained that "Can't Feel My Face" is about his biggest struggle with substance and drug abuse and how he plans to overcome it.
The shocking meaning of the Jonas Brothers' "A Little Bit Longer"
Known for their good looks and heavenly voices, Kevin, Nick, and Joe, also known as the Jonas Brothers, achieved teen idol status in the late 2000s. Many of their famous songs were about love, so fans also thought that "A Little Bit Longer" was probably another breakup song.
Everyone was certainly shocked when Nick Jonas revealed that the song was actually about how he was battling a health issue, type 1 diabetes. After his explanation, everyone was shocked.
Katy Perry's "Firework" Has a Troubling History
Katy Perry is a fantastic singer and artist who creates fun songs that anyone would love. Therefore, the release of her song "Firework" in 2010 was expected to be another happy song that would encourage everyone to be themselves no matter what. But the upbeat song has a haunting story.
Apparently, Katy Perry's inspiration for writing the song was tied to constant thoughts about her own mortality. When the singer reflected on the afterlife, she thought of becoming fireworks. No one would have thought that this is where the initial idea for the lively jam came from.
"Paper Planes" and Immigration Satire by M.I.A.
When the famous song by M.I.A. “Paper Planes” was released in 2008, most people believed that the song was about a drug dealer. However, the singer later explained that the lyrics talk about the experiences immigrants face when moving to the land of the free.
The composer Maya explained that she knew that many people think that immigrants cannot contribute to the culture of a country, but she does not believe that this is true. At its core, the song was about educating Americans about how immigrants can add value to their country if given the chance.
Sia's "chandelier" and the after party effect
Sia rose to fame quickly after releasing “Chandelier” in 2014. Many people love the song because it is quite catchy and has a great melody. While most people think the song is about how great parties are, it's actually the exact opposite when it comes to parties.
Sia's goal was to talk about what party girls go through after the party is over. She was inspired by her personal experience and gave her honest opinion mainly on the adverse effects of drinking too much and partying. He's creative, insightful, and funny all wrapped up in one song.
Lorde's "Royals" Embrace Royalty
Lorde's 2013 hit "Royals" introduces the idea of not endorsing fame and fortune: royalty. But the true meaning of the song is different from that. Lorde, the famous pop artist, was inspired by a photo of George Brett, a baseball player for the Kansas City Royals.
It all started when the New Zealand singer was flipping through a 1976 issue of National Geographic and came across a photo of the baseball player surrounded by enthusiastic fans asking for his autograph. The word Royals was emblazoned in blue on his jersey. "It was just that word," he said in an interview. "It's really great."
Virgin is just a symbol in Madonna's "Like a Virgin"
“Like a Virgin” seems like a self-explanatory song. It sounds like a message for a young woman experiencing intimate relationships for the first time. However, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg were the ones who wrote the 1984 hit.
The song was inspired by how vulnerable Steinberg felt in regards to a new relationship. A few years after the song's release, Steinberg spoke to the Los Angeles Times and explained that the word virgin was used to symbolize how good it felt for him to start a new relationship.
Sara Bareilles' "love song" may have been born out of frustration
In 2007, Sara Bareilles' “Love Song” was quite famous for its beautiful vocal arrangements, sweet melody, unique instrumentation, and obviously captivating title. Anyone would immediately believe that Bareilles wrote this song for someone special, but the song is the exact opposite of a love song.
She wrote “Love Song” after becoming incredibly frustrated and upset that her songs were constantly being rejected by her record company. But in the end, she stood up for what she believed in and became a huge success. One of the lines in the song spoke directly to her label: "I won't write you a love song / because you asked me to."
Tokens' “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is not about sleeping lions!
Not many people know this, but "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (or "Awimbawe") is not a very popular song. However, the song started to gain popularity with the many covers from people all over the world. The song title may have a lion, but the song is far from being about lions.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is about one of the most influential rulers of the Zulu kingdom, Shaka kaSenzangakhona, and how he fought against the European colonizers. The song is about how the former ruler is sleeping and not dead because he will one day wake up to liberate the oppressed people.
Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" and the sexual connection
“Summer of '69” wasn't about Bryan Adams' childhood memories and friendships lost along the way, as many people thought. The song is actually about the famous 69 sex position. In the summer of '69, Bryan was just nine years old and joined his first band, Shock, in 1976.
In 2008, Adams discussed the song in an interview with CBS. She explained that while many people think the song is about the year 1969, it's actually about making love in the summer. Near the end of the song, the 69 sex position is referenced.