10 Songs That Sound Happy But Are Actually Pretty Dark
Pop songs are so much more than frothy lyrics about partying and falling in love, but sometimes heavier lyrical messages are disguised behind uplifting, catchy music. Here, you can check out some songs that sound happy, but are actually pretty dark when you break them down to their bare bones.
You may be shocked as to what inspired one of Pink‘s most rollicking, chart-topping hits, and Maroon 5‘s ‘Misery’ is straight-up deceiving with its depressed lyrics and upbeat tempo. And even though most of her songs are on the melancholy side, one of Taylor Swift‘s biggest and saddest hits surprisingly boasts a bouncing beat.
Educate yourself on the darker side of pop music below.
Fun.‘s anthemic song ‘Some Nights,’ sounds like a battle cry for good times, but in fact, it’s much more sinister than that. Throughout the song, there is a common theme of decrying fame and the burden notoreity brings with it, which is pretty obvious in the lyrics, “So this is it / I sold my soul for this? / Washed my hands of that for this? / I miss my mom and dad for this?” Nate Ruess explained to the Associated Press (via Song Facts), “I’m always thinking about, ‘Who am I and why did I do something like that?’ And I think then it harkens back to my family, and I have such a strong tie to them and it’s always therapeutic to sing about them.”
‘The Story of Us’
When the music kicks in on Taylor Swift‘s ‘Story of Us’ you probably thought to yourself, “Gee, this is such an upbeat and fun pop-country song!” Oh, how wrong you are! The track is about (what else?) a very bitter breakup, but one of those where you have to keep seeing your ex time and time again. This track was reportedly written about Taylor Lautner and speaks about a specific instance when both Taylors were in the same room at an award show. The lady Swift told New York Magazine, “I think both of us had so much that we wanted to say, but we’re sitting six seats away from each other, just fighting this silent war of ‘I don’t care that you’re here.'”
With its funky, uptempo backbeat and a peppy delivery from frontman Adam Levine, you’d think Maroon 5‘s bouncy song ‘Misery’ was about, well, not being miserable. But just as the title suggests, the guys of Maroon 5 penned this ‘Hands All Over’ track about being caught in the midst of a torturous relationship. The jaunty music is totally deceiving, as Levine croons in that nasally falsetto, “Sometimes these cuts are so much deeper than they seem / You’d rather cover up / I’d rather let them bleed / So let me be / And I’ll set you free / I am in misery / There ain’t nobody who can comfort me.”
Pink‘s pop-rock anthem ‘So What,’ her first No. 1 solo hit on the Billboard Hot 100, is totally empowering with its in-your-face, IDGAF lyrics and exhilarating vocal delivery. And the music? Those guitars are impossible not to rock out to. But did you know that Pink actually wrote this song right after her split from now-hubby, Carey Hart? She was so angry and heartbroken, and this song (where she straight-up calls Carey a “tool”) became a way to channel her frustrations in a funny and flippant sort of way. In the hilarious and somewhat alarming video, Ms. Moore is basically having a nervous breakdown the entire time, reflecting the darker state of mind she was in at the time.
If you don’t know the ’90s classic ‘Lovefool,’ by Swedish band the Cardigans, do yourself and listen to it ASAP. It’s an effervescent piece of pop perfection, with Nina Persson’s delicate, breathy voice, groovy guitars, pretty harp chords and a stick-to-your-brain chorus. However, the lyrics to this 1996 track are much darker than its bubbly beat. Persson sings about her man falling out of love with her, followed by her desperate, almost pathetic pleas for him to stay: “Reason will not lead to solution / I will end up lost in confusion / I don’t care if you really care / As long as you don’t go.”
If you had a pulse in 2003-2004, we’re betting that you had upwards of 10 to 20 sing-alongs to OutKast‘s ‘Hey Ya.’ Is it humanly possible to resist singing the line, “Shake it like a Polaroid picture?” The answer is absolutely not. However, no matter how catchy this track is, it deals with the oh-so light subject of a romance totally falling to pieces. Look at the lyrics for example: “If what they say is “Nothing is forever” / Then what makes, then what makes, then what make / Then what makes, what makes, what makes love the exception.” Dang, Andre Three Stacks, you got sneaky deep with us for a minute. The “What’s cooler than being cool?” breakdown really gives this track a party vibe, but now we know what Andre 3000 was REALLY up to when he wrote this song.
Third Eye Blind ruled the summer of 1997 with their smash hit ‘Semi-Charmed Life.’ The super fast vocal delivery by frontman Stephan Jenkins on this insanely infectious song makes the lyrics somewhat difficult to understand, but if you listen closely, you’ll start to notice some seriously depressing stuff. ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ is all about the downfall caused by drug abuse, specifically crystal meth, and the depravity that comes with it. On the second verse, Jenkins sings, “The sky was gold, it was rose / I was taking sips of it through my nose / And I wish I could get back there, someplace back there / Smiling in the pictures you would take / Doing crystal myth will lift you up until you break.“
The chorus to M.I.A.‘s track ‘Paper Planes,’ is possibly one of the most infectious tunes we’ve ever heard, but of course, this track is actually about capitalism and anti-immigration sentiments. M.I.A. explains, “People don’t really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way. That they’re just leeches that suck from whatever,” continuing, “America is so obsessed with money.”
Mostly, M.I.A. wrote this track because she was frustrated with the trouble the U.S. government was giving her while trying to get into the country. She said, “Yeah, they’re always giving me a hard time. When I wrote it, I’d just gotten in to New York after waiting a long time and that’s why I wrote it, just to have a dig.” We guess that explains the lyrics, “I fly like paper, get high like planes / If you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name / If you come around here, I make ’em all day / I get one done in a second if you wait.”
‘Pumped Up Kicks’
While it may sound like it’s the perfect summer jam for a breezy, lazy day on the beach, Foster the People‘s 2010 track ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ is much darker than it seems on the surface. If you look closely at Mark Foster’s fuzzy lyrics, you’ll quickly find that he’s singing about a gun-wielding teenager on a shooting spree. Foster the People were hoping to bring awareness to gun violence, especially in schools, by tapping into the “head of an isolated, psychotic kid.” Bassist Cubbie Fink actually had a cousin survive the Columbine high school shooting in 1999, so it’s a subject that’s close to home for the trio of Cali musicians.
Hanson‘s ‘MMMBop’ is one of the most famous earworms ever, but did you know it’s about how most people really suck as friends? Yeah, not so upbeat and bubblegum now, is it? The song starts, “You have so many relationships in this life / Only one or two will last / You go through all this pain and strife / Then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast.” Well, it seems like the young Hanson bros sure had a lot of substance behind their infectious (and what some, like Helen Hunt and Will Ferrell, may call annoying) tune. Hanson call to mind the brevity of life in ‘MMMBop,’ singing, “In an mmm bop they’re gone / In an mmm bop they’re not there.” Those pretty flaxen-haired boys really tricked millions of teenaged girls into singing about the fleeting nature of human relationships.