Do you remember all those times you thought you figured out the deep meaning of your favorite song and then learned you were completely wrong? Artists love to hide secret messages in their work and fool us, listeners. Here’s a list of 20 songs that you always listened to but always misinterpreted. Get ready to have your mind blown!
#20. Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
Some people consider that Born in the USA is the most patriotic song ever made about the United States of America, but they usually fail to take a closer look at its lyrics. The actual meaning of this song couldn’t be more different from what people believe.
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Born in the USA isn’t the patriotic anthem Ronald Reagan made us believe when he used it in his campaigns. Bruce Springsteen wrote it in honor of the Vietnam war veterans and the song heavily criticizes the political decisions of the US government to carry on with the war for so long:
“Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man.”
#19. Total Eclipse Of The Heart – Bonnie Tyler
This one is a classic love anthem, as it describes a relationship that is falling apart, right? Do any of you know what these lyrics truly mean? Well, according to Jim Steinman, who wrote the song for Bonnie Tyler, the song is actually about vampires.
Photo: Courtesy of CD and LP
As it turns out, the first title of the song, Vampires in Love, caused a major dispute with Tyler herself. Steinman, however, did get his wish a couple of years later, when a slightly changed version of the song was played in the musical Dance of the Vampires.
#18. The Trees – Rush
This song actually has a lees deep meaning than most people think. Lyrics like “There is unrest in the forest/There is trouble with the trees/For the maples want more sunlight/And the oaks ignore their pleas” have long been seen as a metaphor for civil rights and anti-authoritarianism.
Photo: Courtesy of Louder
However, the meaning behind the lyrics are actually way simpler than what everyone imagines, and kind of disappointing, to be honest. As drummer Neil Peart explained in an interview:
“I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on like fools. I thought, ‘What if trees acted like people?’“
#17. 99 Luftballons – Nena
To understand 99 Luftballons you have to take a look at the historical context of the time. It was the 1980s in Germany, the Cold War was still going on, and after the NATO Double-Track Decision, US Pershing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles were being installed in Germany. Because of all this, the population was afraid of an upcoming nuclear war.
Photo: Courtesy of Medium
It is in this context that guitarist Carlo Karges visited a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin and witnessed hundreds of colorful balloons being lifted in the air. He then thought: “What if they float over the Berlin Wall and trigger WWIII?” It’s the insanity of this potential catastrophe what inspired the song.
#16. All-Star – Smash Mouth
This song has become a synonym of the Shrek movies, right? But did you know that it hints at the very real possibility of Shrek’s homely swamp getting destroyed by climate change?
Photo: Courtesy of Coub
Well, the song doesn’t really refer to Shrek’s swamp in particular, for, after all, the Kingdom of Far Far Away is a fictional place. But Smash Mouth’s hit is indeed a warning about climate change. If you don’t believe me, take a moment and analyze these few lines:
“The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim/My world’s on fire. How about yours?“
#15. Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton
Wonderful Tonight is probably one of the cheesiest love ballads ever written. Eric Clapton wrote this masterpiece in 1976 for his girlfriend Pattie Boyd, whom he married three years later. However, the song has a funny and unexpected backstory, as Clapton wrote it to make fun of his future wife.
Photo: Courtesy of Epic Rights
It turns out the couple was getting ready to go to a party but Boyd just couldn’t find the right outfit. A situation probably everybody in a relationship has experienced at some point. Clapton eventually got tired and wrote the song within a few minutes to tease Boyd and prove how much she took to change.
#14. I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
Most people think, I Will Always Love You describes a bittersweet breakup between two former lovers. It was written by Dolly Parton in 1973, although the 1992 version by Whitney Houston is much more famous. Parton doesn’t describe a romantic relationship though, it’s all about business!
Photo: Courtesy of Garden & Gun
It turns out it was meant as a goodbye to her singing partner and business associate Porter Wagoner, as she wanted to try a solo career. The song was her way of telling him that they’d part ways but that she would always be thankful for him and love him. We can only assume this is the 1970s version of breaking up with someone over a text message, right?
#13. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) is undoubtedly one of the greatest Green Day songs ever. You might have heard it at weddings or in nostalgic montages someone put together after camp. However, the meaning behind this song is much more sarcastic than what people think.
Photo: Courtesy of BBC
Billie Joe Armstrong admitted he wrote this masterpiece after his former girlfriend moved to Ecuador and therefore broke up with him.
“In the song, I tried to be level-headed about her leaving, even though I was completely pissed off“, Armstrong said in an interview.
#12. Every Breath You Take – The Police
You might have already realized that something is off with Every Breath You Take. When you listen to it for the first time, it may seem like a beautiful and romantic anthem that honors infinite love, but after playing it a couple more times, you come to realize that “Oh can’t you see/You belong to me” is pretty creepy.
Photo: Courtesy of Radio Lombardia
Indeed, it is not meant to be a love song. On the very contrary, it was written from the perspective of a serious stalker. Leadsinger Sing stated:
“People have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.“
#11. Hey Ya! – Outkast
“One, two, three!/My baby don’t mess around/’Cause she loves me so/This I know fo sho!”
Admit it, your body already started to dance and now you feel like going to a club to “shake it“. You might reconsider your feelings towards this song though, as it is about an unhappy relationship.
Photo: Courtesy of Bustle
We don’t know whose relationship is at a breaking point, but lines like “But separate’s always better when there are feelings involved” indicate serious problems between two people. Is it about problems between André 3000 and Big Boi or their relationships? We’ll probably never know!
#10. Closing Time – Semisonic
If you’re living in the United Kingdom, you’re probably most aware of closing time and getting thrown out of a bar. So is Closing Time by Semisonic the anthem for everybody who still wants to keep on having fun a bit longer? Turns out it’s not even close to the true meaning of the song.
Photo: Courtesy of Mix 94.9
Lead singer Dan Wilson wrote this song for his prematurely born daughter and apparently thinks it’s funny nobody got that:
“They think it’s about being bounced from a bar but it’s about being bounced from the womb“, Wilson admitted in an interview.
#9. MMMBop – Hanson
“Mmm bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop”
Yes, the chorus of “MMBOP” does not indicate a deeper meaning. The verses, on the other hand, hint at the real meaning, that Zac Hanson describes with the words “the futility of life“.
Photo: Courtesy of ABC News
Indeed, lines like “You’re going through all this pain and strife/Then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast” are pretty depressing if you give them a second. The nonsense chorus then represents the concept of the futility of life itself. Wow!
#8. Heart-Shaped Box – Nirvana
“I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks / I‘ve been drawn into your magnetar pit trap trap”.
Kurt Cobain’s lyrics were genius but Heart-Shaped Box is impossible to understand without any content. Courtney Love even insisted that the heart-shaped box is a synonym for… well, her genitalia.
Photo: Courtesy of Loudwire
However, according to Cobain’s biography Come As You Are, the famous songwriter wrote the song after seeing terminally ill children on TV. So apparently, the song is about kids who are suffering from cancer. We still fail to understand, though, how that issue is reflected in the lyrics.
#7. In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins
Rumor has it that Phil Collins wrote In the Air Tonight after watching a man drown another man without stepping in. But would you really expect that from a man who spent his whole career without any notable scandals? Others claim that Collins was working through his marriage problems when he wrote this song.
Photo: Courtesy of Rock Antenne
However, Phil Collins stated in numerous interviews that the song has no deeper meaning nor reflects his biography in any way. According to him, he improvised the lyrics in the studio while recording the song. And while that explanation is less macabre and sensational, it is more fitting for the musician who was named a Disney legend in 2002.
#6. Jump – Van Halen
Does Eddie Van Halen only want to animate us to jump a lot or does this song have a deeper, more sinister meaning? The synth line was already written in 1981 by Van Halen but it took lead singer David Lee Roth more than 2 years to come up with the lyrics.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia
Apparently, Rothsaw a TV report about a man who was about to commit suicide by jumping off a building. You might have read elsewhere that Roth himself thought: “Just Jump!” This is not true though, the song describes what Roth imagined some bystanders to be thinking. Still, it is a very dark theme.
#5. Detroit Rock City – KISS
This song is undoubtedly great for parties and an anthem for the City of Detroit. But like many of KISS’ songs, it’s not all about black and white makeup and fast rock riffs. The true meaning of Detroit Rock City is much more sinister.
Photo: Courtesy of Ultimate Classic Rock
Lead singer Paul Stanley himself confirmed in an interview that is was written as a tribute to a KISS fan who died in a tragic car crash, while trying to make it to the concert in Detroit:
“I thought, how odd and how striking and the juxtaposition of someone coming to a KISS concert, which celebrates being alive, to lose your life”, Stanley said in an interview.
#4. Losing My Religion – R.E.M.
Losing my Religion seems pretty straight forward, right? It is obviously about someone who is so profoundly disappointed in humanity that he is losing faith in any deity. And while that seems logical, the song doesn’t actually deal with religion at all.
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Lead singer Michael Stipe explained in an interview that his song comes from the old Southern saying “to lose one’s religion over something“, which basically translates into “losing one’s temper“. This is one of these examples where the truth is much less exciting than what you had imagined beforehand.
#3. Mother and Child Reunion – Paul Simon
“No I would not give no false hope/On this strange and mournful day/But the mother and child reunion/Is only a motion away.”
This song is obviously about a mother who is reuniting with her child after a long time and can’t wait to hold her darling in his arms again, right? Well, actually, you couldn’t be wronger, because it’s about food.
Photo: Courtesy of Rolling Stone
It’s a pretty weird inspiration for a song, right? As Simon himself explained in an interview:
“I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, ‘Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.'”
#2. One – U2
“Is it getting better/Or do you feel the same?/Will it make it easier on you now?/You got someone to blame”
One by U2 is still a mystery as nobody knows exactly what it means. Fans have speculated that it hints at problems within the band or that it depicts Bono’s difficult relationship with his father.
Photo: Courtesy of Fan Lexikon
But strangely enough, they’ve never officially explained the song and its confusing lyrics. Bono himself only stated in an interview:
“The song is a bit twisted, which is why I could never figure out why people want it at their weddings. I tell them, ‘Are you mad? It’s about splitting up!“
#1. You’re Beautiful – James Blunt
You’re Beautiful is a beautiful love ballad, written by one of England’s favorite male models. He’s so cute that it looks like he couldn’t hurt a fly, right? Well, you might reconsider your opinion of James Blunt because apparently, his lyrics are much more sinister than we all thought.
Photo: Courtesy of Elle
As Blunt himself explained in an interview, the song is actually about a crazy man who is stalking someone else’s girlfriend, right when that guy is in front of him. It’s kind of similar to Every Breath You Take, don’t you think?