25 Songs You Love That Contain Unexpected True Meanings

Posted by , Updated on March 25, 2024

Scientific evidence backs up the claim that music affects our emotions. It can intensify or diminish various emotions such as joy, despair, tranquility, or unease, depending on what we listen to. At times, we encounter melancholic lyrics over a peppy beat, or verses teeming with symbolism. Many songs, which we thought we understood and adored, have, over time been misconstrued, for good or bad. While the number of songs with deceptive or misinterpreted lyrics is innumerable, here are 25 Songs You Love That Contain Unexpected True Meanings.




Every Breath You Take – The Police

everybreathSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sting_(musician)

Despite being known as one of the best love songs of the 80’s, “Every Breath You Take” actually refers to a possessive relationship in which a man is unable to let go of an ex-girlfriend and continues to stalk her obsessively. Police front man and songwriter Sting has since stated that he originally intended for it to be a love song; however, it got continuously darker as he wrote the lyrics.


Slide – Goo Goo Dolls

slideSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goo_goo_dolls_slide.JPG

Typically considered to describe the experience of falling in love, “Slide” actually refers to a teenage pregnancy and the young couple who are forced to decide between getting an abortion or eloping together.


99 Luftballons – Nena

99balloonsSource: http://german.about.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nena

Because of its German lyrics accompanied by its popularity among English audiences, “99 Luftballons'” real meaning went over the heads of many fans who just liked it for its upbeat rhythm and funky bassline. This secretly dark song actually tells a story of 99 balloons that are confused for missiles, throwing the world into a 99 year-long global war that ends in the destruction of humanity.


Semi-Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind

semicharmedlifeSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Eye_Blind

This major 90’s hit may sound like fun, but a closer inspection of the lyrics reveal that the song is actually about a man who is unsatisfied with life and turns to hard drugs to keep him going. The entire song is told through the perspective of the man and his girlfriend, who spend an entire night binging on crystal meth.


London Calling – The Clash

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Due to it’s strange and disconnected lyrics, many people took “London Calling” to mean the apocalypse or downfall of society. According to the band members, however, it refers to our own irrational fears and sensationalist newspaper headlines that take advantage of them. The chorus is also inspired by songwriter Joe Strummer’s personal fear of drowning.


The One I Love – R.E.M.

theoneiloveSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stipe_shot_by_Kris_Krug_at_South_by_Southwest.jpg

Usually misinterpreted as a love song, “The One I Love” is actually the exact opposite. Describing the act of using people over and over again, the band was hesitant to originally release the song because they believed it was to dark and awful.


Harder to Breathe – Maroon 5

hardertobreathSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maroon_5_Live_in_Hong_Kong_29_crop.jpg

Often thought to be referring to an ex-girlfriend of band singer Adam Levine, this song is actually about the pressure from the band’s record label to produce more music and smothering their creativity.


Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

springsteenSource: http://www.shmoop.com/ Image: InSapphoWeTrust via https://www.flickr.com/photos/skinnylawyer/7503746638

Often touted as a patriotic anthem and used by politicians on the campaign trail, “Born in the USA” was actually written as a protest of the American government and US involvement in Vietnam.


Gangnam Style – PSY

PSYSource: https://mic.com/ Image: Eva Renaldi via https://www.flickr.com/photos/evarinaldiphotography/8540642183

If you had a computer with internet access in 2012, chances are you’ve heard of this Korean pop song with it’s funny singer and silly dance moves. What you may not have realized is that this song actually hides some serious social commentary in its lyrics. Referring specifically to the wealthy South Korean district of Gangnam, PSY makes fun people who pretend to be rich and elitist by wearing fancy clothes, scowling, and dancing through garbage-strewn streets with beautiful women.


Moonlight Drive – The Doors

the doorsSource: http://www.last.fm/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Morrison

At first glance, “Moonlight Drive” seems to tell the story of a typical romantic outing along a moonlit beach. However, as with many Doors songs, it is filled with symbolism and dark imagery. Although the true meaning of the song isn’t certain, lines such as “surrender to the waiting worlds,” and “baby gonna drown tonight,” as well as the tendency of singer Jim Morrison to improvise the lyrics “fishes for your friends,” and “pearls for your eyes” into the song at live performances, seem to point towards a watery death.


Imagine – John Lennon

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Tricking many listeners into believing it only advocated world peace and love, John Lennon’s solo hit “Imagine” was actually a strong political message. Although Lennon never identified himself with the communist movement, he did state that the song was “virtually a communist manifesto” and that the only reason it was accepted was because it was so sugarcoated.


If you’re shocked by the meaning of this song, wait until you see number 5!


Like a Virgin – Madonna

MadonnaSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_(entertainer)

Despite sounding like it’s about a literal virgin, song writer Billy Steinberg has since stated that “Like a Virgin” wasn’t supposed to describe a woman’s first sexual encounter. Instead, the song is actually referring to when you enter a new relationship that stirs feelings you’ve never experienced before.


American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Tom Petty & HeartbreakersSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tom_Petty_and_the_Heartbreakers_1977.jpg

A classic case of people finding meaning that isn’t there, a popular urban myth claimed that this song was inspired by a female student at the University of Florida who committed suicide by jumping off of a balcony. Tom Petty has distanced the song from the myth, however, ensuring that the girl in his song was never based on any real person.


Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant

Eddy GrantSource: http://www.songplaces.com/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eddy_Grant_at_Supreme_Court_Gardens_cropped.jpg

This popular reggae infused electro-pop song often misleads with its upbeat rhythm and catchy chorus; however, it refers to the real very real Brixton Riots of 1981 and the high poverty and crime rates of Electric Avenue at the time.


While some song lyrics are misleading, some are downright silly. Check out 25 Dumbest Song Lyrics You’ve Probably Listened To.


Closing Time – Semisonic

semisonicSource: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dan_Wilson.jpg

Although it might sound like it’s about people being kicked out of a bar after a long night out, singer and songwriter Dan Wilson has claimed that he actually had childbirth on his mind when he was writing it. With lyrics like “open all the doors and let you out into the world,” it’s not hard to see where the inspiration comes in.


Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day

Green DaySource: http://www.geekstinkbreath.net/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Day_Venezuela.jpg

Often thought to describe moving on in life and commonly used as the theme of high school or college graduations, this acoustic ballad actually stands as a sarcastic expression of a bitter and angry breakup that in the end turned out to be for the best.


Possession – Sarah Mclachlan

25 Songs That Don’t Mean What You May Think They DoSource: http://www.songfacts.com/ Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SarahMclachlanJLC2005.jpg

Another supposed love song with dark and creepy undertones, “Possession” actually refers to a stalkerish and possessive relationship. Written from the perspective of an obsessive fan, Mclachlan actually based the lyrics off of real letters she received, so much so that she was actually sued by a fan who claimed songwriting credit. The fan committed suicide before the case was brought to court, however.


Mmmbop – Hanson

HansonSource: https://www.bustle.com/ Image: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Hanson_2013.jpg

Perhaps one of the most identifiable songs of the 90’s, “Mmmbop’s” fun tone and catchy, nonsensical chorus actually hide some depressing lyrics. Describing the futility of life and relationships, this song’s deep and existential meaning is often lost in it’s happy sound.


Hook – Blues Traveler

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With it’s repetitious chord progression and seemingly generic lyrics, “Hook” fades away amongst the rest of 90’s pop. However this song, with its tune set to the chords of the infinitely cliched Pachelbel’s Canon and recurring “hook” to draw in the audience, is actually an ingeniously meta protest of formulaic pop music.


Do You Hear What I Hear? – Noël Regney & Gloria Shayne

nativitySource: http://www.nytimes.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

Not quite the charming Christmas song we’ve come to know it as, “Do You Hear What I Hear” was a musical response to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and global cry for peace in the face of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.


Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan

Bob DylanSource: http://acousticguitar.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Dylan.

Often thought to describe hallucinogenic drugs, “Mr. Tambourine Man” actually refers to an inspiration that carries you forward when nothing else will. The title was allegedly inspired by Turkish frame-drum musician Bruce Langhorne, who played with Bob Dylan on a couple of his songs and inspired Dylan greatly in his music.


Hey Ya! – OutKast

OutKastSource: https://borismakesart.wordpress.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_3000

One of the most popular and danceable hits of the early 2000’s, this lovable and fun song couldn’t be about anything depressing could it? Actually, this song refers to the pain of being stuck in an unhappy relationship and how people bottle up their emotions to meet societal expectations, as shown through the lyrics “are we still in denial when we know we’re not happy here,” and “what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold!” respectively.


Perfect Day – Lou Reed

Lou ReedSource: http://www.independent.co.uk/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Reed

Commonly seen in commercials and movies, “Perfect Day” may not be so perfect after all. Despite the fact that they seem simple and romantic in nature, this song’s lyrics actually symbolize Lou Reed’s desire to escape his conflicted emotions regarding sexuality, drug use, and ego. The “you” who he repeatedly refers to in the song is also suspected to be a stand-in for heroin; however, Reed has denied that this is the case.


Hotel California – Eagles

EaglesSource: http://www.shmoop.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_California

Chock-full of symbolism and deceptive lyrics, nobody really knows what to think about this song. According to the band members, however, this song refers to the dark, evil reality of fame and fortune, focusing specifically on the greed, corruption, and self-destructive behaviors among celebrities.


Blackbird – The Beatles

BeatlesSource: http://www.rollingstone.com/ Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_McCartney

Written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Blackbird represents the struggle of an African American woman living in the United States during the mid 1960’s. Specifically, the blackbird symbolizes the girls of the Little Rock Nine, whose courage originally inspired Paul McCartney to write the song.


The Beatles rose to an amazing level of fame. Check to see if they made our list of 25 Top Selling Music Artists Of All Time.