- Top Five 21st Century Songs with Upbeat Music and Surprisingly Unhappy Lyrics
Disclaimer: Information offered is nothing but my personal opinion, based on the ‘browsing research’ and my own interpretation of the analyzed lyrics.
Hey Ya! — OutKast, 2003
The most frequently quoted lyrics from this song are “Shake it like a Polaroid picture”, but its main content describes a sorrowful ending of a relationship. It is particularly obvious through the verse of “(…) ‘nothing lasts forever’; than what makes love the exception?” On one occasion, OutKast’s Andre 3000 has confirmed that the speculations about the meaning of this amazingly popular hit are true. Furthermore, he gave the entire song an even darker meaning by interpreting all common relationships of the time, explaining that he sees most of them as an obligation that people try to fulfill, even though they might wish differently.
Much as Lucy Connolly, whose text was my reference point, I remember the time of this evergreen’s peek popularity. The beginning of the 2000’s in Croatia was probably much different than that time in the USA, but we weren’t really lagging by in following the trends regarding pop culture, such as being captivated by MTV. One of the songs, which my friends and me used as a soundtrack while relentlessly shaking our butts across all the dancefloors available, was this OutKast’s happy-go-lucky sounding love eulogy, and, to tell the truth, I never really cared a lot about its true meaning.
It would be interesting to analyze, though, whether this text really is *sad* in the right sense of the word, or is it, as it says, “just being honest”, since it encourages people to leave the relationship that makes them miserable. Be that as it may, gladly did I not pay a lot of attention to the lyrics. Otherwise, I’d probably be much more hesitant in shaking it like a Polaroid picture, to the beat of this piece of music. And that shaking was one hell of a good time — every time.
Time to Pretend — MGMT, 2007
If the life-disappointment hymn of the 20th century might be Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime, this flattering role in the 21st century must go to the MGMT’s Time to Pretend. The similarities between these two songs are obvious, since both describe lives of those who suddenly wake up to reality and realize how dissatisfied they are, experiencing no deeper happiness whatsoever. The main difference between the two, though, is that David Byrne refers to the lives of us, ordinary people, while Time to Pretend is about the disappointment of a person “enjoying” the celebrity lifestyle:
“But there is really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew
We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend.“
Some parts imply that the lyrical subject does not necessarily see the other option (“lay-people” life) as a better one: “Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do? Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?“ Still, this doesn’t make the song in its entirety any more optimistic, since nothing here gives the impression of a light at the end of existence.
The 90s and grunge might easily represent the era and genre where stories of decay and nihilism were at its strongest, but this more contemporary music hit is something else. In a little more than four minutes, this psychedelic indie-rock tune offers a plethora of celebratory effects, such as pompous trumpets, riffs played in major key, distant nature sounds and vocals which (in an almost amused way) pronounce that happy ending never comes. To make it even more bizarre, the video is equally disturbingly colorful, thus making the majority of listeners completely surprised once they pay attention to the message sent here.
Congrats, MGMT; Cobain must be proud of you! I wonder what David Byrne thinks about this song, though…
P!nk — So What, 2008
When her colleague started to play the song’s melody for the first time ever, while jamming together, Pink started singing along what became the first verse to the upbeat tune of her hit So What: “I guess I just lost my husband, I dunno where he went…” After that, both of them started laughing and she said “This is cool — let’s go on” and that is how the song was made.
Just like the fully colored and cheerful video, So What is very energetic, fast paced and kind of nursery-rhymes sounding, but it really sings about the misfortune Pink was facing at the time. Seven years after the start of their somewhat unconventional relationship, and after marrying famous motocross racer Carey Hart, Pink was suddenly single and heartbroken.
But this girl didn’t let the unfortunate breakup deteriorate her public image of a strong and independent young woman. After all, she is the kind of a girl whose marriage started after the proposal that she made, and not the other way around. Also, this heroine’s ‘girl power’ attitude is always obvious in her tweets about positive body image and her live shows are not your average MTV girly-girl shows, thus it would be really disappointing to see her drowning in sorrow after her marriage going bonkers.
It is not surprising, then, that her breakup hit was called So What, celebrating the fact that she is “still a rock star”.
Moreover, this love story has a happy ending, at least so far: less than two years after the separation, the couple announced that they were back together and that they are expecting a baby girl, Willow. Subsequently, Carey Hart decided to award us his presence in the video for this song, becoming the living proof that true love can conquer anything — even being publically buried (semi)alive.
Foster the People — Pumped Up Kicks, 2010
In his NME interview, Mark Foster explains how this song came to be, including the fact that the first part written (or composed) was the chorus. This is interesting because the chorus itself was his pure improvisation, without much importance given to the verse mentioning the word “gun”; and this very word is what was determining the future of the song. Despite its frolicky rhythm and melody, the song tells the story of a boy who carries the gun and everybody else is supposed to hide (“you better run, better run, faster than my bullet”).
According to Foster’s words, this song is what changed their career, not surprisingly, but he also sees its tremendous value in drawing the attention to the problem of school massacres in the United States, and also for shedding some light on the issue of censorship — what is really supposed to be prohibited?
Even though the song itself does not mention the problem of action and reaction, in the sense of the boy being bullied and then deciding to go on his shooting spree, it might implicitly be said so, due to the chorus’ part which sings “all the other kids, with your pumped up kicks” (which is, ultimately, the title of the song too). Also, some critics believe that the boy from the song really was bullied by his peers, supporting the theory with the alleged stories from Mark’s childhood, according to which he was the victim of some unpleasant peer behavior.
Whether the song sings about the righteous, yet troubled boy, or is he “just” deranged, remains the mystery, but this hit has certainly outrun every other song’s gun, by becoming much more popular than ever expected.
Little Talks — Of Monster and Men, 2011
When they released their hit single Little Talks in 2011, Of Monster and Men probably didn’t dream of its success, but the song propelled them to the heights of international popularity, not only due to the catchiness of the melody, but also because of the audience’s undying need for the topic of troubled love. And, because of the multiple meanings that were read-into the lyrics.
The song represents a dialog between the lovers. Some theories see it as the agonized woman and her supportive man, who loves her more than he loves himself or the idea of living without her. Her words (“There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back”) tell the story of a damsel in distress tormented by something that seems to be anxiety, depression or other devastating mental issue. At the same time, the words of her knight in shiny armor (“Well tell her that I miss our little talks”) show his readiness to usher her on their not so lovely part of the journey, strengthened by everything beautiful that initially made them fall in love with each other.
There are other theories, which interpret this as a dialogue between the wife who is going crazy because the husband passed away, but he still watches her. To some, this idea might be very disturbing, but others might find it quite comforting, believing that the death is not necessarily the final point.
Garnished with the verse “Cause though the truth may vary, this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore”, perhaps this song has helped many real-life relationships on their travel through the raging sea, to regain the hope that there really is a safe port waiting for them.
Nevertheless, the band has reached its more than safe financial port, given the fact that at one point they sold over 2 million copies in the USA only.