This is my first post on this blog. It took me so long to come up with a good, and what I feel is interesting, topic that I thought that I wasn’t going to ever think of anything worthwhile to write. And weirdly enough the answer suddenly came to me as I was making a new Spotify playlist. I noticed that a couple of the songs that my friends and I like to sing and dance along to actually are less carefree than they sound. Many songs have deeper meanings when you look past the happy beats and catchy phrases and actually take a closer look at the lyrics. The fact that this phenomenon was occurring wasn’t enough for me, I was fully captivated by the subject so I decided to investigate why songs that have dark meanings and that address subjects people try to avoid are chart toppers and sung by the very young and the not so young. Because the musician does such a good job blending the cheery rhythmic beats and the deeper meaning behind the lyrics are often lost on most people.
A lot of people miss out on the full message behind songs because they are distracted by the carefree or soothing melody which keeps them from focusing on the lyrics. This is why songs like; “Pumped Up Kicks”, “Chandelier”, and “Take Me To Church”, who’s lyrics are blatantly dark or deep aren’t always seen as such. These songs all mentioned a subject that is often skirted around because a lot of people find the subjects of gun violence, alcoholism, mental illness, school shooting, personal pain, human rights, and homosexuality to be sensitive topics. Yet these songs topped the charts for weeks on end.
“Pumped Up Kicks” is a song by LA based alternative indie-rock band Foster the People, the band is made up of Mike Foster, Cubbie Fink, and Mark Pontius. The song debuted in late 2010 and it was written by Mark Foster who was the founding member of the band. The melody of the song is made up of what sounds like light guitar strums and soft drumming, which is very mellow and calming. This is why people often don’t realize what the song is really about right away. “Pumped Up Kicks” is about an adolescent male, Robert, who has been driven to a dark place mentally because of his neglectful home life and not fitting with, and likely being bullied by, his classmates. What the light hearted catchy chords are hiding is that a troubled boy has violent fantasies about taking revenge on the people who’ve made him feel like an outcast. The chorus, which is the most recognizable part of the song, in my opinion is the darkest part of the song. The chorus repeats “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks/You better run, better run, outrun my gun/All the other kids with the pumped up kicks/You better run, better run, faster than my bullet” According to Mark Foster when he first wrote the song it was “a confidence song” and the gun was purely metaphorical, but as he was recording the song he added some verse which completely changed the direction of the song. In an interview Foster explained that, “I forced the public to have a conversation on not only guns and gun regulation, but also about art itself and where the line is, what should be edited and what shouldn’t be edited…and in terms of pushing the envelope of culture and forcing people to have those conversations. I think that was a really healthy thing for my country“. Though a lot of people were outraged with Foster the People’s decision to release such a “controversial” song, Foster stuck with his position on the importance of the song. The melody of this song is deceptively upbeat and carefree, a total opposite to the dark and violent lyrics- yet it was a top rated song that a lot of people were singing even though there were still major issues with gun control and gun related violence that people didn’t feel comfortable talking about.
Sia is an Australian singer songwriter whose most recognizable feature is her blonde bobbed wig which she wears backwards to cover her face. Her hit song “Chandeliers was released in 2014. Similar to “Pumped Up Kicks” “Chandeliers” lyrics blatantly describes someone’s most likely Sia herself, dark experience trying and failing to avoid their personal demons. Yet this song spent months on Billboard’s top 100 chart and it was and still is a party anthem. Most people are so distracted by the fast paced rhythmic beats and the repetitiveness of the lyrics that they don’t notice how dark the song actually is. “Party girls don’t get hurt/Can’t feel anything, when will I learn/I push it down, push it down…1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink…I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier/I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist/Like it doesn’t exist/I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry” The lyrics are actually a bit haunting as Sia describes binge drinking until she loses control of herself and struggles to forget her problems. But even with all the drinking she never really gets away from her problems because they are always there waiting for her when morning comes and the party’s over. Ultimately, and unfortunately for Sia, the sun always rises to shed light on her “shame” and revive the demons she dried to drown the night before. “Sun is up, I’m a mess/Gotta get out now, gotta run from this/Here comes the shame, here comes the shame “. What’s also interesting is that the formation of the verses highlights the fact that Sia is in this seemingly unending loop of drinking and partying to hide from her problems only for them to catch up to her and instead of facing them she repeats the process of drinking and partying to run away from them only to have the same results. Though this song is about someone’s fall into alcoholism as they struggle to fight off their personal demons this song was a party anthem that got everyone dancing and often drinking along.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who goes by Hozier, released “Take Me To Church” in 2014. I personally believe that this song has to be analyzed in layers because there are several different interpretations depending on how you look at it. On the surface it’s just fun to sing along to even though the melody doesn’t sound upbeat, its actually quite melancholy, but in a good way. It is calm almost like a lullaby- even at the most intense parts of the, like the chorus. Despite its surface appearance as a solomon love song a preliminary inspection of the lyrics will present a radically different message. Many listeners thought that Hozier’s lyrics were a direct attack at religion, mocking it and exposing the rampant hypocrisy and other internal issues. The chorus “Take me to church/I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies/I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife/Offer me that deathless death/Good God, let me give you my life” is likely why people see it as an attack on organized religion. However if you were to dig even deeper and look at the symbolism behind the lyrics as well as Hozier’s own explanation of the lyrics you would see that the song isn’t really attacking religion and churches. In an interview Hozier explains that “Take Me To Church” is actually a love song, but it’s more than that. Also his intention wasn’t to directly single out churches for some of their views that are intolerant, he is “attacking” institutions-including churches- that he feels “Undermines some of the natural parts of being a person, undermine humanity in some point, shape, or form”. One of the institutions that he singles out is Russia for their harsh LGBT policies that are taking away basic rights, such as freedom of speech/expression from people who want to or oppose the policies.
Next time you listen to a song be sure to look at the deeper meaning. You might just be surprised what you find.