Wait, What Do They Mean? 5 Songs You May Have Misunderstood

– by Cecily Knobler, Live from Hollywood –

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We’ve all heard the hilarious stories of people getting lyrics wrong during karaoke. I actually heard someone singing Van Halen’s “Panama” as “Fanama.” He literally sang the lyric: “F-f-f-Fanama.” Not only is there not a country called Fanama, it’s not a word at all. And of course there’s the Taylor Swift tune “Blank Space,” where nearly everyone (including, reportedly, Taylor’s own mother) thinks she’s singing, “Got a list of Starbucks lovers who’ll tell you I’m insane” when she’s really singing: “Got a long list of ex-lovers who’ll tell you I’m insane.” (Most of us can relate to the correct lyrics on that one.)

But misheard lyrics are one thing; misunderstood lyrics are a whole other can of worms. It’s so funny yet disturbing to hear someone happily singing along to a tune, only to find out the real meaning of the song is super dark and tragic. So here’s a quick list of a few commonly misunderstood ditties. Check it out to see if you’re a song-interpretation offender!

1. Chandelier (Sia, 2014)

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Sia-Chandelier

Let’s say you’re in a club and hear a dance version of Sia’s catchy lyrics, “I want to swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier! I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist!” You might assume this is a party anthem, one in which we’re all instructed to live life to the fullest. But if you really break the lyrics down, you’ll find it’s quite the opposite. The song is about alcoholism, depression and the belief that one needs to “fly high” in order not to feel pain. (I didn’t realize this until I heard Sia discuss it herself on American Idol.)

2. Pumped Up Kicks (Foster the People, 2010)

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Foster The People-Pumped Up Kicks

The melody is in a major key, you can dance to it, and they reference super cool shoes. These things would all at first listen imply a fun-loving high school jam, right? This song was anything but! When you really pay attention you hear, “All the other kids in their pumped up kicks, they better run, better run, faster than my bullet.” The song is chillingly about a high school shooting. Its glibness was presumably because it came from the shooter’s point of view, which only adds to its darkness.

3. Love Song (Sara Bareilles, 2007)

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Sara Bareilles-Love Song

This song is actually a double misdirect. With a title like this, you might think the tune is, well, a love song. But upon listening, you’ll probably quickly realize by the lyrics, “I’m not gonna sing you a love song cuz you asked for it, cuz you need one” that in fact it’s an anti-love song. But what you might not realize is Sara is not directing these words at a particular romantic partner. It’s about her record label, which insisted she put a sweet love song on her album because according to them, romance sells. Defiantly, Sara wrote this missive directly toward them which let them know, “Nope, not gonna do that on your terms!”

4. Hey Ya! (Outcast, 2003)

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Outkast-Hey Ya!

A song that can really get a dance floor hopping, especially with its G major chords! Happy, danceable, a great beat! But if you listen closely, you’ll figure out that the lyrics (written by Andre 3000) represent a couple no longer happy in their relationship. He talks about how nothing lasts forever, so why would love be an exception? In an interview in 2013, Andre says the song isn’t autobiographical, but is certainly based on relationships he’s seen through the years. Will I continue to, as the lyrics request, “shake it like a Polaroid picture” anyway? I sure will!

5. Every Breath You Take (The Police, 1983)

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The Police-Every Breath You Take

One of the best songs ever written by The Police front-man Sting, it seems so incredibly sweet at first listen. But Sting himself has admitted the song is about obsession, stalking and an inability to let go of past loves. Now when you hear, “Every move you make, every smile you fake, I’ll be watching you,” it’s pretty dark, right? And when he gets to the bridge, “Oh can’t you see, you belong to me, how my poor heart aches, with every breath you take” the song reaches an all-new level of creepiness.