1. Adele, “Someone Like You”
Lyric: Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.
I wish nothing but the best for you too.
Don’t forget me, I beg.
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”
You know how the time flies,
Only yesterday was the time of our lives.
Meaning: Adele could have easily said, “I’m heartbroken, this sucks,” but opted to contort notions of time and love and stuff. It’s poetry.
2. The Jackson Five, “I’ll Be There”
Lyric: You and I must make a pact,
We must bring salvation back.
Where there is love, I’ll be there.
Meaning: It’s clearly about love, but the idea of salvation = dedication = something to aspire to/be near, that’s pretty deep.
3. Lil Wayne ft. Bruno Mars, “Mirror”
Lyric: Mirror on the wall,
Ohh here we are again, Yeah.
Through my rise and fall,
You’ve been my only friend, Yeah.
You told me that they can understand the man I am.
So why are we here talkin’ to each other again?
Meaning: Lil Wayne isn’t known for introspection, so perhaps that’s why the song’s chorus relies on Bruno Mars’ soaring vocals. Whatever the case, the song is something of an analogy: clearly both gentlemen aren’t talking to themselves in a mirror, but they are giving us some internal dialogue. The mirror is a metaphor. Get it? Weezy, didn’t know you had it in ya.
4. Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain”
Lyric: I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.
Clouds in my coffee and you’re so vain,
You probably think this song is about you.
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you.
Don’t you? Don’t You?
Meaning: Simon doesn’t miss a beat: she dated some jerk who is so selfish, he’ll probably take credit for the song’s subject. Meta and melancholic because he is, indeed, the subject. The stanza’s opening lines are what truly ring profound: “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee,” as though her aspirations were a hinderance… so it goes in an unhealthy relationship.
5. TLC, “Waterfalls”
Lyric: Listen to me:
Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers,
And the lakes that you’re used to.
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all,
But I think you’re moving too fast.
Little precious has a natural obsession for temptation,
But he just can’t see.
She gives him loving that his body can’t handle,
But all he can say is, “Baby is good to me.”
Meaning: “Chasing waterfalls” is a brilliant aphorism, standing in for a person who goes full force into something without considering the consequences, which is a good life lesson for anyone/everyone. The song is also predicated on ideas of safe sex, the line “natural obsession for temptation” referring to some cheating on someone else and contracting HIV.
6. Cher, “Half-Breed”
Lyric: My father married a pure Cherokee.
My mother’s people were ashamed of me.
The indians said I was white by law.
The White Man always called me “Indian Squaw.”
Half-breed, that’s all I ever heard.
Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word.
Half-breed, she’s no good they warned.
Both sides were against me since the day I was born.
Meaning: It’s pretty clear that this song is about racism toward Native Americans, but it’s the presentation that makes it especially powerful: not only is Cher addressing discrimination, she’s also highlighting the hurtful words attached to the identity—and the lack of her own Native American vocabulary.
7. Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”
Lyric: I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time,
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me.
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you comin’ home son,”
“I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad.”
“We’re gonna have a good time then.”
Meaning: It’s a fairly straight forward song: a dad doesn’t have time for his son, and when the child grows up, he does the same to his child. Even more so, it’s about the loss of innocence and the inevitability of time, and indirectly reminds the listener to spend time with their family. Heavy stuff!
8. Martika, “Toy Soliders”
Lyric: Step by step,
Heart to heart,
Left, right, left.
We all fall down,
Like toy soldiers,
Bit by bit torn apart.
We never win,
But the battle wages on,
For toy soldiers.
It’s getting hard to wake up in the morning,
My head is spinning constantly,
How can it be?
How could I be so blind to this addiction?
If I don’t stop,
The next one’s gonna be me.
Only emptiness remains,
It replaces all the pain.
Meaning: While Martika is largely known as a one hit wonder, the depth of her biggest single knows no real bounds: the song is a metaphor, the appearance of strength (soldiers) that isn’t real (because they are toys.) It’s largely known that the song is about addiction, but is presented in such an obtuse manner that it can really stand in for any kind of addiction. Powerful!
9. Poison, “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”
Lyric: Every rose has its thorn,
Just like every night has it’s dawn,
Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song,
Every rose has its thorn.
Meaning: Appearances can be deceiving? Yup. Even the most beautiful things have a dark side? You got it. To have the good you must deal with the bad? You bet. There are brains under all that hair!
10. Madonna, “Frozen”
Lyric: You’re so consumed with how much you get.
You waste your time with hate and regret.
You’re broken when your heart’s not open.
Meaning: Madonna is describing a selfish person, one who is so consumed with negativity he/she cannot feel love… or, at least, put themselves in a position to be open to it. She could have just said this, ya know, but she presented it in the most heartbreaking manner. I feel for ya, girl.
11. Destiny’s Child, “Bills Bills Bills”
Lyric: You triflin’, good for nothing type of brother.
why haven’t I found another?
A baller, when times get hard,
Need Someone to help me out.
Instead of a scrub like you,
Who don’t know what a man’s about.
Can you pay my bills?
Can you pay my telephone bills?
Can you pay my automo-bills?
If you did then maybe we could chill.
I don’t think you do,
So, you and me are through.
Meaning: First of all, “automo-bills” is an amazing term that sound exist. Secondly, this was a top 40 pop song, and it’s about an independent woman realizing some man is trying to mooch off her, and won’t contribute anything (especially monetary goods! what a taboo!) so she leaves him. Amazing.
12. Rihanna, “Umbrella”
Lyric: You have my heart, and we’ll never be worlds apart.
Maybe in magazines, but you’ll still be my star.
Baby, ‘cause in the dark,
You can’t see shiny cars.
And that’s when you need me there,
With you I’ll always share.
Because when the sun shines, we shine together,
Told you I’ll be here forever,
Said I’ll always be your friend,
Took an oath that I’m a stick it out till the end.
Now that it’s raining more than ever,
Know that we still have each other.
Meaning: Even when stuff sucks, we’ll be together forever. Get it? Rain is, like, bad stuff. Our love is an umbrella.
13. Ace of Base, “The Sign”
Lyric: I, I got a new life, you would hardly recognize me, I’m so glad.
How can a person like me care for you?
I, why do I bother, when you’re not the one for me?
Is enough enough?
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign.
Life is demanding without understanding.
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign.
No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong,
But where do you belong?
Meaning: What is the sign? Does the sign even exist? Probably not, but that’s cool because now you are free. Being single is awesome. So is Ace of Base.