1. Copacabana - Barry Manilow
It’s a happy song about a tropical nightclub, right? Erm, nope, it’s about a washed-up showgirl who loses her boyfriend in a bar fight and slowly goes insane.
Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola,
Still in dress she used to wear,
Faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined,and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she’s lost her mind
2. All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You - Heart
It might sound passionate and romantic, but this song is actually about a woman who has a one-night stand with a stranger in order to get pregnant and then goes back to her partner. What a conniving slut.
I said please, please understand
I’m in love with another man
And what he couldn’t give me
Was the one little thing that you can
3. 99 Red Balloons - Nena
This chirpy little pop ditty is about two friends who release 99 balloons into the sky (so far, so good) that appear as unidentified objects on a military radar (uh-oh) and spark a full-scale war (oops). Well that got pretty depressing pretty quickly.
Ninety-nine dreams I have had
Every one a red balloon
Now it’s all over and I’m standin’ pretty
In this dust that was a city
4. Semi-Charmed Life - Third Eye Blind
Try to listen to this 90s classic without humming along. “Doot doot doot. Doot da doo doo.” You can’t do it, right? Hard to believe that it’s actually about a guy’s descent into crystal meth addition. Radio stations throughout the country also remain blissfully unaware that the lyrics require an R rating…
She comes round and she goes down on me
And I make her smile, like a drug for you
Do ever what you wanna do, coming over you
5. Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People
It was the perky little summer song of 2011 that launched Foster the People into the limelight. But it took a while for everyone to realize that the upbeat tune they’d been singing along to was about a messed-up kid preparing to shoot his classmates.
Yeah! He found a six-shooter gun
in his dad’s closet, with the box of fun things.
I don’t even know what,
but he’s coming for you. Yeah, He’s coming for you!
6. Every Breath You Take - The Police
Even Sting can’t understand why people insist on having this as their wedding song. It’s a creepy ballad about a stalker.
Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you
7. Hey Ya! - Outkast
A song that encourages you to ‘shake it like a Polaroid picture’ can’t be sad and depressing, right? Wrong. One of the most popular hits from the 2000s is about a problematic, disintegrating relationship.
If what they say is “Nothing is forever”
Then what makes, then what makes, then what makes
Then what makes, what makes, what makes love the exception
So why you, why you
Why you, why you, why you are we so in denial
When we know we’re not happy here
8. Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men
A catchy little folk song about a husband who passes away but still has conversations with his (possibly insane) wife.
You’re gone, gone, gone away
I watched you disappear
All that’s left is the ghost of you.
Now we’re torn, torn, torn apart,
There’s nothing we can do
Just let me go we’ll meet again soon
Now wait, wait, wait for me
Please hang around
I’ll see you when I fall asleep
9. Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
Often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem and blasted out at sports games, Springsteen’s 1984 hit is actually an angry protest about the hardships Vietnam war vets faced when they returned to their home country.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said son if it was up to me
Went down to see my VA man
He said son, don’t you understand
10. Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant
Electric Avenue sounds like a really fun place to ‘rock on down’ to until you realize that Grant is referring to the 1981 Brixton riots, in which poverty-stricken residents in London clashed with police. The avenue got its moniker because it was the first street in the area to get electric lights.
Workin’ so hard like a soldier
Can’t afford a thing on TV
Deep in my heart, I abhor ya
Can’t get food for the kid