10 Popular Songs You Never Knew Were Inspired By Movies, Books, And Pop Culture Moments

    "Matilda" by Harry Styles was inspired by Roald Dahl's character Matilda Wormwood: "It's like you're speaking to Matilda as an adult. How would you speak to her?"

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    Hello, pals! My name is Kayla, and I'm completely head-over-heals in love with music. I play it, listen to it, and curate playlists like it's my full-time job (I'm not exaggerating — I'd be totally lost without it).

    The pandemic has taken a toll on so many people the past few years, but the one glimmering light of joy has been all of the genius music released by artists. From Harry Styles to Silk Sonic to Maggie Rogers, musicians have dropped some BANGERS, and personally, it's gotten me through such a hopeless time.

    My favorite part about certain songs (new and old) is learning behind-the-scenes facts, and most importantly, how these songs come about. Along the way I've learned artists are inspired by films, books, and major pop culture moments when writing their songs, and it's honestly cool as heck. In a TikTok video, Maggie Rogers said her 2022 single "That's Where I Am" was inspired by the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You.

    Rogers in her "That's Where I Am" music video juxtaposed with the ending to "10 Things I Hate About You"

    So, here are some popular songs you probably didn't know were written about movies, books, and pop culture moments.

    Warning: Some songs include profanity.

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    1. Taylor Swift's "Death by a Thousand Cuts" was inspired by the 2019 rom-com Someone Great.

    Swift at the 2019 MTV VMAs

    In an interview with Elvis Duran in 2019, Taylor Swift expressed how much she loved the heart and depth of Someone Great, and explained how greatly it impacted her life. She said: "For a week, I start waking up from dreams that I'm living out that scenario, that that's happening to me. I have these lyrics in my head based on the dynamics of these characters."

    Jenny writing Nate a love letter

    A few months after releasing Lover, Swift got a surprise email from the writer and director of Someone Great, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Swift told Duran: "[Jen Robinson's] like: 'I just wanted to thank you for mentioning my movie — it was about my own breakup. While I was moving across the country, the album I had on repeat was 1989.' And so I'm sitting there [thinking]: 'I just wrote ["Death by a Thousand Cuts"] based on something she made, which she made while listening to something I made,' which is the most meta thing that's ever happened to me."

    Swift's "1989" album cover

    You can listen to "Death by a Thousand Cuts" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Republic / Via youtube.com

    2. Megan Thee Stallion's "Thot Shit" was inspired by the negative reactions she and Cardi B received from their 2020 hit "WAP."

    Megan Thee Stallion at the 2021 Grammys

    In a 2020 interview with Stephen Colbert, Megan Thee Stallion said: "I know the Republicans have had a bad year, and they probably need to take their frustration out somewhere. But, I want to tell them thank you for the streams, because without [them], I don't know if we would've been here — I mean, them people crazy."

    Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B in their "WAP" music video

    So one summer later, the queen of Hot Girl Summer released "Thot Shit." The music video emulated Megan Thee Stallion's take on the negative reactions from "WAP" — in the beginning of the video, she showed a senator leaving hateful comments on one of her videos. Then in the middle of the song, Stallion rapped: "Watchin' me go through it, still tryna drag me / Actin' like you winnin', if you think about it, actually / Are they supportin' you, or really just attackin' me? I don't give a fuck 'bout a blog tryna bash me / I'm the shit, per the Recording Academy."

    Senator leaving hateful comments on Megan Thee Stallion's music video

    You can listen to "Thot Shit" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    1501 Certified / 300 / Via youtube.com

    3. Lil Nas X's "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" was partly inspired by the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name.

    Lil Nas X at the 2021 Met Gala

    In a 2021 interview with Genius, Lil Nas X revealed it was a magical process writing "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)." He said: "The storyline happens this one night in the summer where I take a break from working on [Montero], and I visit this guy who's an artist. He's like: 'Come visit my house!' and I was like: 'Okay.' I get there, and I'm like: 'Oh, I like this guy a lot.' And the next day, I started writing the song."

    Lil Nas X in his "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" music video

    Lil Nas X explained that Call Me by Your Name was "one of the first gay films I had watched," and how deeply the movie influenced his 2021 hit. "The song is called 'Call Me by Your Name,' which is themed after the movie Call Me by Your Name," he said. "The song is my name [Montero], but it's the person's name because I'm calling them by my own name — you get it?"

    Timothée Chalamet in "Call Me by Your Name;" Lil Nas X in his "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" music video

    You can listen to "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Columbia / Via youtube.com

    4. Harry Styles' "Matilda" was inspired by Roald Dahl's famous character Matilda Wormwood.

    Styles performing in 2022

    Harry Styles explained to NPR how "Matilda" came out. He said: "The disguising element was we'll disguise [the song as] if you were speaking to [Matilda Wormwood] now that she's grown up, who's been mistreated by her family. How would you speak to her?"

    Missy Honey in the film "Matilda:" "You were born into a family that doesn't always appreciate you, but one day things are going to be very different"

    "Matilda" was also inspired by Styles' friend who was going through a hard time, which aligned with Matilda Wormwood's own struggles. "People have so much guilt with things that they don't necessarily need to have guilt with sometimes. I think it's your right to protect the space around you and be protective of yourself and look after yourself," he said. "'Matilda' means so much to me — it was a moment where it's not my place to make someone else's experience about me. It's just wanting to reassure them that I was listening."

    Styles on stage saying that if anyone in the crowd thinks "Matilda" applies to them, then it does

    You can listen to "Matilda" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Columbia / Erskine / Via youtube.com

    5. Stevie Nicks' "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" was inspired by the Twilight movies.

    Nicks performing in 2011

    On The Late Late Show with James Corden in 2016, Stevie Nicks happened to be on the show the same night Taylor Lautner made an appearance (who played Jacob in the Twlight saga). Nicks told Lautner: "I saw the first Twilight movie on the road — then I went to the movie theater and saw the second one, and I fell so in love with it that I went back to my room and I wrote this song called 'Moonlight,'" she said. "It was about Bella and Edward and [Jacob], and it's my favorite song."

    Edward and Bella laying next to each other; Bella to Jacob: "It must be nice never getting old"

    Nicks believed in the song so much, and declared that if it wasn't for Twilight, her career probably would've gone down hill in the 2010s. She said: "[And] when I got back [from the road], I called my record company and said: 'Well, I don't care if it sells any records or not.' If it hadn't been for [Twilight], I would've never made In Your Dreams (2011) and 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault (2014) because I was so staunch in my belief that [my career] was over."

    Nicks in her "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream" music video

    You can listen to "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Reprise / Via youtube.com

    6. Lauryn Hill's legendary 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was inspired by Carter G. Woodson's 1933 novel The Mis-Education of the Negro.

    Hill posing for a portrait in 1999

    Carter G. Woodson's The Mis-Education of the Negro focuses on teaching Black history in schools and other systems, and questioning the whitewashing of American history. The novel encourages people to seek out moments, facts, and figures of Black history, and for Black citizens to never feel inferior to these problematic institutions. Woodson once said: "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition — it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."

    Original book cover for "The Mis-Education of the Negro"

    In a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone, Lauryn Hill went in-depth about her creative process behind The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Not only was the title a direct nod to Woodson's The Mis-Education of the Negro, but it was also in-tune with Woodson's mission. Like Woodson, Hill's goal was to educate her listeners about empowerment and self-love: "During [the '90s] especially, I always wanted to be a motivator of positive change. It's in all of my lyrics, that desire to see my community get out of its own way, identify and confront internal and external obstacles, and experience the heights of love and self-love that provoke transformation," she said.

    Album cover for "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"

    Hill went on to explain her creative process that expressed nothing but mindfulness: "I sang from that place and chose to share the joy and ecstasy of it," Hill continued. "[I also wanted to share] the disappointments, entanglements, and life lessons I had learned at that point."

    Hill in the video to the song

    You can listen to "Everything Is Everything" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Ruffhouse / Columbia / Via youtube.com

    7. The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" was partly inspired by Lewis Carroll's 1871 poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Through the Looking-Glass (1871).

    The Beatles posing for a picture in 1967

    Credited as a Lennon-McCartney song, John Lennon mostly took reign writing "I Am the Walrus" — it was inspired by his love for Lewis Carroll's poems and books as a kid. This led him to write whimsical, escapist lyrics like: "Semolina Pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower / Elementary penguin singing 'Hare Krishna' / Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe / I am the egg man /They are the egg men / I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob."

    The Beatles in their "I Am the Walrus" music video

    In an interview post-Beatles, Lennon explained the impact Carroll had on him as a child and as an adult. "To me, ["The Walrus and the Carpenter"] was a beautiful poem — it never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work," he said. "Later I went back and looked at it, and realized that the Walrus was the bad guy in the story and the Carpenter was the good guy. I thought: 'Oh, shit, I've picked the wrong guy.' But that wouldn't have been the same, would it? 'I am the carpenter...'"

    Lines from "The Walrus and the Carpenter" poem; Cartoon of the Walrus and the Carpenter from "Through the Looking-Glass"

    You can listen to "I Am the Walrus" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Capitol / Parlophone / Via youtube.com

    8. Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" was inspired by the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969.

    Mitchell posing for a portrait in the late '60s

    Joni Mitchell was originally supposed to perform at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Aug. 1969, but at the last minute, her manager told her not to go. She was scheduled to appear on The Dick Cavett Show the next day, so instead of performing at the festival, she stayed back in New York.

    Crowd at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair

    Moved by one of the first huge music festivals in history, Mitchell followed the Woodstock news coverage on TV. It was that weekend she wrote the monumental song "Woodstock," and unknowingly created the anthem of the late '60s. "I don't know if I would have written the song 'Woodstock' if I had gone [to the festival]," she told Life in 1994. "I was the fan who couldn't go, not the performing animal — so, it afforded me a different perspective."

    Mitchell performing "Woodstock" on the BBC in 1970

    The next day Mitchell appeared on The Dick Cavett Show alongside Woodstock performers Jefferson Airplane and David Crosby and Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Mitchell listened to their stories about the festival she unfairly missed out on. The song "Woodstock" became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in March 1970, and a month later, appeared on Mitchell's album Ladies of the Canyon as a dark, piano ballad.

    Jefferson Airplane, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Mitchell on "Dick Cavett"

    You can listen to "Woodstock" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Reprise / Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

    9. Erykah Badu's "A.D. 2000" was inspired by the murder of an unarmed immigrant named Amadou Diallo in 1999.

    Badu posing for a portrait in 2000

    In 1999, 23-year-old immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot by four police officers 41 times — he was unarmed, and the police officers were acquitted of all charges. Diallo's murder ignited protests nationwide, and greatly impacted US citizens — including famous musician Erykah Badu.

    Diallo in a candid image; Woman protesting Amadou Diallo's murder

    On her 2000 album, Mama's Gun, Erykah Badu wrote "A.D. 2000" about Amadou Diallo's murder outside of his apartment building. She penned moving lyrics that unfortunately still ring true today: "No you won't be naming no buildings after me / To go down, dilapidated / No you won't be naming no buildings after me / My name will be misstated, surely / This world done changed so much, yeah, yeah / This world done changed since I been conscious."

    Badu in her "Didn't Cha Know" music video

    You can listen to "A.D. 2000" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Motown / Puppy Love / Via youtube.com

    10. And Jay-Z's "Moonlight" was inspired by the Best Picture incident at the 2017 Oscars, and how La La Land was announced the winner when really Moonlight won the golden statue.

    Jay-Z at a Roc Nation pre-Grammy party in 2017

    In an iHeart Radio interview in 2017, Jay-Z explained the significance behind every song on his album 4:44. When it came down to writing "Moonlight," he revealed: "The hook is 'We stuck in La La Land, even if we win, we gonna lose.' It's like a subtle nod to La La Land winning the Oscar, and then having to give it to Moonlight. It's really a commentary on the culture and where we're going."

    Barry Jenkins accepting the Best Picture win: "Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true"

    Jay-Z's music video for "Moonlight," starring famous actors like Issa Rae, Tessa Thompson, and LaKeith Stanfield, adds additional commentary to "the culture." It essentially illustrates how Friends was the "winning sitcom" of the '90s, when in reality, the premise was stolen from Living Single.

    The cast of "Living Single" posing for a portrait; The cast of "Friends" posing for a portrait

    You can listen to "Moonlight" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Roc Nation / Via youtube.com

    What's a popular song most people don't know are about movies, books, TV shows, or pop culture moments? Let us know in the comments below!

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