10 Popular Songs That Aren’t About What You Think They Are

Let’s be clear: a song’s lyrics have almost no bearing on the success of popularity of said song. Most people don’t even sing the lyrics correctly anyway! That said, the actual inspiration behind many popular and beloved shocked might shock some of their biggest fans.

Here are just a few songs that you’ve probably been misinterpreting ever since you first heard them. You may sing along proudly to these tunes when they come on the radio, but their actual meanings might be a bit of a surprise to you. Brace yourself: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” isn’t necessarily a love ballad, and “Closing Time” isn’t about last call in a dive bar.

You may need to sit down when reading these, lest you fall down from having your little musical mind blown.


1. “Total Eclipse of The Heart,” Bonnie Tyler

While this song is an iconic ’80s ballad, seemingly associated with a tumultuous breakup, it’s true meaning lies in an unexpected place: vampires. Songwriter Jim Steinman apparently wrote the song as part of a vampire musical, and had originally titled the number “Vampires in Love.” Which is honestly an AMAZING idea for a musical, and someone should still make this happen (Jason Segel, probably).

2. Good Riddance, Green Day

While this song has rested comfortably on its laurels, thanks to constant replays by Senior Prom committees and graduation ceremonies, it’s apparently more of a “Fuck you” than a bittersweet goodbye. Billie Joe Armstrong’s girlfriend was moving away to Ecuador, and the singer/songwriter penned the iconic song about his frustrations and bitterness associated with the breakup.

3. “Slide,” Goo Goo Dolls

The upbeat, acoustic guitar-laden tune has a pretty grim inspiration. The song is about a girl in a strict Catholic family who discovers that she is pregnant and must decide whether to marry her boyfriend or have an abortion. Sheesh, guys, this is only rock ‘n roll, can we take it down a notch?

4. “Closing Time,” Semisonic

Every single bar uses this song to indicate that — you guessed it — it’s “closing time” and time for last call. However, the songwriter, Dan Wilson, says that the song was actually inspired by his impending fatherhood and his pregnant wife. “My wife and I were expecting our first kid very soon after I wrote that song. I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb.”

5. “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

I will freely admit that I’ve never thought twice about the meaning of this song — I merely assumed it was about keeping a tough exterior in the brutal game of love. However, Lady Gaga has admitted that she penned the song during a time when she was pondering her bisexuality. She was dating a man, but kept fantasizing about other women, and the song was borne from those feelings.

6. “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster The People

The peppy tone of this song totally betrays the darker undertones of its lyrics, for anyone who bothers to give it a closer listen. While there are plenty of listeners who will be eager to tell you that this song is simply a creepy tune about a kid shooting up his school, the song is a tad more intricate than that. Songwriter Mark Foster asserts that the song is actually about exploring mental illnesses in teenagers, as well as gun violence.

7. “I Will Always Love You,” Dolly Parton

Though this song gained popularity when it was covered by Whitney Houston as a love ballad, Dolly Parton originally wrote the song as an ode to her former songwriting partner, Porter Wagoner. The two were never romantically involved — the song was literally just wishing a friend well on their future endeavors. So that song you’ve been associating with heartbreak for years is actually just about platonic love. Mind = blown. 


8. “Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds,” The Beatles

Everyone always tried to tell me that this song was about LSD, without a doubt. And, given the technicolor music video proffered up by Yellow Submarine, the theory didn’t really seem like much of stretch, to be honest. However, according to John Lennon, the song was inspired by a painting his son Julian created in class, which featured one of his friends (a girl named Lucy) in the sky with diamonds. GOSH, IT SEEMS SO SIMPLE, WHEN YOU PUT IT THAT WAY. 

9. “Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams

While this song may seem like a jaunty ode to summer, it’s actually a pretty blatant reference to the 69 sexual position. “A lot of people think it’s about the year,” Adams said in an interview, “but actually, it’s more about making love in the summertime. It’s using ’69 as a sexual reference.” HOW did we not think of this already, with our collective minds constantly in the gutter??

10. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana

I mean, no one really knows what the lyrics to this song are, anyway, so there’s a pretty good chance you’re not interpreting it incorrectly — you just haven’t bothered interpreting it at all. However, you might be surprised to know (I was) that the song may have actually been inspired by the Teen Spirit deodorant. Kurt Cobain was apparently dating a girl who wore the deodorant brand all the time, and Bikini Kill singer Katherine Hanna (who didn’t care for the girl) wrote “smells like Teen Spirit” on a wall in Cobain’s apartment. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Related-ish: 10 Classic ’90s Songs You Never Knew Were Actually Really Depressing

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