songs 12 Popular Songs That Aren't About What You Think They Are  

Rebecca Shortall
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List Rules Vote up the songs you'll never listen to the same way again.

Pop music's great! It's all uplifting bangers about partying all night, or falling in love, or both, right? Well... not necessarily. There are a lot of popular songs with secret meanings out there, ones that seem innocent but are actually kind of dark. Maybe a song you previously thought was innocent is about drug abuse, or abortion, or infidelity.  

The surprising meanings behind popular songs could cause you to never listen to them in quite the same way again. Maybe you won't be able to hear one of your favorite pop tracks without thinking of the singer doing the dirty or something else. Check out the real meanings of songs below and see which one blows your mind the most.  


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"Slide" sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a trailer for a '90s romance movie about two twenty-somethings falling in love in a big city. Turns out... that's not really the most fitting visuals to accompany this track. Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik explained during an episode of VH1 Storytellers that "Slide" is actually about a teenage girl raised in a strict Catholic household being abandoned by her family after getting an abortion. Just take a look at these lyrics:  

"Don't you love the life you killed? 

The priest is on the phone 

Your father hit the wall 

Your ma disowned you." 

How did that go over our heads?

Artist: Goo Goo Dolls

Albums: Dizzy Up the Girl

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'The A Team' Is About A Crack Addict


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You probably associate Ed Sheeran with earnest acoustic songs about loving you forever, or why won't you love me, Taylor Swift? But one of Sheeran's tracks has a pretty dark subject matter, despite the soft acoustic strains that would normally prep you for an oral love in.  

"The A Team" is about the not-so-romantic realities of being a crack addict in the streets of London. Sheeran explained that the inspiration for the song came from his time volunteering at homeless shelters, and that the song is specifically based on a woman named Angel.  

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TLC wanted to do more than let you know they don't want no scrubs; they also wanted to raise awareness about HIV and AIDs. The second verse of "Waterfalls" is all about a man whose vice is casual sex. He's cheating on his significant other because he has a “natural obsession for temptation” but “three letters took him to his final resting place," meaning he gets AIDs and dies. The first verse is about a mother worrying about her son “chasing waterfalls”, which in this case means he’s after cash from dealing drugs, so the subject matter is pretty bleak all round. 

Artist: TLC

Albums: Crazy Sexy Cool

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Who would have thought that "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People was about anything but being a teenager with cool shoes? As it transpires, the song is about a school shooting. Lead singer Mark Foster wrote the song after reading about the rise in mental illness among teenagers:  

"I kind of wrote the song to bring awareness to the issue. That sort of thing keeps happening more and more in our country; it’s kind of turning into an epidemic. To me the epidemic isn’t gun violence; the epidemic is lack of family, lack of love, and isolation - kids who don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to and that’s what makes them snap." 

And the chorus does contain the lyrics "all the other kids with the pumped up kicks/you better run, better run, outrun my gun" so...

Artist: Foster the People

Albums: Torches

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