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

Over 18.7K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 14 Popular Songs That Aren't About What You Think They Are
Voting 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.  

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY)

  • 1
    5,623 VOTES

    'Total Eclipse of the Heart' Is About Vampires In Love

    'Total Eclipse of the Heart' Is About Vampires In Love
    Video: YouTube

    "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is an iconic '80s love song, but did you know that the love it speaks of is a little more... supernatural in flavor? That's right - the song's original title was "Vampires in Love," according to songwriter John Steinman. Steinman dished on his original intentions for the track to Playbill:  

    "With 'Total Eclipse of the Heart', I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was 'Vampires in Love,' because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu, the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they're really like vampire lines. It's all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love's place in the dark." 

    5,623 votes
  • 'Slide' Is About Abortion
    Video: YouTube

    "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?

    6,555 votes
  • 3
    1,241 VOTES

    'Sabotage' Is About The Beastie Boys' Impatient Producer

    'Sabotage' Is About The Beastie Boys' Impatient Producer
    Video: YouTube

    To many fans of Beastie Boys, Sabotage feels like a big middle finger to someone, and 24 years after its release, the rappers finally revealed who the intended recipient was. In their 2018 book, aptly titled Beastie Boys Book, the musicians said the song started as a more traditional rap song and morphed into a tongue-in-cheek "F you" to their engineer and producer, Mario Caldato Jr:

    We were totally indecisive about what, when, why and how to complete songs. Mario was getting frustrated. That’s a really calm way of saying that he would blow a fuse and get pissed off at us and scream that we just needed to finish something, anything, a song. He would push awful instrumental tracks we made just to have something moving toward completion.

    Adam Horowitz, who spits the song's signature opener, "I can't stand it, I know you planned it," elaborated, saying he decided "it would be funny to write a song about how Mario was holding us all down, how he was trying to mess it all up, sabotaging our great works of art."

    1,241 votes
  • 4
    5,451 VOTES

    'Macarena' Is About Cheating On Your Boyfriend

    'Macarena' Is About Cheating On Your Boyfriend
    Video: YouTube

    Who'd have thought "The Macarena," a song that remains the quintessential end of the night pick for 'most likely to get everyone on the floor, regardless of dance ability,' was about anything more than touching your shoulders and hips? This school disco and wedding staple should be totally innocent, right? Wrong! "The Macarena" is actually about a woman whose boyfriend goes out of town, so she hooks up with his two friends. Take a look at these lyrics:   

    "Now come on, what was I supposed to do? 

    He was out of town and his two friends were so fine." 

    Talk about dirty dancing. Get it, Macarena. 

    5,451 votes
  • 'Paper Planes' Is About Immigration
    Video: YouTube

    You'd be totally forgiven for thinking that "Paper Planes" was about getting high and shooting guns and getting money. And as much fun as it is to mime the gun action along with the chorus's shots, it turns out that there's a far deeper and more interesting meaning behind M.I.A.'s hit. M.I.A. herself has said that the song is about the trouble she experienced with the US government during her attempts to enter the country:  

    "People don’t really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way. That they’re just leeches that suck from whatever, America is so obsessed with money. […] Yeah, they’re always giving me a hard time. When I wrote it, I’d just gotten in to New York after waiting a long time and that’s why I wrote it, just to have a dig." 

    3,686 votes
  • 'Poker Face' Is About Bisexuality
    Video: YouTube

    Surely there's nothing deeper behind the lyrics "Puh-puh-puh-puh poker face," right? Wrong once again! Lady Gage's iconic pop hit is not actually about playing card games, but is, in actuality, about her bisexuality. Gaga revealed that the song is about fantasizing about being with a woman, while being with a man, and so the guy she's with has to read her "poker face."

    5,466 votes