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The hidden meanings behind 27 pop songs, including ‘Baby One More Time'

Shanee Edwards is a screenwriter who earned her master's degree at UCLA Film School. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her TV pilot, Ada and the Machine, is cur...

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Sing it loud, but should you be proud?

WENN
#1/28:

Sing it loud, but should you be proud?

Whether it's a sexual innuendo or just a lost-in-translation moment, sometimes we have to look a little closer at the lyrics of our favorite pop songs to really understand the real message.

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'Umbrella' By Rihanna

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'Umbrella' By Rihanna

In "Umbrella," the canopy is a symbol for protection, like a condom. Rihanna sings, 'Ooh, baby, it's rainin', rainin' baby, come here to me, come into me." Jay Z raps, "No clouds in my stones," meaning his testicles are working properly. He then says, "In anticipation for precipitation, stack chips for the rainy day, Jay—Rain Man is back." Jay Z is planning on making it rain, man style.

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Lorde's 'Royals'

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Lorde's 'Royals'

While the song sounds like it's about the British royal family, Lorde admits the song "Royals" was actually inspired by this photo of a player from the Royals baseball team being hounded for autographs that appeared in National Geographic. The photo was taken by Ted Spiegel.

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Katy Perry's 'Firework'

WENN
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Katy Perry's 'Firework'

Surprisingly, the true meaning behind the song "Firework" is quite literal. Katy Perry told Billboard magazine, "Basically I have this very morbid idea... when I pass, I want to be put into a firework and shot across the sky over the Santa Barbara Ocean as my last hurrah." 

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'Smells Like Teen Spirit' by Nirvana

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'Smells Like Teen Spirit' by Nirvana

Kurt Cobain's friend Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of Bikini Kill, spray-painted the phrase, "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his wall. Though Cobain didn't know that Teen Spirit was a brand of deodorant, Hanna was implying that Cobain smelled like his girlfriend Tobi Vail, who wore that brand of deodorant, probably because his body had rubbed up against hers while making out.

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Nirvana's 'Heart-Shaped Box'

FayesVision/WENN
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Nirvana's 'Heart-Shaped Box'

Courtney Love recently responded to singer Lana Del Rey after Del Rey covered the Nirvana song "Heart-Shaped Box" by tweeting her that the song was actually about Love's vagina. Though Love's tweet has since been deleted, it reportedly said, "You do know the song is about my vagina right? 'Throw down your umbilical noose so i can climb right back.' On top of which some of the lyrics about my vagina I contributed. So umm next time you sing it, think about my vagina will you?"

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'Timber' by Kesha

WENN
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'Timber' by Kesha

In the Pit Bull and Kesha song "Timber," it's not hard to understand that the song isn't about a tree falling in the woods. The lyrics go, "Swing your partner round and round, end of the night, it's going down, one more shot, another round, end of the night, it's going down." Obviously, the thing going down is a person, who after drinking too many shots, is going to fall down drunk.

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Psy's 'Gangnam Style'

Dominic Chan/WENN
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Psy's 'Gangnam Style'

A neighborhood known as Gangnam is sort of the Beverly Hills of Seoul, Korea -- at least on the surface. Psy's song and video "Gangnam Style" is a biting social commentary on the people who live a wealthy lifestyle while running up huge credit card bills or eating cheap ramen noodles so they can afford to buy expensive Starbucks drinks to appear as if they run with the elite crowd. With all the crazy dance moves from the video, you'd never know it was a commentary on social status.

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'Poker Face' by Lady Gaga

WENN
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'Poker Face' by Lady Gaga

According to Lady Gaga, this song was inspired when she was having sex with a man but fantasizing about being with a woman. Because of her "poker face," the man had no idea who she was thinking about.

 

 

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Ace of Base's 'All That She Wants'

Dominic Chan/WENN
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Ace of Base's 'All That She Wants'

The lyrics, "All that she wants is another baby," could have two possible meanings. One, that the woman in question wants to birth another child to get more welfare money. The other interpretation is that she wants to find another guy to call "baby." The singer, Jonas Berggren, has confirmed the word "baby" means lover.

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'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster the People

Dominic Chan/WENN
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'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster the People

"Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People may sound like a school kid enjoying a new pair of shoes, but it's really about a school shooting. This lyric, "All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun" says it all.

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Madonna's 'Like a Prayer'

WENN
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Madonna's 'Like a Prayer'

Madonna's "Like a Prayer" sounds like she's having a religious experience, and maybe she is if it's sex that brings her closer to God. The lyrics, "When you call my name, it's like a little prayer. I'm down on my knees, I wanna take you there. In the midnight hour, I can feel your power. Just like a prayer, you know I'll take you there." So we think "there" means "orgasm."

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Spice Girls' 'Spice Up Your Life'

Daniel Deme /WENN
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Spice Girls' 'Spice Up Your Life'

The Spice Girl's song "Spice Up Your Life," is apparently a recipe for cooking meth. The lyrics, "Slam it to the left if you're having a good time. Shake it to the right if you know that you feel fine," are instructions on what to do when the crystals are cooking. Don't believe it? The song was even used in the TV show Breaking Bad.

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'Pretty in Pink' by the Psychedelic Furs

Paramount Pictures
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'Pretty in Pink' by the Psychedelic Furs

We've all come to associate the song "Pretty in Pink" with the film of the same name starring Molly Ringwald. The Psychadelic Furs, the band who sang the song, admitted that the phrase "pretty in pink' is a euphemism for being pretty naked

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'Closing Time' By Semisonic Copy

WENN
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'Closing Time' By Semisonic Copy

The song "Closing Time" seems pretty straightforward, but when you look more closely at the lyrics, things change. "Closing time. This room won't be open till your brothers or your sisters come." Singer Dan Wilson was referring to his wife's womb and his impending fatherhood, not a bar closing up.

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Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'

Mark Cavill/WENN
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Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'

The original title of this mega-hit from 1983 was "Vampires in Love," according to singer Bonnie Tyler. "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 dark," Tyler said. 

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Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti'

Mike Stotts/WENN
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Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti'

According to Little Richard himself, this song is about anal sex between two men. The original lyrics went like this, "A wop bop a loo mop a good goddam, Tutti Frutti, good booty, if it don't fit, don't force it, you can grease it, make it easy."

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The Weeknd's 'Can't Feel My Face'

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The Weeknd's 'Can't Feel My Face'

The Weeknd has got everyone singing, "I can't feel my face when I'm with you, and I love it" constantly this year, and while it seems like a sweet ditty about a guy who is so in love that he's numb with happiness, it's actually about something quite different.

The talented crooner isn't actually talking about a woman at all in "Can't Feel My Face," but is actually personifying cocaine addiction, which completely makes sense when you consider lyrics like "I know she'll be the death of me," "at least we'll both be numb" and "we both knew we can't go without it."

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Sia's 'Chandelier'

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Sia's 'Chandelier'

Like "Can't Feel My Face," Sia's "Chandelier" is a catchy pop tune with a dark meaning.

With lyrics like "phone's blowin' up, ringin' my doorbell/ I feel the love, feel the love" and "1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink," it's easy to mistake it for a party song, but it's really about Sia's own alcohol and drug addiction. 

Sia has been sober for years now, according to NPR, and she wrote "Chandelier" as a sly nod to the oft-used party them in pop music.

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M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes'

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M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes'

M.I.A.'s 2007 hit "Paper Planes" is about getting high and drug dealers, right? Wrong.

Besides the drug thing, "Paper Planes" also came under fire for being pro-gun and pro-terrorist. M.I.A., who is a refugee from Sri Lanka, says she wants the meaning to be open to interpretation, but does hint that the song is political satire about big business and stereotypes about immigrants.

"It could be about, you know, gun corporations selling guns and making billions of dollars, or it could be about immigrants coming over and being like, the scary thing that's going to take everyone's jobs," she said in a 2009 interview. "I kinda want to leave it ambiguous."

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'Every Breath You Take' by The Police

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'Every Breath You Take' by The Police

The Police's "Every Breath You Take" has been played as couples' first dance song at weddings since the '80s, but Sting says it's not a romantic ballad, but is instead "very, very sinister and ugly."

He wrote the song after a bad breakup, and intended it to have more of a stalker-ish vibe than rainbows and butterflies. "It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn't realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control," he said in 1993.

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Sara Bareilles' 'Love Song'

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Sara Bareilles' 'Love Song'

Sara Bareilles' "Love Song" seems like it's about her telling a needy guy that's begging her to write a song for him to f*** off, but in reality the "f*** you" was going out to her record label.

The label was pressuring her about what kind of music to put on her album, hence the lyrics, "I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cuz you asked for it, 'cuz you need one."

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'Harder to Breathe' by Maroon 5

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'Harder to Breathe' by Maroon 5

Just like Bareilles' "Love Song," Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe" was not inspired be the band's love life, but by pressure from their record label to add more songs to the album Songs About Jane.

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Bryan Adams' 'Summer Of '69'

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Bryan Adams' 'Summer Of '69'

Turns out Bryan Adams' hit single off the album Reckless is less about the summer of 1969 and more about the summer of 69-ing.

Adams was born in 1959, making him only about 10 years old in 1969, so it was unlikely he was dating girls and hanging out at the drive-in all night, as the song suggests. Adams confirmed in 2008 on The Early Show that 'Summer of '69' is about having sex in the summertime and that the title refers to the sexual position, not the year.

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'Mary Jane's Last Dance' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

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'Mary Jane's Last Dance' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Tom Petty's 'Mary Jane's Last Dance' sure seems like it's a goodbye to a lover, but not everyone is sold on that interpretation.

Petty refuses to confirm what the song is about, but rumor has it the ditty is about marijuana, not a woman.

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John Lennon's 'Imagine'

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John Lennon's 'Imagine'

John Lennon's "Imagine" has long been hailed as one of the most peaceful anthems ever, but Lennon himself said that the song is "virtually the Communist manifesto," according to the book Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life of John Lennon.

Lennon waited until the song was a hit to reveal the meaning behind it, saying, "Because [Communism] is sugarcoated it's accepted. Now I understand what you have to do — put your message across with a little honey."

 

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Third Eye Blind's 'Semi-Charmed Life'

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Third Eye Blind's 'Semi-Charmed Life'

It seems like a typical bouncy, fun song from the '90s about looking to the future, but Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" is actually about a drug bender.

The band's frontman, Stephen Jenkins, admitted to Billboard that the song is about meth and the "bright, shiny feeling you get on speed."

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