Disturbing Pop Songs People Love

Popular music commonly tackles serious topics, but there are some tunes that simply aren't as sugary sweet, upbeat, or innocent as they sound. In these cases, infectiously catchy melodies and up-tempo beats veil the dark, twisted, depressing, or just plain creepy lyrics we sometimes unknowingly sing along to at concerts or in the car. Have any of your favorite artists cleverly deceived you? Find out below as we uncover 16 disturbing pop songs people love...

"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke (feat. Pharrell Williams & T.I.)

"Blurred Lines" was 2013's undeniable song of the summer. The Robin Thicke hit sounded innocuous enough, spent 48 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, was nominated for two Grammys, and was even covered on Glee. But it was dubbed "the most controversial song of the decade" for a reason: it faced major backlash with accusations of promoting rape culture by objectifying women and reinforcing the harmful myth that no doesn't always mean no.

"I hate these blurred lines! / I know you want it," Thicke sings in the catchy yet creep-tastic chorus. Co-writer/producer Pharrell Williams went on to defend the song's lyrical meaning. "I'd never want to say anything about sex. Like, 'rape-y' would mean, 'I'm gonna do this to you, you know you want me to do that to you...'" he told the Independent in 2014. "I was coming from a decent place."

In any case, the song would go on to create many more headaches for those involved, thanks to a lawsuit alleging the song had ripped off the classic Marvin Gaye song "Got to Give It Up." That battle remains in appeal.

"Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People

"Pumped Up Kicks" may sound like a feel-good pop-rock hit with a hipster twist, but the real meaning behind Foster the People's debut single is much more sinister. This 2011 song of the summer, which spent 40 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, is about a teen preparing to shoot up his school.

"All the other kids with the pumped up kicks / You better run, better run, outrun my gun," the repetitive, earworm chorus goes. "...You better run, better run, faster than my bullet."

"I was trying to get inside the head of an isolated, psychotic kid," frontman Mark Foster told Rolling Stone in 2011. But the deceptive contrast between the track's dance groove and its violent images led to accusations of condoning violence. "It's the complete opposite," he told USA Today. "The song is an amazing platform to have a conversation with your kids about something that shouldn't be ignored, to talk about it in a loving way."

"Bitter Sweet Symphony" by The Verve

The Verve was a one-hit wonder, but the Britpop outfit's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" made quite an impact. Spending 23 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, it was nominated for a Grammy in 1999 — the same year the band broke up. 

The tune gained renewed life in the mid-2000s as a surprising Millennial anthem that was often played during high school graduations. But according to Stereogum, the song journeys an existential crisis as lead singer Richard Ashcroft moans about selling his soul to the corporate machine and feeling trapped as life passes him by.

"Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life / Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die," he sings alongside the song's signature sweeping orchestral track. "And I'm a million different people from one day to the next / I can't change my mold, no, no."

Yikes. Perhaps it's time to bring back Vitamin C's "Graduation" as teens prepare to set off onto adulthood.

"MMMBop" by Hanson

"Mmmbop, ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba duba dop" goes the exceedingly catchy chorus of Hanson's breakout 1997 hit "MMMBop." If that's the only part you know, you'll be forgiven for thinking this song lacks any and all substance. Because according to the three musical brothers, it's one of the most misunderstood songs of all time.

"MMMBop is ironically happy [but] it says most things in life are going to fade away and most of the things that you think are important are going to be gone," Zac Hanson told News.com.au in 2017. Indeed, the track opens with, "You have so many relationships in this life / Only one or two will last." 

"The tendency would be to bang your drum and beat your chest and say 'We've been misunderstood,'" he continued. "But I think it has served us...to be misunderstood."

We'll say. As one of the most successful pop anthems, it peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and scored the group two Grammy nominations.

"What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction

"What Makes You Beautiful" put One Direction on the map in 2011. The bubblegum pop track was a worldwide hit for the British boy band, selling 4.8 million copies in the US alone as of June 2016. 

On its poppy surface, it seemed innocent enough, appealing to the group's targeted tween audience with what Rolling Stone called a "lady-killer, self-esteem jolt." But according to Buzzfeed, One Direction was "the worst offender" of playing into a sexist "tradition of songs by men that assume women's beauty is all for them."

"You're insecure, don't know what for / You're turning heads when you walk through the door / Don't need makeup to cover up / Being the way that you are is enough," are the song's opening lyrics, which lead to the chorus' hook, "You don't know you're beautiful / That's what makes you beautiful."

Okay, Buzzfeed may have a point here.

"Some Nights" by Fun.

"Some Nights" was a massive sleeper hit for Fun., spending seven months on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012. But the introspective lyrics of this go-to dance party tune are easy to miss behind the indie band's penchant for rousing, wall-of-sound choruses. According to The New York Times, the lyrics depict "the existential angst of a young man a long way from home."

"What do I stand for? / Most nights, I don't know," frontman Nate Ruess muses in the chorus, before asking in the bridge, "So this is it? I sold my soul for this? / Washed my hands of that for this? / I miss my mom and dad for this?"

"I'm always thinking about, 'Who am I and why did I do something like that?' And I think then it harkens back to my family," he explained to The Associated Press (via Uproxx). "And I have such a strong tie to them and it's always therapeutic to sing about them."

"Hey Ya!" by OutKast

"Hey Ya!" was everywhere in 2003. This lead single off of OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was the first-ever song to reach 1 million paid downloads on iTunes. But don't let its enthusiastically fun, happy sound fool you: this one's always been deeply misunderstood. 

The smash hit is chock-full of instantly quotable lyrics, like "shake it like a Polaroid picture," but it's actually a pretty sad song that details a crumbling relationship. "So why oh why oh, why oh why oh / Are we so in denial / When we know we're not happy here?" André 3000 demands in the lyrics.

"In hip-hop, people don't talk about their vulnerable or sensitive side a lot because they're trying to keep it real or be tough," the singer told The Guardian. "That's what the Love Below means, that bubbling-under feeling that people don't like to talk about."

If you missed those deep lyrics, you're not alone. In fact, the hip hop duo expected it. "Y'all don't want to hear me, you just want to dance," André 3000 sings. Well, point OutKast. 

"Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men

"Little Talks" was the insanely popular debut single from Of Monsters and Men. It was a worldwide hit for the Icelandic band in 2011, spending a whopping 101 weeks on Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales chart. But its brass-heavy chorus is so upbeat, it's easy to miss its foreboding lyrics.

"Some days I can't even trust myself / It's killing me to see you this way," lead singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Raggi Þórhallsson duet throughout the song. "You're gone, gone, gone away / I watched you disappear / All that's left is a ghost of you."

According to Hilmarsdóttir, the vagueness of these deep lyrics was intentional. "Sometimes we haven't wanted to give too much away. We like people to read their own things in the lyrics," she told Interview Magazine in 2012. "It's about a couple and the husband passed away and it's from the conversation between the two of them. We don't know if she's going crazy or if someone's actually there."

"Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" was one of the pop star's earliest club hits in 2009. People loved to dance to this hummable, upbeat song, which spent 27 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, but its meaning is actually pretty dark.

"I'm your biggest fan / I'll follow you until you love me / Papa-paparazzi," Gaga sings in the chorus. "Baby you'll be famous / Chase you down until you love me / Papa-paparazzi."

"[The song is about] struggling to balance success and love," the Mother Monster told the The Daily Telegraph. "The song is about a few different things — it's about my struggles, do I want fame or do I want love? It's also about wooing the paparazzi to fall in love with me." 

The stalker-esque imagery of the lyrics was made all the more disturbing during one of Gaga's most iconic performances. At the 2009 MTV VMAS, she used violent theatrics and shocked audiences by hanging herself from the ceiling and fake-bleeding to death on stage as she belted out this tune.

"Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen

This Bruce Springsteen powerhouse track may be the most misunderstood song in the history of classic rock. "Born in the U.S.A." sounds like a patriotic anthem, but its real meaning held a deeper sociopolitical relevance when it was released in 1984, as it addressed the devastating effects of the Vietnam war on veterans returning home. 

"Come back home to the refinery / Hiring man says 'Son if it was up to me,'" Springsteen sings. "Went down to see my V.A. man / He said 'Son, don't you understand'...  / I'm ten years burning down the road / Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go / Born in the U.S.A."

Spending 17 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, the track launched Springsteen into an international stardom, but it was famously misinterpreted by President Ronald Reagan. "America's future rests in the message of hope, in the songs of a man that so many young Americans admire, New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen," he said during a campaign speech (via Billboard).

But as the Daily Beast insisted in 2014, "The song — quite obviously the tale of a broken system and of a government that sees its citizens as disposable cogs in a war machine — is by no means is a pro-America anthem."

"...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears

Britney Spears' debut single "...Baby One More Time" is one of the most iconic pop songs of all time. This international smash hit spent 32 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and crowned Spears as the reigning Princess of Pop. But the tune's vague meaning has been hotly contested since its 1998 release.

As Alice Bolin wrote for The Toast in 2014, the ambiguity and bleakness of its lyrics, like "Hit me, baby, one more time," "My loneliness is killing me," and "When I'm not with you, I lose my mind," are made all the more troubling by the innocent v. sexy dichotomy of the song's school girl music video. Not to mention the fact that Spears was only 16 at the time.

But as John Seabrook revealed in his 2015 book, The Song Machine, Swedish songwriters Max Martin and Rami Yacoub thought that "hit" was American teen slang for "call" (via the Huffington Post). In the song, Spears is merely portraying a girl who wants her ex to give her a call because she's feeling lonely following their breakup.

Phew! At least that lyric has finally been cleared up. But still, this song is pretty dark.

"My Sharona" by The Knack

The Knack's first hit single, "My Sharona," tells the story of a guy who falls in love with a girl working behind a clothing store counter. It quickly rose to #1 and spent 22 weeks on the  Billboard Hot 100 in 1979. 

But the raunchy lyrics, veiled by the song's iconic bass line, stuttered delivery, and high energy, are much more creepy than you might expect — and, quite frankly, they border on pedophilia. Sharona was not only a real person, she was also only 17 years old when this song was written. 

"Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind / I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.../M-m-m-my Sharona," frontman Doug Fieger, who was 25 at the time, sings on the track. Yikes.

"It was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat; I fell in love with her instantly," Fieger told The Washington Post in 2005, explaining that the two had dated for years. "I was 25 when I wrote the song. But the song was written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy. It's just an honest song about a 14-year-old boy." 

Is it though?

"Drunk In Love" by Beyoncé (feat. Jay-Z)

Queen Bey's "Drunk In Love," off of her iconic self-titled 2013 album, is as undeniably catchy and sexy as a Beyoncé track featuring her husband Jay-Z should be. But beneath its blaring beat and perfect-as-ever vocals are lyrics that stirred major controversy.

During his verse, Jay-Z refers to himself as Ike Turner, who famously abused Tina Turner (birthname Anna Mae). "I'm Ike Turner, turn up, baby, no I don't play / 'Now eat the cake, Anna Mae!'" he raps in the song. "Said, 'Eat the cake, Anna Mae!'"

According to the International Business Times, this is a reference to a particularly violent moment in the 1993 biopic about the couple, What's Love Got To Do With It, during which Ike slaps Tina and shoves cake into her face when she refuses to eat it. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were eventually accused of endorsing or mocking domestic abuse over the lyric. Even the singer's adoring fans wouldn't let their fave off the hook for this one.

"Don't Stand So Close To Me" by The Police

The voyeuristic "Every Breath You Take" is the obvious choice as far as disturbing songs by The Police go, but "Don't Stand So Close To Me" has got it beat. This hit spent 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the British rock band a Grammy in 1982. But it's literally about a teacher who engages in a sexual relationship with one of his students.

"Young teacher, the subject / Of schoolgirl fantasy / She wants him so badly... / Temptation, frustration / So bad it makes him cry," Sting sings on the track. "Loose talk in the classroom / To hurt they try and try / Strong words in the staff room / The accusations fly / It's no use, he sees her... / Don't stand so close to me."

"I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom," Sting said in the band's 1981 biography, The Police: L'Historia Bandido (via Sting.com). "I'd done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me — and me really fancying them! How I kept my hands off them I don't know."

Seriously, so disturbing.

"Invisible" by Clay Aiken

"Invisible" was a smash hit in 2003 for American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, spending 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. But even with its upbeat, catchy melody and Aiken's signature powerhouse belt, it's not hard to miss the fact that it's basically the "Every Breath You Take" of the 21st century. 

"It's not one of those songs where the words necessarily stand out," Aiken told MTV. "A lot of the songs on the album are very emotive, but 'Invisible' is just a fun one." Alright, let's break it down: "What you doing tonight? / I wish I could be / A fly on your wall / Are you really alone?" he croons on the song. "If I was invisible, then I could just watch you in your room / If I was invisible, I'd make you mine tonight."

Yeesh. As Bustle stated in 2015, this song may be a simple case of unrequited love, but some of its lyrics sound downright creepy.

"Chop Suey!" by System of a Down

"Chop Suey!" was easily one of the strangest songs of the early 2000s. The System of a Down tune spent only four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 before it was pulled from radio airwaves after the 2001 Clear Channel memorandum suggested it was inappropriate in the aftermath of 9/11.

Despite its short-lived success, its frenetic energy, spitfire verses, and sweepingly emotional bridge are as memorable as ever. But it's incredibly dark and serious subject matter is easily lost in translation due to these jarring differences. "The style is so broken up," producer Rick Rubin told Rolling Stone in 2016. "It's both difficult to sing and arguably difficult to listen to."

With lyrics like, "I don't think you trust in my / Self-righteous suicide / I cry / When angels deserve to die," the track delves into addiction and suicide. "The song is about how we are regarded differently depending on how we pass," guitarist Daron Malakian told NME (via Song Facts). "If I were now to die from drug abuse, they might say I deserved it because I abused dangerous drugs."