Five upbeat pop songs with surprisingly sad lyrics

With spring break starting tomorrow, it’s time to craft the perfect spring break playlist. For those who are looking for some thought-provoking lyrics to muse over during a long bus, car, plane or train ride, the following five songs from the past fifteen years provide catchy beats while also provoking deeper reflection.

1. “Pumped Up Kicks” – Foster the People (2011)

“Pumped Up Kicks” was all over the radio during the summer of 2011, to the point where the song was nearly inescapable. The infectiously happy melody that launched Foster the People’s fame contrasts with the somber lyrics, which deal with gun violence. The chilling refrain is sung from the perspective of a young shooter: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks / You’d better run, better run / out run my gun.”

2. “Hey Ya!” – OutKast (2003)

Whenever Outkast’s “Hey Ya” (2003) comes on at a party, it is sure to bring everyone running onto the dance floor. This upbeat song tends to stir up nostalgia for the early 2000s. It brings us back to a simpler time, when the hip-hop duo performed the song suspended from the ceiling at the 2004 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. A closer look at the lyrics reveals some sobering insights on love and romantic relationships: “If what they say is ‘Nothing is forever’ / … then what makes love the exception?” Though “Hey Ya” is a catchy dance song, it depicts a deep-seeded unhappiness: “Why are we so in denial / When we know we’re not happy here?”

3. “Do What U Want” – Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly (2013)

At first, a song with the refrain “Do what you want with my body” may seem empty and sex-driven. The key to the deeper meaning of this song comes in the lines, “But then you print some shit / That makes me wanna scream,” which indicate that Lady Gaga is not addressing a lover but the press. Lady Gaga invites the media to criticize and pick apart her physical appearance, boasting that, “You can’t have my heart / And you won’t use my mind.” Gaga’s body underwent intense scrutiny after her 2017 Superbowl halftime performance, proving that the message of “Do What U Want” is still relevant four years later.

4. “Rockabye” – Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie (2016)

Sean Paul’s boisterous voice doesn’t exactly encourage melancholy, but this recent collaboration with Clean Bandit and Anne-Marie is rather morose. The lyrics deal with the struggles of a single mother: “She just wants a life for her baby / All on her own, no one will come / She’s got to save him.”

5. “Green Light” – Lorde (2017)

While Lorde’s music usually prompts lethargic, angsty reflections, “Green Light” seems to encourage listeners to dance. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that the song was co-written by Jack Antonoff, who is best known for his energetic work with Bleachers and fun. In an interview with Beats 1, Lorde explained the blend of joy and sadness in “Green Light:” “This is that drunk girl at the party dancing around crying about her ex-boyfriend who everyone thinks is a mess,” she said.

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