20 Happy Songs That Are Actually About Horrible Dark Things

How many times have you been to a wedding where “Every Breathe You Take” has been misused as a love song?  How many people realize that Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” is about a school shooting? Why did my parents love “Mack the Knife” so much when tells the story of a serial killer?

Major keys and singalong choruses can do a very effective job of masking the real themes and imager of a song.  



  • “Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind:  Crystal meth
  • “99 Luftballoons,” Nina:  Nuclear holocaust
  • “A Kiss with a Fist,” Florence + the Machine: Domestic violence.


The Huffington Post has put together a list of 20 such songs.  Read up and don’t be fooled again.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “20 Happy Songs That Are Actually About Horrible Dark Things

  • August 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I recognized the creep factor in all of these songs, most in the first listen. I've only been to one wedding that used "Every Breath You Take" while the couple was at the altar, for which I'm thankful because it made me sick to my stomach (I don't like weddings anyway – I find them creepy enough without celebrating the stalking aspect of marriage).

  • August 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I'm surprised there's no mention of Born in the USA, probably the most over-misused song ever. A song about a down-and-out veteran as the soundtrack for patriotism? Oops!

  • August 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates fame) laments on a regular basis that their song "Fall in Philadelphia" is highly requested by fans. The song tells of roving gangs that beat up John Oates, and bills adding up. Yet its requested almost every time they play. (Source; livefromdarylshouse.com, Diane Birch episode)

  • August 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

    I've been to weddings where they play Pearl Jam's Better Man. I can't believe these people don't realize the song is about abuse. It's plain as day in the lyrics.

  • August 16, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I have always been creeped out by Every Breath You Take. Shudder.


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