our ‘happy’ childhood anthems had darker meanings than we realized

Suicide, drug abuse, sexual assault, anorexia…We slept on the actual meaning behind these songs when they first came out. Next time you hear one of these, pay closer attention to the lyrics and hear for yourself.

Third Eye Blind | Semi-Charmed Life

Remember riding in the car with your fam and hearing this on the radio? Mom turned it up, letting us kids vibe and smile and sing along. Little did we know we were cheering on a man’s melancholy experience with crystal meth. The song uses a number of references of the drug description and feeling– “The sky was gold” (meth is nicknamed ‘sky’), “I took the hit that I was given, then I bumped again” (meaning, he took a quick ‘hit’ of it to stabilize his comedown from the high).

Goo Goo Dolls | Black Balloon

The opening lyric serves as a double entendre for both the song and the video: “Baby’s black balloon makes her fly.” Frontman John Rzeznik wrote this as a tribute to his late friend who overdosed on heroin. The “black balloon” was wrapped around his friend’s restricted, bulging vein (presumably arm or leg) which made it easier to insert the toxic drug into. The color black is an obvious form of symbolism; after doing this, his friend was able to “fly”. The “ice from the spoon” lyrics describes another tool used to heat heroin up before injecting it. In the video, the narrative opens with a famous star found dead in a pool from what appears to be a suicide.

TLC | Unpretty

A TLC song was the perfect way to set the tone to a family BBQ on a hot summer day, right? Maybe not, if you really paid attention to the lyrics. Though some would argue that bullying has become worse than ever in today’s world (see: ass shots and lip fillers trending among the under 18 crowd), this song tackles the very real longstanding issues of self-esteem and insecurity that young women endure. “I used to be so cute to me–just a little bit skinny” and “My outsides look cool, my insides are blue” are sad realities about compromising our own morals and health even, in order to be approved by a society which has for centuries, constantly broke down our beauty ‘flaws’ to make us feel inferior in comparison to our peers.

Aqua | Barbie Girl

Who can forget this shamefully enjoyable melody? And if you were like me and my family back then, you probably sang along without totally understanding the deeper meaning, if at all. The song’s lyrics and video were colorful, rhythmic, and catchy–the perfect way to strategically inform while staying relevant in the world of popular culture. Little known fact–the ‘barbie girl’ is a symbol for the industrial proletariat and Marxism.

City High | What Would You Do

Perhaps the lyrics of this song are the most blatant on this list–still, who can deny jamming this in the car and bobbing their head to the instrumentalization while ignoring the horrific descriptions depicted in the content? Singer-rapper Ryan Toby walks us through his encounter with a female at a party from high school–who happened to be a prostitute, selling her body for sex in order to support her fatherless son.” Girl, you ain’t the only one with a baby, that’s no excuse to be living all crazy. Then she looked me right square in the eye and said, “Everyday I wake up hopin’ to die…”

Britney Spears | Everytime

I was 12 years old when this song came out and I remember my initial reaction to the video like it was yesterday; this was most certainly more illustrative and symbolical–especially for Britney Spears’ typical creative aesthetic. “And everytime I try to fly
I fall without my wings, I feel so small…” From living with the troubles of constantly being in the spotlight of celebrity, to death/suicide, and then rebirth, this video is particularly fascinating in its use of color psychology. The main theme of the video is white, synonymous for purity and cleanliness. When Spears is in the bathtub and falls under the water in an apparent death, the next scene shows her gliding through a hospital as a baby is born and she has a smile on her face… wearing all white, of course.


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