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6 Popular Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing

If there's one thing the Internet has taught us about society, it's that even a half-eaten slice of pizza has more of an attention span than the average person. So it should come as no surprise that a sizable segment of the population can listen to a popular song dozens of times without ever really grasping what it's about.

Sure, melodies and even the occasional chorus might stick in a person's head, but the actual meaning of the song often goes unnoticed. For the most part, people just assume every song by a dude is about fucking and every song by a woman is about some dude who fucked her over. Picking up on anything else requires way more focus and attention than most people are capable of.

To add even more confusion to the situation, some bands and musicians will bury lyrics about horrifying shit under a huge layer of major chords, catchy hooks and upbeat tempos. Everything about the song, on the surface at least, screams "I'm walking on sunshine!" But if you listen closer, what you'll hear is a lot more like "Hey, maybe you should just kill yourself."

Here are six seemingly happy songs about ridiculously depressing situations ...

#6. Outkast -- "Hey Ya"

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Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:


"Shake it, shake it, shake, shake it, shake it, shake it (OHH OH)/Shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture!"

Why It Makes People Happy:

Outkast's "Hey Ya" wasn't the happiest-sounding song released in 2003. No, it was probably the happiest-sounding song released during that entire decade. It was jam-packed with memorable lines about neighbors lending sugar and ladies who look like Lucy Liu shaking it like a Polaroid picture. And that was just in the lyrics. Get a load of the video if for some reason the facility you've been incarcerated in since the late '90s didn't allow inmates to watch television of any sort:


By my count, there are at least five Andre 3000s, and every one of them seems super stoked to be there. In fact, the biologically impossible band's enthusiasm is only overshadowed by that of the audience, who you can see is absolutely losing their mind at the happy funtime shenanigans unfolding in front of them. Their reaction is pretty much a perfect summary of how the world as a whole reacted to this song: just pure, unadulterated adoration. But did your mom really get the meaning behind her favorite "rap" song of all time? Don't bet on it.

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

At its core, "Hey Ya" is an incredibly sad song. The lyrics are basically an indictment of the entire idea of being in a relationship. Not just getting married, but being in a relationship at all. The "hero" of the song has found himself tied down to a woman that he no longer loves, and to make matters worse, it's pretty clear she's lost that feeling for him also. And that's how, in the midst of one of the most deceivingly happy-sounding songs ever, a line like this found its way in:


"So why oh, why oh/Why oh, why oh, why oh/Why are we so in denial/When we know we're not happy heeeerrreeee?"

If you're not reading that and feeling bummed out, congrats on the contentment you feel about your current relationship or your belief that your current state of soul-crushing loneliness will someday come to an end.

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"At least I'll always have that Outkast song to cheer me up."

Now, allow this sunshine ray of a song to take a dig at you, too:


"If what they say is 'Nothing is forever'/What makes, what makes, what makes what makes, what makes love the exception?"

Did you catch that part when you were dancing around the house and lip syncing the words to "Hey Ya" into your hairbrush? If you think I'm being cynical when I say that I suspect you didn't, rest assured, I'm not alone. The man who wrote the song figured you probably wouldn't get it, either, and he even said so right in the lyrics:


"Y'all don't want to hear me/You just wanna dance."

Maybe I'm just overly negative, but I suspect he's 100 percent correct.

#5. Paul Simon -- "You Can Call Me Al"

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Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:


"If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal/I can call you Betty, and Betty when you call me you can call me Al."

Why It Makes People Happy:

You remember this song, right kids? It came out in the mid-'80s. Chevy Chase is in the video. I was pretty sure that it appeared on the Fletch soundtrack when I sat down to write this, but Google says I'm an idiot for thinking that. At any rate, it's hard to listen to this song without feeling like all of the world's sadness has finally come to a heartwarming end.


From the happy as all get out horn arrangements to the silly and nonsensical chorus, almost everything about this song seems like the kind of thing that would be playing on an endless loop in the tape deck that I assume every unicorn was outfitted with in the 1980s during their Trapper Keeper cover model heyday. You watched the video, right? Do I need to remind you that it has Chevy Chase in it? Hell, Paul Simon even dances at the end.

YouTube
As you can tell from the facial expression, that's something that rarely happens.

So, just to recap, we have a horn section, a goofy chorus and Paul Simon dancing a jig with Chevy Chase in a pink room. It's enough to make a person vomit rainbows for a week straight. Or so it seems.

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

While the goofy chorus has an equally goofy back story to go with it (an acquaintance with a loose grasp of the English language mistakenly introduced Paul and his wife, Peggy, as "Al and Betty" at a party), that's where the good vibes of the song begin and end. If you listen closely, the lyrics tell the tale of a man in the seemingly unbreakable throes of a depressing midlife crisis.

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Just as I assume this guy is.

The first verse kicks things off in a somewhat innocuous way, with a man complaining about having a beer belly. As a man who indeed has a beer belly, I can assure you that it's something that does cause a fair amount of depression, but it's not nearly as depressing as what happens in the second verse.


"Whoa my nights are so long/Where's my wife and family?/What if I die here?/Who'll be my role model now that my role model is gone?"

And things just get worse from there. By the end of the song, the poor guy is wandering around a Third World country, broke and looking for "angels in the architecture." It ends with him shouting "Hallelujah!" but, for the life of me, I have no idea why.

#4. Third Eye Blind -- "Semi Charmed Life"

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Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:


"Do do doo/Do do do doo/Do do doo/Do do do doo."

Why It Makes People Happy:

Stephan Jenkins, the front man of '90s rock band Third Eye Blind, is never credited with being one of the finest lyricists of his generation, and he brought it all on himself. His biggest hit ever literally kicks off with the words "Do do doo" repeated far more times than that "phrase" should ever be used in a song (which is never).

Given the carefree approach to songwriting displayed in the opening moments (and at the beginning of every verse), it's easy to mistake "Semi Charmed Life" as a lighthearted pop tune about whatever bullshit activity inspires people to speak in baby talk.


But could it even be possible that a song that gives the impression that some unnamed toddler was screwed out of a co-writing credit could also be about some horribly depressing situation or event? Shockingly, the answer to that question is "yes."

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

You may not have realized it the first 400 times you heard "Semi Charmed Life," but the song is about being addicted to crystal meth. At least that's what I gather from the following lines:


"I was taking sips of it through my nose/And I wish I could get back there/Someplace back there/Smiling in the pictures you would take/Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break."

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For the record, this in your trash can means you have indeed been broken.

Those lyrics are approximately as subtle about telling the listener that the song is about drugs as the "Do do doos" are subtle about telling the listener that the song was written by someone with undiagnosed head trauma.

But wait, is the happy-go-lucky feel of the song really as dumb as it seems? You might be surprised to know that it's not. Here's what Stephan Jenkins had to say in an interview with MTV:

"When I wrote 'Semi-Charmed Life,' the guitar riff was intended to have this sort of bright duh-nuhnuh-nunt, this shiny thing, because that was a feeling of speed. You know, it's sort of a bright, shiny drug. And we all were sort of into hip-hop, and so it has a hip-hop flow over it."

No, Stephan, that's not a "hip-hop" flow, it's just a white dude saying words that rhyme. Gigantic difference. That said, fine, I guess that "Do do doo" shit is kind of clever, when you put it that way. I still hate this song, though.

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Adam Tod Brown

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