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"Brutally honest," "soul-bearing," and "boner-thwackingly forthright" are all terms we've used in casual conversation to describe great rock songs, because the most important thing we want in our pop music is credible evidence of another human being's suffering. But while it's nice to hear a song that says exactly what the artist intended, there's something else I like a whole lot more: when a song says way more than the singer meant, and we get a brief, accidental glimpse inside the mind of a pop-song writer.

One Direction: "What Makes You Beautiful"

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty

Right now I'm looking at you and I can't believe,
You don't know,
Oh, oh oh,
You don't know you're beautiful,
Oh, oh oh,
That's what makes you beautiful

What The Song Is Trying To Be About

Since the song starts off with Blake From One Direction saying "you're insecure" and extolling my virtues, I first assumed that it was a song about getting dweeby comedy writers to understand their own inner strength. Then I remembered that this band is marketed primarily to teenage girls and realized that it's probably supposed to be about them and making them feel good about themselves. Fine, Blake From One Direction. Fine. Go warm those teenage girls' hearts. Go teach them to be confident and assertive and brave enough to take on the whole world, you glorious champion of feminine empowerment.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Blake demonstrates the disarming grin of a civil-rights hero.

What It Actually Says

While Blake says that the girl he's singing about doesn't need makeup because the way she flips her hair makes him squirt in his pants, he concludes his entire compliment with something kinda twisted:

You don't know you're beautiful.
Oh, oh oh
[that's the part where he squirts]
That's what makes you beautiful

Apparently, not knowing you're beautiful is the key to being beautiful. So confidence hurts attractiveness? That's fucked up. Now I know what you're thinking: "No, Harry Styles is just saying that you shouldn't be cocky. Her humility is part of what makes her beautiful." To which I say, "Incorrect, sir." Blake tells us exactly five specific things about this allegedly "beautiful" girl: The first is that she's insecure. The second is that the way she flips her hair overwhelms him, sexually, which we've already covered. Third, she looks away from him when he looks her in the eyes because (he asserts) she is shy. The fourth is that Blake wants her "desperately" (he rephrases this basic idea several times: "You light up my world," Blake says. "Your hair gets me overwhelmed," continues Blake. "I want you desperately," Blake cries, consumed by passion).

The fifth and most important thing is that her prettiness is predicated on her ignorance of it. If she becomes aware that she's sexually enticing and therefore has worth as a human being, then that worth will be immediately sucked into a hole in time and lost forever. We're dealing with a quantum beauty particle, here. This is Schrodinger's attractiveness.

Skull Face
For illustrative purposes, here is a sexy cat.

It's also worth noting that the instrumental backing comes to a complete stop when we hear the "That's what makes you beautiful" line. Blake wants to remove as many distractions as possible so that we do not misunderstand this thesis. The target of this song's insecurity, her lack of self-worth, her skittishness, and her anxiety are the key to Blake's sexual and emotional gratification. The lesson a woman must learn here is clear: She must avoid developing any malignant confidence at all costs, and should she fail in this effort and accidentally shatter the shackles of her irrational social fears, she must hide this fact, lest she fall from favor in the eyes of Blake or the eye of Blake's boner.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty
"Oh, oh oh."

I do want to point one last thing out, because it has the potential to unravel this whole theory: The only evidence Blake mentions that Lady-Face is insecure is that she won't look him in the eye. That's possible, but a bit of a leap in logic. There are all kinds of reasons aside from shyness that a woman might not want to make eye contact with someone like Blake. Maybe she hasn't noticed him. Maybe she has a boyfriend and thinks his leering is creepy. Maybe she's 22 and therefore 15 years too old for him. But let's just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that she's actually explained her insecurity and, like a lot of feelings drawn from anxiety, it was too complicated to accurately communicate in the pop-song format.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Blake abandons his microphone to listen to a young girl's problems.

I wrote this entry under the assumption that Blake From One Direction is not a murderous stalker, but I am, as ever, willing to revise my theory in the light of any new evidence.

Jon Bon Jovi: "Wanted Dead Or Alive"

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I walk these streets
A loaded six-string on my back
I play for keeps 'cause I might not make it back
I been everywhere, still, I'm standing tall
I've seen a million faces
And I've rocked them all

Oh, and I'm a cowboy. On a steel horse I ride
I'm wanted dead or alive

What The Song Is Trying To Be About

In this classic pop-metal ballad best known for appearing on whatever Guitar Hero I owned in high school, Jon Bon Jovi ruminates on the difficulty of being a touring rock star in the 1980s: "Sometimes you tell the day by the bottle that you drink," he explains, because not only does he drink an entire bottle of liquor every day like a total badass, he drinks seven different kinds that (for reasons that remain unexplained) correspond to the days of the week, which is his crude substitute for a calendar. This experience, he speculates and reinforces through constant metaphor, is probably similar to being a cowboy fleeing the law -- the "loaded six-string" on his back is both his guitar and his weapon. Probably the clearest example of the cowboy metaphor is the part of the song where he sings, "I'm a cowboy."

Island Records
This candid photograph may also be used as evidence.

What It Actually Says

This is one deeply confused metaphor, but rest assured there's plenty to unpack here. First, if Bon Jovi is a cowboy, what does that make his audience? Cattle? If he's on the run from the law, what is his crime? Perhaps he feels that he has stolen his audience (or "a bunch of cows," as he believes them to be) from other bands (or other cowboys), which suggests a deeply competitive and destructive approach to his career. We can pick apart Bon Jovi's woefully simplistic understanding of American history all day -- but, somewhat ironically, the most fascinating lyric of all is the one that completely breaks the metaphor:

I've seen a million faces
And I've rocked them all

Because the outlaw-cowboy archetype doesn't tend to be gregarious, these lines stand out as being the only part of the entire song to have no connection to anything cowboy-ish or Wild-Western in any way. Bon Jovi appears to briefly pause his tale of lonesome doves and fists full of dollars to lean forward, nudge us on the shoulder, and say, "Cool song, eh? I'm a pretty good rock star."

The Island Def Jam Music Group
"Not that I care or anything. Just saying. I fuck those faces up."

Furthermore -- and I don't mean this to be cruel -- Bon Jovi is somewhat off with his estimations. While I have no doubt that he has indeed seen a million faces over his career, I do not believe that he is rocking them with 100 percent efficiency. Having attended his concerts, I can say anecdotally that he rocks faces with a success rate of 60 percent, maybe 65 percent on a particularly drunk night. Those are not numbers to be scoffed at under normal circumstances; however, they do appear quite comical when compared to the "rocked them all" lunacy transcribed above.

Surely he knows this. Looking down from a stage, no one could confuse a rocked face with an unrocked face. And this is why Bon Jovi lies to us here; this is why he insists that he's a face-rock completionist. To fill the void inside. To conquer his insecurity through delusions of grandeur.

Again, I don't mean this as criticism. In fact, I believe that his not knowing he's a good rock star is precisely what makes him a good rock star.

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Goldfinger: "Spokesman"

Universal Records

What happened to integrity
I don't see it on MTV
All I see is choreography
And I'll never be a dancer

What The Song Is Trying To Be About

Goldfinger, like a thousand other pop-punk bands in the late '90s and early 2000s, are fed up with how shallow modern life is -- corporate greed, materialism, and so on. Mr. Goldfinger has particular problems with the channel MTV and the TV show Felicity, the former because it's just dancing (which lacks integrity) and the latter because he seems to dislike the idea of listening to someone else's problems, particularly a fictional person:

Who the fuck is Felicity?
I've got problems of my own

Yeah, OK.

What It Actually Says

One of my favorite phenomena of human behavior is our tendency to hate other people for reflecting our own insecurities. The man who spends the weekend meticulously disheveling his own hair is going to be the only person to notice and/or care when someone else stumbles into work with bed head, and the guy mocking his friends for not getting laid is most likely a shitty lay. Or, to put this in simpler terms for the unforgivably stupid among you: Whoever smelt it, dealt it. This phenomenon is, I believe, what is on display here today.

Goldfinger lead vocalist John Feldmann explains his disdain for modern culture twice, pointing out that he doesn't like dancing because he can't do it and that he doesn't like Felicity because he has an inability to set aside his own problems. Much like the proverbial farter, the problems Feldmann has smelled have, in actuality, stemmed from his own butthole: When he complains about dancing lacking integrity -- a laughably foolish complaint to any dancer -- he is frustrated that MTV is not buying what he is selling (ska music). When he complains about Felicity's problems, he is actually complaining about his inability to resolve his own problems (that he's the kind of person who makes ska music). Truly, this is a tragically broken young man.

Either that, or post-'90s punk rock was just a bunch of posers sophomorically parroting the anti-establishment philosophies of the seminal punk bands of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Speaking of that ...

Good Charlotte: "Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous"


Lifestyles of the rich and the famous
They're always complainin'
Always complainin'
If money is such a problem
Well, they got mansions
Think we should rob them

What The Song Is Trying To Be About

After Good Charlotte (the titular band from the album Good Charlotte) released their self-titled album Good Charlotte to critical acclaim, they were immediately tranquilized by some music poachers, hogtied in the back of a 1990 Toyota pickup, and driven to Los Angeles to become pop-punk superstars. But once they arrived on this most glorious coast, they found themselves disgusted by how much the super-wealthy Los Angelenos complained, and they penned the song "Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous" (for the album The Young And The Hopeless) not to criticize, but to say, "Hey, rich folks: If you don't like all this rich-folk stuff, we'll gladly take it from you."

What It Actually Says

Let us make it immediately clear that writer Joel Madden's claim that this song isn't about criticizing rings false in light of the lyrics. Not criticizing? You're literally threatening to rob people, sir. You openly fantasize about them dying homeless, explicitly, in the chorus. These lyrics are positively dripping with malice.

Scientifically speaking, getting up on a high horse about Marion Barry smoking crack
is the least punk rock opinion possible.

And, ironically, these complaints come immediately -- literally one song -- after "The Anthem," which is (at least partly) about how hollow their success feels:

It's a new day, but it all feels old
It's a good life, that's what I'm told
But everything it all just feels the same

Good Charlotte is fucking hilarious. In the liner notes for The Young And The Hopeless, Madden wrote that he "used to fistfight every guy ... who said [he] wasn't punk." Not only is this like a Prius driver threatening to fight everyone who says he isn't an astronaut, it misses the entire point of the word "punk," which was an adjective meaning "worthless" or maybe "prostitute" that was appropriated by a movement that, by definition, didn't want mainstream approval. But this guy punched a 14-year-old outside of RFK Stadium for saying he wasn't as good as The Clash. Probably? I don't know who the fuck else is getting in someone's face and saying, "Meh, you're not a real punk," in 200-fucking-2.

The point is that after writing pretty much a whole album about how much it sucked being poor (which is actually pretty charming in an early-2000s way), Good Charlotte achieved their upper-class dreams and learned to hate themselves for it in one fell swoop. The tragedy of the successful rocker is a heart-wrenching one, for in the end, a true iconoclast is his own un-maker. Hahahahahahaha -- shit, sorry, I'll be serious.

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Enrique Iglesias: "Escape"

Samir Hussein/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you feel like leaving
I'm not gonna beg you to stay
But soon you'll be finding
You can run, you can hide
But you can't escape my love

What The Song Is Trying To Be About

Enrique Iglesias loves you and owns a motorcycle. If you reject him, he will follow you into the bathroom and fuck you in the sink.

According to the music video.

What It Actually Says

A long time ago I was at an open mic for musicians and stand-up comedians, and one guy decided to use his three minutes not to entertain -- as much as the terms of our informal contract would have predicated -- but to get in touch with a woman that he was really, really in love with. He explained that he had met her over OKCupid, and after talking for a few days she had broken off contact. So he used her phone number to figure out where she worked and lived, and kept trying to intercept her on her commute. Eventually, she filed a restraining order, so he was hoping she'd hear about this presentation he was giving and get back in touch, because he was willing to do anything he could to make it work, whether she wanted him to or not.

My point is, I'm pretty sure I met a serial killer at open mic night, and I blame this song.

The Offspring: "Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell"


Ah ah ah, well we're pouring gasoline
So dance around the fire that we once believed in
Ah ah ah, it'll never be the same now
'Cause there's nothing left for us to bleed
Give it up to champions of greed
So come around and have another round on me
Dance, fucker, dance, let the motherfucker burn

What The Song Is Trying To Be About

So this is the only song on this list not to be released as a single, and I know it's pretty obscure to just throw in the after-thought track off the over-the-hill The Offspring's most recent, most forgettable album, Days Go By, but that's because I've got quite a bit to say.

What It Actually Says

The Offspring started out as your standard sarcastic-lyrics-sung-poorly-over-angry-guitar West Coast punk band. They're pretty good if you're into that type of thing, which I totally am. I think all their albums up to Smash fucking rule, and every album after that has had at least two songs that are worth listening to more than once.

At least until you get to Days Go By, which is so bad I genuinely thought I hallucinated it when it first came out (2012 was a pretty big year for me and drugs). Except for one thing: The last song, "Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell," which not only sounds like an actual Offspring song but sounds like a good Offspring song, which is a really important distinction. Here, I'll just embed it, and you can list to it while we finish our little journey here.

Let's start with that chorus: Singing about "pouring gasoline" and "dancing around the fire of what we once believed in" is the most honest thing they've said on this whole album. After all, it's pretty hard to reconcile the guy who sang "I'm not a trendy asshole" with the guy who shat out the words "I'm cruisin' bumpin' Huntington Beach" and then said to himself, "Yes, those are lyrics that I will later sing," and then had a glass of milk and went to sleep. The Offspring have indeed "burned" everything that they used to stand for. That's what this album is. And they're like, "No, guys, it's totally a parody."

"See? See how we're now a parody of everything we stood for?"

Think it's a stretch? Quite the connoisseur of punk rock conspiracy theories, huh? Well, fine, here's my last bit of evidence: This isn't the first time they've sung the lyric "Dance, fucker, dance." That line showed up on an earlier album on the track "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" -- a song about a young musician who sells his soul and loses his edge.

JF Sargent probably revealed more of himself than he meant to with this column. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Jon Bon Jovi never had a careful eye for lyrics. See how he butchers a Beatles cover in The 5 Worst Lyric Changes In Covers Of Famous Songs. And check out what other musicians might have slipped passed you in 20 Shocking Lyrics You Didn't Notice In Famous Songs. What the hell does "chunder" even mean, Men At Work?

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see Freddie Mercury defend the song "Bicycle" in Why Queen's Lyrics Are Secretly Ridiculous, as well as watch other videos you won't see on the site!

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