25+ Upbeat Songs That Nobody Realizes Are Actually Super Dark

Hey Ya – Outkast

Hey Ya by Outkast was a bit of a phenomenon when it came out, topping charts all over the world, while simultaneously getting people out of their seats to revel in its catchiness.

Dive deeper into the lyrics though, and you quickly realize the song is a cynical take on modern-day relationships and the lack of substance behind them.

I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Mike Posner

While I Took a Pill in Ibiza may reference living the high life in Los Angeles, the overriding theme of the song is actually how quickly fame and money can disappear.

The lyrics deal with intoxication, addiction and regret, while also warning anyone who is currently riding their own wave of fame of the pitfalls it can bring.

Chandelier – Sia

Chandelier is a song about going out and dancing the night away, but Sia doesn’t approach the topic in the way that pop singers usually do.

Chandelier is instead about going out and drinking too much to avoid the reality of the world and the responsibilities it brings. Bleak, huh?

Beautiful Girls – Sean Kingston

Sean Kingston’s Beautiful Girls sounds like a simple ode to female beauty, that is until he starts with the references to taking one’s own life.

Even if the lyrics didn’t seem as heartbreaking in the times where songs were a whole lot less sensitive to such topics, Mr Kingston was clearly in some pain when singing the song.

Love The Way You Lie – Eminem ft. Rihanna

Eminem has always been a bit of a sucker for violence, having previously made threats of violence and death towards another woman in his song Kim.

Love The Way You Lie featuring Rihanna focuses on another violent, dysfunctional relationship, with a graphic, horrible threat at the end, which we shall not repeat.

My Sharona – The Knack

If The Knack were allowed to go back and rewrite the lyrics to their one and only hit, My Sharona, it’s likely they would take up the offer in a heartbeat.

While the song seems fairly innocuous on first listen, the lyrics actually touch on what appears to be the narrator’s attraction to young women.

MMMBop – Hanson

Hanson’s MMMBop is the very definition of upbeat: performed by kids and marketed to kids. By all accounts, the song was written to be as simple and saccharine as possible, and it was performed as such.

However, peel back the layer of pop fluff and you’ll find that the lyrics are about how all good things come to an end.

Every Breath You Take – The Police

The Police’s biggest hit, and one of commercial radio’s most played songs, Every Breath You Take is actually far creepier than it would first appear.

It originally seems as though the narrator is singing about their love for someone, but when you read the lyrics on their own, you’ll find the narrator is actually stalking their desired lover, watching them from afar everywhere they go.

Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car gives the impression that the struggling lead character managed to escape a life of hardship looking after her alcoholic father, by leaving with her lover in a fast car.

However, towards the end of the song, we find out that her lover has also succumbed to substances, choosing to spend his time at the bar rather than with his own children.

Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners

Come on Eileen is a classic, one usually played in the last minutes before closing time at the club to get revellers involved in a good old sing-song.

However, the more you listen to the words, the creepier they get, as the narrator is clearly trying to trick a woman into going home with him.

We Are Young – Fun ft. Janelle Monáe

We Are Young, by Fun featuring Janelle Monáe seems like a rousing anthem to encourage everyone to enjoy themselves while they are still young.

However, it is littered with subtle references to illegal substances, with one line even hinting towards domestic abuse.

Delilah – Tom Jones

Tom Jones’ Delilah was recently banned by the Welsh Rugby Union from being played before games, as it heavily promotes violence against women.

The song references a brutal murder of a woman by the jealous, and unhinged character that Jones is portraying.

99 Luftballons – Nena

Nena’s 1980s global hit 99 Luftballons initially sounds like your average synth-heavy pop song, but it’s actually about the start of a new, more violent kind of war.

The premise of the song focuses on 99 red balloons that were released into the sky, accidentally crossing over the East/West Germany border. These balloons are wrongly interpreted as enemy weapons, promptly sparking a catastrophic, deadly conflict.

American Pie – Don McLean

American Pie is a classic singalong anthem, spanning over eight minutes, and running listeners through a lyrically dense story.

What you might not know, however, is that the song is actually about the culturally significant years that followed the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Big Bopper in a tragic air crash in 1959.

I Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

The Weeknd’s I Can’t Feel My Face was surprisingly nominated for best song at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards the year of its release.

The Weeknd references this nomination in his song, Reminder, explaining that the track is actually about not being able to feel your face after consuming a heavy amount of an illicit substance.

Under The Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers is actually based on a true story, one that highlights the risks and consequences of substance abuse.

The bridge in question is a place where singer Anthony Kiedis used to go during the height of his problems, where he would hang out with other lost folk rather than being at home with his girlfriend.

Hotel California – Eagles

Eagles’ most popular song Hotel California is not actually about a real establishment of the same name, but rather about the dark, untold truths of the American Dream, and how it often promises a whole lot more than it ever truly offers in return.

That’s far scarier than a hotel where you end up living the same day over and over again.

Gangnam Style – PSY

Anyone who was active on the internet when PSY released Gangnam Style in 2012 will know the frenzy the song caused, how it became one of the first Korean songs to enter the mainstream, and how it prompted all sorts of people to attempt its famous dance.

What non-Korean speaking people may not know is that the song is speaking out against a supposed Korean mentality of having to keep up materially with other people in order to feel valuable as a human.

Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant

Electric Avenue gives the impression that it is an upbeat, danceable song, but it actually highlights the problem of poverty and inequality among minorities in London.

The song also references the Brixton riots of 1981, in which violence broke out between a group of young black men and the Metropolitan Police.

Run For Your Life – The Beatles

Despite being one of the greatest albums ever recorded, Rubber Soul by The Beatles ends on a rather sour note with John Lennon’s severely bitter Run For Your Life.

The song highlights Lennon’s historic jealousy, threatening to kill his lover if he ever finds her cheating on him.

Born in The USA – Bruce Springsteen

It’s well known that Bruce Springsteen managed to hide his anti-USA message in a song that you’d have thought could only be about nationalist pride.

Springsteen’s Born in The USA actually laments the way that army veterans were treated once they had returned from the horrors of the Vietnam War.

Macarena – Los Del Río

Everyone knows the song, and everyone knows the dance, but few people actually know the lyrics, which is not such a bad thing.

The famous party song Macarena focuses on a woman who is cheating on her boyfriend, who has been conscripted into the armed forces, with two other unknown men. Think about that next time you’re dancing to it at a wedding.

You Are My Sunshine – Jimmie Davis

You Are My Sunshine is a popular lullaby sung to unsuspecting little babies to try and send them to sleep.

There is more to it than that though, as the song’s lyrics talk about the narrator’s feelings of anguish now that his lover no longer reciprocates his feelings.

Barbie Girl – Aqua

It’s so easy to take Aqua’s Barbie Girl at face value, especially if you’ve had the misfortune of watching its accompanying music video.

However, some of the lyrics suggest that the song is less about Barbie dolls, and more about the coercive, creepy treatment that women receive in the music industry.

Blackbird – The Beatles

Blackbird’s beautiful acoustic guitar melody has stood the test of time, with many budding guitarists still trying their best to replicate it.

Paul McCartney’s lyrics aren’t actually as innocent as they seem though, as the song isn’t about birds at all, but rather the injustice brought on by white supremacists and lawmakers in the 1960s Civil Rights movement in the USA.

Slide – Goo Goo Dolls

Slide by Goo Goo Dolls seems like a generic love song but actually follows the story of a Catholic girl who has become pregnant outside of marriage, a pretty big sin in the Catholic faith.

The girl then faces a dilemma of whether to marry the baby’s father or terminate the pregnancy.

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Johnny Mercer

Baby It’s Cold Outside was a staple of many people’s Christmas playlists for years, but it was only recently pointed out that the lyrics are incredibly creepy.

They involve a male, who is trying very desperately to convince his lover to stay, even to the point where he’s trying to force alcohol on her. That’s not very festive!

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

Scratch beneath Pumped Up Kicks’ extremely catchy surface and you’ll realize the lyrics are telling a story of a lone gunman.

Singer Mark Foster wrote the song as a response to a worrying spike of mental illness in young people that he had been reading about. Unfortunately, mental illness in children and the number of gun violence fatalities have both risen in the years since the song was released.

Looking For Somebody (To Love) – The 1975

The 1975’s Looking For Somebody (To Love) tackles the difficult topics of toxic masculinity and incel culture, with lyrics depicting young people running away from a scene of gun violence.

Matty Healy plays the part of a crazed gunman, trivializing the crime he has just committed while taking pleasure in the panic it caused.

One Way or Another – Blondie

One Way or Another is one of Blondie’s standout hits, with its catchy hook and vocal lines.

However, Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry wrote the lyrics to the song from the perspective of one of her ex-boyfriends, who had been stalking her ever since their relationship came to an end.

In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins

You probably remember In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins for its intense but iconic drum solo, or maybe even for its haunting vocal delivery.

What may have passed you by is the lyrical content. The song is about Collins’ painful divorce from his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli.

Hello – Lionel Richie

Hello seems like another easy-listening classic from Lionel Richie, and it can stay that way, as long as you don’t watch its music video.

The video suggests that the song is about a teacher who falls in love with a blind pupil, and proceeds to follow her around the school.

Who Let The Dogs Out – The Baha Men

The Baha Men’s Who Let The Dogs Out is a party favorite, and it being played usually ends up with the room barking along with the song.

However, its meaning is less trivial than you might expect. The song was written about the uncomfortable treatment of women on the street, with the barking meant to represent men catcalling.

You’re Beautiful – James Blunt

A charming little song about a man who has fallen in love on the subway?

No, James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful is actually about a man who, as a consequence of various illicit substances, has taken to stalking and staring intently at an innocent woman while in the presence of her boyfriend.

Copacabana – Barry Manilow

Copacabana might be an uncool, cheesy pop song, but at least it’s an uncool, cheesy pop song with relatively interesting lyrics. The song is about a showgirl called Lola and her bartender boyfriend Tony who work at the Copacabana club.

Tony attacks a man for trying to seduce Lola, but ends up being killed in the fight that ensues. The song then fast forwards to 30 years later, where Lola sits alone at the Copacabana, thinking of Tony.

Mack The Knife – Bobby Darin

The character Mack, whom Bobby Darin’s classic song Mack The Knife is named after, is actually a rather distasteful human being.

He is an arsonist and murderer, who has committed a number of crimes against women and yet has not yet been caught. The blasé manner in which the character is sung about almost causes you to mentally breeze past Mack’s behavior.

Adam’s Song – Blink-182

Adam’s Song by Blink-182 was based on a story Mark Hoppus read about a young person called Adam who tragically took his own life.

Adam had initially survived an incident with a lone gunman but had lost a close friend and a teacher whom he greatly admired. Hoppus wrote the song as a tribute to Adam and the pain he went through.

The A Team – Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran’s early break-out hit, The A-Team, may originally sound wistful and pure, but it is actually based on a rather upsetting true story, about a girl he met while volunteering for a homeless charity.

He met a girl named Angel who had become homeless after struggling with an addiction to class-A substances, which Sheeran references heavily in the song.

Help! – The Beatles

Help! by The Beatles originally started off as a slow piano ballad written by John Lennon as a literal cry for help when he was struggling with the pressures of fame.

As The Beatles’ fanbase was craving pop hit after pop hit, producer George Martin suggested the band speed the song up and release it as an up-tempo single.

Camisado – Panic! at the Disco

Camisado was written by former Panic! at the Disco guitarist Ryan Ross, who based the lyrics around his father’s struggles with alcoholism.

The song references the violence that Ross experienced at the hands of his intoxicated father and also talks about the time that Ross had to care for his father after one of his many relapses.

Bad Days - The Flaming Lips

The title Bad Days may make The Flaming Lips' lyrical intentions seem obvious, but the bad day they are speaking of is way darker than you'd expect.

The concept of the song is about turning to dreams to solve problems in life. The main dream the band sings about centers around the narrator murdering their boss. Yikes!

Misery - Green Day

The song's title may be gloomy, but the tone of the song is quite the opposite, with the band playing upbeat folky rhythms throughout.

Lyrically though, the song is super-dark, focussing on various down-and-outs that have been brought together by their own respective misfortunes.

Happiness - Eytan Mirsky

Happiness was written specifically for the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and actor River Phoenix being lined up to sing it.

However, the song's writer, Eytan Mirsky, decided to record it himself, cancelling out the song's joyous arrangements with his bleak lyricism.

Does Your Mother Know - ABBA

ABBA's Does Your Mother Know masks its lyrical shadiness with its high-energy backbeat and excessive use of the synthesizer.

If you want to carry on enjoying this song, don't bother delving too deep into the lyrics about a man knowingly flirting with an underage girl.

Royals - Lorde

Lorde's breakout song, Royals, isn't so discreet in its cynicism, as the lyric isn't being drowned out by any maximalist production.

However, the more you think about the anti-consumerist lyrics, the more down you get about the route that the media and its representation of wealth is heading in.

Tonight, The Streets Are Ours - Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley's Tonight, The Streets Are Ours lures you in with a false sense of optimism as you follow the two lovers into the night.

Soon enough, Hawley sings about media disillusionment and unrequited love, before the absolute kicker of a line, "Do you know how to kill loneliness at last?" Oof.

Splendid Isolation - Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon's lyrics were always best taken with a pinch of salt, as they were often wrapped in a heavy layer of irony.

Splendid Isolation is just that, coating the feelings of a social exile with sugar, almost tricking the listener into believing that the narrator is enjoying their life.

There is a Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of The Smiths' back catalog isn't miserable, it's just tinged with cynical humor sparked by an era that was unkind to the people of Northern England.

To some, the death-prophecizing lyrics fronting Johnny Marr's upbeat chord progression in There is a Light That Never Goes Out are dark and upsetting, but to others, they are beautiful.

The New You - The Vandals

Punk rock group The Vandals are known for sprinkling some dark humor into their songs, so it should come as no surprise that their upbeat tune The New You has dark undertones.

The song follows the mindset of a jealous ex-lover that has become a stalker with violent intentions.

Pursuit of Happiness - Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi went against the usual rapper's code and exposed his more vulnerable side in his song, Pursuit of Happiness.

The catchiness of the music does its best to mask the dark lyrics, which touch on substance abuse and mental health troubles.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears

1980s synth-pop was seldom taken seriously, even if you wrote a set of lyrics as poignant as the ones in Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

The words touch on how humans are born into a system where they will always be under the thumb of the elite, but the melodies are so pretty you barely hear them.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer - The Beatles

While the rest of The Beatles dismissed Paul McCartney's Maxwell's Silver Hammer as another one of his 'granny tunes', it contains the darkest set of lyrics he had ever written.

Maxwell is a deranged killer in the middle of a spree, bonking his victims on the head with his special silver hammer.

Wrong Way - Sublime

The reggae-infused sound of Wrong Way by the Californian rock band Sublime gives it the vibe of a carefree, easygoing song that you'd put on while sipping a cold drink on a hot day.

However, the lyrics are more troubling than tropical, focussing on a 12-year-old girl who is living a life way beyond her years.

9 to 5 - Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 is about as upbeat as it gets, while managing to secretly denounce the common system that the Western world orbits around.

She is, of course, questioning the standard nine to five working hours, and how the average person will struggle to ever break out of that mold until they eventually retire.

I Don't Like Mondays - The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats song, I Don't Like Mondays is based around the events that took place in 1979 at a school in San Diego, rather than a general hatred of the start of the workweek.

16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer killed two adults and injured eight children, and when interrogated by a reporter about her actions, she replied, "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day".

Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men

Little Talks was a huge hit for the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men, with its catchy, upbeat riff asserting the song's authority on pop radio for quite some time.

The song is far darker than it gets credit for though, as it is about a recent widow who is falling apart, hearing her husband's voice from beyond the grave.

Paper Planes - M.I.A.

M.I.A. has always tried to infuse meaning into her songs, even if she knows that it will likely be overlooked in favor of the upbeat, catchy melodies.

Her most famous hit Paper Planes covers the issues faced by immigrants that have entered a country in search of a better life, only to find hardship and struggle.

Mr. Brightside - The Killers

Mr. Brightside is the ultimate party anthem, often played at the end of the night, guaranteeing a singalong even though everybody is now sick to death of the song.

The lyrics are often overshadowed by the catchiness of the melodies, despite the fact they touch upon the type of extreme jealousy that keeps you wide awake at night.

Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee) - Crystal Waters

Dance music is rarely the place to air sentimental or important statements, as the artists don't want to be the person ruining the atmosphere of the party.

Crystal Waters did manage to fit in a message about the struggles that women face in both the workplace and in society. Her song, Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee), has gone on to become one of the most recognizable songs in the dance genre.

Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival is the sort of song that makes you want to put on your favorite denim-on-denim combo and stroll over-confidently down a busy street.

The song does its best to hide the fact that the lyrics are talking about death and the end of the world as we know it.

Mamma Mia - ABBA

Mamma Mia, similar to a large proportion of ABBA tunes, is so upbeat it almost hurts. There could never be dark lyrics hidden in there, surely?

Unfortunately, there are. The song is all about feelings of hurt and betrayal, along with the inability to escape from a toxic relationship.

Jump - Van Halen

Jump by Van Halen is a joy-spreader of a song, and you just have to look at Eddie Van Halen's face when he used to perform it live for proof.

However, the word 'jump' came to songwriter David Roth after he saw a news report showing a man who was about to end his life by jumping off a building.

Lovefool - The Cardigans

The Cardigans' Lovefool is a pretty song on the surface, with luscious instrumentation and a pretty singing voice to front it.

However, it's about the singer Nina Persson's painful desperation to hold on to a man who had fallen out of love with her.

Story of Us - Taylor Swift

Story of Us was one of Taylor Swift's old country bops, and it seems all upbeat and charming until you take a deeper look into the lyrics.

The song is about a time when Swift was stuck just a few seats away from her ex, Taylor Lautner, at an awards show, dying inside while having to maintain a calm exterior.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town - J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie

Santa Claus is Coming to Town is so merry and so upbeat that it has been covered by just about anyone wanting to cash in on those Christmas dollars.

However, it does seem a bit strange that Santa Claus is watching you when you sleep, knowing whether you're awake or not.

So What - P!nk

P!nk's early hit, So What, seems to be a rousing anthem about not having a care in the world because you're a rockstar and you do as you please.

That's not completely the case though, as the singer wrote the song about her split from her boyfriend, and how it sent her into an extended nervous breakdown.

London Bridge is Falling Down - Traditional

London Bridge is Falling Down is often sung by little children in the playground, who are blissfully unaware of the song's many potential meanings.

Some theories suggest that the song is referencing the supposed human sacrifice that took place on the bridge in the past, while some theories suggest it is about the Viking attack on London in 1009.

Semi-Charmed Life - Third Eye Blind

It's easy to lose the meaning of the song Semi-Charmed Life due to the ultra-fast vocal delivery of Third Eye Blind's singer, Stephan Jenkins.

It turns out, he is singing about the grip that substance abuse can have on a person, and how their life can go downhill rapidly.

Detroit Rock City - KISS

Detroit Rock City by the rock band KISS appears to be another one of the band's fast-paced, upbeat songs, until you read into the meaning behind it.

The song was written as a tribute to a young fan who died in a car accident on the way to see a KISS show.

Monster - Lady Gaga

Monster is a classic Lady Gaga-sounding song, with a heavy, electronic beat and over-the-top synthesizer use.

It also has some dark lyrics, about Gaga having her heart and brain eaten by a man that she was getting along well with on a train.