Songwriting is an intimate, emotional, and sometimes totally oblique process. Whether it's Taylor Swift purposefully trying to make her songs vague enough that people will hop off her d*ck or a deeper, hidden meaning in Billie Eilish's latest hit, you might not know your favorite song as well as you think you do.
Lucky for us, a lot of artists love to talk about their processes, so we've been able to figure out what our favorite Top 40 artists are actually trying to say. "Old Town Road" has hidden depths, y'all.
The meaning of 2017's Song of the Summer isn't a mystery to any Spanish-speaking listeners, but it turns out that when Justin Bieber advised us to "savor every moment slowly, ˢˡᴼʷᴸʸ," he was cueing us monolingual b*tches into the true meaning of the song. "Despacito," the word, literally means "slowly," and Billboard's translation of the song's chorus describes some dirty slow-motion sex. We're pretty sure if DJs heard an English-language version, lines like "Want you to show my mouth/ Your favorite places/ Let me trespass your danger zones/ Until I make you scream and you forget your last name" wouldn't be allowed on air.
"See You Again" was commissioned as a tribute to the late, great Paul Walker ahead of Furious 7's release, the final role Paul filmed before dying in a car accident. Charlie Puth, who sings the track's chorus, was actually inspired by the untimely death of Charlie's college friend Vail Cerullo in 2012. NBC Philadelphia spoke to Vail's father, Bill Cerullo, who remembered Charlie's promise to write a song about Vail and a text Charlie sent him following the song's release. “My gift to you Bill Dawg,” Charlie wrote, “We are celebrating Vail every day. He is the reason this is happening.”
Before she was an Oscar-winner, Lady Gaga was best known for her club bangerz and outrageous red carpet looks. Back in 2009, Gaga explained to Rolling Stone that the eponymous poker face in “Poker Face” is her vagina. Thankfully, she expanded on her comments during a concert at Palm Springs' Annual White Party covered by NBC Bay Area, clarifying that “Poker Face” is about her experience as a bisexual woman being with a man but fantasizing about another woman, unbeknownst to her partner.
Adele's powerhouse vocals have redefined the breakup power ballad, but her 7x Platinum hit "Hello" isn't about a not-so-forgotten ex-boyfriend. Adele told BBC Radio 1 that "Hello" isn't about an ex-lover but was written for her relationships with everyone she loves. As time passed and they all became consumed within their own worlds, Adele found herself losing touch with the people she cares about most in the midst of dealing with the loneliness of celebrity. Adele expanded to Rolling Stone after "Hello" won big at the 2017 Grammy Awards, saying the "other side" is about the other side of becoming an adult after your late teens and early twenties.
As with most of Taylor Swift's discography, everything you need to know about "Gorgeous" is carefully encoded in its lyrics. Reputation largely explored her (allegedly) overlapping relationships with Calvin Harris, Tom Hiddleston, and current beau Joe Alwyn. Confusingly, Taylor dated Tom after Calvin, but she met Tom and Joe on the same night at the MET Gala — which she attended with Calvin (read also: "Getaway Car"). Taylor confirmed at her Secret Sessions that "Gorgeous" is about Joe, but unless Tom has a secret nightlife habit we don't know about, lines like "I've got a boyfriend, he's older than us / He's in the club don' I don't know what" imply that "Gorgeous" was written while Taylor was dating Calvin. Basically, "Gorgeous" is a scandalous song about Taylor's love for Joe while she was dating Calvin before she ran away with Tom. It's a lot.
Seventeen years after Britney Spears debut single "...Baby One More Time" changed the world, Billboard finally learned what the chorus means. Fans have long believed that "hit me baby, one more time," was some type of kinky S&M metaphor or a weirdly blunt reference to physical abuse, but its really just another reason we should all be grateful for Google Translate. The song's Swedish writers Max Martin and Rami Yacoub thought "hit" was American slang for "call." "...Baby One More Time" was originally titled "Hit Me Baby (One More Time)," but Jive Records thought it sounded a little abuse-y and removed "Hit Me."
"Lady Marmalade" was popularized by Baz Luhrman's hit jukebox movie-musical (which is now also a hit musical-musical), Moulin Rouge, but the song's real meaning was a mystery even from its original chanteuse, Patti LaBelle. Patti told JET Magazine she had no idea the titular Lady was a sex worker. In her own words, Patti first thought she'd done something wrong, but then remembered that "hookers are people too" and "love is what it's all about." Now, if only more Americans would come to that realization. Oh, and the seemingly gibberish hook also has its roots in the OG version, which drew from creole slang. Genius translates that "Gitchie" means "get your," "ya-ya" refers to the New Orleans "Gumbo Ya-Ya," which is a rollicking party, and "dada" means an older woman. Altogether, it roughly means "Get your party woman/ Get your party here."
Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Lil Wayne's Pinkprint collab "Truffle Butter" is dirty, but not that dirty. We won't repeat the Urban Dictionary definition that many people believed the song was referencing because it's about anal a little explicit, but Wayne told GQ that the artists had never heard of this euphemistic meaning. "Truffle Butter" is about being rich AF, referencing the literal truffle-infused butter people put on steak. When Wayne said he was going to put it ~down there~ he was actually talking about butter, and Drake directly references "filets with the truffle butter." Y'all nasty.
Speaking of gross and incorrect Urban Dictionary definitions, there was a rumor that when Soulja Boy Tell 'Em "Superman[ed]" that he was doing some rude sh*t with bodily fluids. Again, we won't go into details, but Genius points out that definition was added three months after "Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)" was released on an unsuspecting public. Soulja himself did an interview with VladTV where he explained it ~can't~ mean that because there is no actual hoe and goes on to demonstrate that in slang, to "[something] that hoe" is to hit some dance move. Hilariously, he says that the other version of the phrase is something only white people would say and that he doesn't know "where the f*ck that came from."
Green Day frontman Billie Joel Armstrong told Billboard that quintessential graduation song "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" wasn't supposed to be offering up his best wishes for someone's future. Billie wrote "Good Riddance" about an ex-girlfriend who moved to Ecuador while he was still really bitter about the breakup, and the song is about telling her to just leave already and never come back. Well, we guess that explains the "Good Riddance" part of the title, but this one might have been a little too sarcastic to pack much of a punch.
"Hey There Delilah" would be really cute if The Plain White T's frontman Tom Higgenson actually knew her. The famous "Delilah," nationally ranked runner and one-time Olympic hopeful Delilah DiCrescenzo told Today she doesn't mind that Tom wrote a song about her despite the fact that they never dated. Actually, Tom wrote "Hey There Delilah" after the first time he met Delilah and she had a boyfriend at the time. The pair never dated, but casually kept in touch enough for Delilah to platonically attend the 2008 Grammys with the band. Still, this makes the song a little less "Photograph" and a little more "Creep."
"Supermarket Flowers" was never an Ed Sheeran single, but the emotional ballad cracked the US Billboard Hot 100 and both Ireland and UK Singles's top ten because it's such a fan favorite. Ed told Zane Lowe that the track about grieving after a mother's death isn't actually about his mother (who, thankfully, is very much alive). "Supermarket Flowers" was written about his maternal grandmother's death, who passed during the making of Divide, from the perspective of Ed's mother. After singing "Supermarket Flowers" at her funeral, Ed's grandfather encouraged him to put it on his upcoming album.
"Can't Feel My Face" is about cocaine, full stop. "She" is just a personification coke, and "Can't Feel My Face" describes someone with a coke addiction using the subtlety of a jackhammer, but somehow people still don't realize "Can't Feel My Face" has nothing to do with romance. The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye) even references the song's not-so-hidden meaning on Starboy's "Reminder," where he sings, "I just won a new award for a kids show / Talking 'bout a face numbing off a bag of blow." We're pretty sure Abel isn't addicted to drugs IRL... anymore. He told Rolling Stone that '08 to 2010 were his "hazy years" but that he never needed to detox from the drug. Ironically, Abel told Zane Lowe at Beats 1 that "Can't Feel My Face" was the fastest song he wrote for the album.
"Viva la Vida" is pretty clearly inspired by the French Revolution, but its title was drawn from an entirely different historical source. Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin told Rolling Stone that the phrase, which means "long live life," was taken from a painting by Frida Kahlo. Chris said he was inspired by the boldness of the work, which was a giant painting of the phrase to spite the "sh*t" Frida went through in her life, which included polio, a broken spine, and decades of chronic pain. The title also had nothing to do with Ricky Martin, BTW.
Another song that doesn't try to hide its meaning is Foster The People's biggest hit, "Pumped Up Kicks." Honestly, it's all right there in the chorus, but we have to believe that anyone who still plays it in this political climate just has no idea what it's about. The 2011 song about a school shooter was pulled from the airwaves following the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy, and frontman Mark Foster explained in a statement replicated on CNN that when he wrote the song in 2009, it was meant to create a dialogue about stricter gun control regulations. The band's bassist, Cubbie Fink, had a family member present during 1999's Columbine shooting, and the shocking lack of policy changes since then hit close to home for the band.
Billie Eilish did a verified breakdown of "Bury A Friend" for Genius, where she explained that the song is from the perspective of the monster under her bed, but because Billie is her own worst enemy, she *is* the monster under her bed. Fans are pretty sure this song and the album's title, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, were both inspired by Billie's night terrors. The teen told Zane Lowe she's had sleep paralysis five times and regular lucid dreams. Going further, Billie's regular references to "burying a friend" were likely in reference to XXXTentacion, a close confidant who was killed during the recording of her album.
Maren Morris became the first woman in seventeen months to top the country charts in July 2019 with "Girl," the lead single off her album of the same name. While the song's lyrics point towards a message Maren is trying to communicate to someone else, the country crooner is really a pep talk for herself. Maren told Rolling Stone she began writing "Girl" as a diss track to another artist who had disrespected her, but during the songwriting process, she realized she the person she really needed to have a chat with was herself and focused on positivity and female empowerment.
Lorde's breakout single "Royals" is an inside look at small-town youths who sing along to songs about ridiculous wealth while believing that level of luxury is eternally out of their reach. Lorde is living proof that her hypothesis is false, but she's right that she'll probably never play Major League Baseball. The titular Royals aren't Kate Middleton, Prince William, and their ragtag team of monarchs, they're a reference to the MLB's Kansas City Royals. Lorde told Vevo Lift that a National Geographic photo of Royals designated hitter George Brett singing baseballs began her fascination with the word.
"Love Story" was the Old Taylor's signature song, a classic tale of Girl Meets Boy, Girl Marries Boy in A Fantasy World. The song, from Taylor's Grammy-winning sophomore album Fearless, was written before Taylor started dating fellow celebrities — "Hey Stephen" on the album was written for a Love & Theft bandmember, but last-minute Joe Jonas diss "Forever & Always" is likely her first song about a famous beau. Taylor told Time that "Love Story" was inspired by a boy Taylor that her family and friends didn't like, leading her to reimagine William Shakespeare's classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending from the perspective of Juliet.
"Old Town Road" is the longest-running number-one of all time, and it isn't because there have been 100,000 remixes. It's because Lil Nas X's breakout single is a damn good song. The country star and rapper told Time that the song's pre-chorus, "can't nobody tell me nothing," was inspired by his family's lack of faith in his music career, but that during the writing process he decided to make "Old Town Road" about his inevitable future success. The road, you see, is success, and Lil Nas really is going to ride it until he can't anymore.