Hiding the Pain with Pop

I love Gilmore Girls. I discovered the show in 2005, when I was only 9 years old and the show was already in its fifth season. I quickly caught up and fell in love with Lorelai and Rory through their endless hysterical endeavors. I was totally team Jess until I met Logan and I always knew who Lorelai was meant to be with (don’t worry, no spoilers here). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re seriously missing out.


But anyway, one of my favorite episodes is #313, Dear Emily and Richard, which switches back and forth between present day and scenes from Lorelai’s childhood. Lorelai grew up in an extremely wealthy family, so when she got pregnant at 16 and refused to marry the baby’s father, her parents were obviously not pleased. After she had the baby, she moved out and only left a letter to her parents behind. There’s a scene in the episode where young Lorelai, who has just gone into labor, sits in the waiting room of the hospital all alone and pulls out her walkman. The camera pans out as she listens to “99 Luftbaloons” by Nena. Because what else do you do when you’re in a hospital waiting room, alone, waiting to have your own baby? It’s a really powerful moment that always stuck with me. (You can watch the scene here)

So naturally, I added the catchy tune to my iTunes playlist and went on with my life. Fast forward 10 years (just like “A Year in the Life,” amirite?) and I stumble upon the song hidden in the depths of my digital music collection. I start listening to it again and now that I’m older and more curious, I start to wonder what she’s saying in that melodic tone. She’s sings the whole song in German, after all. Here’s part of the English translation:

“99 balloons
on Their way to the horizon
People think they’re UFOs from space
as a general sent up
a fighter squadron after them
Sound the alarm if it’s so

99 years of war left
No room for victors.
There are no more ministers
nor any jet fighters.
Today I’m making my rounds
I found a balloon,
think of you and let it fly.”


Still lost? I was too the first time around. Wikipedia explains it best: “99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a General to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child’s balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the Defence ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor. At the end, the singer walks through the devastated ruins and lets loose a balloon, watching it fly away.”

What!? It’s a fucking Cold-War era protest song? But she sounded so happy! Turns out there are a lot of songs like this. They’ve maybe got a danceable up-tempo beat or a stuck-in-your-head-for-weeks kind of melody, but the lyrics are straight-up downers. Here’s a few other I found that you probably didn’t know about:

“Hey Ya” by OutKast


But… but… he looks so happy! How can this be a sad song? Well, while this song doesn’t have the most depressing lyrics of the bunch, they’re certainly the most shocking. The song is actually about a pretty brutal break up:

“We get together
Oh, we get together
But separate’s always better when there’s feelings involved
Know what they say -its:
Nothing lasts forever!

Then what makes love the exception?
So why, oh, why, oh

Are we still in denial when we know we’re not happy here?”

I definitely thought twice about making this the first song on my party playlist. I mean… it totally still is, but I thought about it.

2. “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People


This one is a little more well-known, but it’s still pretty shocking. Especially nowadays, it carries a whole newfound significance. Here’s what the lead vocalist, Mark Foster, had to say about the song in an interview with Spinner UK: “‘Pumped Up Kicks’ is about a kid that basically is losing his mind and is plotting revenge. He’s an outcast. I feel like the youth in our culture are becoming more and more isolated. It’s kind of an epidemic. Instead of writing about victims and some tragedy, I wanted to get into the killer’s mind.” Here’s a section of the lyrics:

“Robert’s got a quick hand
He’ll look around the room, he won’t tell you his plan
He’s got a rolled cigarette, hanging out his mouth he’s a cowboy kid
Yeah found a six shooter gun
In his dad’s closet hidden oh in a box of fun things, I don’t even know what
But he’s coming for you, yeah he’s coming for you
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You’d better run, better run, out run my gun”

The song was then pulled from some U.S. radio stations in December 2012 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

3. “Gangnam Style” by PSY


*evil laugh*

And you thought you had escaped this overplayed, repetitive nonsense! Think again! Now, this song, like “99 Luftballoons,” is actually kinda unfair because it’s sung in a different language, but I’m going to keep it on the list anyway.

First of all, what is a Gangnam? Well, Gangnam is actually not a “what,” it’s a “where.”  “Gangnam” is an area in Seoul, South Korea, and it is home to about 1% of the population of Seoul. It is known for its wealthy, “new money,” inhabitants.  So when PSY refers to “Gangnam Style,” he’s referring to the lifestyle of the people in this area.

PSY, who was born into a wealthy family and grew up close to Gangnam, said, Gangnam residents are seen as”

“good-looking because of plastic surgery, stylish because they can splurge on luxury goods, and slim thanks to yoga and personal trainers.”

Well played, Mr. PSY, well played.

4. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” by Kendrick Lamar


Most people stick this song in with party/drinking anthems like “Shots” by LMFAO and “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” by Jamie Foxx, likely because of it’s chorus that talks about “a swimming pool full of liquor.”

But actually, this song focuses more on the dangers of alcoholism:

“Now I done grew up ’round some people livin’ their life in bottles
Granddaddy had the golden flask
Backstroke every day in Chicago
Some people like the way it feels
Some people wanna kill their sorrows”

And lastly, my personal favorite:

5. “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles 


At first glance, this catchy up-tempo is about an empowered woman breaking up with her needy boyfriend, right?


Bareilles’ record label had been pressuring her to write more “radio-friendly” love songs, so she wrote “Love Song” as a very big “fuck you.” In 2014, she stated it was “very tongue-in-cheek” and “nasty in a passive-aggressive way.” Knowing that, the lyrics have a VERY different meaning:

“Blank stares at blank pages
No easy way to say this
You mean well, but you make this hard on me
I’m not gonna write you a love song
’cause you asked for it
’cause you need one, you see
I’m not gonna write you a love song
’cause you tell me it’s
Make or breaking this
If you’re on your way
I’m not gonna write you to stay
If all you have is leaving I’m gonna need a better reason to write you a love song today”


Hope I didn’t ruin all your favorite songs! Happy Listening!

-Marie Pruitt

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