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Top 20 Happy Sounding Songs That Are Actually Depressing

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
Wedding music? Not exactly. For this list, we're looking at songs that may sound like sunshine, lollipops and rainbows on the surface, but are actually quite dark, sad, or depressing upon closer inspection. Our countdown includes Of Monsters and Men, Green Day, Van Halen, Foster the People, Lily Allen, and more!
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top 20 happy-sounding songs that are actually depressing


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 20 happy-sounding songs that are actually depressing.

For this list, we’re looking at songs that may sound like sunshine, lollipops and rainbows on the surface, but are actually quite dark, sad, or depressing upon closer inspection.

Which of these songs hits you the hardest? Let us know in the comments!


#20: “LDN” (2006)

Lily Allen
Our first entry is a Ska-influenced song featuring a rhythm derived from a Colombian-Caribbean dance style, so it’s not unreasonable to think it’ll be light, summary and only about the good times, right? Wrong. On this track, Ms. Allen takes us through the more impoverished areas of London, talking about how things might seem lovely, but in reality they’re very much the opposite. The video for the song shows an idealistic version of the city, but contrasts it with a much greyer, more depressing depiction.



#19: “Little Talks” (2011)

Of Monsters and Men

“Little Talks” from Icelandic rock band Of Monsters and Men certainly sounds like a good time. Cheerful and somewhat celebratory-sounding horns blare throughout most of the song, complete with confident chants of “hey!” and a fun back-and-forth between male and female vocals. Basically, it’s a nice little indie darling with a budget. While the back-and-forth may sound cute, it’s meant to represent a dead husband and his depressed and lonely widow, who may or may not be losing her mind. They desperately want to be together, and very well may be one day, but for now, they’re apart and painfully aware of it. Not so fun now, is it?


#18:“Basket Case” (1994)

Green Day

Never has a song about anxiety and paranoid delusion been so much fun! “Basket Case” is a punk rock classic, filled with heavy guitar riffs and an instantly recognizable and catchy hook. It makes for a really fun punk song, but when you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong is crying for help. The entire song revolves around his anxiety and paranoia, and the belief that he’s losing control of his own sanity. Armstrong said that writing this song was the only way he knew how to process his emotions, as he genuinely believed that he was losing his mind.


#17: “Mr. Jones” (1993)

Counting Crows

It’s pretty much impossible for Counting Crows to sound anything less than happy. This song is a nice little rock tune, complete with light guitar riffs and Adam Duritz’s soft and soaring vocals. It’s a really easy song to sing along to, despite the somewhat morose subject matter. Duritz was inspired to write the song after looking at some beautiful women and realizing that he was too shy to approach them. He went on to write a song about a depressed and lonely man who does not believe in himself and who wants nothing more than to be acknowledged and loved. So, you know, fun stuff.



#16: “Some Nights” (2012)

fun.
At times, this song sounds an awful lot like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” – which is a happy-but-depressing song in its own right. This is more power-pop than afrobeat, however, and “Some Nights”’ layered harmonies and frontman Nate Ruess’ (ruse) soaring, Freddie Mercury-esque vocals would make you think it’s happier than it actually is. In truth, it’s a song about a young man being far away from his home and his family, and having an existential crisis as a result.


#15: “Guns for Hands” (2011)

Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots are no strangers to the happy-sounding-but-actually-depressing song. (xref) For example, the end of “Car Radio” makes for a fun dance, but it’s actually about Tyler’s crippling anxiety. However, there’s perhaps no bigger contrast in their discography than “Guns for Hands.” Fans love it for its rocking synthline, Tyler’s fun use of rap, and the snappy vocals. But the song’s origin has a much darker backstory. According to Tyler Joseph, it was written after the lead singer was approached by fans so afflicted with severe depression that they considered taking their own lives. Joseph then penned the song to let his fans know they have control over their circumstances.

#14: “Electric Avenue” (1982)

Eddy Grant
This song’s upbeat feel made it one of the most popular songs of 1983 in the United States. It fuses early ‘80s new wave with reggae influences in a way that makes you want to dance and feel good. However, the lyrics reference the Brixton Riots in London that took place a year before the track came out in its native UK and the title refers to a market street in the Brixton area. The lyrics also lament poverty more generally, expressing frustration about food shortages and a low-income existence.


#13: “Today” (1993)

The Smashing Pumpkins

“Today” certainly sounds like a happy song, doesn’t it? After all, the speaker is describing the happiest day of his life. It’s only when you realize that Billy Corgan wrote the lines in a sarcastic tone does the song take on a more sinister meaning. Corgan wrote this song at a difficult point in his life – he was depressed, hesitant of his fame, and living in a parking garage. In case the lyrics “Can’t wait for tomorrow, I might not have that long” and “I wanted more than life could ever grant me” don’t quite spell it out for you, the song is very much about Corgan’s preoccupation with ending his own life, rather than savoring it.



#12: “Rock the Casbah” (1982)

The Clash
This slice of dance-y, new wave is one of the most radio-friendly tracks the Clash ever made. Inspired by the ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it’s a myth-like tale of a king banning music and that ban being flouted by the people. Under the buoyant rhythm, it’s lyrics are overtly political, calling out the hypocrisy of middle-eastern leaders enjoying the benefits of oil revenue and Western luxuries, while trying to keep the population poor and ignorant.




#11: “Bad Moon Rising” (1969)

Creedence Clearwater Revival

There’s just something inherently fun about the end times, isn’t there? This classic song is full of catchy vocals and a clap-worthy beat, yet it’s about an incoming metaphorical storm. Many critics and music listeners have put forth various theories regarding the song’s meaning, with some taking it in a literal, apocalyptic sense, others arguing that it’s about anxiety or depression, and others reading it within the tumultuous political climate of its time. However you want to read it, it is certainly not a happy song, despite its foot-tapping sense of fun.




#10: “You Can Call Me Al” (1986)

Paul Simon
The lead single from Simon’s seminal album Graceland, this song talks about going through a midlife crisis, all the while sung over a joyous, Afrobeat-inspired instrumental. Despite the happy backing track, the singer-songwriter’s lyrics describe a man who seems to even question his existence at times. Inspired by an incident at a party, when French composer Pierre Boulez accidently referred to Simon as “Al,” the track still made the top 30 in the United States and was a much bigger hit in the rest of the world.




#9: “Hey Ya!” (2003)

OutKast

This is the one that everybody knows, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. That said, it’s one of the topic’s greatest examples for a reason. The line “Y’all don’t want to hear me, you just want to dance” perfectly describes “Hey Ya!” It’s about a couple who feels they should be in a relationship just because it’s the traditional thing to do and because they’re afraid of being alone, and it features some heavy themes, including generational divides and questions of emotional immaturity. But hey, the music is poppy and bouncy, and Andre’s vocals are fast and energetic, so get up and dance!



#8: “Mr. Brightside” (2003)

The Killers

How can this not be a happy song? It features a charming and angelic-sounding guitar, sharp synths, and beautiful vocals from Brandon Flowers. It’s even called “Mr. Brightside” for crying out loud! Well, if you consider crippling suspicion and paranoia to be fun, then yeah, it’s fun. The song plays with ambiguity, as it’s not clear whether the speaker’s girlfriend actually cheated on him, or even if she kissed another man. However, the protagonist’s thoughts spiral into infidelity, despite a lack of evidence. At the end of the song, his paranoia has cost him both his happiness and his relationship. Fun stuff.




#7: “Detroit Rock City” (1976)

KISS
Compared to what this song is actually about, the chorus can be incredibly misleading on first listen. Despite the anthemic nature of the track, it tells the tale of a real-life KISS fan that dies while driving to one of the band’s concerts. Frontman Paul Stanley describes how the fan drinks and smokes before getting in his car, and drives at lightning speed on his way to the show, where he hits a truck and dies. Released as a single, the song became a fan favorite and inspired the movie of the same name.




#6: “American Pie” (1971)

Don McLean

“American Pie” is widely considered to be one of the greatest songs ever, and debate has raged regarding the content of its lyrics for decades. While the song directly references various events, including the plane crash that killed many notable musicians, some people believe that those incidents only serve as metaphors for deeper, more introspective meanings. Some believe that it’s about expressing grief, others believe that it’s about the loss of innocence, and McLean himself has stated that it’s about the destruction of morality and idealism. No matter the interpretation, it’s very clear that there are a lot of heavy and depressing themes wrapped in the light folk sound.


#5: “Jump” (1984)

Van Halen
The synth riff that defines this entire track is so fist-pumpingly happy, yet the chorus hides a dark secret. According to frontman David Lee Roth, the song’s lyrics were first inspired by a news story he saw on TV that showed a man readying to jump off a building. When Roth penned the song however, the lyrics were apparently about “jumping” on an opportunity, rather than off a building. The peppy synth-line was probably what helped this tune become the band’s only number one single to be released during their career.



#4: “Bullet” (2011)

Hollywood Undead

There’s few other songs in the history of music in which the lyrics and the music contrast so greatly! To those not listening to the lyrics, “Bullet” sounds like a borderline children’s song. It’s happy and infectious, features a child in the outro, and is filled with the sound of bells. However, the song actually chronicles the thoughts of a depressed man who is sitting on a building about to jump to his death. It’s also revealed that he’s an alcoholic who has previously made an attempt on his own life through drug abuse and self-harm. While flying might sound fun to a child, it takes on a completely different meaning for an adult struggling with their mental health.


#3: “Semi-Charmed Life” (1997)

Third Eye Blind
In a textbook case of dark lyrics over a happy instrumental track, this song opens with one of the most joyous-sounding guitar riffs you will ever hear. What frontman Stephan Jenkins sings over it, though, is a detailed account of drug use, and the physical intimacy that ensues afterwards. As dark and weird as the lyrical content may be, it sure didn’t faze listeners, who helped “Semi-Charmed Life” reach number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997.



#2: “99 Luftballons” (1983)

Nena
Next on our list, we have one of the most successful non-English songs in U.S. history. And, with its typically ‘80s keyboard riff and upbeat tempo, it’s not hard to see why. However, the lyrics tell a frightening tale of balloons being mistaken for missiles (or UFOs), eventually resulting in all-out nuclear war! We did not see that one coming. Since its initial release in German, it has been re-recorded, covered and parodied many times, firmly lodging it forever in our collective memory.



#1: “Pumped Up Kicks” (2010)

Foster the People
It’s got a catchy bass line and its falsetto chorus would make anyone think it’s a pretty cheerful tune, which is not surprising given that front man Mark Foster worked as a commercial jingle writer before finding success with his band. But “Pumped Up Kicks”’ lyrics are actually quite sinister, describing the thoughts of a disturbed young man who has fantasies about murder. The dark, disturbing lyrical content sure didn’t faze listeners, and the track spent eight consecutive weeks at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2011.
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