The 90’s was a helluva time for music. On the one hand, it was the golden age of pop. Bands like N*SYNC, The Backstreet Boys and T.L.C. proved to the world that if you rounded up a couple attractive friends, wrote a few ballads, and got genetically engineered by Disney, you too could be famous.
Then 90’s grunge bands like Nirvana, The Goo Goo Dolls, and Semisonic proved that those lonely kids in high school had something to say too.
Thing is, there’s also a lot we missed. In fact, a lot of the most popular songs of the decade have been completely misinterpreted or misunderstood for all these years.
1. “Closing Time” by Semisonic
You thought it was about closing time at a bar.
It’s actually about the singer having a baby. Dan Wilson wrote this cryptic song about his daughter who was born 3 months premature and had to spend months in the hospital fighting for her life. It’s a heart wrenching story that makes the phrase “I know who I want to take me home” just a little more meaningful.
2. “One” by U2
You thought it was about love or marriage or something.
It’s actually about father and son angst. After his mom died when he was 14, Bono said he had a strained relationship with his father, and wrote the song about that emotional distance.
3. “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan
You thought it was about super passionate romance.
It’s actually about a stalker who sent McLachlan a series of obsessed letters. The fan then sued her for writing a song about it but the lawsuit was dropped after he took his own life. Yikes.
4. “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana
You thought it was about Courtney Love. Or perhaps just Courtney Love’s vagina.
It’s actually about kids with cancer. Something Kurt Cobain described as “sadder than anything I can think of.”
5. “The One I Love” by R.E.M.
You thought it was about dedicating something to someone you love.
It’s actually about kind of the opposite of that. Peter Buck wrote it as a sort of anti-love song and was surprised when people thought it was romantic. At a certain point he even considered not writing it, because he thought it was too brutal.
6. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day
You thought it was about wishing someone well.
It’s actually about a bad breakup. Singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song about his girlfriend moving to Ecuador, and titled it “Good Riddance” in frustration. Kind of off-putting to play it at a graduation party.
7. “Give it Away” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
You thought it was about getting it on.
It’s actually about being nice and generous. No really. Anthony Kiedis wrote in his memoir that the song is about a girlfriend of his who gave him a jacket he liked. “It was such an epiphany that someone would want to give me her favorite thing,” wrote Kiedis. “That stuck with me forever.”
8. “Losing my Religion” by R.E.M.
You thought it was about losing your religion. Duh.
It’s actually about being so in love that you’re going crazy. As Michael Stipe told the New York Times, it’s actually a romantic expression meaning “at the end of ones rope.”
9. “Mmmmbop” by Hanson
You thought it was about something maybe but you couldn’t understand the lyrics.
It’s actually about the fleeting nature of our time on Earth. As Zac Hanson stated in 2012, it’s about how “so much of life is fleeting.” An “Mmmmbob” is actually a moment in time.
10. “Barbie Girl” by Aqua
You thought it was about having fun and being Barbie-like.
It’s actually about the commodification of women’s bodies. Like most people, Aqua thought that Barbie dolls gave girls unrealistic expectations about their bodies and appeal, and wrote this catchy pop song about objectification.