Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers: "Goon Squad". Catchy happy tune, good for opening a set and warming up the audience. You could at first take it for a slightly joking tone - "Who let the goon squad in?" - until you get to lines like "There is no more beautiful world"
Alternative Hip Hop
Gorillaz have a cheery little number called "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead".
Much more evident in the song "Superfast Jellyfish". It's a pop-filled silly sugar sparkle... about the devastating effects of consumerism. "The sea is radioactive"
Atmosphere's "Nothing But Sunshine", set to an inspiring piano sample, begins with the lines: Now when my mother died/I had to take it in stride/There ain't no room for pride/In watching your father cry/And dad made it until/Maybe a year later/When they found his suicide/At the bottom of a grain elevator. The song continues in that vein, describing the rapper's dysfunctional upbringing, despite the happily-sung titular chorus.
Black Eyed Peas "Where is the Love?" A typical soul-song beat with "People killin', people dyin' / Children hurt and you hear them cryin' / Can you practice what you preach / And would you turn the other cheek"...
Alice in Chains' "No Excuses" fits into this. A light, upbeat, acoustic song that makes the listener want to sing along due to the whole campfire-ish vibe it gives off... but then when you listen to the lyrics and know about the band, you realize that it's about the singer's heroin addiction, and how his friend, the guitarist, is coming to terms with it, and how he can't change it. The circumstances of the singer's death only serve to make it more depressing.
Unless you realize that most of AIC's songs are not what you think. Almost every AIC song is assumed to be about Layne's heroin addiction, but if you ask Jerry Cantrell, he'll say it isn't so.
Though Jerry has confirmed that "No Excuses" is one of their songs that's about Layne's addiction.
The Tool song "Die Eier Von Satan" ("The Eggs of Satan") features snarling German vocals making triumphant declarations to a cheering crowd while heavy guitars and industrial noises grind in the background. The result sounds disturbingly like a satanic Nazi rally nightmare. However, the lyrics turn out to be a recipe forhash cookies. The recipe's name, "The Eggs of Satan" is also a juvenile pun, since "eggs" is a slang term for testicles in German. The singer repeatedly screams, "Und keine Eier!", meaning "And no eggs!", to explain that the recipe lacks literal eggs.
Soundgarden's "My Wave" is an example of in-song dissonance. The verses are basically an exhortation to do whatever you want ("if it feels alright"), and then the chorus suddenly switches out of nowhere to a fuck-off-leave-me-alone sentiment ("Don't come over here/Piss on my gate/Save it just keep it/off my wave"). The verses are anchored by a grungy heavy-metal riff, but as is Soundgarden's wont, the song takes a left-field twist with bright, psychedelic-influenced choruses and coda.
Faith No More's "Edge of the World", a drunken but romantic-sounding barroom jazz tune about a pedophile luring his new victim. And, oh yeah, it comes right after a brilliant note-for-note rendition of "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath.
Faith No More played with this at times. RV is a bubbly song (sounding suspiciously like the underwater theme from the original Super Mario Bros.) all about the musings of an abusive white-trash loser living in a trailer. Be Aggressive, adopted from the classic cheerleading song, is a positive-sounding song about swallowing cum.
"The Future's so Bright, I've Got to Wear Shades" by Timbuk 3 fits too, due to singing about an impending nuclear holocaust.
"Big Wave" by Jenny And Johnny has an upbeat, summery feel, especially due to the Surf Rock influenced guitar tone and harmonized "doot doo" backing vocals. However, the first verse is about financial ruin due to overspending, the second verse is about being over-medicated for depression, and the bridge is about infidelity. Rather than anything related to surfing or spending time on the beach, the "big wave" repeatedly mentioned in the chorus seems to be a metaphorical deluge of further problems that these situations will cause.
Tie The Rope, by The Format. Sung to a fairly upbeat tune, the second verse begins with: "You'd rather watch me drown than see your hands get wet you took the plot from stage to screen and turned into an epic scene". This pales in comparison to the chorus: "Just tie the rope, and kick the chair, just leave me hangin' there, don't mind me, three feet from the ceiling."
Marina And The Diamonds has several songs like this,including "Teen Idle" "Living Dead" "Hollywood" "Lonely Hearts Club" "Shampain" "Bubblegum Bitch" and "Oh No!"
Hollywood Undeads song "Bullet"
Suicidal Idealization set to the catchy music of a children's song complete with young child singing the closing lines about climbing to the roof to see if they can "fly".
Ben Folds' mellow, crooning cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit." Enough said.
"Zak and Sara" is a deliriously chirpy little ballad about a puppy love between a drug-addict guitarist and a paranoid schizophrenic.
"Bitch Went Nuts". A cheerful song about psycho exes!
"You Don't Know Me" (with Regina Spektor) is a poppy earworm about waking up one morning and realizing your lover knows nothing about you and really doesn't care. It starts off sounding like a vaguely upbeat, bittersweet breakup song at first, but on repeated listening, the song turns out to be an almost unhinged, extremely verbally abusive rant (possibly by an Unreliable Narrator) that is cut off by a shaky but defiant "Say it!" from Spektor's character, at which point the startled narrator simply trails off into the fadeout.
He's great at this. Take, for example, "Fair", an upbeat song about: a wife accidentally killing her husband by hitting him with her car after a vicious argument - when she just wanted to apologize; and a guy who has never been able to get over an ex-girlfriend and ends up committing suicide in public just to show her how hurt he is. But all is fair in love. Or Regrets, another fast-paced, upbeat song about a person on his deathbed, thinking about how he wasted his life and never did anything he wanted to, and can't blame people he knows if they don't bother coming to see him before he dies. Or how about Carrying Cathy, which sounds like a love song, but is actually about a chronically depressed girl who always latched onto people to help get her through life, until finally breaking down and committing suicide. Sung at her funeral. Ben Folds is a masterful lyricist.
Alanis Morissette once did a cover of "My Humps" by The Black Eyed Peas... in her usual style. It was calculated to cause exactly this effect, and succeeded to a both horrifying and hilarious degree.
Inversion with Alien Ant Farm's cover of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal, making the tune more suited to the dark lyrics, but not by much.
While most of their songs are played straightly depressing, the song that launched AFI into mainstream stardom, "Girl's Not Grey", has one of their most poppy and upbeat tunes...and is about a guy contemplating his death/suicide/dark fate that very night.
Amanda Palmer does this nonstop. The most notable example is "Oasis", a song about a brutal rape and subsequent abortion played to one of the most upbeat tunes on the album, complete with "Hey Micky" style hand-claps. Apparently she attempted to play the song like the critics wanted her to in a concert once, slower and with minor chords opposed to the upbeat major cords of the original. She got through the first verse before saying "Fuck it" and finishing the song as she wrote it.
While not a single, Davey and Jade's side project Blaqk Audio pulled it off again with "Snuff on Digital". The chorus may seem pretty romantic at first... until you realize the best interpretation is that of a guy jumping off a building and taking his girl/fan down with him.
Angels & Airwaves' "Sirens" has the band's signature upbeat sound...but it's about a man stalking a girl he has a romantic obsession with. It's a pretty jarring contrast to the rest of the band's catalogue, which tends toward very optimistic lyrics.
"The End"'s chorus is backed by a very cheerful violin tune, but the song is about a double murder-suicide.
"Dirt Room" is surprisingly catchy for a song about killing for revenge.
"Picking up Pieces" is a very happy and upbeat sounding song which is apparently about someone dealing with really sucky baggage.
"Congratulations" sounds very light-and-fluffy, but is about the narrator showing up at an old friend's wedding to tell her he's been in love with her for years. He botches the conversation big time, and she gets angry.
"Overweight" is, again, upbeat and happy sounding, but the lyrics are anything but.
"Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel" is surprisingly bouncy, considering that it's about exactly what the title implies and the narrator is dead before the last verse.
And the narrator? Ed Robertson's late brother Doug, killed in a motorcycle crash in 1993. The song is based on Robertson's curiosity about what his brother was thinking in his last moments.
On the same album, "Helicopters" is an upbeat song about travelling through a war zone (likely in the former Yugoslavia) and sinking into intense cynicism as a result.
"Pinch Me", described in the liner notes for All Their Greatest Hits as "Another one of our happy little songs about chronic depression."
"The Old Apartment" is a hard, high-energy rock song about a guy breaking into the apartment where he and his girlfriend used to live and trashing the place while speculating on its new owners. The most intense dissonance comes, however, in the bridge, when he claims that he and his girlfriend have settled down and bought a house. He insists that he's happy there, but ends the song desperately pleading for the "fading memories blending into dull tableaux" that the apartment represents.
"Fun & Games" has lyrics cynically describing the politics behind the Iraq war ("We knew your sons and daughters would be blown in half") set to a poppy, catchy tune.
"Alcohol", which is a poppy little ditty about, well, rampant alcoholism and with lyrics like "While I cannot love myself, I'll use something else".
"Angry People" is a pretty bare-bones version; a catchy, cheerful tune about people being jackasses for no apparent reason.
"Jane" mixes a sweet melody and a catchy chorus with some beautiful harmonies, and adds in some wistful lyrics in which the narrator remembers his romance with a free-spirited woman that unfortunately didn't work out. That is, until you pay closer attention to the words and realize that he's actually portraying Jane as a self-absorbed drama queen and he's still really bitter about the whole breakup.
They even hung a lampshade on it in "Testing 1, 2, 3"; see the quotes page.
"Everything Old is New Again" — sounds like a nice song about rebirth and seeing things in a new light, right? Well, no. It's a nice song about a guy whose girlfriend is a suicidal self-harming anorexic, who commits suicide, and he's losing his memories and going mad as the song ends. Thanks, guys.
"I Live With It Every Day" is a relatively upbeat song with a nice little synthesizer melody. Too bad the lyrics deal with accidentally killing his best friend, attempting suicide, moving away to try to forget about these things, and dealing the guilt and depression every day.
"Have You Seen My Love" is a sweet ballad about a guy who falls out of love with his childhood sweetheart after realising that she's really not the woman of his dreams.
There is a dream that we both used to share
And we swore we would never wake
Now the dream's a nightmare, and the truth to be fair
Is that dreaming was the first mistake
"What A Good Boy" just treads the line between averting the trope and playing it straight, as the tune is almost sad to go along with the lyrics, but ends up sounding more contemplative and affectionate as the singer talks about the pressures of parents' expectations and how you bear them even before you're born.
Steven Page's solo work after leaving Barenaked Ladies has amplified this trend:
"Indecision" makes the singer sound very content about the fact that he's trapped in an unhappy relationship because he's too indecisive to end it.
"Marry Me" is a hyperactive, upbeat song whose lyrics can be summed up as "let's get hitched even though we both know we're going to hate each other afterward".
"Over Joy", with its bright instrumentation and uptempo pace, might have been a singalong if it didn't contain some of Page's baldest lyrics about experiencing depression and its effects on relationships.
"If You Love Me" is one of his most accomplished examples. It is a danceable synthpop song about a lover who is clearly emotionally dependent; Page encourages her to stay by playing off her insecurities.
"Leave Her Alone" is a jazzy number about a young woman very begrudgingly moving back in with her parents after her dreams have all been crushed. Only the melody of the bridge matches the darkness and biting sarcasm of the lyrics.
"A Different Sort of Solitude" is surely one of the cheeriest songs about a funeral ever written.
Although The Beautiful South have a rep for this, most of their songs actually have pretty wistful tunes, but there are definitely some which combine bouncy tunes and depressing lyrics. "You Keep It All In" is about a violent domestic argument, "My Book" is about the singer's entire life being a disaster. "We Are Each Other" is a particularly nasty example, since on a casual glance the lyrics appear to be about a perfect couple (it's actually about a couple whose co-dependency is destroying them).
"Old Red Eyes Is Back" is quite upbeat, the chorus even being slightly reminiscent of "Her Name Is Rio". However, it is about a man who drinks himself to death.
"Your Father And I" from the album "Quench" has a catchy tune, and is in fact the most upbeat song on that album. Oh, and it's about parents traumatising their child(ren) with stories of their conception/birth, with each verse being squickier than the one that preceded it.
On the flip side, "The Table" sounds like a wistful charity single but is in fact about the oppression of a sentient household table.
"Shiver" is very obviously being the account of a man with a stalker-like obsession.
"Yellow" was slightly gloomy in tone, but the lyrics were actually anything but gloomy.
"42" alternates between upbeat and gloomy. The upbeat bits have these wonderful lyrics: "You didn't get to Heaven but you made it close!"
Fall Out Boy does this a lot. "7 Minutes In Heaven" and "Hum Hallelujah" are both upbeat tunes about bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz's suicide attempt. Dance Dance was possibly their most popular and happy tune to date, bearing the lyric "If they knew how misery loved me..."
Don't forget "Sugar, We're Goin Down", a catchy summer rock anthem - about unrequited love that, if the lyrics are taken literally, turns into stalking.
"Just A Day" by Feeder is a true feel-good anthem, until you notice the lyrics.
Who's gonna be there when I've lost control I'm heading to crash land All by myself
The Flaming Lips have an example of this, as the song "Pompeii am Gotterdamerung" is about lovers who commit suicide by leaping into an erupting volcano.
Linkin Park's "Breaking the Habit", one of their peppiest songs musically, although the tone of voice being used once the lyrics start might clue you in that it's not as upbeat as the music suggests. It's even grimmer than that. The "habit" in question isn't even drugs—it's cutting. You know, self-mutilation?
"Dead!" by My Chemical Romance. On its own, a spiteful song telling someone they deserve the painful death they're experiencing, in the context of the The Black Parade story; it's the main character spitefully telling himself he deserves the painful death he's experiencing. And it's easily the most upbeat and catchy melody they've ever done, aside from maybe "Teenagers" though it's more upbeat in a punkish way that fits the lyrics.
Come to mention it, a good cross-section of "The Black Parade" concept album is like this.
"Headfirst for Halos" is really peppy too. It's about suicide. Pretty graphic suicide, at that.
My Chemical Romance could dominate this examples section if we let them. "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)", "Teenagers", "Welcome To The Black Parade", "Thank you For The Venom", "Dead!", "Headfirst For Halos", "Drowning Lessons", "Early Sunsets Over Monroeville"...
You can add "Cancer" to this list too, specifically its happy-hardcore remix. A more peppy song about cancer has never been heard!
"Blood" is a rather dark, gory, and actually a little frightening, song to an upbeat, cheerful, and lovely tune.
Not that frightening — it's about hospital staff and the constant blood tests people with cancer and other serious diseases need to undergo, combined with the sort of vicious self-deprecation that was central to "Dead!"... which arguably makes its upbeat old-timey tune even more inappropriate.
Also, "Mama" is a relatively upbeat song about how the singer is going to hell for all the bad things he's done.
Nick Cave has done this a few times. His duet with PJ Harvey for example, sounds like a soothing, light waltz while they're singing about a woman killing the man who was going to leave her.
Placebo's "Commercial for Levi" has a rather upbeat melody and naive percussions in the background while the singer is pleading for the life of a self-destructive friend.
Pulp: Their best-known songs are "Common People" and "Disco 2000", both textbook examples of this trope, and they've provided countless others.
Radiohead. "Let Down" = ethereal background, depressing lyrics about being "crushed like a bug on the ground"; "No Surprises" = lullaby-ish melodies, lyrics about suicide.
The song "Morning Bell" was even considered by Thom Yorke himself to be extremely violent. The song is very calm, beautiful, and peaceful. But it has lyrics such as "Couldn't find the killer" and "Cut the kids in half''.
Of course, the most obvious Radiohead example is "You And Whose Army". The lyrics mostly consist of the narrator taunting someone else, with phrases like "Come on, come on. Come on if you think, come on if you think, you can take us on, you can take us on" and "You and whose army? You and your cronies?" However, the song is very mellow and gentle, with the melody played by quiet acoustic guitar, and sung in a downcast, defeated tone of voice. Hmmm.
"Optimistic" is an example that goes in the opposite direction; the music is dark, tense, and gloomy, and indeed some of the lyrics are unsettling ("Flies are buzzing around my head / Vultures circling the dead"), but most of the lyrics are optimistic. "You can try the best you can, you can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough".
Except for the live lyrics
You can try the best you can, You can try the best you can, The best you can ain't good enough.
"Try Not To Breathe": Sounds like a relatively upbeat song. some suggested meaning behind the lyrics are suicide or euthanasia.
"It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" is an insanely upbeat and cheery song about, well, the end of the world.
Word Of God says "Shiny Happy People" is about the Tiananmen Square massacre, and it's really from the point of view of the Chinese Government with a Stepford Smiler tone. Naturally, they failed miserably, but Michael Moore got the tone right in Fahrenheit 9/11 when the song was played to scenes of Bush shaking hands with the Saudis. The song's name came from Chinese propaganda that called the Tiananmen Square massacre "Shiny happy people holding hands." Yeah.
"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite": another upbeat, possible death song.
Not to mention "Hollow Man", with a cheery, upbeat melody and the chorus
Believe in me, believe in nothing Corner me and make me something I've become the hollow man Have I become the hollow man I see?
"Dani California" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers is so upbeat you'd never guess it was talking about a dead girl.
Pretty much every song ever written by The Shins, but especially the songs on their album Wincing the Night Away.
Sister Hazel's song "Champagne High." The title and the upbeat music would imply some degree of happiness. Then the lyrics are about a guy who broke up with his girlfriend...but doesn't realize it was a mistake until he's watching her marry someone else.
The Smiths' "There is a Light that Never Goes Out", is all nice and upbeat cute-ish romantic with a really morbid chorus.
And if a double-decker bus Crashes into us To die by your side Is such a heavenly way to die And if a ten-ton truck Kills the both of us To die by your side Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine
Not to mention "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", "Girlfriend in a Coma" and the incredibly jaunty "Unhappy Birthday" which features the immortal line
I've come to wish you an unhappy birthday / Cos you're evil and you lie, and if you should die / I may be slightly sad, but I won't cry.
Their song "Panic" is an interesting version, because the original version is not cheery enough to fit this trope. Certain cover versions do however, like the one by Kitten and ESPECIALLY The Puppini Sisters.
"A Good Idea" by Sugar is an uptempo pop-rock song about a man drowning his girlfriend in a river, seemingly at her own request. Made even creepier when the lyrics jump from third person to first person for the last verse, and the narrator, who claims to have witnessed it all, cryptically confesses "sometimes I'm best left alone, and sometimes I see you in the water at night". It's performed in a similar style to the Pixies' "Debaser", and might even be an homage to that band's fondness for the trope.
The child abuse-themed "What's the Matter Here" by 10,000 Maniacs is disconcertingly cheerful; thus the maximum creepy points during the line sung from the father's point of view.
"Candy Everybody Wants" could also qualify. The lyrics, if read without knowing what the band sounds like, seem like they could be punk or nu-metal. The song? A cheerful-sounding little poprock ditty.
"Four of Two" is a delightful polka song written for children, about a man who wastes his entire life waiting for a girl who stood him up.
The unrecorded version actually ended with the guy committing suicide in order to help pass the time.
"I Palindrome I", a bright, cheery rock song about matricide.
"No One Knows My Plan", a vibrant Latin Jazz piece about a convict plotting his revenge.
"The Statue Got Me High", about a statue that hypnotizes you and then causes you to explode.
This song is (or can be interpreted without much difficulty as) a direct reference to the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the transcendence it forces upon the character David Bowman at the end of the novel when it destroys his body in the process of turning him into something approaching God.
Alternatively, this can be interpreted as a retelling of the classic Don Juan tale, in which The Casanova is dragged to hell by a vengeful statue.
"Part of it is that it's the idea that the statue would be in a public square, a monument. Not necessarily a work of art, but something that's just utterly immobile and represents something that's in the past - just the idea of that blowing somebody's mind. It seems like one of the least likely things to make the top of your head come off, and that's what happens in the song." - John Linnell
"Mink Car", about being run over by said car.
"The Shadow Government", a bright rock song about a meth dealer having a bad day and then getting killed by a corrupt government official.
"I'm Your Boyfriend Now", a soft rock ballad from the perspective of a stalker. It helps that the song title was originally a Freddy Krueger quote.
"Turn Around", a song in the style of a 1950s crooner, but about zombies and things.
"Sketchy Galore" could be mistaken for a sad love song. It's about a creepy neighbor.
"Twisting", a catchy pop tune about the torments a random guy endures after his breakup; he can't even get his ex-girlfriend to care about him enough to want him to give her albums back.
It's actually a little worse than that. The ex-girlfriend is not just indifferent; she wants the guy to "twist in the wind" (i.e. suffer; the expression alludes to a hanged man). Not only do the lyrics suggest that she killed his goldfish, but they also imply that she tampered with his furnace in order to flood his house with natural gas ("Blew out your pilot light/and made a wish...").
Since all modern furnaces have fail-safes in case the pilot light goes out, she may simply be cutting off the heat to his house and hoping that the fail-safe, well, fails.
"Bastard Wants To Hit Me" is deceptively mellow for a song about a guy randomly threatened by a total stranger for no reason (or, depending on how you interpret the song, running in blind paranoid terror from someone they don't recognize).
"They'll Need a Crane", a bright rock song about a tragic breakup, related largely in Buffy Speak.
Their breakout hit "Don't Let's Start" has the words "No one in the world ever get what they want, and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful," sung to one of the most cheery tunes ever composed.
"Kiss Me, Son of God", a perky little number that sounds like it belongs at the Happy Ending of a musical — about a totalitarian, theocratic regime. ("I built a little empire / Out of some crazy garbage / Called the blood of the exploited working class...")
"Spiraling Shape" is a rather cheery tune about the pointlessness of using drugs to make someone happier, which was used further for Soundtrack Dissonance in the movie Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
Even songs that aren't about depressing subjects have moments of this. Any performance of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" will have concertgoers hopping gleefully while John Linnell sings about the possible death of "countless screaming Argonauts".
Don't forget "The Bells Are Ringing" which at first hearing sounds like a positive, jolly, Christmas song but is actually about mind control:
The bells are ringing and everyone's walking With arms extended in a trance Forgetting their washing Neglecting the children They're dropping all businesses at hand A voice is telling them to act a different way They tilt their heads so they won't miss what it will say
"Bed Bed Bed" is slightly more comedic than the other TMBG examples: it's a noisy, rocking song with irritating sound effects thrown in about going to sleep.
"Skullivan" combines creepy distorted music and vocals and an ominous chorus repeating the line "When the Skullivan walks in the moonlit night" with banal lyrics about making tea and going to the video store to rent Tootsie.
"Piece of Dirt," can be interpreted as a song about alienation and painful introversion, which contradicts its upbeat, calming tone.
"Thunderbird" is about a father's alcohol or drug addiction: "I know, I know, I said that I would quit/Alright I promise no more after this... We'll have fun fun fun till T-Bird takes her daddy away..."
The word 'thunderbird' in particular is a slang term that refers to cheap, low-quality wine.
"Sleepwalkers", a cute-sounding children's song backed by a synthesized music box about... children sleepwalking across the country like mindless zombies.
"Mr. Me", a very upbeat pop ditty with Word Salad Lyrics in the verses, while the chorus, consisting of the line "he ended up really, really sad!" is sung quite gleefully, climaxing at the very end.
"Fingertips", a montage of short (many around 15 seconds or so) "songs", contains the straight-sung line "I'm having a heart attack", repeated three times.
"Subliminal" has a car crash in it. It's a cheery song backed with an accordian.
"Upside Down Frown" has the protagonist's girlfriend get mad because he smiles all the time. Dying even gets mentioned. It is a very happy sounding song.
"Experimental Film" has a real cheerful guitar solo and vocals. One lyric says that watching said film will make your face implode.
"Dead" is a song about being dead, and not enjoying life at the fullest. It's very much like a song someone would play on the piano in a restaurant, using only the piano and vocals.
"Why Must I Be Sad?" starts out somberly, but during the chorus it gets peppier, complete with the choir shouting happily, "Sad! Sad! Sad!" It's a song about being sad.
"2082" is a calming, cheerful song about a man who travels further and further into the extremely distant future to find that he's somehow inexplicably still alive in that time, and eventually grows so disgusted by his aged and withered appearance that he murders his future self, before returning to his own time with the knowledge that eventually he'll have to live through all that in real time
Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" has a nice, upbeat pop-rocky tune, yet it's about a guy struggling with crystal meth addiction. Even more disturbing is the original (not recorded) version, wherein the chorus went, "I want nothing else," rather than "I want something else," implying that the protagonist doesn't even want out of his addiction.
Third Eye Blind is practically built on this trope. To quote some popular ones, "Jumper" starts out by saying "I wish you would step out from that ledge, my friend". "Graduate" is about a homeless high school dropout. "How's It Gonna Be" is about a doomed relationship, and both members seem to know what will happen. And "Losing A Whole Year" is about a guy who basically realizes that he's wasted an entire year on some girl who doesn't give a damn about him. Oh, and all of them are very upbeat and happy sounding.
Slow Motion is a perfect example of this trope, with the soft music you'd expect of a love song, its lyrics are about drugs, sex, and murder. And it's not subtle either, with the lyrics being very clear, very enunciated, and pretty much saying exactly what he means.
"Miss Jones taught me English
But I think I just shot her son
'Cause he owed me money
With a bullet in the chest you cannot run"
The first few verses of "Sort of Haunted House" by Too Much Joy seems like a wistful love song, with an upbeat, albeit slightly creepy, tempo. Then we find out that it's about a man who killed his girlfriend and her lover, and then hangs himself. Puts a whole new spin on the chorus.
Bomb the Music Industry! uses this quite frequently. For example, there's "Everybody That You Love", a peppy, energetic song about witnessing a drug deal then being chased down by the dealer.
Weezer did this quite a bit back in the 90s. One example is "No One Else", a catchy pop song about an obsessive, controlling boyfriend. Another is "Devotion", a lovely Beach Boys-esque love song about a girl the guy doesn't really love - he's just falling back on her because he can't have the girl he wants.
You never gave up devotion Waiting for me, you'll always be my girlfriend I, too, am waiting for you I'll always be your friend
What about the more recent "Beverly Hills"? It's a snazzy tune with a heavy amount of synth for a pop song, but the lyrics seem to be about a guy who feels out of place in Beverly Hills and sarcastically comments on his situation.
No I don't I'm just a no-class beat down fool And I will always be that way I might as well enjoy my life And watch the stars play
Rivers Cuomo's original demo of "Can't Stop Partying" has enough of this to feel like a case of The Cover Changes The Meaning, when in fact it isn't a cover (although it was co-written with Jermaine Dupri). The lyrics seem typical of an uptempo modern R&B/rap song that glorifies, well, partying ("I gotta have Patron, I gotta have the E, I gotta have a lot of pretty girls around me"). However, these lyrics are set to a downcast acoustic ballad, and as a result the narrator sounds remorseful about his indulgent lifestyle.
"The Good Life" is a pretty good example of this too. Starts off as one of the most upbeat songs on a pretty dark album, but you soon realise it's a song all about how unhappy Rivers is with his life
Excuse the bitchin, I shouldn't complain I should have no feeling, 'cause feeling is pain As everything I need is denied me And everything I want is taken away from me But who do I got to blame? Nobody but me
Kaizers Orchestra are extremely fond of this trope. Not too weird, considering that TOM WAITS is their biggest inspiration and all.
The best example in the Kaizers song catalouge is probably "Tokyo Ice Til Clementine". The song is probably their poppiest song (almost veering into bubblegum territory) and has an irresisteble sing-along chorus. But the song itself is about a man who kills another guy because he took a look at his girlfriend.
Min Kvite Russer seems to be a little cheery ditty about a man confessing his love to someone. In this case the "someone" is a bottle of White Russian and he's actually lamenting about taking his own life.
"Skinned" by Blind Melon is an upbeat bluegrass-influenced number featuring banjo and kazoo. Lyrically, however, it's written from the perspective of Ed Gein, a Real Life serial killer infamous for fashioning furniture out of corpses ("I'll make a shoehorn out of your shin/ I'll make a lampshade of durable skin"). And of course their hit "No Rain" is so bouncy and mellow you might not even pick up on the fact that it's about depression; later they'd record a much slower arrangement called "No Rain (Ripped Away Version)" that effectively eliminated the lyrical dissonance aspect.
"I Can't Decide" by the Scissor Sisters, made famous to geeks everywhere by its use in Doctor Who, is an excellent example. The bouncy, upbeat song's chorus actually starts, "I can't decide whether you should live or die..." and the middle eight describes various methods of murder.
"Intermission" (with Elton John) is a vaudevillesque tune cautioning the listener to make something of himself as soon as possible, since "not everyone has lambs to slaughter" and "we were born to die."
"She's My Man" off the same album is arguably an example of this. And "Kiss You Off". And... pretty much every song on that album.
And on their debut album, they did a disco version of "Comfortably Numb". The most disturbing part of the effect is how freakishly right it sounds.
"I Don't Feel Like Dancing": an upbeat song about staying at home and being misrable.
The Wonder Stuff's song "Don't Let Me Down Gently" has cheerful, happy-sounding music about someone who's desperate for his girlfriend to stay with him even though she doesn't love him (I think) and sado-masochistic relationships.
Their song "Unbearable" is a ridiculously catchy Ear Worm with lyrics about an acrimonious breakup, complete with the chorus "I didn't like you very much when I met you/and now I like you even less/I don't know what to do/for the best".
"Lifeline" by Papa Roach is a very upbeat and powerful rock track which tells of "the tough economic times America is facing" as band member Jacoby Shaddix put it (in particular, the Financial Crisis that started in 2007).
Pretty much any song by Maroon Five qualifies. For instance "Wake Up Call" is happy, upbeat sounding song about a man catching his girl in bed with another man, then killing the man.
But "Makes Me Wonder" takes it to a completely different level. On the surface, it sounds like an upbeat Breakup Song, with the guy questioning why he'd ever fallen in love with the girl in the first place—and the first verse makes it almost certain that it is, at least partially, exactly that. But look a little harder at some of the later lyrics:
Feels so good to be bad
Not worth the aftermath, after that
Try to get you back
I still don't have a reason
And you don't have the time
And it really makes me wonder
If I ever gave a fuck about you
Give me something to believe in
'Cause I don't believe in you
I wonder if it even makes a difference to try
Yeah, so this is goodbye
And then later they add in the line "You caught me in a lie/I have no alibi/The words you say don't have a meaning". By the way, the "don't have the time" part was italicized because with this song being released in 2007, the subject was running out of time to fix his mistakes. Yes, it's at least in part a song about George W. Bush and the War in Iraq, metaphorically comparing him to a bad ex.
The Matchbox Twenty song "How Far We've Come", which has a cheerful, summer-pop sound and seemingly upbeat title, while the lyrics actually describe, in detail, the singer and the rest of humanity's despairing reaction to the The End of the World as We Know It.
Rob Thomas (of Matchbox 20) seems to be a master of this. His single "Her Diamonds" is very energetic and upbeat, as is his usual style. The lyrics are also in his usual style, in that it describes the subject's girlfriend breaking down and crying in her room, and he doesn't know how to make her feel better so he starts crying, too.
And she says, "Ooh, I can't take no more."
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
'Cause I can't help her now.
More than that: the song's actually about Rob Thomas's wife trying to deal with her (real-life) auto-immune disease.
Similarly, the song "3 a.m." is rather peppy, but was written about his mother's battle with cancer when he was a child.
"Push" is about relationship abuse ("I wanna push you around, well I will, well I will!")
"She's So Mean" is a nice, poppy song about being in love with a girl who is, well, mean (possibly abusive) to the protagonist.
"There She Goes" by the La's is an upbeat-sounding folk-rock song ... which most people who have listened closely to the lyrics think is about heroin ("There she goes ... racing through my brain ... pulsing through my vein ... no one else could heal my pain"). Apparently the people who have not listened closely to the lyrics include the Christian band Sixpence None the Richer, who did a remake ... and the manufacturers of the Ortho-Tricyclen birth control pill, who used the song in a commercial.
Or... Sixpence just liked the song. Not all Christian bands are as naive as people like to think. Their 2002 Album Divine Discontent contains a song called "Eyes wide Open" entirely about a prostitute which may or may not depending on the interpretation also be about said prostitute's suicide. On the same album is the song "Paralyzed" about a real life journalist who had to inform his colleague's wife of his death while covering Kosovo.
Packed the books up, left the office went to tell the wife the news She fell in shock, the baby kicked and shed a tear inside the womb I breathed in I breathed out soaked the ground up with my eyes Its hard to say a healing word when your tongue is paralyzed Feels like I'm fiddling while Rome is Burning down Should I lay my fiddle down, take a rifle from the ground? I need the ghost to breathe, a northern gale tonight Because I'm paralyzed, I'm paralyzed
Hüsker Dü's song "Diane" was a great contrast to their previous music. It was poppy, words were clearly sung, and it was over 4 and a half minutes in length. But then the lyrics kick in...
Hey, little girl, do you need a ride? I've got room in my wagon, why don't you hop inside? We can cruise down Roberts Street all night long, But I think I'll just rape you and kill you instead.
The Pixies' Black Francis and Kim Deal have this down to science. Whether the song is about mutilation ("Broken Face", "Break My Body"), violent Biblical stuff ("River Euphrates", "Dead", "Gouge Away"), voyeurism ("Gigantic"), psycho gay roommates ("Crackity Jones"), committing suicide by driving in the sea ("Wave of Mutilation"), earthquakes ("Here Comes Your Man"), aliens (refer to most of Bossanova) or surrealism ("Debaser"), the music will almost invariably be aggressive, catchy, twisted, pop-influenced grunge/alt-rock.
The Stone Temple Pilots song "Sour Girl" has a happy-sounding, upbeat tune, but the lyrics are about about a man whose wife took off because she's always hated him.
And not to forget their song "Plush", which is about a man who murdered his wife and is afraid the body will be found.
"Sex Type Thing' falls victim to this. The song is full of heavy piledriving riffage and misogynist, aggressive lyrics. They're supposed to be anti-rape. As one reviewer pointed out, they're that clumsy.
"I Bombed Korea" by CAKE. Post-traumatic stress disorder and a Guilt Complex never sounded so good.
"Wonderful" by Everclear is, both by title and music, a funky, happy song — but the words describe the absolutely heartbreaking thought process of a child whose parents are breaking up:
I don't want to meet your friends
And I don't want to start over again
I just want my life to be the same, just like it used to be
Some days I hate everything
Everyone and everything
Please don't tell me everything is wonderful now
Everclear seems to do this sort of thing quite often. "Father Of Mine" is about a father who abuses his wife and abandons his child, but you'd never guess it from the tune alone.
"Amphetamine" is an upbeat song about a depressed addict in California ("Yeah, you just take your pill, and everything will be alright").
Stroke 9's catchy "Little Black Backpack." I think I'm gonna bash his head in!
So, you have this catchy funk-metal song. What do you do? If you answered "write lyrics about standing in the shower, thinking and pissing yourself", congratulations, you're Perry Farrell.
Used by Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy" — the lyrics seem innocuous enough, but the tune is strange, and the singer sounds kind of stoned. The music video is borderline scary with such images as the singer standing up to his chin in a hole while a huge spider crawls towards him and two men tearing apart a woman's dresser. It ends with the singer being pushed to the ground, uttering the final lyric "Mama, this must be my dream" as green blood oozes out from under him. According to Word Of God, the song and music videos were intended to be about someone having a wet dream.
Garbage's incredibly bouncy song "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)": the first verse is about a pretty but airheaded girl who runs when things get tough and the second verse is about a young male transvestite who's mistaken for an actual girl. Given it was apparently based on two incredibly depressing books about child abuse, prostitution and rape (Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things) you can pretty much put a ring around that, despite Shirley Manson (the band's vocalist) describing it as "an adrenaline rush" and "probably the most celebratory song we've ever written". Yeah, right.
"Only Happy When it Rains" is something of a subversion: a upbeat, catchy song about being depressed... but enjoying it.
"Cup of Coffee". By the sound of it, it's a soft song about a couple breaking up, nothing out of the ordinary. Until the lyrics show that the singer is completely obsessed with their ex, and stare in their window at night, have stopped eating, wished they were never born, etc, etc.
And "# 1 Crush". A smooth rock song about being completely and totally obsessed with another person to the point that you would do anything for them.
"Til the Day That I Die". Loud, obnoxious dance tracks typically have shallow, feel-good, Intercourse with You lyrics; but this has deep, bitter, sarcastic, pointed lyrics about the breakup of Shirley Manson's marriage.
With every year, That came to pass, More clouds appeared, 'Til the sky went black. And there was no sunlight, No sunlight anymore.
Narrow Stairs as a whole is made of this trope. Not a one of the tunes on the album are sad, yet nearly all the songs are about failing relationships, hoping for love that never comes, staying in relationships because you know you can't get anyone else, and stalking people. What a cheery psyche Ben Gibbard must have!
Doubly ironic, considering that he married his long time girlfriend Zooey Deschanel less than a year after its release.
"The Ice is Getting Thinner", a thinly-veiled message about global warming. Or "The Sound of Settling", a cheery indie pop crowd song about being unable to say what you really mean to people.
Which is seen as hilarious and silly by some fans, but Your Mileage May Vary.
What about "My Mirror Speaks" off The Open Door EP a cheery sounding pop tune about someone who doesn't really develop attachments or doesn't remain very committed to anything until he or she looks into the mirror and realizes that the way that he or she has been living hasn't been working.
To a degree, all of the songs by Peter Chiykowski... except "Rock, Paper, Cynic" and "Sansregret", which are instrumental. As of September 2009, we've got the awesome
"Raising Cain", a melancholy, saxophone-heavy ditty whose message is basically, "we've got nothing to do, so let's go out and party",
"The Black Ship Batrachian", another sad tune with lyrics about the freedom that the people who live on the titular ship have,
"One Shell, Two Shell", a war-protest song about Mario Kart,
Almost every single one of the All American Rejects songs is upbeat. Almost every single one of their songs is about breakups.
Move Along is about someone trying to prevent (assumedly their lover) from committing suicide.
Ween, anyone? One of the funnier examples is "Up On The Hill," which is essentially a Satanist gospel song — complete with Cream-esque reprise.
"Bye Bye Badman" by the Stone Roses, an upbeat pop-rock song about overthrowing an abusive government (inspired by the 1968 Paris riots) with the chorus "I'm throwing stones at you man/I want you black and blue and/I'm gonna make you bleed/Gonna bring you down to your knees/Bye bye badman".
Also "I Am the Resurrection", the lyrics of which consist of Take Thats directed at some unspecified person.
"American Girls" by Counting Crows is a sparkly, upbeat pop song — about realising your lover is insane yet being unable to leave them.
The song "Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)" is similarly upbeat and cheerful-sounding, but it's about the guilt of being involved in the design of nuclear weapons.
Einstein's down on the beach staring into the sand
Cause everything he believes in is shattered
What you fear in the night in the day comes to call anyway
"Omaha" is an unusual example. It's a sad-sounding song and the singer's voice sounds like a funeral dirge, but it's about... well, Omaha. As in the place.
"Soldier's Poem" by Muse. It's a slow acoustic song in a major scale...about soldiers lamenting their distance from home and their dangerous situation. Notable lines include "How could you send us so far away from home", "And do you think you deserve your freedom?/No, I don't think you do", and the coup de grace, "There's no justice in the world/And there never was".
Equally, "Guiding Light" from The Resistance- another major-key song, with the chorus "But I'm lost, crushed, cold and confused with no guiding light left inside."
Coheed and Cambria are excellent at this. They've made a career totally out of songs about suicide and murder punctuated by catchy hooks and cries of "Hey! Hey!".
In Second Stage Turbine Blade, we have "Time Consumer", which sounds only kind of sad...until you realize that it's about a couple killing their youngest children (for the good of humanity, though, and it's mostly All There in the Manual), and "Junesong Provision", which starts of sounding a bit upbeat, until the lyrics begin: "Good morning sunshine awake when the sun hits the sky/look up the sounds that surround the day you die".
On the second album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, there is "Three Evils (Embodied by Love and Shadow)". It starts with a bouncy guitar hook and a graphic description of torture. It ends with the singer chirping over and over, "Pull the trigger and the nightmare stops!", with choral harmony on the "stops".
Don't forget about Blood Red Summer. "What did I do to deserve this?"
On the third album, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV: Volume 1: From Fear through the Eyes of Madness we have:
"Always & Never": Wait, that song was about KILLING?
"Crossing the Frame": An upbeat pop song with lyrics including "if you decide to answer when my fist swings hello"
"Once Upon Your Dead Body": "I hope you die right now, will you drink my chemical?"
"Wake Up": "I'd do anything for you / Kill anyone for you"
"The Willing Well II: Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness": That light bouncy riff with Claudio joyfully singing "You'll burn in hell while they're digging you out"
Be Your Own Pet's poppy song "Becky" is about a girl whose best friend abandoned her, so she murdered the new friend.
Now I'm going to juvie for teenage homicide
It would all've been cool if you'd stayed by my side
Then you know Becky wouldn't have had to die...
Schoolyard Heroes bring us "Kill 'Em All". Jonah sounds freaking ecstatic as he sings of his desire to go on a shooting rampage at his school. Even more cheerful sounding is Blood-Spattered Sundress, though you probably wouldn't be able to tell if you had only read the lyrics.
"End of the World," by Armor for Sleep, is an energetic, fast-paced song...about a guy who decides to lay down and die as the world is destroyed around him.
The Frogs in general tend to use really jaunty melodies for their more Black Comedy lyrics. Perhaps the two best fitting examples are "Raped", an anthemic major key alt-rock song from the point of view of an unrepentant rapist ("What's the crime? I had fun!"), and "Bad Daddy", which sets dark comic lyrics about child abuse ("Bad daddy says your high chair 'accidentally' fell over/ now here comes Rover the pitbull...") to a gentle folk melody and almost cloyingly sweet synthesized orchestration.
The song "What's Up" by the 4 Non Blondes already sounds a bit upbeat for such a dark and desperate song. But then it got a catchy dance remix by Dj Miko, and became a veritable Ear Worm.
In fact, it's so upbeat, you can even sing Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" to it. (Which in and of itself is a rather grim song about Stepford smiling your way through your collapsing life.)
"Look Out Sunshine!" by the Fratellis. It's ridiculously catchy, upbeat, and easy to sing along to. It also appears to be about someone whose friends have turned against him:
"Tell my friends I'll be around
Getting nowhere, sleeping somewhere"
"Look out sunshine, here's the punchline
No one gets you any, no one needs you any
No one gets you anymore."
Ditto "Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night", about a girl so desperate to please that she sleeps with a gang of boys and regrets it thoroughly.
"Ole Black 'n' Blue Eyes" fits this too. It's about this one girl that nobody wants to be with, and she knows it. The singer is trying to be a friend to her, but ends up not being able to because of his rock and roll lifestyle ("I'd help her out, but I've got somewhere to be/and that's the very thing when you're dealing with me")
The song "Just a Little But" by Maria Mena is filled with this trope. It's a crazily bouncy number, as long as you don't listen too closely.
And "The Fallen" is a rather chaotic song about the second coming of Christ, and how he would be lower middle class.
Beck's "Girl" is a happy tune that sounds like it is about summer love, but is actually probably about a sniper tracking his next victim.
The Killers write lots of bright-sounding tunes... with lyrics that may or may not match that tone. "Mr. Brightside" sounds like the name implies... but the lyrics are about a guy watching as the girl he likes is getting ready to sleep with another man. As a more recent example, "Spaceman" is an awfully cheery tune for a song about an alien abduction.
In reality Spaceman is about a man who has recently attempted suicide, and is thinking about what to do with his life.
"Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," where the narrator is going to kill the woman he loves because she has other things to do in her life than be with him constantly. He is then arrested and says he would never do such a thing because they were friends. Not to mention that words in the song repeat later in the CD and seem to imply that the man is completely out of his mind.
"Midnight Show" doesn't immediately seem like this, because most of the lyrics make it sound like a standard romance song - except Word Of God has stated it's the second song in the "murder trilogy." "Leave the Burbon on the Shelf" is about the narrator in a dysfunctional relationship with a girl named Jennifer. "Midnight Show" is about him using sexy promises to lure her to a secluded place to kill her and dump her body in the ocean. Then the above-mentioned "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" is him being questioned by the police and denying it.
Also "Today" a cheerful sounding song about suicide.
The Gin Blossoms' 1992 album New Miserable Experience is filled with sunny power-pop singles like "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You", which hid the emotional turmoil of the songs' writer, Doug Hopkins, a depressive who was fired from the band not long after writing the album that would propell them to fame due to rampant alcoholism, and who would tragically kill himselfwith a .38 caliber pistol as their singles were climbing the charts.
"Found Out About You" is hardly a happy song.
New Miserable Experience is loaded with songs built around this trope: "Hey Jealousy" (A guy washes up at the door of his ex-girlfriend's home, for want of a place to stay the night and a relationship), "Mrs. Rita" (A guy goes to a fortune-teller seeking confirmation that his ex will come back to him), and "29" (A 29-year old has a mid-life crisis), just to name a few.
"L.G FUAD" by Motion City Soundtrack is a mellow-sounding song even though from the first line you can tell it's gonna be much less than cheery. ("Let's get fucked up and die...")
"Gay Pirates" by Cosmo Jarvis, is an upbeat sea-shanty styled song... about the horrendous abuse that a gay pirate and his lover go through at the hands of their crewmates, and culminates with the pair being drowned when their captain finds out about them.
Blink-182's "When You Fucked Grandpa" is an acoustic song that's about exactly what the title says.
The 10,000 Maniacs song "About the Weather" is one of the bounciest, jauntiest, most danceable paeans ever to crippling depression and inability to get out of bed.
Mother Mother's default style seems to be this. While most of their songs qualify, three that jump out are "Arms Tonite", "Ghosting", and one of their more recent songs, "Let's Fall in Love":
Daddy did it
Mommy did it
Even though I bet
they wish they didn't.
Sublime's "Santeria" sounds like a lovely romantic reggae ballad. The lyrics tell of a jealous ex-boyfriend who is planning to take revenge on the man who stole his girlfriend, gangsta style.
The Muffs songs Lucky Guy, Outer Space, and Happy Tomorrow all have this. The first is a really up beat punk song about a break up , the second is an upbeat song about someone who is well out of it, and the third is about how the singer is depressed and wants to disappear.
Sixx:A.M. has so far released two albums, "The Heroin Diaries" and "This is Gonna Hurt". Both of them contain cheerful-sounding songs with dark lyrics. Then again, what else would you expect from an album based on a diary written while under the influence of heroin?
The Heroin Diaries starts out with a track called "Xmas in Hell", which is basically some cheerful, Xmas-carol-like chanting, with a voice-over talking about how all his friends have left him and that not long ago, he "could easily have killed someone... or better yet, myself". And that just sets the scene for the album.
"Life Is Beautiful" sounds fairly happy too, and has a positive morale and all. Except the lyrics include the line "It took a funeral to make me feel alive!"... And the entire second verse:
I know some things that you don't
I've done things that you won't
There's nothing like a trail of blood
To find your way back home
I was waiting for my hearse
What came next was so much worse
It took a funeral
To make me feel
"Girl With Golden Eyes" from THD is another brilliant example of this. Right off the bat, it sounds like a love-song. Nothing wrong with that. Then the monologue kicks in and starts reading up from the diary, about his first ten days without the drug, and you realize that the "Girl With Golden Eyes" mentioned is actually a metaphor for heroin.
"Accidents Can Happen" also sounds pretty cheerful, except it's about someone who was clean but started doing heroin again.
"Heart Failure" sounds slightly less dark that some of the other songs on the album. It's lyrics talk about how the narrator's heart has already failed more than once and that it's bound to fail again.
"Oh My God!" from "This is Gonna Hurt" is pretty dark too. It sounds pretty upbeat, but it talks about how people just live their lives without caring for others, and practically just wait to die, while trying to gather as many things as they possibly can.
In the same category, the guitarist, DJ Ashba, has also composed two solos for his concerts with Guns N' Roses, one of which is called "Ballad Of Death". It sounds both happy and unsettling at the same bloody time!