: How are you not moved
by this?! Jack
: Because I'm listening to the words.
When a song having lyrics which are intended to be ironic
is (ironically) used unironically
in the soundtrack of a show, demonstrating either ignorance or willful misuse by the producers.
Commercials are major offenders.
The worst examples of that so far happened when Smash Mouth
's "Walkin' on the Sun" became a jingle for Mercury, and General Mills' rewrite of Melanie's "Look What They Done to My Song, Ma" to "Look What They Done to My Oatmeal".
A similar effect is when a song with an upbeat melody is used as background music in upbeat scenes despite having very dark lyrics
. This sort is also Soundtrack Dissonance
of the other kind. Creedence Clearwater Revival
's "Bad Moon Rising", and as a parody, Eric Idle (of Monty Python
)'s "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" are examples.
Why does this happen? In many cases, the Dissonance comes between the first verse and the second, or between the verses and the chorus. The problem is that the first verse and chorus are the parts most people remember about a song and the parts most producers use. Sometimes, they only know and use the chorus. In many examples (especially the commercials), the lyrics that cause the dissonance will be excised, leaving only the beat/melody and the more famous individual lines. Once they've got you humming the melody, the song has done its work in associating itself with their product and/or service. The rest of the lyrics don't matter (until you head off to the kitchen
And as for the songwriters who might object to the song being misused like this? Even assuming they still own the rights to the song as opposed to having signed it over to some record industry exec who couldn't care less, they don't have a say in the matter. It's actually the law in the U.S. that if a company wants to buy the rights to use a recording, and are willing to fork over the standard royalty rate for it, the rightsholder has
to let them have it. Of course, TV and movie royalties being usually not too shabby, it's quite possible that the songwriters will wind up crying all the way to the bank
, not that it will necessarily be much consolation to those of a more idealistic bent
This trope is named for the Alanis Morissette
song "Ironic"; see our article on her for more on that.
Compare Misaimed Marketing
and Repurposed Pop Song
. Related to Analogy Backfire
. This trope is about music only and should not be potholed as an equivalent to Take That
. There is a page about irony itself - what it actually means, and what the different types are - and it's called (ironically
open/close all folders
- The use of Janis Joplin's song "Mercedes Benz" by the makers of Mercedes-Benz cars is one of the better misuses.
- In Earth (The Book), the Daily Show writers call this "the precise moment when culture and commercialism stopped fighting and started making sweet, sweet love."
- Even though this song was written and performed by a woman whose drinking habit was so ingrained that had she ever been given that Mercedes-Benz, she'd only have totalled it on its first outing. And in this context, Verse Three is strangely absent from the adverts. You know, the one that goes "Oh Lord/Won't you buy me/ A night on the town/ I'm counting on you, Lord/Please don't let me down!/ Prove that you love me/ And buy the next round/Oh Lord/Won't you buy me/ A night on the town!" The use of a song by the poster-girl for overconsumption of Jack Daniels is especially ironic in the light of frequent government campaigns against drinking and driving... Presumably she'd have left the Mercedes-Benz in the garage and taken a cab home, eh, Janis?
- The use of the Pogues "Sunnyside of the Street" by Mercedes-Benz. Cheery sounding song until it cuts out right before Shane McGowan starts singing about his heart full of hate and a lust for vomit.
- Parachute Club's LGBT anthem "Rise Up!" used for frozen dough.
- John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" ("Ain't that America"), in innumerable vaguely patriotic car commercials. Face it - even if you know the truth about the song, it still sounds vaguely patriotic.
- The "Zoom Zoom" jingle that appears in Mazda's commercials is actually an old Capoeira song which goes "Zum Zum Zum, capoeira mata um", which, given that capoeira is Brazilian Dance Battling, roughly means "Zoom Zoom Zoom, Capoeira (can) kill you, or (Capoeira kills someone)". Mazda carefully excises all this nonsense about Capoeira, natch — all they care about is the zoom, zoom, zooming.
- A Brazilian shopping mall TV ad used Lily Allen's The Fear as backgound music. Because nothing says "the joy of shopping" like a song with lyrics that include, "I want lots of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds/I heard people die while they are trying to find them". To be fair, they only used the chorus? You know, the one that goes "I don't know what's right or what's real anymore".
- David Bowie has suffered from this a lot — ever since his work first got mass media attention. In 2008, all the trailers for Milk (a biographical movie about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors) used his song "Queen Bitch", which raises unfortunate questions about how the marketing team felt about the film's subject. Then there was the jeans commercial that put videos of masculine men to the song "The Jean Genie". The only appropriate response is "You're all aware the song is about gay sex, right?"
- "Space Oddity". It's about an astronaut lost in the empty space forever — or rather until his eventual cremation by re-entry — sung in a tone quite appropriate for describing such a fate, and the Ground Control guy sounds plainly hopeless by the end. The BBC used "Space Oddity", when it was originally released in 1969, as part of its coverage of the moon landing. A car commercial by Lincoln used a cover of "Space Oddity" by Cat Power. The ad proper pushes the technology of the car and how "futuristic" it looks. It cuts off after "you've really made the grade".
- Another in the same series of commercials uses the cover of "Major Tom (Coming Home)" by Shiny Toy Guns (originally recorded by Peter Schilling), and it cuts off right after "Earth below us / Drifting, falling..." While it's a very cool commercial, you just have to say, "Uh, you know that song doesn't end well, right? "Across the stratosphere / a final message / 'give my wife my love' / then nothing more..." it's only even more of a Tear Jerker after that, and that 'drifting, falling' part becomes an Ironic Echo - the same words meant something totally different on the way up, didn't they?
- "Happy Happy Joy Joy" from Ren and Stimpy, a parody of saccharine kids' cartoon songs, being used sincerely to sell Sara Lee products. And nobody doesn't like it! Don't they?
- An Australian car commercial used Polka by Yves Klein Blue, a song about drug addiction, and how it can destroy people. Which goes from light and soft to screaming freak out. Needless to say, only the first few seconds were used as mood music.
- A series of Wrangler jeans commercials used the first lines ("Some folks are born, made to wave the flag, Ooh they're red white and blue") of Creedence Clearwater Revival's song "Fortunate Son" superimposed with patriotic images. They pointedly left out the next line: "But when the band plays 'Hail to the Chief,' Oooh they point the cannon at you" The song is lambasting people who proclaim their patriotism while expecting others to make the sacrifices for the country (and was specifically targeted at David Eisenhower, Dwight's grandson and Richard Nixon's son-in-law).
- Never mind that the chorus says, vehemently (and often) "it ain't me". If anything, the song is telling you NOT to buy what's on the commercial!
- Commercials for The History Channel use the Matchbox 20 song "How Far We've Come," which contains the lyrics "Let's see how far we've come"... and ignores the lyrics that come before it:
"I believe the world
is coming to an end
Oh well, I guess
we're gonna pretend and see
how far we've come".
- They're oddly apropos for the History Channel, especially considering their newfound love of both the end of the world and the pretend.
- A few years back, there was an advert for Pizza Hut's "Twisted Crust" which used They Might Be Giants' jolly, upbeat "Twisting". It was pulled really quickly. When you listen properly, the lyric actually goes "She wants to see you again / Twisting, slowly twisting / In the wind..." Possibly hanging from a skyhook, even.
- "Bohemian Like You" by the Dandy Warhols has been used more than once in car adverts by virtue of the first line, which goes "you've got a great car". The second line, "what's wrong with it today?", is rarely played.
- Stylized commercials for American mega-store Target featured Devo's "Beautiful World" — a song mocking the consumer culture the ad intended to glorify.
- "Mack the Knife", a song from an incredibly anti-capitalist musical, detailing a businessman who murders people to further his own gains, was once used in a marketing campaign for McDonald's. The lyrics were completely rewritten, at least.
- A series of Gerber commercials use "The Winner Is..." from Little Miss Sunshine.
- Nena's "99 Red Balloons" for a JC Penney Valentine's Day commercial. Yeah, nothing makes you want to buy shiny rocks for your girlfriend more than a song about a nuclear holocaust.
- There was also a Honda Hybrid commercial featuring the music of the Postal Service's "We Will Become Silhouettes", another song about a nuclear holocaust. Apparently, green energy and atomic super weapons go hand in hand.
- Ditto for "The Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)" by Timbuk3, but at least this one is not quite direct, even though both lyrics and music video create a Black Comedy picture in a style rather close to the original Fallout.
- A Telus commercial from a few years ago used "99 Red Balloons" as well, though in German so that people not familiar with it can enjoy the song and the 99 pretty red balloons and ignore the whole annihilation bit.
- A car commercial used the titular lines from "Move Along" by All-American Rejects. I mean, cars move you, so "Move Along" is the perfect line......if you are somehow able to ignore the fact that in the song, the singer is trying to convince his friend not to commit suicide.
- "Move Along" also turned up in one of LEGO's BIONICLE ads, when Lego had a deal with the band. At least there it was SLIGHTLY less out of place...but only just: on the one hand, the heroes of the story are trying to prevent a death. On the other, the song's still being used with kid's toys.
- Speaking of suicide in car commercials, one for Hyundai prominently features "Today" by The Smashing Pumpkins, which incidentally features irony in a prominent manner: the song talks about the greatest day of the narrator's life... because he's going to kill himself tomorrow. Presumably using his Hyundai in a closed garage.
- Another car company used "Turn It On Again" by Genesis in one of their commercials—a song about a man who lives vicariously through his television and is a Stalker with a Crush.
- How about the same band's "Tonight Tonight Tonight", a song about a paranoid junkie making a drug deal late at night, being used for a famous Michelob beer commercial?! (Did Michelob sponsor their Invisible Touch tour?!)
- After "Jesus He Knows Me" was released, the Christian TV station, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), figured the band had discovered religion and picked up the song's video to air, but they decided not to after learning that the song is actually about a televangelist who lives a decadent, corrupt lifestyle off the donations from his viewers.
- British furniture retailer DFS have just started a new TV ad campaign using Nickelback's Rockstar. On the surface it seems to be an "I Want" Song, but the lyrics are about the shallowness of materialism and instant gratification. The ads offer interest free credit.
- Speaking of instant gratification, "Rockstar" got used to promote Ameristar Casinos.
- Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" for a cruise line. See Web Original for a parody of this created by The Onion.
- Or anything else that it has ever been used in an advertisement for.
- Celebrity Cruises also used the highly inappropriate "Fame" by David Bowie in one of their commercials, because a bitter rant about the perils of fame really makes you want to take a cruise to a tropical island.
- The Whitlams' "You Gotta Love This City" for a Sydney Olympics-related tourism campaign.
- If you don't get that, understand that "Love This City" is about a man who commits suicide expressly because Sydney has won the bid to host the Olympic Games. The full title lyric, not given until halfway through the song, runs: "You gotta love this city / For its body and not its brain..."
- Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'," as sung by masses of children running through wheat fields, was used by a multinational bank.
: If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of Woodie Guthrie spinning in his grave.
- A strange one is a car commercial sound tracked by "Blindness" by The Fall. Considering that the Fall are known for being a band that makes rather uncommercial music, it's especially baffling that this car company chose "Blindness", a song that begins with the line "I was walking down the street".
- The song "All I Want for Christmas is You", featuring lines like "I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree", is inexplicably popular in adverts trying to sell those presents.
- The Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" was famously used by Microsoft for the Windows 95 launch. The lyrics include the well-known refrain "You make a grown man cry." Anyone who used Windows '95 would find that line very apt...
- Of course, considering why the speaker is crying, it's possible that Microsoft knew the context and was Getting Crap Past the Radar.
- A popular urban legend states that Mick Jagger ran into Bill Gates at a party, quoted him an enormously inflated price as a joke... and Gates wrote him a check on the spot.
- "Start Me Up" is now being used by Toyota. One has to wonder if "Start me up / I'll never stop" is really the right kind of lyrics for a car company that had a problem with their cars accelerating and not stopping because of a pedal defect.
- The NFL Network used a cover of Morrissey's "Every Day is Like Sunday" in its commercials. Let's just say that Morrissey didn't actually like Sundays that much.
- A 2008 commercial for the Ford Edge used the lyricless parts from a Band of Horses song to background a sweet scene of a girl driving through the city at night and then meeting up with her man for dinner. The song was The Funeral, about the inevitability of death.
- A commercial for the Ford Transit used an extract of Soul Coughing's "Disseminated"; while the segment used is from later in the song, the opening verse of the full song describes a goat that ate a tin can and "shat out a Ford Sedan".
- The apocalyptic anthem "London Calling" by The Clash being used to hawk Jaguars.
- It was also used in tourist adverts for visiting London.
- Here's this song. It's called "Diamonds and Guns," by Transplants. If you'll listen to the intro, you'll know it's used in Garnier Fructis Shampoo commercials. If you listen to the rest of it, you'll know why the guys who make those commercials haven't yet.
- Another supposed heroin anthem, The La's "There She Goes" (racing through my brain, pulsing through my vein, no one else could heal my pain) being used to sell chicken.
- Kohl's department stores have adopted Barenaked Ladies' "Shopping" as an ad jingle, either not knowing or not caring about the song's satiric anti-consumerist thrust.
- Steely Dan's song "Do It Again" has been used in a PBS commercial encouraging contribution to public broadcasting. They had the good sense to only use the instrumental opening, but it's no less a puzzling choice for that — considering the song is about destructive habits.
- A number of tobyMac songs (mostly "The Slam") have been used in previews for violent movies and shows, despite said songs being about God.
- In the trailer for their Witch Mountain remake, Disney used the guitar solo from The Offspring's "Stuff Is Messed Up", which has some seriously kid-unfriendly lyrics.
- This commercial combines this with Unfortunate Implications and Spinal Tap
- Durex' use of "Der Hölle Rache" in an ad for lubricant. Let's have a look at a translation of the text, shall we? (Note: the character is speaking to her daughter)
Hell's vengeance is boiling in my heart,
Death and despair are aflame all around me!
If you fail to cause Sarastro's pangs of death
You will no longer be my daughter!
- A 2004 ad for the Volkwagen Touareg featured "Ariel Ramirez", a song by Richard Buckner about doing heroin.
- Barbie had been advertised with "Barbie Girl" by Aqua. Granted, they've changed most of the lyrics, but really...
- Interestingly, Mattel were furious about the song and sued Aqua's record company, but it was dismissed (with the judge advising the parties to "chill"). Apparently, they did.
- A Best Buy commercial a few years back used Sheryl Crow's "Soak up the Sun" for their summer sale. This is a song about a poor girl who "don't have digital...don't have diddly squat" and knows "It's not having what you want/it's wanting what you've got."
- Even better, the song's "enjoy what you have, don't spend excessively" must have gone completely over the heads of American Express, who used it in a commercial for a credit card.
- Another Sheryl Crow song, "If it Makes You Happy," was used in a car commercial. They only used part of the chorus, which goes "If it makes you happy/it can't be that bad," clearly trying to give the impression that buying a new car is just what your self-esteem needs. They had the foresight to cut off the song right before the last line of the chorus, which is "Then why the hell are you so sad?"
- Toyota used the Pet Shop Boys version of "Go West" in some car ads in the early 90s. While the song is infectiously upbeat, it was already a gay anthem to begin with, and the cover dealt with escapism from the AIDS crisis and the fall of the Soviet Union.
- A TV commercial for the upcoming Brendan Fraser Furry Vengeance, a kids movie, is using Tone Loc's song "Wild Thing". The film is about a bunch of animals trying to stop a housing development, while the song is nothing but pure Intercourse with You.
- Even more bizarre is it's use in a trailer for the Smurfs movie.
- Disney hired Bowling for Soup to redo "I Melt With You" by Modern English; it has worked its way back into advertising culminating in Hershey's Chocolate using it for a Kiss commercial with a mother and child. All of this ignoring the fact the first two lines are "Moving forward using all my breath/Making love to you was never second best." Yeah, sweet sentiment there Hershey's.
- Not to mention that said song is also about dying in a nuclear holocaust ("melt" being used literally, but it could also be a pun). It's about a couple that have sex as the bombs fall because it's their last moment.
- To be fair, Disney had them change the line in the remake to "Bein' friends with you was never second best." It was for a children's movie, after all.
- "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan is about heroin abuse, specifically the fatal overdose of The Smashing Pumpkins' touring keyboardist, but is used in a PSA for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A commercial that is narrated by McLachlan herself.
- "Beautiful Day" by English folk-punk band The Levellers has occasionally turned up in adverts based on the chorus "What a beautiful day/I'm the king of all time/And nothing is impossible/In my all powerful mind." Whoever chose the song apparently missed the part after this when it proceeds to talk about instigating a political revolution, the titular "beautiful day".
- Many-a commercial for a hardware store, office supply store (read: Office Depot), or heck, even cars has made use of Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care Of Business: "Takin' care of business/and workin' overtime!" However, the song is actually a Rockstar Song with the singer singing how, since he's in a band, he's not working like every other workaholic out there: "And if you ever get annoyed,/look at me, I'm self-employed/I love to work at nothin' all day!"
- The O'Jays' (For the Love of) Money is a prime example. Commercials love to use the chorus when talking about their (supposed) big savings, but the lyrics themselves talk about the evils that people will do to each other over money.
- A Jeep car commercial uses an instrumental with an intense, pounding beat to sell its pickup trucks. Fine. Said instrumental is the background music to Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down". Which is about how there's no such thing as a Karma Houdini. Not so fine.
- "Kids In America" by the Muffs, used by Kraft to shill American cheese singles. The Muffs' "Everywhere I Go" (which was about stalking) was also used in a Fruitopia commercial.
- Pretty much any usage of "Sweet Home Alabama" for ANYTHING, but one just has to wonder what the hell KFC was thinking when they started using it to shill fried chicken. Especially since the K stands for Kentucky.
- Apparently nobody at the Boston Globe's advertising department bothered to listen to Dropkick Murphys The State of Massachusetts. The song is about drugs destroying a family and the children being taken away. The title of the song comes from who now has custody of the children.
- British restaurant chain Harvester produced a TV spot using the Isley Brothers' single "Harvest for the World" as its soundtrack. Behold scenes of smiling families tucking into plates of glistening, fatty food....all to the strains of a song about famine, greed and war.
- One TV spot in Mastercard's long-running "priceless" campaign, played in the run-up to Valentine's Day, used Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman". The song's lyrics detail the heartache and self-destruction that can come with love, and includes lines about how a man will "spend his very last dime trying to hold on to what he needs".
- Red Stripe is promoting Red Stripe Light beer by having a group of Bobby McFerrin wannabes dancing and singing a reggae cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax". Uh...yeah.
- "Boo, bad use of a song in a commercial! Hooray, Beer!"
- One has to wonder if this example was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, considering it's the same guys who once made a commercial based around how ugly the shape of their bottles are.
- The advertising campaign for Dragon Age: Origins was infamous for using "This Is The New Shit" by Marilyn Manson, likely in an attempt to show that the game was Darker and Edgier as well as Hotter and Sexier than previous Western fantasy RPGs. The lyrics are mostly mocking fans craving innovation, while producers crank out the same old material with big helpings of sex, violence and grittiness in order to appeal to the audience's baser instincts.
- This was back in the day when Bioware still had a sense of humor about itself, it may well have been intentional.
- A late 2010 Subaru minivan commercial uses the Pogues' "If I Should Fall From Grace With God."
- A commercial for HP photo printers features a baby zipping through the countryside in his little wheeled cart that helps babies learn to walk. It's cute, to be sure, with the little baby flying down the road while a jaunty tune plays in the background. That jaunty tune? "Brand New Key" by Melanie. A song about getting laid. Tip for advertisers: when people see commercials with cute little babies in them, they probably don't want to be reminded at that moment just how they're made.
- A trailer for the 2010 version of the The Karate Kid movie uses the refrain from Fort Minor's "Remember the Name", a song that has nothing to do with fighting and isn't particularly kid-friendly.
- A cell phone commercial about how wonderful their new contracts are, using the refrain from Meat Loaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light: "I would love you to the end of time!" ignoring the next stanza: "So now I'm praying for the end of time / To hurry up and arrive / Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you / I don't think that I can really survive."
- The trailer for Mortal Kombat 9 revealed at PAX 10 is probably guilty of this, being set to Disturbed's "Another Way to Die", which made a blatant point of highlighting the lyric "It's just another way to die!" (shadowy violence all-throughout). Aggressive as as it may sound, the lyric is environmental in nature, meant to describe the consequences of people's treatment of the Earth.
- GE used Tennessee Ernie Ford's version of "Sixteen Tons" for their advert for clean coal. The song depicts life of a coal miner under the truck system. Under this system workers were paid with exchangeable credit vouchers for goods at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings. Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. "St. Peter don't call me 'cause I can't go/I owe my soul to the company store." It was also used in a Cracked article (see Web Original below).
- Call of Duty: Black Ops ran adverts featuring Music/The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter". Apparently a song depicting the horrors of war, which will eventually end all life on the planet, is supposed to encourage people to play as Black Op soldiers.
- Though, Call of Duty has had a history of being anti-war, yet simultaneously being pro-war, due to being a fun video game about the subject. So, while still contradictory, the advertisers were probably well aware of the song' meaning
- The game is also set during The Sixties and The Vietnam War particularly — many of the soldiers fighting the war didn't particularly want to be there and would often play contemporary anti-war rock music being well aware of the irony. The producers probably knew exactly what they were doing.
- There's an advert for some car or other which is set to "This Is The Life" by Amy MacDonald. It would be bad enough if they'd used one of the verses (which describe apparent good times) and conveniently ignored the chorus (which is a "reveal" of the misery that the person the song is addressed to is trying to run away from) but no... they've gone straight for the most miserable part of the song, purely for the Title Drop. The music behind it isn't even particularly peppy.
- Finnish hardware store Rautia uses song "Vasara ja nauloja" (Hammer and nails) in it's commercials to promote how successfull you are with their tools. What's the song about? A man failing to build a house...
- Early ads for the Xbox Kinect used Gang Of Four's "Natural's Not In It" (albeit in an edit that did away with lyrics altogether). The song is partially about the futility of trying to find fulfillment through consumerism, so it's presence in an ad for nearly anything would fit this trope to some extent.
- LGBT Fanbase aside, "YMCA", a song about dudes having sex at the YMCA, in ads for...the YMCA.
- Surely that's a positive selling point?
- Let's be honest...what else would you do if you were the YMCA? Ignore the one pop culture phenomenon ever to recognize your existence? Also, even though the Double Entendre is obvious, the surface meaning (a place where folks can go have a workout or swim or socialize or find social services) remains true and is quite complimentary of your organization...so why not?
- What better way is there to revamp Monopoly to be more consumerist than to add pseudo-functioning credit cards to the game design? And then advertise it using Jessie J's "Price Tag", a song about how people shouldn't be driven by greed?
- Visa commercials for the Olympics using Sia's Breathe Me. A song about depression, self-harm or attempted suicide is just perfect for the Olympics. Granted they only uses the instrumental part after the lyrics end.
- "Just What I Needed" by The Cars is about someone who definitely doesn't feel like they need the other person. This was used in Circuit City commercials for items that supposedly were needed.
- A 2011 Lexus ad uses the song "Odessa" by Canadian Indietronica artist Caribou, and understandably, the sexy, fashion-show worthy beat and tune would fit to a sexy couple driving in their car to a masquerade party. Yet the song is about a woman who constantly gets physically and sexually abused and cheated on by her boyfriend, with lyrics like this:
Feeling low, and scared that he'll say
Do you know how overtime you drove her away
Saving up to, the day when she goes
The day that she stands up
for everything that she chose
- This camera commercial from HP features "Pictures of You" by The Cure, a song about missed opportunities and the sadness of having nothing at all left except the pictures.
- Target attempted to license Adam Freeland's anti-consumerist song We Want Your Soul. Apparently, Target only must have listened to the lines "here's popcorn, here's magazines, here's milkshakes, here's blue jeans," while conveniently ignoring the rest of the song, the Bill Hicks sample comparing modern culture to bread and circuses, and the title itself. Luckily, Freeland turned down the offer.
- A certain commercial for he show Toddlers And Tiaras used Lady Gaga's "Born This Way", a song about accepting who you are and not having to change... while showing shots of children around the age of five wearing makeup and false eyelashes.
- That was definitely intentional. The show actually manages to have snarky editing, and does things like show a pageant mom say, "Oh, my little angel loves doing pageants!" and then cutting to the little girl bawling and begging not to do it anymore. So ironic music use fits right in.
- "Bring Me Down" by Lenka was used for a Dulux paint ad in Canada in early 2012, in which a woman is unsatisfied with her bleak looking living room and cheerfully paints it red while her husband is set aside. The lyrics tells of a woman drifting apart from her partner, criticizing him that he's done nothing while their relationship crumbled, and that she needs to leave before she falls right back into his arms. The lyrics are surprisingly close to what is being depicted... except for the happy ending of course.
- In 2012, Chevrolet Argentina (a GM brand) put up a commercial for their new S10 pick-up truck, picturing it in different country-fair expositions (coal-mining fairs, yerba mate fairs, etc; common events in Argentina's country), showing it being used in tough-as-nails jobs, with a voice-over narrating fragments of a poem describing how strong and powerful the truck was ("You are a superb and proud specimen of your kind/And whether taming horses /or killing tigers /You are an Alexander /Nebuchadnezzar"). The poem? "A Roosevelt", by Rubén Darío. The thing being described? The USA under Theodore Roosevelt. And what is it about? It's an anti-imperialist poem about how Latin America isn't going to fall to Roosevelt's USA without a fight. It is one of the most famous anti-American-imperialism pieces in Latin American left-wing literature. Considering that GM is an American brand, and even more, considering that it is now partially own by the US goverment, one wonders if the marketing people were being ironic or just didn't read the whole thing through.
- This ad for the SPCA uses Roberta Flack's love song "The First Time That Ever I Saw Your Face" to promote the rescue of abused animals. While the SPCA does want the viewers to love their rescued animals, they probably do not want them to love the animals in that way.
- "You Found Me" by The Fray was used to advertise a made-for-TV movie about a couple trying to find each other. Sounds good... except that the song is about finding God after a long and difficult series of events.
- British Airways are using "London Calling" by The Clash to encourage people to come to London for the Olympics. That's the song about how London is a horrible city, and will only get worse after the apocalypse.
London calling, now don't look at us,
All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust.
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing.
- "Intuition" by Jewel was mostly about the hollowness of popular culture and commercialism. It also takes a few shots at objectification and sexuality in advertising (this is more prominent in the video.) Change the channel, and you'll hear the song in ads for Schick razors.
- The 2012 NFL season has seen a series of Bud Light commercials that celebrate fans with strange little traditions that they believe will influence the improve their team's performance...set to "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. Not surprisingly, the commercials always end before getting to the line "When you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer."
- "Inner Ninja" by Classified was used in an ad for Tim Hortons Iced Caps. Not as ironic as some examples, but it is using a song about overcoming struggles in a commercial about refreshments in summertime.
- Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" is regularly used as a rallying cry to American greatness (as in one of Ronald Reagan's Presidential ads), when it's actually about how a homeless Vietnam vet's alienation from his country now he's home again.
- Australian ads for phone company Vodafone at one point featured 'Awkward' by indie band San Cisco, a song about being stalked by someone both in person and through repetitive text messaging. Awkward indeed.
- The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing" is commonly used in commercials and movie trailers for playful expressions of individuality and acts of self-expression. The song itself is about how a woman can make love with whomever she chooses "I can't tell you/Who to sock it to!". You can probably guess by now what the "thing" in question is.
- Very shortly after Lou Reed's death, his song "Perfect Day" (a song that most agree came out of his mixed feelings of pain, pleasure, hate and affection for his own addiction to heroin) was used to advertise the PS4. The idea presumably was something like "it's a perfect day when you play the PS 4 with your friends, as long as you are able to ignore the song's darker undertones."
- Given that the ad in question shows the singer being brutalized in the various video game scenarios he's inserted himself into (while never going off key), the advertisers may have been well aware of the song's undertones, even if they're not the same ones specifically.
- To celebrate the upcoming release of the 50th film (Tangled) in the Disney Animated Canon, Disney released a video which featured a countdown of all 50 films using Brandi Carlile's song "Dreams". While dreams (of the "a wish your heart makes" variety) are featured heavily as a Motif in Tangled, the song, according to Word of God, refers to a very different kind of dream.
- The Theme Song for the anime Mushi Shi sounds, on the TV size version, like the singer was going on a journey to find his beloved ("I walked ten thousand miles, ten thousand miles to see you / and every gasp of breath I grabbed at just to find you..."). This is all well and good until you hear the full version, where the lyrics stray into Yandere territory ("I stole ten thousand pounds, ten thousand pounds to see you / I robbed convenience stores 'cause I thought they'd make it easier / I lived off rats and toads, I starved for you / I fought off giant bears and I killed them too...").
- Lovefool by The Cardigans, which shot to fame through its use in Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, sounds like a fairly standard love song ("Love me, love me, say that you love me") until you listen to the lyrics, in which the singer pleads for her beloved to just pretend he loves her back because she can't deal with rejection.
- The same movie had #1 Crush, from Garbage. Another song about obsession. Great choice for the movie.
- Now with extra iron: it's hard to find a modern adaptation of the Marvel superhero Iron Man that doesn't include the guitar riff from the similarly-named Black Sabbath song. If they actually played the lyrics, they might have noticed that the titular character comes to be forgotten and ignored by the populace, culminating in a grand return where he starts murdering them en masse. Say what you will about Civil War, but...
- Canon has Tony Stark naming his superhero identity after his favorite song (which is only possible because of Comic Book Time). The film novelization even has Tony imitating Ozzy's "I AM IRON MAN!" after the newspapers give him the name. Earlier, he plays the song in his helmet while he's taking down the terrorists in Golmirra.
- Playing the song during the terrorist fight is somewhat fitting. He went on a journey, saw destruction, and tried to stop it. When people didn't listen, he started killing. Though admittedly, Tony Stark does it with a lot more purpose and direction than the rage-filled slaughter the song's Iron Man indulged in.
- The cover of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" used during the closing credits of Ghost Rider strikes a similar note. The song is about ghost cowboys damned to herd the Devil's cattle through the skies for eternity; in the movie, Johnny Blaze opts to Flip Off Cthulhu and tell the Devil he's going to turn his curse against him and sabotage all his evil plans.
- Parodied in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. When Ron tries to explain how his feelings for Veronica Corningstone go beyond the desire for sex, he decides to explain the feeling of love, by singing "Afternoon Delight", a song about two people whose relationship is mostly sexual.
- The soundtrack for Godzilla (1998) included the song "No Shelter" by Rage Against the Machine. While the song did mention Godzilla by name, it was only to note that it was "pure motherfucking filler." The entire song is about American pop culture blinding people to the real problems in the world, used to advertise the most overhyped movie ever.
- Look For A Star from the movie Circus Of Horrors. Those who have never seen the movie named it one of the best love/inspirational songs of all-time. Go figure.
- "Define 'irony'; a bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash." Incidentally, the song in question is "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, making it a repeat offender on this very page.
- The closing scene of Life was intended to be highly uplifting and spotlight Ray and Claude's friendship and freedom. However, the song chosen was What Would You Do by City High, which is about a woman explaining her reasons for becoming a hooker. The song was obviously only chosen for the single chorus line "But for me this is what I call life."
Live Action TV
- Sarah McLachlan's "Possession" was used a number of times in love scenes (including in Due South, although that one turned out to be fairly apt).
- She also sang "I Will Remember You" during the in memoriam portion of the Academy Awards. Read those lyrics again people... it's not about missing someone who's died. It's about missing someone who's broken your heart and does not care about you anymore and wishing they'd reconsider.
- Parodied in Arrested Development when Michael and Maeby (uncle and niece) perform a duet of 'Afternoon Delight' and slowly come to realise what the song is actually about as they sing it.
- This happens twice in the same episode: Lindsay and George Michael (aunt and nephew) were away when Michael and Maeby figured out the nature of the lyrics, and idiotically decided to sing the same exact song, coming to a similar, horrified revelation.
- The song "Shiny Happy People" by R.E.M is apparently a reference to a piece of Chinese propaganda that called the massacre in Tiananmen Square "shiny happy people holding hands". Though, it's understandable why 90210 didn't know it was a protest song.
- Touched by an Angel reversed the trope once. "No One Is Alone", from Into the Woods, is a rather straightforward song: life is tough, yet no one goes through it without someone beside them. It's not that surprising it would be used in this show, when angel Monica is faced with a crisis of faith. It is surprising that it's Satan singing it to her, trying to get her to join his side. (Notably, Mandy Patinkin, who has frequently performed in Sondheim's musicals, played Satan here.)
- Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities (Let's make lots of money)", a song about two shady losers co-conspiring a get-rich quick scheme (and implied imminent failure at said scheme), was used as the theme to "Beauty And The Geek" (where people actually did make lots of money), primarily because of the chorus "I've got the brains, you've got the looks/Let's make lots of money".
- The same song was used in trailers for the 1987 TV movie/miniseries "Billionaire Boys Club." Considering how the Boys' venture ends, it is safe to say that the song retains its original meaning.
- "Shopping" is a safe bet for use in any scene that features shopping, but it's actually about corruption. ("We check it with the City, then change the laws...I heard it in the House of Commons, everything's for sale.")
- Despite being a song about a troubled relationship, with a bridge starting with "why don't we break up / there's nothing left to say", Robbie Williams' Sexed Up has been frequently used to score a love montage on Italian reality TV. Cue Irony.
- PBS's History Detectives uses a part of the song "Watching The Detectives" by Elvis Costello as their theme song. The song appears to be about a young woman's very violent death, in great contrast with the usually more family friendly content of the show.
- A commercial for America's Next Top Model once used "High School Never Ends", by Bowling for Soup. The song itself is about a teenager entering high school, seeing how pretentious and superficial people are, and waiting it out for four years. Then discovering that the rest of life is the same way. First verse: "Four years, you think for sure/that's all you've got to endure/all the total dicks, all the stuck-up chicks/so superficial, so immature/But then when you graduate/you take a look around and you say 'Hey, wait!/This is the same as where I just came from,/I though it was over, aww, that's just great.'"
- In-universe example in 30 Rock: Jenna and her mom use a karoake performance of "Do That To Me One More Time" to celebrate their reconciliation. This provides the page quote.
- American Idol had the Season 8 winner Kris Allen perform on stage accompanied by a montage of Haiti relief efforts. The song? "Let It Be". Talk about inappropriate...
- Someone should have told this to Jennifer Hudson, who also sang "Let It Be" for the "Hope For Haiti" telethon. Also, these people.
- Oh, David Copperfield, sweetie, you keep playing that song. I do not think it means what you think it means. Unless of course child molestation, insanity, and suicide were what you were trying to imply here.
- An early episode of the original Beverly Hills 90210 had Brandon dating a teen mother with a baby named Joey. They constantly played Concrete Blonde's hit single "Joey" during the episode. The song is about a woman in a co-dependent relationship deciding to stay with her alcoholic lover.
- Germany's Deutschland sucht den Superstar (you could say German Idol, it's the same branch) uses Melanie C's "Next Best Superstar" to celebrate their winner. "Crack a smile in denial; throw your morals on the fire".
- They also covered "The Edge Of Glory" and used it as their theme. Lady Ga Ga wrote that song about the death of her grandfather.
- Elimination show and beauty contest The Swan, which took ordinary-looking women and gave them plastic surgery to bring them closer to mainstream notions of conventional beauty made use of Groove Armada's "If Everybody Looked the Same", oblivious to the meaning of the song's refrain "If everybody looked the same, we'd get tired of looking at each other".
- America's Funniest Home Videos music montages occasionally fall into this trap; one of the worst was the choruses (only the choruses) of David Bowie's "Young Americans" being used to underscore cute toddler clips.
- Parodied in the episode with Emma wanting to use "Afternoon Delight" to promote the Abstinence Club, under the mistaken belief that it was about having dessert in the middle of the day.
- Idina Menzel in a special mentions how during her appearance in the first season, the touching reunion song with her daughter being "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga seemed odd, to say the least. Special attention was given to the bridge's lyrics.
- Having the girls since "I Kissed A Girl" during Santana's coming out, immediately after attacking a boy for not taking lesbianism seriously, despite the fact that that song is not about lesbians and is about a girl unseriously kissing another girl and repeatedly mentioning having a boyfriend.
- Having Finn sing "Losing My Religion" while having a crisis of faith, even though that song isn't about religion (as Michael Stipe noted, it's Southern slang for losing one's patience).
- Having Puck and Finn sing "Glory Days" during graduation, when that song is about mocking people who are fixated on high school.
- Having Mercedes sing "Spotlight" about her desire for the spotlight, when it's about a woman in an abusive relationship.
- Having them perform The Rocky Horror Picture Show (as in the film, not the original play) under the belief it’s about being oneself. One might start wondering whether or not this is played intentionally as a Running Gag...
- The BBC used a reworking of Lou Reed's Perfect Day as an advert to demonstrate its commitment to bringing pleasure through music, each line of the song voiced by performers as diverse as rap singers and opera divas, in order to demonstrate the diversity of the Beeb's commitent to supporting and promoting musical talent. The subtext was that the BBC is a jolly nice organisation and you too can have a wholesome and indeed a perfect day with clean-living BBC radio and television. Yet wasn't Lou Reed's original a deceptively stealth little number, only superficially about two lovers enjoying a perfect day together - but deeper down it's about his destructive relationship with the love of his life - heroin - and what it can do to screw you up long-term?
- What makes this even stranger is that the reason the song had re-entered public consciousness at that time was its use in the film Trainspotting, where its druggy connotations were made very obvious indeed.
- For a few seasons, the long-running BBC technology series Tomorrow's World used an instrumental portion of The Divine Comedy's "In Pursuit of Happiness" as its theme tune. Anybody who heard the lyrics would realise the song is quite the opposite of the show's upbeat outlook on progress - the edit used on the show looped back to the start just in time to avoid the vocal coming in with "Hey, don't be surprised if millions die in plague and murder".
- The M*A*S*H theme song Suicide is Painless is quite upbeat, while the original version with lyrics from film is very sombre.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Family" ends with a scene of Willow and Tara dancing to the song "I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" by Melanie Doane. The effect of this otherwise touching scene is somewhat marred if you know that the acompanying music is actually a love letter to a television.
- Criminal Minds lampshaded this in "Unknown Subject", in which the UnSub likes to play songs from The Eighties when raping his victims. When one of his victims (who has managed to kidnap him) tells him she has recognized that the song he played at the bar was the same he played when he was raping her, he explains that he played it because he was the music that he chose when he asked for his wife's hand. The victim doesn't buy it... because the song was "Total Eclipse of the Heart".
- During Top Gear's Vietnam Special, the dreaded "if-your-vehicle-breaks-down-you-have-to-ride-this" vehicle was a motorbike decorated with a Stars and Stripes motif, playing what the producers felt was culturally insensitive music. The music in question was the Bruce Springsteen song "Born In The USA", a song that specifically condemns the Vietnam War and isn't patriotic in the least. Later releases of the episode picked up on this, and replaced the music in post with the Star Spangled Banner.
- Despite the fact that Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" is actually an upbeat love song, the song's title and somewhat ambiguous chorus leads some people to believe that it is about demonic destruction, not about passionate love, and will use it in music videos with montages of people fighting in flames or being burnt alive.
- It's either that, or it's about what happens to you a few hours after you eat an entire bowl of really hot chili peppers...
- In a similar vein, The Police's downright creepy "Every Breath You Take" has also appeared in love scenes and has been used in weddings. The Police call it an Anti-Love Song.
- An early advertisement for the Singapore Civil Defense has used the "Every Breath You Take" as a background song, sampling the chorus as an example of how well the Civil Defense (kinda of like the country-wide fire department) takes good care of you. It just ended being Paranoia Fuel.
- Not to mention that the stalker song is sampled for use in Puff Daddy's tribute to Biggie. you have to wonder if P. Diddy ever actually listened to the song.
- Hinder's "Lips of an Angel" sometimes gets used at weddings and in other romantic contexts. It's a song about cheating and not being able to move on from past relationships. Apparently people only focus on lines like "coming from the lips of an angel, hearing my name it makes me weak", while ignoring ones like "You make it hard to be faithful, with the lips of an angel" in the same chorus.
- Apparently, some people think "Bed of Roses" by Bon Jovi would be appropriate for their wedding.
- The same is true for "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day, often being played at weddings and graduations, despite being a song about a bad break up. The clue's in the name, which, to be fair, does not appear in the lyrics and is sometimes not used when it's played.
- Vast numbers of newlyweds dance to "I Will Always Love You" at their wedding, without realizing that it's a song about breaking up! Dolly Parton wrote it when she and Porter Wagoner dissolved their professional relationship and she was very broken up about it because Wagoner was her mentor, a father figure, and her closest friend. Still, it's a song about losing someone you love and still holding onto that love.
- "Sweetest Thing" by U2. The "love's the sweetest thing" parts and even the "blue-eyed boy and this brown-eyed girl" part are rather offset by the "I'm losing you" and the song's generally being about how the singer always screws everything up.
- The band has been often disgusted when fans tell them that they played One at their weddings, prompting Bono to respond:
Bono: ARE YOU MAD!? It's about splitting up!
- "Better Man" by Pearl Jam. What a great romantic wedding song... about a woman unable to bring herself to end an abusive relationship. "She lies and says she's in love with him..."
- "Don't Leave Home" by Dido is supposed to be about addiction, and even without that Word of God, lines like "You won't need other friends anymore" and "I arrived when you were weak / I'll make you weaker like a child" ought to be a tip-off. Dido has said that people have told her they played it at their weddings and that she finds this fact a little disturbing.
- On another note, "White Flag." Typically used by fandom to describe their support for an OTP ("I will go down with this ship!"), it's a love song all right... regarding unrequited love. "White Flag" is actually about someone still in love with their ex and wanting to stay together with them, though it's clear the relationship is already over.
- Similarly, The Smashing Pumpkins' song "Lily (My One and Only)" at first sounds like a beautiful love song. Then, when you listen to the lyrics properly, sound like the horrible tale of a stalker. Finally, if you look into it, it turns out it's a song of dedication, written by Billy Corgan, to his CAT.
- Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" has been used as theme music for hopeful, perky young protagonists, in spite of the fact that the song itself is about getting drunk and brawling in bars with your better days long gone by. (It was written as an ambiguous anthem for "Old Labour" after Tony Blair's "New Labour" had sucked the spirit out of the British left in the-mid 90s; Chumbawamba are left-wing anarchists. In short, the person "pissing the night away" is British Socialism).
- German group Wir sind Helden's second single, "Müssen nur wollen", was intended as a parody/deconstruction of the "you can do it!" style of self-help media. According to the band's singer, a lot of people took the song to be an upbeat "you can do it!" in its own right.
- German group Die Prinzen's 1993 song "Alles nur geklaut", which mocks, among other things, cover versions of hit songs, has been covered by female singer Sha... with altered lyrics.
- Die Prinzen's song "Deutschland" is a very subtle, until the end, parody of hyper-nationalism. It's commonly used as a German pride song by less than perceptive people.
- The same is true in US with Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" which has frequently been used by Republican politicians as a symbol of American national pride (especially during 1984 presidential race by Ronald Reagan).
- German band Geier Sturzflug's 1980s hits "Bruttosozialprodukt" (a heavily ironic song about workaholics) and "Die pure Lust am Leben" (a genuinely upbeat song, but with an ironic attitude referencing social criticism, about the singer not losing his lust for life despite all the things thrown at him) have now been reduced to Carnival and party fun songs, both due to people not paying attention to the lyrics and because the lyrics (at least of the latter song) have lost their zeitgeist-specific context.
- The Scots folk-song "The Bonnie Banks O' Loch Lomond", aka "You Take the High Road", has been almost universally misrepresented, even in Scotland, as a cheerful walking song, and as such has been used as upbeat background music and even as the title of a soap opera. In fact it's about two prisoners, one of whom is to be released and the other executed at the same hour. The "low road" referred to is the road that the dead go on - the speaker will get home faster than his friend because he'll be travelling as a ghost, but he'll never meet his true love again in this life. "Auld Lang Syne" is likewise a slow, sad song about ageing, nostalgia, loss and regret, although it gets sung as a happy bouncy bit of festive trivia. "Auld Lang Syne" sung properly will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
- Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas" is faithfully trotted out by radio stations each December for their "all-Christmas-music" programming, despite the fact that the song mocks the holiday rather bitterly.
- It goes the other way too, being lampshaded quite frequently by DJs who think they're being more subversive by playing it than they actually are.
- "Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas," as originally written and as performed by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, was a melancholy "buck-up" song about having hope for the future in light of the lousy present. Understandably for 1944, it struck a chord with soldiers serving overseas. Today, arguably more people are familiar with Frank Sinatra's more upbeat arrangement, after he asked the songwriter to "jolly it up."
- The sheer number of people who think Nine Inch Nails' song "Closer" (aka the 'Fuck you like an animal song') is a great song to have sex to is astounding. Let's not beat the bush and just make one thing clear: if having sex because its the only thing that takes you away from the psychological hell you've found yourself trapped in is your thing, then go for it. If not, don't. Honestly, the line "Help me get away from myself" ought to have keyed you in.
- Celldweller's "Frozen" is similarly described as a great song to have sex to, and definitely is somehow about sex, but lyrically it seems to be more about being lost in A Date with Rosie Palms whilst thinking of an ex and being unable to move on. "It's better to be broken than to break".
- As described in Distant Duet, the song "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail is about two characters separated by thousand of miles that wish to reunite some day. The movie version? Was sung by two siblings. Oddly, this does not deter people from using it as a love song.
- It would be difficult to describe "White Wedding" by Billy Idol as having Lyrical Dissonance, given the dark melody is very fitting for a song about a man resenting his younger sister's fiancé, while the bride starts having second thoughts but is forced to accept her fate. Yes, it has been played at many many weddings since its 1982 release.
- Sara Bareilles' "Love Song" is often used in ads for romantic comedies. The story behind it is that the record company wanted her to write a love song and she refused. They continued so she wrote a song to tell them off. The most ironic part is that the line "Not gonna write you a love song" is what's usually featured in the ad.
- Queen's "Radio Ga Ga", a song about how terrible it is that radio is being reduced to meaningless background noise, can most often be heard on an oldies station providing meaningless background noise.
- The sheer irony of Queen complaining about how video clips are more important than the music was not lost on the band: there's a reason why the clip to "Radio Ga Ga" features a montage of scenes from their other clips.
- The Supernaturals' "Smile" features a bouncy melody, goes "Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile!" and is very often taken as an upbeat, happy song. Despite the fact that anyone paying attention to... well, almost * any* lyrics beyond that would realise that it's a much darker and more downbeat song than that.
- Rihanna's "Te Amo" is celebrated as a song of lesbian love ("Te amo, te amo [I love you], she says to me...") - except that in the song Rihanna rejects the other girl because she doesn't feel the same way (whether it's towards the other girl specifically or just women in general is not made clear).
- In 2001, some bright spark at Air France decided that Madonna's cover of "American Pie" would make wonderful inflight entertainment. "American Pie" is about the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in a plane crash. Also, this was just a year after one of Air France's Concordes had crashed on takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport.
- Eve 6's "Here's to the Night", a song about a one-night stand, was apparently the only slow song that was popular in 2000, and therefore very popular to play on prom night. Might be Fridge Brilliance.
- Randy Newman's "I Love LA" tends to be played whenever the music director of a film / TV show set in Los Angeles needs a soundtrack for an "isn't it great to be in LA?" scene. A closer listen to the lyrics would reveal that the song is, if not outright cynical, then at least ambivalent about exactly how great a place Los Angeles (and the narrator of the song, who is at one point heard to be chortling over the suffering of a homeless person) is.
- Many Kidz Bop albums (probably all of them) give shades of this when you hear children cheerfully singing gems like "Oops!... I Did It Again" (about toying with another's emotions) and "Burn" (about a devastating breakup), amongst others. Ostensibly, this is a good alternative to letting your kid listen to the songs as they're originally recorded by artists with dubious wholesomeness... but if they're covering unwholesome songs to begin with, what's the point? A few lyrical tweaks don't make most of them kid-friendly.
- Probably the best example was their cover of Lady Ga Ga 's "Born This Way," which is about acceptance. Nothing wrong with teaching kids tolerance, right? Oh, did we mention they take out all the parts that have to do with accepting gay or bisexual people? It's been referred to as "Born This Way: Homophobic Version."
- People, as much as you may think it's appropriate, "My Favorite Things" is not a Christmas song. It has at most two lyrics which bring wintertime to mind, and one of those lyrics is supposed to be about groceries. Nevertheless, popular culture has more or less superglued the song to the Christmas season.
- The rather ubiquitous use of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" at weddings, or even as a general love song. It's a love song, alright... FOR VAMPIRES.
Song author Jim Steinman:
I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. It's original title was "Vampires In Love" because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu
, the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they're really like vampire lines. It's all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love's place in the dark.
- The use of KISS's Detroit Rock City at Red Wings games. A cover version that omitted the second and fourth verses (the second mentioning drinking and smoking, the fourth detailing the thoughts of the narrator just before he's in a fatal highway crash) was used for the team's 1997 playoff run. Given that a couple of their players nearly died in a car crash just days after their victory (thanks to their limo driver, who was on a suspended license due to drunk driving and may or may not have been high at the time), the song's continued use (even if it's just the opening these days) can seem downright grisly if you think about it too much. Even with some verses removed, the chorus is a double entendre for the crash.
- The tune for the Marine's Hymn actually comes from a song by Offenbach entitled The Bold Gendarmes, about two cowardly Gendarmes:
We're public guardians bold yet wary,
And of ourselves we take good care.
To risk our precious lives we're chary,
When danger looms we're never there,
But when we meet a helpless woman,
Or little boys that do no harm,
We run them in, we run them in,
We run them in, we run them in,
We show them we're the bold gendarmes!
- "You Are My Sunshine" by Jimmie Davis is usually used as an uplifting, upbeat song about how loving someone and how they make you happy. The song itself is about how the love of the singer's life has left him, and how miserable he is, and how she'll never be happy without him.
- Used correctly in Bright Eyes's depressing and angry song The Calendar Hung It Itself.
- Ironically, The Doctor likes to sing this to Seven of Nine (or have her sing it to him) as a love song. Talk about missing the point...
- Played hauntingly straight in one episode where the Doctor had his ethical subroutines removed. At that point, he was experimenting with her borg implants, forcing her to vocally sing along with him. He seemed to be well aware of the song's meaning.
- Jason Derulo's sampled Imogen Heap for his song "Whatcha Say", wherein he sings along with the chorus about his apology. The problem is, in Hide and Seek, the singer was clearly sarcastic, about how the person in question didn't mean well. So, in this context, it's Derulo singing about just how unfaithful and spiteful he is ("I don't want you to leave me\Though you caught me cheatin'"). Oops.
- Derulo missed the point of the song he's sampling again in "Don't Wanna Go Home", where he samples "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)", about a guy who's working so hard he can't wait to go home... to talk about a guy who's partying so hard he doesn't wanna go home!
- "Flappie" an Anti Christmas Song by Dutch comedian Youp Van't Hek is one of the most played songs on Dutch radio in the holiday period.
- The members of R.E.M. were, depending on whom and when you asked, amused or angry that they'd see couples holding hands to "The One I Love" at concerts, which doesn't fit with the lyrics ("This one goes out to the one I love/This one goes out to the one I left behind/A simple prop to occupy my time...)
- Talk to a teenage girl. Any teenage girl. Chances are, in 2005, when they were in high school or junior high, "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas was their "song". Given that the song makes fun of women who act like sluts and brag about their fancy clothes to attract men's attention...
- MGMT's "Time To Pretend" is quite clearly a sarcastic slamming of the "sex drugs and rock and roll" lifestyle. Most people think it's a celebration of said lifestyle. Nevermind the lines about choking on your vomit, missing a simple and ordinary lifestyle and the increasingly sad tone of the song as it progresses.
- The Pussy Cat Dolls song "Don't Cha" is often thought to promote cheating on your girlfriend with a more attractive woman ("Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?") It is actually about resisting the urge to do so for the sake of protecting the more valuable relationship.
- Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" is quite popular among grieving teenagers who post it on Facebook in tribute of a friend that's recently died. What they likely miss is that that the song isn't at all about young people dying, but instead about a rebel who wants to deflower a Catholic girl.
- "Cold Water Music" by AIM is known to be a very happy, calming, chill instrumental song.
- ...even though at about 3 minutes and 15 seconds in, you can hear sounds of gunfire and people screaming in the background.
- Pink Floyd's "Money" is ofter used to promote "do crazy stuff on the air for money" type radio contests. (at least where this troper lives). It's about how money and greed makes you do stupid things.
- On the subject of Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" is seen as a cheerful, joking protest of school rules, when it's really a protest against conformity and verbally abusive teachers. (At the 12/12/12 concert for Sandy relief, Roger Waters got in on the act by using cheerful teenaged girls to sing the second verse. It was... bizarre.)
- Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" is traditionally played at weddings, to the point that it's becoming a cliché. This ignores its ridiculous assumptions that a) it's wrong to change with time, b) and if you are changing, it must be for your mate. Not to mention that, while listing the things that the hypothetical woman "shouldn't" change, the song lists a number of her faults. In fact, this suddenly becomes Hilarious in Hindsight when one stops to consider Joel's own history with women, which he lampshaded at one performance of this song at Gillette StadiumMore .
- Outkast's "Hey Ya" is a somber song about falling out of love masquerading as an upbeat pop number. Well aware of this trope, in the middle of the chorus Andre 3000 sarcastically quips, "Y'all don't want to hear me, y'all just wanna dance."
- Nena's "99 Luftballons" (not to be confused with the Red Balloons song) is a perky, upbeat-sounding pop song that frequently gets used in dance halls, proms and other upbeat social events. The song itself is an anti-Cold War song about a swarm of children's balloons triggering a nuclear war. Part of what helps this is that the song was originally released in German.
- One gets the feeling that the music video director missed the point of The Oak Ridge Boys' "No Matter How High". The line "baby, I must confess" makes it pretty clear that the song is being sung to the narrator's wife. But the video has all four of the Oaks reuniting with their mothers. (To be fair, the "baby" line is the only part of the song that anchors it to husband-wife love; the rest is rather open-ended. One wonders why they didn't just take that word out.)
- The song "East Bound and Down" by Jerry Reed, and covered by him and many other bands like The Road Hammers, was the theme song for Smokey and the Bandit. Its melody and music fits well to be used as a travel montage song for music videos or movies, since its melody evokes images of speeding freight trains or semi trucks on interstate highways, although the lyrics themselves are about a trucker who is bootlegging Coors liquor from Texas to Georgia and trying to avoid being caught by the police. Depending on what you set it to, like was done by this video, the irony becomes very transparent.
- Taylor Swift using "American Girl", which she even covered, as intro music, is appropriate. 'American Woman', not so much (after all, the very first line is "American woman, stay away from me!").
- "Closing Time" by Semisonic is not about a bar closing up for the night. It was written in ancticipation of front man Dan Wilson's impending fatherhood.
- They played Edith Piaf’s Milord once during a Beauty Queen (the Israeli equivalent to ‘Miss USA’) contest. That song is about a prostitute trying to entertain her customer. One might wonder what they were trying to say about the contestants...
- Pretty much any film, documentary, TV programme, or anything else that uses Big in Japan to set the mood for a Japanese setting. That song is about a man wondering whether or not he should leave his empty life as a male prostitute in Japan, which is a rather easy one as he’s ‘big in Japan’.
- Paul McCartney playing "Hey Jude" during the closing cermonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. Was it supposed to be a consolation for the losers?
- The Whitlams' "Love This City" was used extensively in Australia's broadcast of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. The song is about a man who commits suicide by jumping off the Harbour Bridge. Worse, the news that Sydney is hosting the Games is implied to be what pushed him over the edge, so to speak.
- In yet another case of a politician completely missing the subtext of a song, presidential candidate John McCain made an appearance at a primarily Latino high school alongside reggaeton rapper Daddy Yankee, and made reference to the latter's song "Gasolina". Suffice it to say, said song uses putting gasoline in a car as a metaphor for...well, think about it for a second.
- "Gasolina" is also Puerto Rican slang for general illegal/underground activity. Which makes it even funnier.
- Rush Limbaugh has long used the Pretenders' "My City Was Gone" as his theme song — it's ... not a very "conservative" song. Songwriter Chrissie Hynde eventually allowed its use on the condition that her royalty checks be directed to PETA. However, Limbaugh has stated he was well aware of the song's context and was using it as his theme as a Take That.
- Special mention should go to Bruce Springsteen: in 1984 his "Born In The U.S.A.," a song about a disaffected Vietnam veteran, nearly got picked up by Ronald Reagan's campaign until Springsteen turned him down.
- Of course, that's after John (Cougar) Melloncamp refused to allow Reagan to use his song "Pink Houses" which has a "patriotic" chorus, but similar disillusionment in its verses.
- The irony continued in 1992, when the Democratic National Convention played "Born in the U.S.A." as a patriotic anthem, following Bill Clinton's speech. By contrast, it was also used non-ironically at the 2008 convention, where Barack Obama's theme was that he would restore hope to people like the song's protagonist (given the situation of the time, it was appropriate, and the Boss is a known Obama supporter). It's also a Take That at Obama's critics who think he wasn't born in America.
- "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash. The pro-war adopters of the song seem oblivious to the fact they're equating Coalition forces with Iranians bombing their own people over rock and roll.
- Joe Strummer famously wept when he heard that "Rock the Casbah" was being chalked on US bombs due to be dropped during the Gulf War.
- The BBC banned "Rock the Casbah" (along with some other songs) during Gulf War I and again after 9/11.
- Sean Hannity uses an out-of-context clip to make Martina McBride's "Independence Day" sound like it's about terrorism but, in fairness to Mr. Hannity, those lines make a lot more sense that way than as part a song about spousal abuse.
- "Independence Day" is frequently misused as a simple patriotic anthem, ignoring the verses (which describe an abusive relationship ending in suicide from the point of view of a young child).
- The song "Part of the Union" by John Ford and Richard Hudson has been widely interpreted as a genuine protest song promoting union membership. For example, I came across an Australian commentator saying: "That song inspired thousands of us who marched for shorter hours and better pay". But one of the authors - Hudson I think - once performed at a folk club I used to go to in the '80s, and he said that the song was written as a parody, to lampoon the British unions, and he was amazed to find union members taking it seriously.
- When the Republicans used Heart's "Barracuda" as Sarah Palin's theme song, Nancy Wilson responded that the song "was written in the late 70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women..." Specifically, about some record execs spreading a rumor that Nancy and her sister were "involved".
- Granted, the reason Palin used that song was because her nickname in high school was "Saracuda", and that was something that her supporters were aware of at the time. Might bring up some Unfortunate Implications but at least they weren't using the song because of some perceived lyrical meaning.
- In 2009, the British National Party used the Manic Street Preachers' "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" on their website, without permission. The song contains the lines "If I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists". The song was removed when Sony threatened legal action.
- The song has been used by various political movements from all sorts of political leanings, from bleeding heart liberals to fascists, since children-based rhetorics seem to appeal to everyone, apart from those apathetic to politics. Young men sent to the frontline by warlike conservatives? If you tolerate this, your children will be next. Liberals propagating that homosexuals and heathens are to be tolerated? If you tolerate this, your children will be next.
- "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" has been recorded by more than one White Nationalist band. At least they're honest.
- Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, sang John Lennon's "Imagine" with a little Asian girl for a photo op during his 2011 campaign trail. Stephen Harper is a conservative who planned to buy warplanes to wage war in the middle east, boost military spending, reduce gun control, and has much of his backing from conservative religious communities. Yoko Ono was so displeased, she demanded that YouTube pull all videos of the performance.
- During this performance, his only comment was "I might get in trouble for that line!" referring to "Imagine there's no heaven." 'Cause, you know, that's the most jarring part of a pro-war state leader singing a song about world peace through enlightened anarchy.
- PM Harper had earlier sang The Beatles' "I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends" with the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra during a parliamentary crisis in which all the other party leaders threatened to band together and form a coalition government against him.
- Including the line "I get high with a little help from my friends". Harper's government is staunchly anti-drug, and he says he's never used any himself.
- Former British prime minister Tony Blair attempted to give his "New Labour" makeover mass credibility and some glamour by pulling in stars of music, theatre and TV to Downing Street parties and receptions. He called his new era Cool Britannia. Had he or his party wonks properly done their homework, they would have realised this is the title of a Bonzo Dog Doodah Band musical parody from thirty years previously, when Britain was being called "cool" for different reasons in 1967. The musical pranksters performed a deliberately discordant and amateurish jazzed-up version of Rule Britannia with extremely corny new lyrics, involving what was then in-slang being sung in a very plummy British accent that palpably fails to sound cool or with-it. Cool Britannia, Britannia, you are cool! (Take a trip!)/Britons ever, ever, ever, shall be hip! Groovy, mama! After this was pointed out, Blair's big idea of Cool Britannia was quietly dropped. It is understood that surviving Bonzos such as Neil Innes put in a claim against the British government for copyright money for the use of their intellectual property.. They certainly, very pointedly, revived the piece for reunion gigs in the early 2000's, dedicating it to Tony (Blair) and Gordon (Brown).
- In Blair's defense, the pun is sort of obvious.
- In a reverse of the way it usually goes (ironic song being used unironically), ads for Discovery Channel's show Who The [Bleep] Did I Marry?!, about people who married criminals without knowing their histories, used the first few lines of Peter, Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" (If you knew the things I did before, told you who I used to be, would you go along with me?). The lyrics are meant to invoke sleaziness and artifice in their use in the commercial... But in the actual song, not only are they not malicious (seeming to be more about past relationships than anything else), the female singer implies she has a similar past (unlike in the show).
- Michelle Bachmann attempted to use Tom Petty's "American Girl", often thought to be about a young girl committing suicide, as her campaign anthem. Tom Petty successfully forced her to pick something else.
- According to Ian Broudie, both the Conservative and Labour parties approached him about using the Lightning Seeds' "Lucky You" as a campaign anthem in 1997. They really hadn't paid attention to the song, which is MADE OF Lyrical Dissonance. (And that aside, quite why Labour would think a song whose hook goes "everything's blue now, oh lucky you" would be a good song for them, remains a mystery.)
- A rare example of this being done by the original songwriter is "Unworthy of Your Love" by Stephen Sondheim. Originally the song appeared in Assassins and was a creepy duet between John Hinckley and Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme about their obsessive loves for Jodie Foster and Charlie Manson respectively, which would lead to Hinckley attempting to assassinate President Reagan and Fromme attempting to assassinate President Ford. The creepiness is all the more effective because it's so low-key and the lyrics only slightly exaggerate the usual extravagant language of love songs... which made it easy to pluck it from its context and stick it into the revue Putting It Together, in which it's meant to be taken at face value.
- There's a video clip somewhere of Angela Lansbury (the original Mrs. Lovett) singing "Not While I'm Around" in concert, and describing how comforting she finds the song. Which is fair enough (in the original it's a sincere if misguided song of devotion by a different character), but somewhat ironic, given that Mrs. Lovett only sings it as an incredibly creepy Dark Reprise to lure out a character she intends to murder.
- To make it even more hilarious, a review summary of the concert (here) says Angela "performs such holiday gems as "We Need a Little Christmas" and "Not While I'm Around"". Describing a song from Sweeney Todd as a holiday gem is something of a stretch.
- For that matter, "We Need a Little Christmas" in its original context (the musical Mame) is about the characters celebrating the holiday early in order to pick themselves up after losing everything in the stock market crash of 1929.
- A YouTube video well-known among Sweeney Todd fans features a slideshow of horse pictures... the background song is "My Friends". Apparently the little girl who made it had no idea that the original song was about knives and murder. Especially the line "You'll soon drip precious rubies" caused hilarity to ensue.
- That same little girl did an anti-animal cruelty video with the background song being "Remember" by Josh Groban. While animal cruelty is indeed horrible, this girl doesn't know that the song is about greek mythology and how the gods were obsessed as going down in history. Quite frankly this little girl apparently just heard the words "remember me" and made the video.
- There's also a video of a little girl singing "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from Sweeney Todd. The song isn't that creepy, if quite sad, on its own, but when you consider that Johanna is singing about cages as a metaphor for being molested by an insane ephebophile...
- Unless the singer is actually performing in Oliver!, they will not perform "As Long As He Needs Me" as a battered woman making excuses for staying with the scumbag. The lines "Who else would love him still/When they've been used so ill?" never, ever survives a cover, needless to say.
- It was used to rather hilarious effect on an episode of Two and a Half Men in a situation that actually highlighted and inverted its inappropriateness as a love song by using it as accompaniment to a montage in which Stalker with a Crush Rose lavishes affection and attention on a helplessly ill Charlie. The thing is, Rose got Charlie sick in the first place and was keeping him that way so she could indulge her romantic feelings for him.
- In Rumble Roses, the song Yankee Rose is used for the entrance music of a character and the intro. The character is Dixie Clements, a Texan, who would probably punch you if you called her a Yankee.(Plus she's a tad more modest than the lyrics describe, but then again considering the game...) Somewhat justified because outside the USA, most countries(including Japan, where the game is made) use Yankee to mean any American. Still, one can't help but think they just looked at the Rose in the title...
- Endzone (see here) and Law Of Talos (see here) feature a character known as the Chimbley Sweep, a young Victorian chimney sweep who was inspired by The Decemberists' song "The Chimbley Sweep". Which is mostly perfectly okay, but one can't help but wonder if the creator fully listened to the worrying implications in the last verse ("O lonely urchin," the widow cried/"I've not been swept since the day my husband died ...") ...
- He did. Chimbley is not supposed to be innocent by any stretch of the imagination.
- Parodied in The Onion: "Song About Heroin Used To Advertise Bank".
- Cracked.com has its Top 9 of "Inappropriate Soundtrack Choices". Their list includes such examples as:
- General Electric using "Sixteen Tons" in a clean coal commercial.
- "The ad was part of a campaign to make coal sexy again (remember when coal used to be sexy?) and involved underwear models dressed up as coal miners. So we guess they figured using a coal mining song with a slower tempo would give the ad a bit of dignity and distract people from the fact that their commercial is just the coal mining scene from Zoolander played straight."
- But the lyrics to the chorus go: You haul Sixteen Tons, whadaya get
/ Another day older and deeper in debt
/ Saint Peter don't call cause I can't go / I owe my soul to the company store.
- "This is a classic example of someone breaking the Golden Rule of advertising: never imply that your product or service prevents people from getting into heaven. Obviously on a rational level, we know that General Electric doesn't make coal miners sign over their souls, but they don't seem overly eager to distance themselves from the practice either. Probably just leaving their options open. Y'know, in case the unions start acting up again."
- The "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" example from Oatmeal Raisin Crisp is used, because "they wanted you to look at what they'd done to their oatmeal. The lyrics of the song were so close to matching up perfectly to the ad's message, they just needed a tiny adjustment. So they changed the chorus from "look what they've done to my song, ma" to "look what they've done to my oatmeal." Because "oatmeal" totally rhymes with "song, ma." The problem is, said lyrics, according to Cracked, are written in such a way that they give "the impression that some shadowy government agency has taken General Mills oatmeal, put raisins in it against its will, and now they're trying to stir up public outrage."
- Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show sings The Guess Who's "American Woman", but he doesn't even make it past the first two lines before realizing his mistake.
- Parodied in The Simpsons when "At Seventeen" is sung (unironically) during a Miss Teen USA-style beauty pageant.
- And done again in the episode "Saturdays of Thunder". Homer discovers he's being a neglectful father to Bart and calls the National Fatherhood Institute for help; their hold music is "Cat's in the Cradle".
- In the third season episode "Homer Alone" Homer loses Maggie and calls the police to speak to their "missing baby department". Their hold music is "Baby Come Back"
- In the Treehouse of Horror episode where an evil Krusty doll tries to kill Homer, Marge calls the customer service number. The hold music is "Everybody Loves A Clown" ("Everybody loves a clown, so why can't you?/A clown has feelings too").
- This trope was used a lot during Season Three. In "Stark Raving Dad", the hold music for the mental institution that Homer is committed to is "Crazy" by Patsy Cline.
- In the episode "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge", Otto proposes to Becky by playing "Every Rose Has its Thorn".
- Family Guy featured an episode where Peter is confined to a wheelchair for a time. He gets a montage of scenes showing him trying to adapt to this situation set to Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"