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Lyrical Dissonance
Pinkie Pie: Wanna hear the song I sang to my parents? Oh, sorry, the song they sang to me?
Applejack: Doesn't matter which one, Pinkie. As long as it's not one of those sad ones with a deceptively happy tune.
Friendship is Witchcraft Episode 7: Cherry Bomb

So, you're listening to this new song. Nice and springy, sounds like it's gonna be a fun little ditty. Then the lyrics start. You might be happily humming along to the catchy melody for a little bit, before sinks in: The singer is actually telling a woeful tale about miserable subjects, including struggling with depression, descend into insanity, committing murder, committing suicide, witnessing the end of civilization and the downfall of mankind, and being a victim of line-cutting.

And the worst part is, the happy, upbeat music just keeps going. That's Lyrical Dissonance: when the music and lyrics are going in opposite directions. Happy upbeat lyrics set to sad music also qualifies. This can also be used for comic effect, either by putting serious, dramatic music to silly lyrics, or by simply treating the subject matter as if it did fit the tune. This trope also applies with lyrics that seem unfitting for reasons other than happiness versus sadness - for instance, a particularly angry or violent-sounding song that has lyrics that are clearly humorous, or sad, or perhaps just thoughtful and introspective; or the reverse, a cheery tune with angry or violent lyricsnote .

A rather old trope. One of the archetypal examples involves an evil chief of police plotting to blackmail a woman into having sex with him in order to save the man she loves, then having the man killed anyway, while all around him parishioners beg for God's mercy, all set to some of the most gorgeously beautiful music the composer ever wrote. That's from Puccini's 1900 opera, Tosca. Not the oldest by any means — but one that can easily compete with most of the examples below.

Sub-trope to Mood Dissonance. Compare to Soundtrack Dissonance. May lead to Isn't It Ironic?, if the song is used in a place where the people who selected it didn't listen to the lyrics very well. As one of the folders in this page shows, it might be related to The Cover Changes The Meaning.

Examples:

Subpages:

In-Fiction Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • "VD Is For Everybody" is a 1970s PSA warning us about how anyone can have nasty sexually transmitted diseases set to a rather romantic tune and played over clips of cheerful and pleasant people happily living out their lives.
  • There have been innumerable commercials that have used the repetitive chorus of Everclear's "Wonderful" to put forth a message of sunshine, rainbows, and puppies happiness, all-is-right-with-the-world fun, togetherness, and all other sorts of wonderful, positive emotions. People who have never heard the rest of the song probably don't have the first clue that's its actually about how traumatic it is for a child to watch their parents descend into mutual hatred and domestic violence.
  • For a long while, Carnival Cruise Line was using the chorus from Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" as background music to their commercials showing happy families having fun during a Caribbean cruise. Forgotten in all the bright colors and good cheer is the fact that the song is about living with a serious heroin addiction and how said addiction almost killed Iggy Pop.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Macross Frontier, Ranka's signature song Aimo is later modified into a war song. The dissonance doesn't fully set in until the last episode when it's revealed that Aimo is a love song. In fact, they let the first line (Aimo, aimo, netel lhushe) intact - and Aimo means Anata.
    • It doesn't help that half of the song is in Zentran.

    Film 
  • The 2005 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film opens with the Guide narrating to us about how on Earth, man was only the third-most intelligent species on the Earth. The second most intelligent species, were in fact dolphins, who curiously enough knew of the impending destruction of the planet Earth. They made many attempts to alert mankind to the impending doom, but most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for titbits. So they eventually decided to leave Earth by their own means. The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double backward somersault through a hoop while whistling the Star-Spangled Banner, but in fact the message was this: "So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish", an upbeat song with these catchy lyrics:
    The world's about to be destroyed
    There's no point getting all annoyed
    Lie back and let the planet dissolve around you
    So long, so long, and thanks for all the fish!
    • The "Share and Enjoy" song from the radio series is a cheerful little ballad, sung out of tune by a badly-programmed choir of robots (which reflects the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's reputation for faulty goods). The lyrics are about how, when malfunctioning Sirius Cybernetics robots tear off doors and rape cats, the company's complaints department won't give a fig. "Go stick your head in a pig!"
    • Disaster Area's song "Only the End of the World Again" can be heard on the now-rare Hitchhiker's Guide EP (with the rubber duck on the sleeve). It's a heavy rock ballad about a guy who kills his best friend to be with his girlfriend, takes her for a crash in her daddy's car, and then makes out with her as the moon explodes for no adequately explored reason.
  • "That Thing you Do" in the movie of the same name is an upbeat, Beach Boys-esque song about a guy lamenting his girlfriend leaving him.
    • In story, the songwriter intended for the song to be a slow ballad, but it became the peppy dance hall song it is after the new drummer decided to up the tempo without telling anybody
  • The opening number for Phantom of the Paradise, "Goodbye Eddie Goodbye," is about a singer who commits suicide in order to promote the sales of his upcoming album. The song is sung in catchy 50's style complete with "ya-ya-ya-yaahs" and the lead singer pantomiming Eddie's death throes.
    • The end credits song contains a bouncy piano breakdown along with the lyrics "Good for nothing / Bad in bed / Nobody likes you / You're better off dead / Goodbye."
  • The Hangover has a band playing 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" in lounge style as well.
  • This Is Spinal Tap had fun with this one while parodying some of the more overblown conventions of the Heavy Metal genre.
    • "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" seems to be a fairly straightforward parody of sexually-charged, self-promoting Rock and Roll anthems directed at adoring female fans; until you realize it's talking specifically about pre-pubescent female fans.
    • At one point in the film, guitarist Nigel Tufnel plays a short piano piece. It's a hauntingly beautiful excerpt from a trilogy he's composing in D-minor, "The saddest of all keys", inspired by his love of Mozart and Bach. The name of this melancholy tune? Lick My Love Pump.
    • In a deleted scene (available on the DVD), after the breakup of Spinal Tap, David St. Hubbins discusses his long-time desire to create an classic, upbeat-style musical a la ''Oliver!'' titled Saucy Jack; based on the life of Jack the Ripper.
  • How is the best way to promote Roland Emmerich's latest film 2012? Give it a trailer tune sung by Idol Runner-up Adam Lambert, that's what! And the title of this song is "Miracle", of all things.
  • Team America: World Police features a parody of RENT's songs and the subject matter with an uplifting song of: "EVERYONE HAS AIDS! AIDS AIDS AIDS!" Etcetera.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail has "Brave Sir Robin," who was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways indeed.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian contains the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," with such lyrically dissonant lines as, "always look on the bright side of death," being sung by Brian during his own crucifixion.
  • Richard Cheese swanks out a cover of Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness" in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004). This is, of course, his entire schtick.
  • Mary Poppins invokes this with a soft, sleep-inducing lullaby called "Stay Awake".
  • Sweeney Todd (both the movie and the play) has the song "A Little Priest". Todd and Mrs. Lovetts are singing about murdering random strangers and cooking them into meat pies...but it's such a pleasant and upbeat tune!
  • Air America has a pair of chinese singers singing America's "Horse with no name" a song about desperate loneliness in an upbeat longue-singer fashion.
  • In Borat, Borat sings the National Anthem of fictional Kazakhstan to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner".
  • The movie Grumpier Old Men starts with a bouncy song about the singer killing his wife's lover and leaving his corpse for the crows
    "I'm gonna kill you just for fun, you rascal you
    I'm gonna kill you just for fun, you rascal you,
    (Verse 1) I'm gonna kill you just for fun, the birds can have you when I'm done, (Verse 2) You slept with my wife, now I'm gonna take your life
    I'm gonna kill you just for fun, you rascal you"
  • In Billy Madison, during the musical number where Billy vows to go back to school, the clown who fell down during a party earlier in the film suddenly comes to life and starts singing.
    Clown: (singing cheerfully) Hey, kids, it's me! I bet you thought that I was dead! But when I fell over, I just broke my leg and got a hemorrhage in my head!
  • Lana Del Ray's cover of 'Once Upon A Dream' for 2014's Maleficent takes the sweet, happy Disney love song and gives it a creepy new feeling.

    Literature 
  • Maskerade has the "Departure Aria". It's said to be about how hard it is for the heroine to leave her lover, and when the last great diva sang it, "there wasn't a dry eye in the house". The lyrics translate to:
    This damn door sticks
    This damn door sticks
    It sticks no matter what the hell I do
    It's marked "Pull" and indeed I am pulling.
    Perhaps it should be marked "Push"?

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Arrested Development episode "Afternoon Delight" involves a running gag in which several characters belatedly realize that the song of the same name is much more overtly sexual than its innocent tune suggests.
    • Or that a highly relaxing type of marijuana also shares that name.
  • In an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles John Henry and Savannah sing the Scottish novelty song "Donald Where's Yer Troosers?" It's sung slow and hauntingly over images of Sarah being arrested and Derek being buried.
  • The song "What A Difference A Day Makes" from Mongrels, a happy melodious love duet about underage sex and statutory rape. Just listen to it here.
  • Mr G's songs in Summer Heights High when he's trying to write an upbeat musical about a girl at the school who died from an ecstasy overdose.
    Annabelle Dickson
    When girls take drugs
    And then they die
    Who would have thought
    At Summer Heights High
    On days like these
    It's a Bummer Heights High
  • Neighbours: The opening theme's lyrics are about neighbourly support and friendship, and while the show does explore such themes, it also necessarily thrives on common soap opera themes such as deception and betrayal. There have been a few incarnations of the tune over the show's long run - it was originally sung jovially by Barry Crocker - but all of them are upbeat.
  • The jaunty, upbeat Red Dwarf theme: "It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere, I'm all alone, more or less..."
    • The song "Tongue Tied" is an upbeat pop song which graphically deconstructs the Cardiovascular Love trope.
  • Deliberately, blatantly, and hilariously invoked by Andrew Hansen of The Chaser, in his lounge arrangement of the Cannibal Corpse song "Rancid Amputation".
    • During "Yes We Canberra", they had a song with fast-paced and cheery music about the candidates. It's called the "Fucked Song".
  • Pretty much all the music-based games in Whose Line Is It Anyway? are built around this trope - except when it's Colin Mochrie trying to sing, then it's funny for a different reason.
  • Victorious does this from time to time, the most recent being "Freak the Freak out" a techno-pop, autotune, dance song about someone getting fed up with being ignored.
  • The theme from Mash was usually played in instrumental form, and if not overly cheerful, it's at least a nice, relaxing tune. Then there are the lyrics, which are less so.
  • On Glee Blaine decides "Candles" by Hey Monday is the perfect song to sing a romantic duet with Kurt at regionals. The problem? It's about a girl who is alone for the first time after breaking up with her abusive boyfriend.
    • Also, similar to the Arrested Development example above, Emma decides that Afternoon Delight is the perfect song to sing with the celibacy club. When Holly informs her that it's about a nooner, we get this gem:
    Emma: Exactly! A nooner is when you sneak out for dessert in the middle of the day... right?
    • And we can't forget Glee's choice for a graduation song, Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. The problem? It's about a bunch of people who look back fondly at their high school years while wallowing in the drunken monotony of their adult lives.
  • Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger has "Yorokobi no Uta" (Song of Happiness), which is very much a Villain Song that Candelila first sings on Brave 6. Already there you can see that it's a bouncy J-Pop song that talks about Deboss destroying the world, but when she (in her human guise) sings it again in Brave 11, the lyrics go into further detail, by exalting Deboss as Earth's true overlords and stating that all humans should be maimed and killed, all this in front of a crowd of adoring fans. While still sounding very much like a J-Pop song. You couldn't get a better musical representation of Sugar Apocalypse if you tried.
  • In Doctor Who, the full version of Murray Gold's Song for Ten (featured in part at the end of David Tennant's first full episode) is a cheery tune with lyrics describing his eventual separation from Rose.
    "So have a good life
    Do it for me
    Make me so proud
    Like you want me to be
    And wherever you are,
    I'm thinking of you
    Oceans apart.
    "
  • Drew Careys Improvaganza had an Elizabethan era song about strippers.
  • The theme song to Pretty Little Liars is the chorus of the song "Secrets" by The Pierces. It's very catchy, but the lyrics are absolutely bone-chilling:
    "Got a secret, can you keep it? Swear this one you'll save
    Better lock it in your pocket, takin' this one to the grave
    If I show you, then I know you won't tell what I said
    Cause two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.
    "
  • The theme song to Community mixes cheerful tones and theme music with lyrics like "We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year..."
    • "Troy and Abed, off to Dreamland, catching the train to Sleepytown. And when they wake up, the Dean will be here staring at you’… Sweet Deans!"
  • On A.N.T. Farm, Chyna wrote a few songs like this. First, when she and Fletcher are trying to get Gibson to stop from hanging out with them so much.The tempo and melody are upbeat and happy, however the lyrics are quite dark. She says things like, "...feed him fatty foods till his heart explodes" and "dehydrating his skin and make Gibson-jerky"
    • And again when she form a phony children's band in which the band is dress in stuffed animal costumes. Although someof the songs are safe but just plain odd such as "You Gotta Wear Pants in Public" and "Don't Go Potty in the Tub." However, there is a song with an up-tempo Punk Rock melody that even has a Gothic teen saying "Wow, they're dark."
      When you're doing crafts with art supplies,
      Don't run with scissors, its not too wise
      You can stab your chest, your arms, your thighs,
      You could lose one or even both your eyes.
  • The NCIS "Newborn King" is a Christmas Episode, so it's not too surprising that a Christmas Carol would be used... except it is while Ziva is gunning down several Russian mercenaries while Gibbs is the Delivery Guy for a female army lieutnant.
  • Since Horrible Histories is much about the gorier, grimmer parts of history (within reason for the younger viewers) and many of their songs are quite upbeat, it's a given they'd have some of these. A few examples are Work, Terrible Work, Do the Pachacuti and The Evil Emperors Song. All cheerful numbers about, respectively, the horrors of Victorian child labour, the various ways Incan warlord Pachacuti would dismember his dead enemies and make use of their body parts, and the atrocities four Caligulas (including the Trope Namer) commited.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The chirpy Ending Theme from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: "They crash him, and his body may burn. They smash him, but they know he'll return... to live again". Accompanied by images of a terrified Captain Scarlet in a variety of perilous and painful-looking situations.

    Radio 

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • In Steve Martin's famous stand-up routine, "Excuse Me!", Steve gets angry with "the backstage crew", and then cheers himself up by playing the banjo. Which leads to this lyrical dissonance:
    You just can't sing a depressing song when you're playing the banjo. You can't go:
    [grins, plays happily and sings] "Oh, murder and death and grief and sorrow!" [continues grinning and playing happily]
  • In his stand-up show "Dress To Kill" Eddie Izzard points out the difference between American gospel and European hymns:
    "There's something phenomenally dreary about Christian singing. The gospel singers are the only ones that go crazy. It's amazing, and it's borne out of kidnapping, imprisonment, slavery, murder, all of that, and this joyous singing. And the Church of England, all the Christian religions, which is mainly Caucasian white people with power and money, enough to make Solomon blush, they're all singing...(Dirge-like) "O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to... ?" They're the only people that can sing hallelujah without feeling like it's a hallelujah moment. "Haaallelujah, Haaaalleeelujah Joyfully we...Lark abooouuut..." And...No, it's...It's just not kicking, is it?"

    Theatre 
  • Blood Brothers has - "Take A Letter, Miss Jones", a bright, upbeat, happy song sung by Mr. Lyons the factory manager as he dictates letters to his secretary, each of which fires another employee. Then he fires her.
  • My Fair Lady has "Ascot Races", in which lines of motionless, expressionless aristocracy sing about how 'thrilling, absolutely chilling' the race they're watching is (the music fits the restrained visuals rather than the words).
  • The Ballads of Booth, Czolgosz, and Guiteau from Assassins.
  • A Very Potter Sequel has Guys Like Potter, a song with lyrics such as, "so many assholes in my face," and "you were totally pwned." It's a sad song.
  • A very darkly hilarious example comes from the Sister Act musical, where Shanke is singing of "finding" his girl (who just saw him commit a murder). It starts off like a jazzy love song, until he gets to the part about killing her in multiple violent ways. As horrible as it is, it's actually one of the most hilarious songs in the musical, especially when he starts adding the dance moves, and his henchmen begin singing in the background. It must be heard/seen to be believed...
    • When he keeps repeating the line "When I find my baby, I ain't letting her go," it only gets worse as the song moves on.
    • One verse in particular:
    "Yeah, yeah oh yes I know that girl, and man I need that girl, I gotta have that girl, so I can snuff that girl. See I know my baby, she's already running. That's how my baby, is gonna be done in. I'm gonna drown that girl, or disembowel that girl, or give her skull a big dent with a blunt instrument, I tell ya soon that girl is looking at a world of WOE! (Wo-wo-wo-WOAH!)
  • Little Shop of Horrors, true to its over-the-top comedy-horror nature, has toe-tapping, rock-out songs about impending doom ("Little Shop of Horrors"), the pleasures of sadism ("Dentist!"), and justifying murder to gain your own ends ("Feed Me (Git It)"). "Now (It's Just The Gas)" counts on some level, regardless of how it's played: some productions play it grim and scary, while others play it cheerfully. Either way, it's a song about being gassed to death with lyrics like "Though I giggle and I chortle/Bear in mind I'm not immortal".
  • In Bye Bye Birdie, Kim sings "How Lovely To Be A Woman" while dressing herself in typical trashy TV Teen clothes.
  • In The Book of Mormon, there's first "Hasa Diga Eebowai", which seems to be a rip-off of Hakuna Matata, even with a similar upbeat melody. Until we are told that the phrase is Ugandan for "Fuck You, God".
    • "Turn It Off", where the Elders sing very upbeat verses about suppressing bad memories - like witnessing domestic abuse, missing your sister's death, and suppressing your sexuality because you think it's evil.
    • "Joseph Smith: American Moses" has the dysentery chant, which makes drinking contaminated water and shitting blood sound awesome.
  • Wicked has Thank Goodness- A song about how happy Glinda is, while she sounds like she's about to cry.
  • Rent has the upbeat, catchy song "Today for you, tomorrow for me" in which Angel describes how she got the money for Christmas...namely, by killing a dog for a rich woman. You'll be bopping your head all the way through that song before you realize "Wait, did she really throw a dog off the 23rd floor?"

    Webcomics 

    Web Originals 
  • Pretty much the entire premise behind Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog:
    It's a brand new day
    And the sun is high
    All the birds are singin'
    That you're gonna die!
    • Or "Everything You Ever", which has triumphant lyrics and a tune more in line with a funeral dirge.
    Everyone's a hero in their own way
    You and you and mostly me and you
    I'm poverty's new sheriff
    And I'm bashing in the slums
    A hero doesn't care if you're a bunch of scary, alcoholic bums!
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd's theme song, by Kyle Justin. It's an uptempo song about how much James Rolfe hates the video games he has to review.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series has the cheery theme song for the sitcom within the show Zorc & Pals:
    The blood of the innocent will flow without end
    His name is Zorc and he's destroying the world!
  • From the Slender Man Mythos, we have Slendy's Watching Me. It's a cute, upbeat song about a child being kidnapped by the Slender Man.
  • Despite being one of the most upbeat numbers in Human Centipede: The Musical, Dr. Heiter's Villain Song depicts Body Horror.
  • The theme song of The Spoony Experiment, "Break Me" by The Irresponsibles. While being a rousing piece of Crowning Music of Awesome, it has rather dark lyrics you might notice on first hearing it. Lampshaded by Spoony in a commentary where he said he loved the song but it was "basically implying that I'm a girl who likes to be domestically abused."
  • Homestuck has the "Squiddle Song" on one of its Leitmotif albums. Its a folk-music song about a childrens' cartoon... that talks about how "all your friends are dead" and causally references buckets of blood, without losing the folk-music kids-cartoon tone.
  • Played with in "The Gypsy Bard" from Friendship is Witchcraft, a song about depression, having your life destroyed, and staying strong through music. Lampshaded by Applejack.
    [Pinkie offers to sing a song.]
    Pinkie: When you're rife with devastation, there's a simple explanation: / You're a toymaker's creation, trapped inside a crystal ball.
    • She tends to do this a lot. "The Orphanage Song" is about her attempts to remain optimistic despite being, well, orphaned and massive self-loathing. "Pinkie's Brew" starts off as a cheerful, bouncy song about potion-brewing, but soon becomes about her desperate loneliness and alienation, and desire to bring her dead parents back to life. She's had a hard life...
    Crude stew. Do you fear it, Apple Bloom? / Sometimes life is not a cake-walk served up on a silver spoon.
    God help the outcast with her witchcraft. / Someday I'm gonna go home.
  • To Boldly Flee has We're a Distraction, the number one song on Krypton from 1983. The tune is standard dramatic-but-upbeat '80s power ballad. The lyrics are about how the world is going to end soon, so you might as well try and be happy in the short time you have left to take your mind off things.
    • Actually, Word of God says that that's an interpretation that has nothing to do with what they intended.
  • Cracked's The 5 Most Insane Teams in the History of Sports describes an incident in the 1990s when the Canadian Football League was attempting to expand into the United States. At one game, the Canadian national anthem was sung to the tune of "O Christmas Tree".
  • The College Humor video "Honest Holiday Card Song". The faces on the card photos sing a ridiculously upbeat melody about all of the various problems they are struggling with, like estranged marriages, struggling with obesity, losing one's job, etc.
  • Film Cow's musical short, "Ferrets".
    Unnamed Ferret: These are all the little things that make me smile, these are all the stuff that makes life worthwhile! Everybody knows the Holocaust was a lie, so let's sing about the things we like and don't be shy!
    Harold: ...wait, what was that about the Holocaust?
  • RWBY's episode 8 has an epic fight sequence that is accompanied by an equally epic song entitled "Red Like Roses Part II". The song's lyrics begin with the following:
    I couldn't take it, couldn't stand another minute
    Couldn't bear another day without you in it
    All of the joy that I had known for all my life
    Was stripped away from me the minute that you died
    • Just to make it clear, there is nothing about the fight scene that matches the song's lyrics.
    • Also "Die" from volume 2 episode 4, an upbeat, ass-kicking song... about how darkness is coming and ends with the lyrics "now it's time to die"
  • The background soundtrack to the utter destruction of the ''Global Guardians' Cape Town (South Africa) team at the hands of the Evil Overlord-cum-Eldritch Abomination Abyss, an event that ended in the horrific deaths of seven superheroes and tens of thousands of innocent bystanders, not to mention the leveling of almost half of Cape Town itself, was David Lee Roth's cover of "That's Life."


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alternative title(s): Lyric Dissonance
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