Jack: Because I'm listening to the words.
This is what happens when a song with 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 Safka's "What Have 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).
This trope is named for the Alanis Morissette song "Ironic"; see our article on her for more on that.
Death of the Author is a related idea, where people deliberately disregard the original song's intended meaning and replace it with their own interpretation. If the song is also sung by a different person than the original artist, it overlaps with The Cover Changes the Meaning.
Compare Poe's Law, Misaimed Marketing, and Repurposed Pop Song. Related to Analogy Backfire. Sometimes overlaps with Adaptational Context Change. Not to be confused with Dude, Not Ironic. 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 (fittingly) "Irony".
- In Prez (2015), Corrupt Corporate Executive Smiley delivers a motivational speech to his employees rounded off with a burst of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World". Afterward he turns to an aide and points out how inappropriate the music choice is.
Smiley: What's with the exit music? You ever listen to that song? It's all about death and crack-babies.
- In Coco, Ernesto de la Cruz's Signature Song "Remember Me" contains lyrics like "Remember me / Each time you hear a sad guitar," despite Ernesto's performance being incredibly lively and upbeat with no trace of a sad guitar. This foreshadows the truth behind the song: Ernesto stole the song from Héctor, who wrote it as a very personal and private acoustic song for his daughter Coco, a "secret song" that they could share while Héctor was away from her. Ernesto's rendition doesn't consider this subtext, making this "secret song" into a very public spectacle.
- Sing 2 is about a theatre troupe putting on a musical about an astronaut searching for another missing astronaut. At the end of the show she finds him. In the greater scope, many of the characters go through significant development: Clay finds a reason to play music again, Ash finds a mentor, Meena finds love, Rosita finds confidence (again) and stardom, Porsha finds acclaim outside of her father's shadow, Buster achieves his dream of putting on a show in a Las Vegas expy... The song they choose to encapsulate all this in the finale? "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
- Deliberate example in the rich tradition of "badly chosen wedding songs" in 45 Years. Kate and Geoff want their first dance played again for their 45th anniversary, and it's obvious that the lyrics aren't foremost in their minds — they refer to it as "our first dance" and "the Platters song", and Kate absent-mindedly hums the tune at one point. The film ends with "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" playing at the party, and Kate seemingly hearing it properly for the first time — it's about love blinding you to the flaws in a relationship, and it ends in heartbreak.
- 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.
- Anna and the Apocalypse: "Turning My Life Around", a song that repeats the lyrics "what a time to be alive", is used as the Zombie Apocalypse is breaking out in the background, with the main character obliviously singing it as her neighbors are being torn apart or running for their lives.
- Con Air: Quoth Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) when the convicts escape from the desert strip in their plane and celebrate: "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.
- Nope: A Show Within a Show, Gordy's Home, uses the song "(You're a) Strange Animal" by Lawrence Gowan as its opening theme song. The show uses the song to emphasize the silliness of monkeys as a suburban family adopts one of the monkeys from NASA. In actuality, the music video for the song features a wild animal (played by Gowan) being taken out of its natural habitat and experimented on, and the lyrics state that this isn't a good thing. Tellingly, the show cuts out the poignant verses of the song.
They've been trying to stick a line in your system
Analyzing the defenses you hold
Trying to open wide, hoping to step inside
- 30 Rock: Jenna and her mom use a karaoke performance of "Do That To Me One More Time" to celebrate their reconciliation.
Liz: How are you not moved by this?!
Jack: Because I'm listening to the words.
- Parodied in Arrested Development when Michael and Maeby (uncle and niece) perform a duet of "Afternoon Delight" and slowly come to realise that the song is actually about sex 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 decided to sing the same exact song, coming to a similar, horrified revelation.
- Lampshaded in Gilmore Girls when Lorelai is going through Sookie's selections for her wedding to Jackson:
Lorelai: You cannot walk down the aisle to that. It's depressing, it's morbid...
Sookie: It's Ella! It's a classic song.
Lorelai: A classic song with lyrics about a woman who can't make her relationship work, whose life is filled with emptiness and regret and pain.
Sookie: Oh, who listens to the lyrics?
Lorelai: [looks at the alternatives] Let's see... "Hey Jude"? "Seasons in the Sun"? "Cat's in the Cradle"? "Don't Cry Out Loud"? Sookie, do you even like Jackson?
- Idina Menzel in a special mentions how during her appearance in the first season (specifically "Theatricality"), the touching reunion song with her daughter being the innuendo-filled "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga seemed odd, to say the least. Special attention was given to the bridge's lyrics.
- Having Finn sings R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" in "Grilled Cheesus" 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).
- Parodied in the episode "Sexy" with Emma wanting to use "Afternoon Delight" to promote the Celibacy Club, under the mistaken belief that it was about having dessert in the middle of the day.
- Having Mercedes sing "Spotlight" in "Asian F" about her desire for the spotlight, when it's about a woman in an abusive relationship.
- The Season 3 episode "I Kissed a Girl" has the girls performing the homonymous song during Santana's coming out, immediately after attacking a boy for not taking lesbianism seriously. While the song is actually about bicuriosity, all of the lines that explicitly refer to that aspect (like the ones mentioning a boyfriend) are given to Rachel, who is straight.
- Having Puck and Finn sing "Glory Days" during graduation in "Goodbye", when that song is about mocking people who are fixated on high school.
- John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" ("Ain't that America") is not a bold, daring song about interior design. But then, it's generally not taken that way. The example is actually played "straight" as Kurt is trying to sing a manly song to contrast his reputation of being camp gay.
- Discussed on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver's segment on campaign songs, where he talks about ill-fitting songs politicians play at their rallies without permission from the artists, such as Donald Trump using "It's the End of the World As We Know It" or Ronald Reagan using "Born in the U.S.A." (more on that in the Politics folder). As stated in the celebrity-packed song at the end of the statement:
You always take our songs out of context anyway
Why would Reagan be playing "Born in the U.S.A."?
It's about Vietnam!
- Star Trek: Voyager: If you listen to more than just the refrain, "You Are My Sunshine" by Jimmie Davis 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. The Doctor likes to sing this to Seven of Nine (or have her sing it to him) as a love song. Played straight in one episode where the Doctor has his ethical subroutines removed. At that point, he's experimenting with her borg implants, forcing her to vocally sing along with him. He seems to be well aware of the song's meaning.
- Parodied in the That '70s Show episode "Drive-In", where Kelso gets a KISS alarm clock that plays the chorus of "Rock And Roll All Nite", but replaces the word "party" from "party every day" with a stilted voice saying "Wake up", since the song is about having fun and not giving any thought to personal obligations.
- In Hypnospace Outlaw, the entire "Coolpunk" music movement came from this happening. "Colder Than The Rest" by in-universe musician Fre3zer samples advertising jingles from soda company Gray's Peak, with lyrics that are very bitter and anti-consumerist, likening advertising to induction into a cult. Gray's Peak takes notice and... completely misses that it's supposed to be an attack on them. They become a close-knit sponsor of Hypnospace, and the zone they form attracts a slew of imitators to Fre3zer's success.
- Invoked in Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, where the Nazi vampire army selected via survey to invade England to Edwin Starr's anti-war anthem "War".
The Major: Ze song tonight is ze most appropriate for... ironic reasons. Ze best reasons!
- In a popular video on The Muppets' Youtube channel, Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show sings The Guess Who's "American Woman", in which the singer tells the titular woman to get away from him. Sam doesn't even make it past the first two lines before realizing his mistake.
- The Simpsons:
- Played for Laughs in "The Homer They Fall" at Homer and Drederick Tatum's boxing match. Tatum is introduced with Redman's "Time 4 Some Acksion", while Homer is introduced with War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?", which is an anti-war/anti-violence song.
- In "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge", Otto proposes to Becky by playing "Every Rose Has its Thorn" by Poison, which is actually a breakup song, and the music he chooses as a wedding march is "Nothin' But A Good Time" also by Poison. Given how the wedding ends up falling apart, these end up being fairly appropriate.
In real life
- 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 all they care about is the zoom, zoom, zooming.
- Finnish hardware store Rautia used "Vasara ja nauloja" ("Hammer And Nails"), a song about a man failing to build a house, in its commercials to promote how successful you are with their tools.
- An example that used a speech rather than a song: For Super Bowl LII, Ram Trucks put out an ad for their pickups that used quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "drum major instinct" sermon, delivered fifty years prior to the day. The problem, as immediately noted by virtually everybody who saw the ad, was that this was not a speech lionizing working-class achievement, as the out-of-context segment used seemed to indicate — it was an anti-capitalist sermon criticizing consumerist culture, using the "drum major instinct", the desire to get out ahead of the pack and be noticed and recognized, as a metaphor for the pressure that marketers put on people to live beyond their means in order to keep up with the Joneses. It wasn't long before one person mashed up the visuals of the ad with a different segment from the very same sermon, one that made the point far more directly complete with explicit references to marketers selling automobiles.
- A car commercial used the titular lines from "Move Along" by The All-American Rejects. 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. The song also turned up in some of LEGO's BIONICLE ads, when Lego had a deal with the band (the story was that the toyline's antagonists kidnapped the band and forced them to play private concerts). 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.
- A Brazilian shopping mall TV ad used Lily Allen's "The Fear" as background music, but the song's lyrics include, "I want lots of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds/I heard people die while they are trying to find them". Unsurprisingly, they only used the chorus... which still goes "I don't know what's right or what's real anymore".
- For several years, Barbie was advertised with "Barbie Girl" by Aqua, a parody song which includes lines like "I'm a blond bimbo girl in a fantasy world" and "Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky". Granted, they changed most of the lyrics, but still... Interestingly, Mattel were furious about the song when it first came out and sued Aqua's record company, but, on appeal from summary judgment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Kozinski, J, for a unanimous panel) "advise[d] the parties to chill." Apparently, they did.
- Many-a commercial for a hardware store, office supply store (like Office Depot), or 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 Rock-Star 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- British outdoor clothing and supply store Go Outdoors used "Let Me Go" by Gary Barlow over clips of a family having fun outside and doing various activities. If you know the song's about Gary's stillborn daughter, it becomes creepy to watch.
- A truck or SUV commercial that aired in early 2022 used Blind Melon's No Rain, specifically the "escape" bridge and the solo. The song is about crippling depression.
- The late David Bowie suffered from this a lot ever since his work first got mass media attention.
- "Space Oddity". It's about an astronaut lost in the empty void of 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 the song 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".
- 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 Bowie's song "Queen Bitch" (Hunky Dory), 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" (Aladdin Sane). The only appropriate response is "You're all aware the song is about gay sex, right?"
- Celebrity Cruises used the highly inappropriate "Fame" from Young Americans in one of their commercials. What they probably didn't realize is that the song is a bitter rant about the perils of fame. It's also been used to advertise Cadillac cars, which could almost cross the line into Stealth Parody on the part of the ad agency.
- Disney hired Bowling for Soup to cover "I Melt With You" by Modern English; it worked its way back into advertising, culminating in Hershey's Chocolate using it for a Kiss commercial with a mother and child. Before Hershey's, Ritz crackers used it to similar effect. All of this ignoring the fact that said song is 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.
- British pharmacy chain store Boots' Christmas advert in 2013 featured a boy buying presents for the special people in his life, one of which is for a girl he presumably has a crush on (calling her "the fittest girl in Year 10"notes for non-British readers ). The music used is Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy", a song about a man being rejected by his family for being homosexual.
- A 2004 ad for the Volkswagen Touareg featured "Ariel Ramirez", a song by Richard Buckner about doing heroin.
- Mariah Carey's "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.
- A 2011 Lexus ad used 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 over time you drove her away
Saving up to, the day when she goes
The day that she stands up
For everything that she chose
- To celebrate the then-upcoming release of the 50th film (Tangled) in the Disney Animated Canon, Disney released a video which featured a countdown of all 50 films released up to that point (plus Tangled) using Brandi Carlile's song "Dreams". While dreams (of the "a wish your heart makes" variety) are featured heavily as a Motif in the canon, the song, according to Word of God, refers to... let's just say a very different kind of dream.
- The Cars:
- "Just What I Needed" 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.
- "Good Times Roll", a song about celebrity gossip, was used in a credit card commercial about cash-back deals.
- A series of Chrysler commercials used an instrumental with an intense, pounding beat. However, said instrumental was 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. Some commercials use the first part of the chorus, "You can run on for a long time / Run on for a long time". Appropriate for a motor vehicle renowned for reliability. They don't use the last half, "Run on for a long time / Sooner or later God'll cut you down / Sooner or later God'll cut you down", which is not so appropriate.
- Ads for the moisture absorber Damprid contain the line "Everybody Damprid!", sampling a C+C Music Factory song with a very contradictory title to the product's purpose, "Gonna Make You Sweat".
- Harry Chapin was fond of telling the story about representatives of the Greyhound Bus company calling to discuss using his song "Greyhound" in their ads. A bemused Chapin asked them, "...have you listened to the song?" It's about how crappy and depressing it is to take a bus trip. Chorus: "Take the Greyhound / It's a dog of a way to get around / Take the Greyhound / It's a dog gone easy way to get you down."
- "London Calling" by The Clash has been used to hawk Jaguars, to encourage people to come to London for the Olympics, and just for regular tourist adverts for visiting London. The song is 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
- "Inner Ninja" by Classified was used in an ad for Tim Horton's Iced Caps. Not as ironic as some examples, but it is using a song about overcoming struggles in a commercial about refreshments in summertime.
- 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" (Willy and the Poor Boys) 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).
- Sheryl Crow:
- "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?"
- One Best Buy commercial used "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.
- A camera commercial from HP featured "Pictures of You" by The Cure. Seems innocent enough, but a closer look at the lyrics will reveal that it's actually a song about missed opportunities and the sadness of having nothing at all left except the pictures.
- "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, "Yeah, what's wrong with it today?", is rarely played.
- In 2012, Chevrolet Argentina (a GM brand) put up a commercial for their new S10 pick-up truck, depicting it in different country-fair expositions (coal-mining fairs, yerba mate fairs, etc; common events in the countryside of Argentina) and 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, is an anti-imperialist poem about how Latin America isn't going to fall to Theodore Roosevelt's USA without a fight. It is one of the most famous anti-American-imperialism pieces in Latin American left-wing literature. One wonders if the marketing people were being ironic or just didn't read the whole thing through, considering that GM is an American brand, and even more, considering that it is partially owned by the US government.
- A commercial for the diabetes medication Rybelsus played a rock-and-roll cover of "You Are My Sunshine" by Jimmie Davis over footage of people enjoying themselves outside in the sun. It's very upbeat, but noticably skips over the lyrics about falling into deep depression because the person you love doesn't love you back.
- Stylized commercials for American mega-store Target featured Devo's "Beautiful World" a song mocking the consumer culture the ad intended to glorify. It was also featured on a Starbucks compilation CD aimed at children, oddly titled Songs for Little Hipsters.
- The trailer for Mortal Kombat 9 revealed at PAX 10 was probably guilty of this, being set to Disturbed's "Another Way to Die" and making 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.
- 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.
- 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. The song is about how society is changing for the better as the new generation is reaching adulthood.
Rick Mercer: If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of Woodie Guthrie spinning in his grave.
- There have been innumerable commercials that have used the repetitive chorus of Everclear's "Wonderful" to put forth a message of sunshine, rainbows, 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 it's actually about how traumatic it is for a child to watch their parents descend into mutual hatred and domestic violence.
- An Australian insurance company used a George Ezra song as their ad music, because the chorus repeats "What you waiting for?", exhorting viewers to sign up right away. The problem is that the song's name is "Blame It On Me", decidedly anathema to the insurance industry's stereotypical Obstructive Bureaucracy and strong aversion to settling claims.
- A strange one is a car commercial soundtracked by "Blindness" by The Fall, which is 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".
- One ad for the SPCA used Roberta Flack's touching yet slightly intercoursey 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 other way.
- A 2019 American ad for a prescription medication that treats a condition that often requires frequent and lengthy bathroom visits used a cover version of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" where only the title line is sung, presumably to advertise that those who take it won't have to build their lives around the proximity of the toilet, and not because it's one of the nastiest, meanest breakup songs ever.
- A commercial for the Nintendo Switch version of Just Dance 2018 has a woman dancing to "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee (one of the many songs included in the game's tracklist) with her friends, parents, and apparently her grandparents. The problem is, though many non-Spanish speakers don't realize this, the song isn't the type of song you'd probably want to dance to with your mom.
- GE used Tennessee Ernie Ford's version of "Sixteen Tons" for their advert for clean coal. The song depicts life as 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.
- A trailer for The Karate Kid (2010) 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.
- Red Stripe promoted 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", a homoerotic Intercourse with You song. 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.
- "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.
- Target attempted to license Adam Freeland's anti-consumerist song "We Want Your Soul". Apparently, Target only 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.
- 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 its presence in an ad for nearly anything would fit this trope to some extent.
- A car company used "Turn It On Again" in one of their commercials a song about a man who lives vicariously through his television and is a Stalker with a Crush.
- "Tonight Tonight Tonight", a song about a paranoid junkie making a drug deal late at night, was used for a famous Michelob beer commercial.
- 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.
- A 2006 commercial for Trojan condoms used "Let Love In" by Goo Goo Dolls. A song about setting aside anger and letting positivity enter our hearts is the perfect soundtrack for selling what prevents love from being let in.
- The 88th Annual Academy Awards had a campaign with the tagline "We all dream in gold" and commercials with Imagine Dragons' "Dream" playing in the background. These commercials pair up inspirational footage of past winners with... a song warning against getting caught up in selfish and probably unreachable dreams of fame and fortune, which could leave the dreamer oblivious to real-world problems. Indeed, despite the ads' best efforts to edit out the lyrics that make this lesson especially explicit, the line "We all are living in a dream / But life ain't what it seems" somehow made it in.
- 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.
- British restaurant chain Harvester produced a TV spot using "Harvest for the World" as its soundtrack. Thus we see scenes of smiling families tucking into plates of glistening, fatty food... all to the strains of a song about famine, greed, and war.
- The Citreon C4 Cactus struck a bum note, for those who know what the song is about, when they plundered Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" to back the advert. As this song extols a chemically-assisted altered state of consciousness where Grace Slick on acid would be very dangerous in a car indeed, it is legitimate to wonder if the advertisers actually listened to the song... 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."
- Monopoly's revamp, which added pseudo-functioning credit cards to the game design, was advertised using Jessie J's "Price Tag", a song about how people shouldn't be driven by greed. They did change the lyrics, though whether or not that made it better or even worse is anyone's guess.
- "Intuition" by Jewel is 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). After the song's commercial failure, it was eventually licensed to ads for Schick razors.
- The use of Janis Joplin's song "Mercedes Benz" by the makers of Mercedes-Benz cars. It omits the third verse, performed by a woman known to be constantly off her face on Jack Daniels, which is all about getting hammered on a night on the town. Followed by a ride home in the Mercedes-Benz.
- A promo for Toddlers & 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. Then again, the show actually manages to have snarky editing, doing things like showing a pageant mom saying, "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.
- Advertising anything with a song called "Mediocrity Rules" is asking for this outcome if not done tongue-in-cheek, but Post used the Le Tigre song of that title to advertise its Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles cereals, almost certainly because of the outro consisting of "yabba dabba dabba doo, man" repeatedly.
- "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".
- Any usage of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama", a song extolling the virtues of the American South, 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.
- This advert for the Fiat 500 uses "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 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.
- Durex's use of "Der Hölle Rache" from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute 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
- 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, so it may well have been intentional.
- A Kia Soul commercial used the song "Animals" by Maroon 5. The song compares Intercourse with You... to animals killing and eating each other. Admittedly, it does become rather fitting when you see that said ad is about the Kia hamsters working in a lab and turning a hamster in a ball into a humanoid hamster dominatrix.
- Commercials for The History Channel used the Matchbox Twenty 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
let's see how far we've come
- "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.
- 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."
- John Mellencamp:
- "Pink Houses" ("Ain't that America") is used in innumerable vaguely patriotic car commercials. Face it even if you know the truth about the song, it still sounds vaguely patriotic. However, it's subverted as it actually is an extremely patriotic and idealistic song, it just might disagree with some people's politics.
- His song "Our Country" often shows up in ads of this ilk as well. While the song is hopeful, it also acknowledges that America has certain problems when it comes to for example poverty and racism.
- Animal Planet once used Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now", a song about a guy who is paranoid and/or being stalked, to advertise a dog show. They just used the chorus, and it was in the context of "who has what it takes?", but still. That same song was also used with new lyrics in a promo for The Masked Singer.
- The NFL Network used a cover of Morrissey's "Everyday Is Like Sunday" in its commercials. Let's just say that Morrissey didn't actually like Sundays that much.
- The Muffs:
- Their cover of "Kids in America", a song about partying to escape how harsh life is, was used by Kraft to shill American cheese singles.
- "Everywhere I Go", which is about stalking, was used in a Fruitopia commercial.
- Nena's "99 Red Balloons" (a song about a nuclear holocaust) for a JC Penney Valentine's Day commercial. A Telus commercial used the song 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.
- British furniture retailer DFS had a 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 offered interest-free credit. And speaking of instant gratification, the song also got used to promote Ameristar Casinos.
- In the trailer for Race to Witch Mountain, Disney used the guitar solo from The Offspring's "Stuff Is Messed Up", which has some seriously kid-unfriendly lyrics.
- 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 NYC lottery ad used a cover of "Food Glorious Food" from Oliver!, a song about starving kids wishing they had more food, in a Food Porn manner: "When you're rich, you can have all the luxurious food you want".
- The Parachute Club's LGBT anthem "Rise Up!", used for McCain pizza dough.
- Pet Shop Boys:
- "Opportunities (Let's make lots of money)", a song about a get-rich-quick scheme that's implied to fail, was once used in an Allstate commercial to promote how much money drivers could save by switching to Allstate. Given the financial risks associated with insurance, the real message of the song doesn't paint Allstate in a great light.
- 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.
- iPhone commercials are notorious for misusing songs, but a particularly bad example is the 2014 "Powerful" advert, which features a bunch of teenage girls singing "Gigantic" a song that Word of God states is about interracial romance but is commonly interpreted to be about a big black dick by The Pixies.
- The Pogues:
- A late 2010 Subaru minivan commercial used "If I Should Fall From Grace With God", a song about an Irish nationalist who killed someone and questions whether what he did was right or not.
- The use of "Sunnyside of the Street" by Mercedes-Benz. The song sounds cheery... until Shane McGowan starts singing about his heart full of hate and a lust for vomit, as the happy family scoot around in their Cadillac. They should've just used the musical intro (it is very cheerful and peppy).
- An early advertisement for the Singapore Civil Defense used "Every Breath You Take" by The Police 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. Since the song is actually an Obsession Song sung from the perspective of a Stalker with a Crush, it just ended up being Paranoia Fuel. Ditto Samsung using the song on a Smart TV commercial, considering all the ways such a device can break the viewer's privacy.
- Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life", in which he sings about how shallow and unfulfilling his decadent celebrity life is, was used to advertise a cruise line. For that matter, this applies to anything else that it has ever been used in an advertisement for as well.
- There was a Honda Hybrid commercial featuring the music of the The Postal Service's "We Will Become Silhouettes", a song about a nuclear holocaust. Apparently, green energy and atomic super weapons go hand in hand.
- A 2020 Dunkin' commercial that told customers how they were doing during the COVID-19 pandemic used the Powfu song "Death Bed". On one hand, the song is also known by its subtitle, "Coffee for Your Head", which suits a chain that sells coffee. On the other, it's still called "Death Bed", so it's not the best song choice for a commercial released when a virus was running amok and killing many people.
- Google phone ads advertised how their built-in cameras don't have distracting flash effects... using Queen's most prominent song from Flash Gordon. Sadly, it is nearly impossible to hear any part of that song and think of flash as a bad thing.
- Very shortly after Lou Reed's death, the 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) from his 1972 album Transformer was used to advertise the PS4. The idea presumably was something like, "it's a perfect day when you play the PS4 with your friends, as long as you are able to ignore the song's darker undertones." Given that the ad in question showed the singer being brutalized in the various video game scenarios he 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.
The BBC also used a reworking of the song 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 an attempt to demonstrate the diversity of the Beeb's commitment to supporting and promoting musical talent. 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.
- "Happy Happy Joy Joy" from Ren & Stimpy, a parody of saccharine kids' cartoon songs, was used sincerely to sell Sara Lee products.
- The Rolling Stones:
- Call of Duty: Black Ops ran adverts featuring "Gimme Shelter" from Let It Bleed. 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. That said, the Call of Duty franchise itself 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's meaning. Black Ops is also set during The '60s 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; indeed, the first level of the game actually set in Vietnam starts with "Fortunate Son" playing over the radio. The producers probably knew exactly what they were doing.
- "Start Me Up" from Tattoo You 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... (Considering why the speaker is crying, it's possible that Microsoft knew the context and used it anyway because Sex Sells.) The line starting with "I can't compete..." also seemed appropriate when Microsoft got accused of monopolization. And then there's the Urban Legend that 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.
The song has also been used by Toyota. One has to wonder if "Start me up / I'll never stop" really is 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.
- 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 Safka (the same person who wrote the song listed in this trope's description). 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. Interestingly, a tale from Safka herself gives a slightly different interpretation of the lyrics. She was on this vegan diet that mainly involved distilled water, until an "inner voice" told her to eat at McDonald's. She started writing the song on the way home from there.
- 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.
- A Discover credit card ad uses Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me" to advertise how their cardholders will never be held responsible for unauthorized purchases. However, the key part there is "unauthorized", which does not mesh well with the song being the lyrical incarnation of Implausible Deniability.
- A futuristic-themed series of car commercials had a spot that used 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, it's not hard 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..." The "drifting, falling" part becomes an Ironic Echo the same words meant something different on the way up, didn't they?
- Coke ads for the Olympics and Australian supermarket Coles using "Breathe Me", a song about depression, self-harm, or attempted suicide. Granted, they only used the instrumental part after the lyrics end.
- An ad for Christian Dior perfume starring Natalie Portman used "Chandelier" the ad is meant to associate the scent with an epic tale of passionate love, but the song is about alcoholism and the downside of a hard-partying lifestyle. The ad only uses the chorus and pre-chorus of the song, and even then cuts the word "drink" out of the line "one, two, three, drink". Out of context, "I'm gonna swing from the chandelier / I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist" sounds more romantic than self-destructive, so it's only jarring to those who know what the song is actually about.
- In the early 1990s, an American ad for Norinyl birth-control pills combined images of women dancing in tutus and similarly wispy outfits with Sixpence None the Richer's cover version of The La's' "There She Goes". While the overall effect was quite pretty, anyone familiar with the song couldn't help but snicker at the idea of using a song that is commonly interpreted to be about heroin to promote any medicationnote , and indeed the ad suddenly disappeared when the band themselves learned this.
- 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".
- A Hyundai car commercial prominently featured "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.
- 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".
- An American Express commercial used Spinal Tap's "Gimme Some Money", which is about a Gold Digger.
- Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." is often used to evoke patriotism in commercials. As is detailed in the Music section, the song is actually about a Vietnam War veteran who isn't very happy with his country at all.
- Steely Dan's song "Do It Again" from Can't Buy A Thrill 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.
- One series of ads used "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift to advertise the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Stanley Cup has the victors' names engraved on it. This analogy identifies the Cup with the narrator of the song, a serial abuser looking for a new conquest to mistreat and discard, which, while a fitting metaphor for the championship trophy of a Blood Sport that gets even bloodier for the playoffs, probably wasn't the NHL's intended message.
- There was an advert for Pizza Hut's "Twisted Crust" which used They Might Be Giants' jolly, upbeat "Twisting". It was pulled really quickly because, 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.
- Disney used "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind (a song about doing crystal meth and receiving oral sex) in its ads for The Tigger Movie. Unsurprisingly, people took notice and had Disney play a different song over the ads.
- "Mack the Knife", a song from the incredibly anti-capitalist musical The Threepenny Opera, 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.
- "The Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)" by Timbuk3, a song about a nuclear holocaust, was used in a car commercial. At least this one isn't quite direct, even though both the lyrics and music video create a Black Comedy picture in a style rather close to the original Fallout.
- In an inversion of the many examples on this page of violent, un-PC songs being used in innocent contexts, a number of tobyMac songs (mostly "The Slam") have been used in previews for violent movies and shows, despite said songs being about God. Although, "The Slam" was written by tobyMac after he saw The Passion of the Christ, which is pretty violent.
- A TV commercial for Brendan Fraser's Furry Vengeance, a kid's movie, used 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 its use in a trailer for the Smurfs movie.
- A 2015 ad for Honest diapers uses "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor, a song celebrating Big Beautiful Women.
- 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'tnote .
- "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by The Verve was used extensively on TV for things such as news reports and sports highlights. The strings are apparently too uplifting for anyone to care about the brooding lyrics, and there's enough time before Richard Ashcroft's vocals kick in that it's usually unnecessary to do any looping. It was also used in the trailer for the family film Coco. Though if you've actually seen the movie, it actually kind of fits.
- LGBT Fanbase aside, The Village People's "YMCA", a song about dudes having sex at the YMCA, in ads for... the YMCA. To be honest, it's the one pop culture phenomenon ever to recognize their existence. 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 it.
- A 2014 commercial for Geico advertising motorcycle insurance made use of "One Headlight" by The Wallflowers. While the title does refer to what most motorcycles have (two of the motorcycles in the commercial have two headlights, however), the song is actually about the singer reminiscing about his best friend's death and how it affects him.
- The Whitlams' "You Gotta Love This City" for a Sydney Olympics-related tourism campaign, as well as during their broadcast of the Games themselves. It's 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..."
- A commercial for the Venetian Resort Las Vegas used a remix of "I Want It Now" from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to promote their hotel as a place of indulgence, drawing particular focus to the "I want the world" lyric. It works, but remember that the original context of the song is a Spoiled Brat driving her father crazy as she demands every implausible thing in the world, and her refusal to accept not getting what she wants results in a karmic punishment (the short high note that ends the song in the remix replaces the original moment of the song where she falls to her doom).
- The 2012 NFL season saw a series of Bud Light commercials that celebrated fans with strange little traditions that they believe will improve their team's performance... set to "Superstition" from Talking Book by Stevie Wonder. Not surprisingly, the commercials always ended before getting to the line "When you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer" except in the long versions, where that line and the one immediately following it ("Superstition ain't the way") were included.
- 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. It doesn't help 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.
- At one point, Geico advertised motorcycle insurance using ZZ Top's "La Grange". Sure, the song has a driving beat that sounds good over footage of a bike, but it's also a song about a brothel.
- Staples uses the chorus of Ace of Base's "The Sign" to promote their printing services, even though it's an Anti-Love Song about the singer learning that their lover was unfaithful and how happy they are to have broken up with them.
- One ad for Chips Ahoy cookies features antropomorphic cookies in a car singing "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League (while a human hand grabs and eats them one by one). Though the ad focuses on the Title-Only Chorus, the song is actually about female celebrity with a manipulative manager who tries to coerce her into sex.
- This 2022 commercial for Oreo Cakesters features the beat and Yessir ad-lib from "Your Body" by Pretty Ricky. Despite Oreos family-friendly image, the song is a quite explicit dirty rap Intercourse with You song. In fact, the first verse starts with member Baby Blue casually saying they take me and rape me, and make me their victim.
- A King's Hawaiian rolls ad that crosspromotes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 uses Jane's Addiction's Been Caught Stealing as music. While it does go well with the mixtape-themed music of the series, it's doubtful that the bread company really thought about the connation of a song that says "When I want something, man, I don't wanna pay for it!" being used to hawk their products.
- TV Spots for Pixar's Elemental (2023) feature Katy Perry's "Hot n Cold". While, yes, the title does make sense considering the movie centers around the romantic relationship between a fire elemental and a water elemental, it's quite jarring that adverts for a heartwarming (so to speak) love story is being promoted with a song about Katy Perry explicitly telling off an emotionally inconsistent romantic partner.
- The Theme Song for the anime Mushishi 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").
- Alone in the Dark (2005) contains a sex scene set to Neneh Cherry and Youssou N'Dour's duet "7 Seconds". Apparently, nobody bothered to tell director Uwe Boll that the song is about racism.
- Captain Marvel (2019) has during the credits Hole's "Celebrity Skin". While at the surface, it fits Carol Danvers's awesomeness by being a rocking song sung by a woman, the lyrics are not as triumphant, being about the disillusion from fame (e.g. "Oh, look at my face \ My name is Might-Have-Been \ My name is Never Was \ My name's forgotten" and "Wilted and faded \ Somewhere in Hollywood").
- Subverted with the cover of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" used during the closing credits of Ghost Rider (2007). 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 that he's going to turn his curse against him and sabotage all his evil plans. The catch, however, is that by Word of God, the song was the original inspiration for both the earlier Weird West Ghost Rider seriesnote and the Johnny Blaze Retool. The song's riders inspired the Devil's Job Offer Johnny is given rounding up stray souls, and the final verse's Jacob Marley Warning inspired the twist that as he was not technically dead, a Faustian Rebellion was still possible.
- Godzilla (1998):
- The soundtrack includes the song "No Shelter" by Rage Against the Machine. While the song does mention Godzilla by name, it's only to note that it's "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. The band wrote it as a Take That! to Sony when they were solicited for the Godzilla soundtrack.
- A song about a couple's rendezvous at the Berlin Wall that acknowledges that the relationship may well not last has nothing to do with Godzilla, but The Wallflowers did a cover of David Bowie's ""Heroes"" for the soundtrack anyway.
- Hellboy (2004): "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Hellboy's hands are both red and his right hand is significant for being over-sized to punch better, but Hellboy is not designing and directing anything with his hand, and he does not have a larger plan involving giving out cars and money.
- 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 (2006), but...
Canon actually has Tony Stark naming his superhero identity after his favorite song (which is only possible because of Comic-Book Time). The film's 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. That said, 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 indulges in.
For one final dose of irony, Black Sabbath deliberately wrote the lyrics of the song to be about a villainous character because, in addition to it fitting with their usual motif, they wanted to avoid getting sued for ripping off the Marvel comics character.
- The closing scene of Life (1999) 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".
- William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet:
- "Lovefool" by The Cardigans, which shot to fame through its use in the film, 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 that he loves her back because she can't deal with rejection.
- The same movie has "#1 Crush", from Garbage. Another song about obsession. Great choice for the movie.
- The driving-lesson montage in Wreck-It Ralph set to Rihanna's "Shut Up and Drive". That song isn't about motoring...
- Rare non-music example. The book Seuss-isms for Success uses quotes from Dr. Seuss books to motivate the reader. To encourage the reader to "be a good host", it uses this passage from Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose:
A host has to put up with all sorts of pests
For a host, above all, must be nice to his guests
- The point of Thidwick is not that you should be nice to people it was written to counter the Stock Aesop and is rather about Taking Advantage of Generosity. The message is that letting others exploit you could lead to your destruction. The quote is used ironically in Thidwick to make it sound as if it has the Stock Aesop. The true message is not revealed until the very end.
- In Karen Kingsbury's novel Unlocked, the mother of Hollywood Autistic teen Hayden frequently watches old home videos of her son as a toddler before his autism became apparent, scored with the Christopher Cross song "Never Be the Same" ("No, I'll never be the same without you here / I'll live alone and hide myself behind my tears"). Beyond the ugly implication that an autistic person effectively "leaves" their family once they're diagnosed, the song's clearly about a romantic relationship that faded away when one listens to the verses as opposed to just the chorus (and this is a novel aimed at conservative Christians).
- American Idol had the Season 8 winner Kris Allen perform The Beatles' "Let It Be" on stage accompanied by a montage of Haiti relief efforts. His fellow Idol alumni Jennifer Hudson sang the same song for the "Hope For Haiti" telethon. There was also a Ferry Aid version that featured Paul McCartney himself. Apparently nobody realized that the song is about not intervening in things that one has no business meddling in.
- It's a little strange when America's Best Dance Crew uses the chorus of Rihanna's "Take a Bow" as its "goodbye" theme, given that the song is about a woman who refuses to buy her cheating ex's insincere apologies. The chorus sounds fine out of context — the only outright hurtful stuff is in the verses. Still, it's strange to hear them congratulating a crew on how far they've gotten when you know the lyrics in their entirety:
Oh, how about a round of applause?
Yeah, a standing ovation
You look so dumb right now
Standing outside my house
Trying to apologize
You're so ugly when you cry
- 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. The song is a cynical look on life in America at the time, bringing up things like McCarthyism and black repression.
- 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.'"
- How I Met Your Mother: The episode "How Lily Stole Christmas" scores a wholesome scene where Marshall helps deliver presents to people before Christmas with Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa", a song about sneaking around with taken women. It cuts out after "I make all the little girls happy..." before he next line, "while the boys are out to play." It's especially ironic because it's a recurring theme throughout the series that, barring a temporary breakup, Marshall can't even think about getting with anybody but his long-term partner, Lily.
- Due to the language barrier, this is pretty common in Brazilian telenovelas. Up there as one of the more notable examples is Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" being used as a general love theme in Belíssima — when the song in question is about the divorce of Kelly's parents, and how it affected her.
- During MSNBC's coverage of the American missile strikes on Syria on April 7, 2017, while showing footage of the missiles being launched, reporter Brian Williams commented on how "beautiful" they looked. He then said "I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: 'I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.'" Apparently he never noticed that the song he was quoting, "First We Take Manhattan", is written from the perspective of a fanatical terrorist.
- The 2021 UK series of Masterchef had a rather unfortunate choice of "triumphant" music for the announcement of the winner: "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" by Phil Collins, a histrionic song of desperation over lost love. It's not as if the producers didn't realise how wildly inappropriate it was, since someone had actually gone to the trouble of editing together the vocal and instrumental versions to eliminate all the lyrics except for the two phrases in the title.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Forever: At the end of the pilot, the Boxer Rebellion song that plays over Henry and Abigail meeting sings about New York, a place Abigail at least has never been, while their meeting is taking place at a liberated concentration camp in Germany. It's also a song about a long-distance relationship when Henry and Abigail were never really apart from that time on until the relationship ended forty years later.
- The BBC's family game show The Generation Game used Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Karn Evil 9 (specifically, "First Impression Part Two") for the title music and music stings. One wonders if the Beeb knew about the car-bomb lyrics or the "seven virgins and a mule" bit.
- Dan Fogelberg's 1978 single "The Power of Gold" was broadcast by ABC as part of its pre-Olympics show for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games. The actual lyrics of the song are a cautionary tale about making one's life about material gain; thus, gold having the alluring power to destroy one's life.
- David Copperfield is famous for having "Mercy Street" by Peter Gabriel as his theme song. What he doesn't know, however, is that the song is about child molestation, insanity, and suicide.
- In the year 1995, when the telenovela Quatro por Quatro was being broadcast, Gillette and 20 Fingers came to Brazil to perform their song "Short Dick Man", which was featured on the novela's soundtrack. The problem? They performed it on Xuxa Hits, a live TV show for children, without changing the lyrics. This results in a rather crass song, in which the singer relentlessly mocks a guy for having a small penis, being performed in front of a crowd of bouncing children, while host Xuxa Meneghel sways along in the background, unbothered.
- 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".
- "Bad Boys", the song used as the theme of COPS, is actually an Inner Circle song about cops abusing their power.
- 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 that 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.)
- Deutschland sucht den Superstar covered "The Edge of Glory" and used it as their theme. Lady Ga Ga wrote that song about the death of her grandfather.
- The M*A*S*H theme song "Suicide is Painless" is quite upbeat, while the original version with lyrics from the film is very sombre.
- Sarah McLachlan:
- "Possession", a song about a stalker, is used in love scenes in a number of different shows.
- She also sang "I Will Remember You" during the Really Dead Montage portion of the 2009 Emmy 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.
- Germany's Deutschland sucht den Superstar (from the same branch as American Idol) uses Melanie C's "Next Best Superstar" to celebrate their winner. "Crack a smile in denial; throw your morals on the fire".
- In 1987, the band Os Cascavelletes appeared on the live show Clube da Criança to perform a song called... "Eu Quis Comer Você" ("I Wanted to Fuck You"). When they talk about the song to host Angélica afterwards, she responds with a nonchalant "Wow, cool!"
- 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 that she has a similar past (unlike in the show).
- 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".
- "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.")
- The Police:
- Subverted to brilliant effect in the final scene of the Stranger Things Season 2 finale, "Chapter 9: The Gate". The scene is set to "Every Breath You Take", a Stalker with a Crush song with a gentle sound and romantic-sounding lyrics, but intended by the songwriter to depict an abusive, controlling, and angry figure. So just when you've spent a few minutes thinking it's the wrong choice for a school dance scene filled with romantic moments, the very end of the scene reveals that the Big Bad, who definitely fits the description of "abusive, controlling, and angry figure", is watching the whole thing, turning the song back into the Nightmare Fuel it's supposed to be.
- They also had a straightforward case a few years later, as the COVID pandemic made "Don't Stand So Close to Me" seem like a instruction manual given that the containment required social distancing, and Sting even did a home recording for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. As highlighted by A Dose of Buckley, this means ignoring the Teacher/Student Romance that is the theme of the song.
- The ZDF documentary Deutschland-Saga (in the Terra X slot) used Die Prinzen's "Deutschland" as its theme. The song is a tongue-in-cheek satire; the chorus is harmless enough, but they also used the repeated "Deutsch! Deutsch!" shouts, which irritated some viewers.
- La Roux's "Bulletproof", a song in which Elly Jackson sings about putting an ex-boyfriend firmly behind her, was used by the Fox Business Channel for a back-to-school segment promoting bulletproof backpacks in response to school shootings. Jackson herself was not amused, calling their use of it "abhorrent".
- 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 U.S.A.", 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".
- Robbie Williams:
- 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", "Sexed Up" has been frequently used to score love montages on Italian reality TV. It was also used in Brazilian telenovela Mulheres Apaixonadas as the theme for the characters Diogo and Marina, who live a troubled marriage plagued by jealousy and infidelity (specifically, Diogo cheating on Marina with her cousin Luciana). While the song technically fits their storyline, as they ultimately separate, many a viewer didn't realize this, mistaking "Sexed Up" for a more standard love ballad without looking at the translation of the lyrics. So the song ended up appearing on a lot of wedding playlists at the time.
- Williams got hit with this again with the usage of "Advertising Space" as the love theme for the characters Duda and Leona in Cobras e Lagartos. The song in question is a Celebrity Elegy dedicated to Elvis Presley, describing the downfall of Presley's career and condemning the usage of his image as a marketing strategy after his death.
- This Sesame Street insert uses the intro to "Pull Up to the Bumper" by Grace Jones, a Double Entendre-laden song about sex.
- 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 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" 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.
- ABBA have many songs like this; their poppiest, most celebratory choruses are often paired with bittersweet or even just bitter lyrics. For instance, some might ring in the New Year with "Happy New Year". While the song has an "Auld Lang Syne" feel, it's actually about things that are wrong in the world and how at the end of the celebration, nothing will have changed.
Oh yes, man is a fool
And he thinks he'll be okay
Dragging on feet of clay
Never knowing he's astray
Keeps on going anyway
Seems to me now
That the dreams we had before are all dead
Nothing more than confetti on the floor
- "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.
- 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. Except the movie version is sung by two siblings. Oddly, this does not deter people from using it as a love song.
- Sara Bareilles's "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.
- Beyoncι's "Formation" (which premiered at Super Bowl 50) reportedly caused an increase in visits to Red Lobster restaurants, which are mentioned in the song. Some people seemed oblivious to the fact that in the song, the singer takes her boyfriend there as a reward for good sex.
- Apparently, some people think "Bed of Roses" by Bon Jovi would be appropriate for their wedding. The song is actually about a touring rockstar who misses his love and is trying to fill the void with one night stands and booze, despite knowing that it isn't working.
- Boyz II Men wrote two sentimental-sounding ballads that were a staple of high school dances in The '90s: "End of the Road" and "On Bended Knee". Both songs, which teen couples would slow-dance to, are breakup songs. In "On Bended Knee", the singer is begging his ex to take him back. Meanwhile, "End of the Road" is about the singer's unhealthy obsession with his ex and his inability to let go despite the relationship being over.
- One compilation album of love songs included Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" which is about as far from a love song as it's possible to get, being about an artist who's determined to make it big, even if he'll have to do "a load of compromising".
- 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, causing them to use it in music videos with montages of people fighting in flames or being burnt alive.
- Celldweller's "Frozen" is described as a great song to have sex to, and definitely is somehow about sex, but lyrically it seems to be more about masturbating whilst thinking of an ex and being unable to move on. "It's better to be broken than to break".
- 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" brawling in bars with better days behind them is British Socialism and the British labour movement).
- Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is appearing on an increasing amount of religious or Christmas music playlists — the latter driven largely by a cover by popular a cappella group Pentatonix, which appears on their Christmas album. Despite the title and the song's hymn-like tempo, the actual lyrics are agnostic ("maybe there's a God above/ as for me..."), sexual ("I remember when I moved in you, and every single breath that went through us, hallelujah), and/or melancholy ("it's a cold and broken Hallelujah"). At least one Christian band has gone so far to rewrite the words for this reason.
- "Democracy", while less-well-known, has been used as a patriotic and/or campaign song, largely for the last line of each verse, "democracy is coming to the USA." This repeatedly bemused Cohen, as the song is deeply cynical and dwells upon, among other things, fascism, homelessness, slavery, hate crimes, and genocide.
- "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.
- Jason Derulo has sampled some rather unfitting songs for his own music on more than one occasion:
- He 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 is 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.
- In "Don't Wanna Go Home", he samples the Harry Belafonte song "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.
- "Don't Leave Home" 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.
- "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.
- Dire Straits: "Iron Hand" was written as a Protest Song about the UK Miners' Strike, specifically the Battle of Orgreave, a violent clash between strikers and cops. The song's lyrics condemn the police officers, comparing their actions to the brutality of medieval knights. The same year the song released, Nintendo and MCA put out White Knuckle Scorin', a various artists compilation CD with a storybook based on Super Mario World printed in the liner notes. Said storybook features various moments corresponding with the songs on the album — one of which is "Iron Hand". In the book, Mario and Luigi serve as the song's knights in its corresponding scene, but rather than being depicted as perpetrators of Police Brutality, they're shown in an overtly heroic light.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day is often being played at weddings and graduations, despite being a Break Up Song. 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. While not a wedding song, it's sort of appropriate for graduations at least.
- Taylor Swift using Tom Petty's "American Girl", which she even covered, as intro music, is appropriate. The Guess Who's "American Woman", not so much (after all, the very first line is "American woman, stay away from me!").
- Paul Hardcastle's "Nineteen" got this when Manchester United supporters got it back on the UK charts in honor of their record 19th league title. This means ignoring the fact that the song is about the Vietnam War (the title referring to the average age of soldiers fighting in said war).
- 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. There's no shortage of stories throughout history that treat adultery as romantic, however, such as the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere (at least before it ended in tragedy), so maybe that's how some folks meant to interpret it.
- 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 and if the message wasn't clear enough, "shotgun" is said a few times. And yet, it has been played at many weddings since its 1982 release.
- "Gone Country" by Alan Jackson was meant to be a cynical look at how the genre of Country Music has become inundated with posers who have no traditional upbringing whatsoever (no doubt espousing a feeling from writer Bob McDill, who retired not long after writing the song). However, it's often appropriated as a celebration of diversity and mainstreaming of the genre (even by Jackson himself!), and is a popular "first song" for stations that switch over to the country format from another genre.
- 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 the song isn't at all about young people dying, but instead about a rebel who wants to deflower a Catholic girl.
- 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 there's no point if they're covering unwholesome songs to begin with. A few lyrical tweaks don't make most of them kid-friendly. Probably the best example is their cover of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way", which is about acceptance, but they actually removed all the parts that have to do with accepting gay or bisexual people. It's been referred to as "Born This Way: Homophobic Version".
- 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.
- 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, and is outright stated by Word of God to be about growing out of the childhood illusion of Christmas. 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.
- Led Zeppelin's "All My Love" isn't exactly appropriate for the weddings it's often played at. The somber mood should make clear that it's a Grief Song, which Robert Plant actually wrote for his late son.
- 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. This was just a year after one of Air France's Concordes had crashed on takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport.
- "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, more people are familiar with Frank Sinatra's more upbeat arrangement, after he asked the songwriter to "jolly it up."
- MGMT's "Time To Pretend" from Oracular Spectacular 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.
- 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.
- 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 (including the baseball montage in The Naked Gun, as tongue-in-cheek as it is). 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.
- The Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song "Red Right Hand" itself can be considered an example of this trope, given that the original quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost refers to the vengeful right hand of God, and not Satan.
- The sheer number of people who think Nine Inch Nails' song "Closer" from The Downward Spiral (aka the "Fuck you like an animal" song) is a great song to have sex to is astounding. Let's not beat around the bush and just make one thing clear: if having sex because it's 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.
- 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.
- The tune for the Marines' Hymn actually comes from a song by Jacques Offenbach entitled "The Bold Gendarmes", about two cowardly (and deeply corrupt) 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
- 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."
- Vast numbers of newlyweds dance to "I Will Always Love You" (mainly the Whitney Houston version) 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.
- "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..."
- Pink Floyd:
- "Money" from The Dark Side of the Moon is often used to promote "do crazy stuff on the air for money" type radio contests. It's about how money and greed makes you do stupid things.
- "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" from The Wall 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.)
- The Pogues's "Fairytale of New York", about a couple descending into a vitriolic screaming match on Christmas Eve, is a regular on shop Christmas playlists presumably because of the more upbeat chorus...at least until some employee catches the lyrics:
You scumbag, you maggot,
You cheap, lousy faggot!
Happy Christmas, you arse,
I pray God it's our last.
- The Police's downright creepy "Every Breath You Take" has appeared in love scenes and has been used in weddings. The Police call it an Anti-Love Song. It's about a Stalker with a Crush. And that's not even mentioning that the stalker song was sampled for use in Puff Daddy's tribute to Biggie. You have to wonder if P. Diddy ever actually listened to the song (though considering that Sting has participated in performances of the tribute, apparently he's decided to just roll with it). They did change enough lyrics that someone who never heard the original wouldn't know. (It's now "missing you" instead of "watching you".)
It's gotten to the point where some people have inverted it, thinking that they are the first to bring up the stalker angle and that it's unintentional on The Police's part.
- Die Prinzen:
- "Alles nur geklaut", which mocks, among other things, cover versions of hit songs, has been covered by female singer Sha... with altered lyrics.
- "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 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.
- 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. Furthermore, 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. Lady Gaga actually adopted her stage name from the song, but likely saw the irony in doing so.
- The song "East Bound and Down" by Jerry Reed, and covered by him and many other bands like The Road Hammers, is 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 it evokes images of speeding freight trains or semi trucks on interstate highways, but 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, the irony becomes very transparent.
- 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"...)
- "Losing My Religion" is often misinterpreted or taken literally, even though Stipe has gone on record saying it's supposed to be about unrequited love.
- A popular choice for weddings is "Everybody Hurts", a song about toughing it out and not giving in to despair when life gets hard. Uplifting, but not particularly romantic.
- Michael Stipe has come to hate "Shiny Happy People" because so many have taken it at face value as an uplifting song about a utopia. The song's title and the chorus ("Shiny happy people holding hands") was taken from a Chinese propaganda poster—it was meant to be a sarcastic take on anyone thinking such a place is possible. Guest singer Kate Pierson has apparently decided to just run with it, since she still performs the song.
- 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).
- "Lovin' You" by Minnie Riperton is a common choice for video tributes to loved ones. In reality, it is a sweet-sounding, bird-song-filled... Intercourse with You song. However, it's Fridge Brilliance if you remember that it was actually intended to be a Parental Love Song to the singer's daughter.
- "Closing Time" by Semisonic is not about a bar closing up for the night. It was written in anticipation of front man Dan Wilson's impending fatherhood.note Lyric in point: "This room won't be open 'til your brothers or your sisters come."
- Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)", a Break Up Song, has been used as a leitmotif related to people's memories or things that are unforgettable. Perhaps its oddest appearance was right before a commercial break at the 93rd Academy Awards' pre-show, where it was used to get viewers to not change the channel as there was more to come. Its title was also used for several tributes to the late John Hughes, the writer-director of The Breakfast Club (for which the song was commissioned), after his 2009 passing.
- 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, it sounds 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.
- A staple of British Halloween compilation albums is The Specials' "Ghost Town". They evidently don't look past the title of the song and look at the lyrics it's about urban decay, deindustrialisation, unemployment, and violence in inner cities. (That being said, the reason it's stuck around in this usage for so long is because it is a very ghostly-sounding song. As in, an instrumental version could be used as Haunted House music without any other changes.)
- Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" is often mistaken for and used as a patriotic anthem due to its catchy hook and chorus. However, the lyrics are describing a Baby Boomer man whose life is disintegrating due to Vietnam War PTSD and industrial decay and job-loss in the Rust Belt. He's protesting that this shouldn't be happening in America, to Americans.
- 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.
- 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. Its 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 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!
- "Sweetest Thing". The "love's the sweetest thing" and "blue-eyed boy and this brown-eyed girl" parts are rather offset by the "I'm losing you" and the song 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:
- "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.
- 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 Judith Holofernes, a lot of people took the song to be an upbeat "you can do it!" in its own right.
- Although YOASOBI's "Yoru ni Kakeru" is popular and has an energetic melody, most people don't know that its lyrics are implied to be a girl and a boy who decide to have a Suicide Pact, as the lyrics mention that "when you fall, I'll reach your hand", and that they'll "fall into the dawnless night".
- "Zombie" by The Cranberries is a popular Halloween song, with even Spotify putting it on their Halloween playlist, entirely because of its title. The song is actually about how War Is Hell, and was inspired by a bombing during The Troubles that killed two children.
- The state song of Kentucky, which is sung before the Kentucky Derby, is "My Old Kentucky Home". Very touching song, until you realize it's an anti-slavery song about a slave (or slaves) being "sold down the river" to work in the Louisiana sugar cane plantations.
- Any film, documentary, TV programme, or anything else that uses "Big in Japan" by Alphaville 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".
- Astronaut Chris Hadfield released a video of himself performing the title track of David Bowie's Space Oddity in the International Space Station. The song... does not have a happy ending. The Downer Ending verses were changed/removed, but still, it's sort of Tempting Fate to sing that song when you're actually in space.
- Olympic figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu has stated that his number one motivational song is "Kaze" from Digimon Tamers. Both the song and the lyrics are uplifting, so the irony isn't in the lyrics, but rather, the context the song is used in the anime. In the context of Digimon Tamers, the song is meant to give viewers a false sense of hope. The kids, being Digimon fans, are expecting the Digital World to be a brightly colored, fun wonderland like it was in the prior seasons, hence the uplifting music when they depart. Unfortunately, with this being Tamers, the Digital World isn't exactly the fun adventure they were hoping for thanks to the D-Reaper, and things quickly go to shit almost immediately after the song. "Kaze" is a marker indicating when the Cerebus Syndrome starts kicking in.
- Three decades after being released, advertisers started using "Unbelievable" by EMF without noticing, or caring, about the Precision F-Strike hook (which admittedly is truncated through most of the song and the way it's cut off obscures the actual swear word; but it's still audible, and you'd think a multi-million dollar account warrants a careful vetting of potential music for any objectionable lyrics).
- Paul McCartney playing "Hey Jude" from Magical Mystery Tour, a song about opening your heart and pursuing a girl you like, during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. Maybe it was supposed to be a consolation for the losers?
- They played Ιdith 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...
- In a case of Soundtrack Dissonance, WWE Summerslam 2015 featured "Cool For The Summer" by Demi Lovato as its theme to punctuate the main event grudge match between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, more than a year removed from the latter breaking the former's 21-match strong WrestleMania Streak. While the song's tune fits the pop themes Summerslam has been using for the past few years, it's jarring that "Cool For The Summer" is juxtaposed with the main event it is advertising. ESPECIALLY if said aforementioned song isn't hiding its theme of Girl on Girl Is Hot experimentation, something that seems way too out of place for WWE's PG-era.
- This really isn't anything new for WWE, as a lot of times their major shows will use a recently popular song as the promotional theme despite a lot of the time the songs actually being about romance (even failed ones). Even when they use rock/metal it can be rather unfitting if one takes it at lyrical value, for example No Way Out 2003 used "Bring Me To Life" as its theme. Yes, that "Bring Me To Life".
- Shortly after debuting her crazy girl gimmick, Victoria was given t.A.T.u.'s "All the Things She Said" as an entrance theme. While it was remixed to only use the lyrics "Yes, I've lost my mind," and "All the things she said running through my head," the song is about a girl panicking and losing her mind after realizing she's a lesbian.
- Ever since 2020, WWE has used "War Pigs" as the theme song for its NXT WarGames events (mainly for the titular match) and recently was used for Survivor Series WarGames as well, evoking the match's awe-inspiring and brutal nature. This is despite the fact that "War Pigs" is very much an anti-war song, with it talking about about the horrors of war and how it is exploited as a means to gain money and power. Fans don't seem to mind, as between the song itself being well-liked, WWE and metal being a much-appreciated combination, nearly every WarGames match under WWE being good-to-great, and having Ozzy's Osbourne's blessing have all made it not nearly as jarring as it should be.
- For the 30th Anniversary of WWE Raw (known as Raw is XXX) they used David Guetta and Bebe Rexha's "I'm Good (Blue)" which heavily samples Eiffel 65's infamous "Blue (Da Ba Dee)". Y'know, despite the fact that Raw's sister show SmackDown is the one that has had a blue aesthetic since its inception.
- Canadian PM Stephen Harper sang The Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra during a parliamentary crisis in which all the other party leaders threatened to band together and form a coalition government against him — and right after making massive cuts in arts and culture funding. 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 (though the pun is sort of obvious). 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).
- "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" from Cabaret, a song sung by the Hitler Youth, has been recorded by more than one White Nationalist band. At least they're honest.
- At one point, homophobic politician George Bush Sr. used as a theme song the intensely gay "The Best of Times" from La Cage aux folles. The musical's librettist, Harvey Fierstein, commented, "Some queen pulled a fast one on him!"
- During his appearance on CPAC 2014, Rand Paul used Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" as his intro music. The song has its own entry in the "Music" folder to explain exactly why a Republican Senator and presidential hopeful for 2016 trying to evoke how the conservatives may not have the presidency but still intend to be heard probably should not be using that song.
- "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash. The pro-war adopters of the song seem oblivious to the fact that 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 also banned it (along with some other songs) during Gulf War I and again after 9/11.
- The estate of Leonard Cohen was peeved at Trump for using "Hallelujah" without permission at the Republican National Convention in 2020... and commented that they might have approved it if the party had asked for "You Want It Darker" instead.
- 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.
- During the 2016 Republican National Convention, George Harrison's estate was upset when "Here Comes The Sun" was played, writing "If it had been Beware of Darkness, then we MAY have approved it!".
- 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.
- 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. 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. Yoko Ono was so displeased, she demanded that YouTube pull all videos of the performance.
- 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"note would be a good song for them remains a mystery.)
- 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. More generally, 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.
- Sean Hannity uses an out-of-context clip to make Martina McBride's "Independence Day" sound like it's about terrorism. The song is frequently misused in general as a simple patriotic anthem, ignoring the verses (which describe an abusive relationship ending in murder-suicide from the point of view of a young child). The composer cannot stop Hannity from using the song, so she donated her royalties from his airplay to progressive causes.
- John Mellencamp refused to allow Ronald Reagan to use his song "Pink Houses" for his presidental campaign. The song has a "patriotic" chorus, but disillusionment in its verses.
- Donald Trump has fallen into this trope a lot.
- He used "High Hopes" by Panic! at the Disco during his reelection campaign without permission (Brendon Urie ordered him to stop using the song and encouraged his fans to vote him out in 2020). Not only is the song written by pro-gay, progressive and openly pansexual Brendon Urie, but it's about achieving success from nothing but high hopes. Regardless of one's opinions about Trump, he was born into wealth and this description thus does not apply to him.
- During the 2016 presidential primaries, he angered R.E.M. by using "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" during campaign events. Frontman Michael Stipe ended up endorsing Bernie Sanders's campaign. For more bizarre context, the song was specifically played before Trump spoke about the Iran nuclear deal, and it's probably the least reassuring song one could choose for such a high-stakes topic.
- In an egregious case of irony, Trump used "Happy" by Pharrell Williams during his visit to Indiana... on the same day as a synagogue massacre. Williams was not happy and a cease-and-desist was issued, telling Trump there is nothing "happy" about what happened at the synagogue.
- He used used Neil Young's "Keep On Rockin' In The Free World" during campaign events. The title and chorus of the the song is deeply sarcastic, specifically rebuking the George H. W. Bush administration, as the text itself is about America's poverty-stricken underbelly and how the American government, despite boasting of the country's prosperity, does next to nothing to help them, mentioning homeless people and a junkie with a crack baby who hates her life (the line "we've got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand" skewers Bush's calls for a "kinder, gentler nation" from his 1989 inaugural address). Just like R.E.M., Young didn't approve and instead endorsed Bernie Sanders, personally allowing him to use his song.
- Trump has also ran afoul of The Rolling Stones, as listed below.
- Tom Petty:
- In 2012, Michelle Bachmann attempted to use "American Girl", often thought to be about a young girl committing suicide, as her presidential campaign anthem. Tom Petty successfully forced her to pick something else.
- In 2022, Tom Petty's estate issued a cease-and-desist statement to Arizona gubenatorial candidate Kari Lake for using "I Won't Back Down" on her social media sites after refusing to concede the election to Katie Hobbs.
- 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 (which Limbaugh was fine with). However, Rush has explained before that he doesn't care about the lyrics or politics of the band, he just likes the song and the bassline makes a good intro to the show.
- The Rolling Stones:
- The song that was ultimately played the most during Donald Trump's presidential campaign (without permission)? "You Can't Always Get What You Want". Not only is it a rather odd choice for a political campaign song, considering the thing the singer wants is a woman he knows will be bad for him, but Trump even played it after his victory speech.
- In her 2005 campaign, German Chancellor Angela Merkel introduced herself using the song "Angie", which is a Break Up Song written about Mick Jagger's split with Marianne Faithfull. The song's lyrics includes lines like "All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke / You can't say we're satisfied". A spokesman for the group said, "We are surprised that permission was not requested. If it had been requested, we would have said no.", though the group took no action to stop her.
- The Sabaton song "The Last Stand" has become something of an anti-Islamic anthem for the Alt-Right (as well as people making memes about The Crusades, on a lighter note). Which is odd, because if you listen to the verses instead of just the chorus, the forces besieging "the home of the Holy" are Protestants; it's about the titular Last Stand of the Swiss Guard defending the Pope during the 1527 sack of Rome.
- Special mention should go to Bruce Springsteen: In 1984, his "Born in the USA", a song about a disaffected Vietnam veteran, nearly got picked up by Ronald Reagan's campaign until Springsteen turned him down. 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.
- The song "Part of the Union" by the Strawbs was, according to Word of God (and quite blatantly in the original 1970s British context), a right-wing satire on trade unions and unionised workers as lazy, selfish, and too influential over the Labour Party government. This has not prevented actual trade unionists in various parts of the world from using the song as an actual recruiting tool and anthem.
- Boris Grebenshchikov's anti-war (and anti-establishment) song "This Train's On Fire contains the lyrics "This land was ours... Its time for us to get it back", which made it a natural fit for Russian government propaganda promoting the annexation of Crimea.
- The Ken Bruce Show on BBC Radio 2 deals with romantic dedications from listeners by throwing them all together into a feature called "The Love Song" which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin... usually. But it has also included such decidedly unromantic numbers as "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian (which is about teen angst), both the George Benson and Whitney Houston versions of "The Greatest Love Of All" (which is about self-reliance), and "Song For Whoever" by The Beautiful South (which is about Muse Abuse).
- This is deliberately inverted by Paul O'Grady on his Sunday afternoon show, where he does a dedication slot to couples celebrating serious wedding anniversaries. He delights in selecting the most wildly inappropriate songs possible for a fortieth wedding anniversary, such as "Promises" by Eric Clapton note or "Reno" by Johnny Cashnote . He then professes shock and blames the choice on his producer.
- Two Pink Floyd examples from BBC Radio 4:
- Their financial programme "Money Box" used the intro from "Money"... which is about the evils of finance.
- Their programme "Medicine Now" used... "Run like Hell". Whoever chose that had a wicked sense of humour.
- 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 Charles 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.
- Many people on the internet associate the words "give 'em the old razzle dazzle" with humorous pictures of people or animals that seem to be dancing. The original song, from Chicago, is the musical's resident Magnificent Bastard bragging about how he uses flair and showmanship to get his clients (i.e. murderers) acquitted in court.
- "Satisfied" from Hamilton is a beautiful song that several musically-inclined sisters of the bride have had to explain is actually about being the unlucky sibling in a Sibling Triangle and thus very awkward to sing at one's actual sister's wedding.
- Songs from Dear Evan Hansen are often used in an inspirational or heartwarming context, especially "You Will Be Found" and "For Forever". The finale that reprises both of these songs was used for the "In Memoriam" segment of the 72nd Tony Awards, for example. The problem is, many of the songs Evan sings, while they do carry genuine emotions, are used to lie to the classmates and family of a suicide victim for Evan's own emotional gain.
- "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame is, not entirely surprisingly, often used as a Christmas song. However, in its original context in the musical, it's about the characters celebrating the holiday early in order to pick themselves up after losing everything in the stock market crash of 1929.
- 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's also used to rather hilarious effect on an episode of Two and a Half Men in a situation that actually highlights and inverts 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 is keeping him that way so she can indulge her romantic feelings for him.
- Six: The Musical:
- The song "Haus of Holbein" saw popularity on TikTok, specifically due to a trend that involved showing off the tightness of a corset set to the verses "You bring the corset, we'll bring the cinches / No one wants a waist over nine inches". Except the song in question is actually meant to poke fun at the harmful beauty procedures of the Tudor era — so much so that the verse in question is followed by an acknowledgement that the make-up at the time contained lead poison.
- "Don't Lose Ur Head" and "All You Wanna Do" have also fallen victim to this, especially the latter, which is a deceptively upbeat song about how Katherine Howard was manipulated and mistreated by every single man she was romantically involved with, culminating in her having a meltdown onstage.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
- Angela Lansbury (the original Mrs. Lovett) sang "Not While I'm Around" in concert, 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 said 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.
- A YouTube video well-known among Sweeney Todd fans features a slideshow of horse pictures... the background song being "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.
- There's also a video of a little girl singing "Green Finch and Linnet Bird". The song isn't that creepy, just 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...
- There is a Dragon Age: Origins fan mod that inserts a cinematic of Alistair and Cousland's wedding. The music playing in the background? An elvish song about how we shouldn't fear death.
- Saints Row IV includes Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" on the soundtrack. While the trippy production fits the theme of the game well, the lyrics, on the other hand, are a Deconstruction of excessive partying.
- In Rumble Roses, the song "Yankee Rose" by David Lee Roth is used for the entrance music of a character and the intro. The character is Dixie Clemets, 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 in America it denotes someone from the northern states (particularly New England), but outside the USA, most countries (including Japan, where the game was made) use "Yankee" to mean any American. Still, one can't help but think they just looked at the Rose in the title.
- Cracked has its Top 9 of "Inappropriate Soundtrack Choices". Their list includes such examples as:
- General Electric using "Sixteen Tons" in a clean coal commercial.
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." 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." There is also, of course, the obvious irony inherent in a group of advertisers fucking up a song bemoaning advertisers constantly fucking up their songs.
- General Electric using "Sixteen Tons" in a clean coal commercial.
- Parodied in The Onion: "Song About Heroin Used To Advertise Bank" specifically mocks Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" being used ironically.
- Youtube Poop by various creators, to the point of Memetic Mutation, use the main riff of "Careless Whisper" to make once-innocent scenes instead look like the characters are about to get down to business. While Downplayed due to an instrumental portion being used for the meme instead of the conflicting lyrics, the song being about a man deciding that he deserves to be alone after his partner leaves him due to his unfaithfulness still makes its use in these situations rather "Careless".
- Some fanmade music videos have Hiroyuki Takami's "JUSTICE" set to scenes of a heroic protagonist kicking serious ass. Just one small problem: "JUSTICE" isn't about fighting in the name of justice. It's a Villain Song about committing atrocities for self-serving reasons, and the name comes from the fact that it's a lie to rationalize the singer's cruelty.
- A Memetic Mutation has the chorus of "Glory Glory What a Helluva Way to Die" be used to laud a fallen brother who died of sexual misadventure. The song (AKA "Blood Upon the Risers" and "He Ain't Gotta Jump no More") is an extremely graphic jody call about a WW2 paratrooper whose parachute didn't open. In context, "glory, glory, what a helluva way to die" means "what a God-awful way to go", rather than "that's how I wanna go out".
- The Simpsons: A straight example occurs in one Treehouse of Horror episode where Bart and Lisa get sent to an elementary school in Hell. A montage of their school life is shown with Pat Benatar's "Hell Is For Children", a song about child abuse, playing over it (for bonus points, the song was previously used in animation in an appropriate context the late going of Ralph Bakshi's American Pop).
- In the pilot episode of Allen Gregory, after the titular character meets his principal for the first time, he starts fantasizing about himself having all sorts of romantic encounters with her. This fantasy sequence is set to the chorus of Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight"... the very same "In the Air Tonight" that, in its verses, features lyrics like "Well, if you told me you were drowning / I would not lend a hand", and, for extra points, was inspired by Collins's divorce from his first wife.
- Regular Show used Filter's "Hey Man Nice Shot", a song about Bud Dwyer's televised suicide, for a basketball scene. The lyric "A man has gun / Hey man have fun" can even clearly be heard.
- The final stretch of Family Guy's "No Meals on Wheels" has Peter 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", a song about lovers who are far apart.