A fair warning before we start – this article is not for the fainthearted. If you are a 1990s kid and you’re reading this, brace yourselves. We expect a deluge of snot and tears because your childhood is about to be overthrown. We’re looking into some of the late 1990s and early 2000s hit songs that many of us grew up listening to but remained blissfully unaware of the underlying (inappropriate) connotations. And, goodness, were they inappropriate.
It’s bliss that, as kids, we imitate so much without even realising what they mean that these stay with us well into our adulthood without ever even being questioned. So, for example, if we think about those highly racist and sexist nursery poems we read as kids, ones that we probably still iterate to children today, we hardly ever think about what they originally meant. What prevails are the lilting rhythms and catchy tunes.
It’s the same with songs. All too often certain songs break into the charts that are way too inappropriate to be considered the right content for kids. But the happy and jovial melodies fool us – they’re just fun songs to sing along with, so what could possibly go wrong with them? For starters, some of them talk about very graphic sexual encounters, which wouldn’t be entirely age-appropriate for children. But more than that, there are some songs that just blatantly promote sexism, homophobia and all-round degrading analogies to refer to the body.
It’s all fun and music until someone points it out, and there goes our carefree and euphoric childhood right out of the window.
For this feature, we’re looking forward to pointing out those inappropriate elements in songs and reflecting on our childhood memories all over again.
10 songs that are not appropriate for kids:
‘Macarena’ – Los del Rió
Kicking off the list with the ultimate dance number at weddings and parties is this song by Los del Rió called ‘Macarena’. Dancer or not, we’ve all grooved to the beats of this song, but did we ever stop to think about what the song actually meant?
Beginning innocently enough, the lyrics to ‘Macarena’, when roughly translated from Spanish, talk about a girl called Macarena and her boyfriend Vitorino. While Vitorino was being charted off to the army, Macarena indulged in sexual encounters with two of Vitorino’s best friends.
Will this little piece of information stop you from dancing to the iconic steps, though? Probably not.
‘Poker Face’ – Lady Gaga
Believe it or not, but this song has hardly anything to do with cards or playing poker. Lady Gaga herself admitted that this song was purely and entirely about sex. So, there shouldn’t be any two ways about it.
The song very clearly hinted at Gaga’s bisexuality. She related how the idea for ‘Poker Face’ came to her when she was dating a guy but, every time they had sex, she’d think about girls. It’s evident in the lyrics also, when Lady Gaga says, “After he’s been hooked, I’ll play the one that’s on his heart”. Or, that other time when she said, “Cause I’m bluffin’ with my muffin” – no, it wasn’t a reference to any kind of baked food.
‘Barbie Girl’ – Aqua
As catchy as this tune sounds, do yourself a favour and keep this song out of the reach of kids.
Not only is the song overtly sexual but it is extremely demeaning towards women. We could cite examples but then we’d have to quote the entire song. And before you ask, no, the Barbie doll chain of products is not in any way, affiliated with this song.
Right from the lines “You can brush my hair, undress me anywhere” to “make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please” to “I’m a bloned bimbo girl in a fantasy world/ Dress me up, dress me tight, I’m your dolly”, Aqua’s song ‘Barbie Girl’ is inappropriate for even the most grown-up adults out there, let alone children.
‘Summer of 69’ – Bryan Adams
This 1985 smash hit by Bryan Adams was, on the lighter side in terms of inappropriateness. Adams’ song was mostly reminiscent of a nostalgic memory of the times past and of unfettered youth. Chronologically speaking, Adams was only around ten-years-old in the year 1969. His song may have been inspired by personal anecdotes but Adams clarified what the title of the song was really about.
“A lot of people think it’s about the year, but actually, it’s more about making love in the summertime. It’s using ’69 as a sexual reference.” In the song, this thought finds its place through the lyrics: “Man, we were killing time/ We were young and restless/ We needed to unwind”. Thankfully, it was nothing too graphic.
‘Milkshake’ – Kelis
Kelis has changed her mind on what her classic dance floor jam ‘Milkshake’ really means. At one point of time, she said, “It was just a word we came up with on a whim, but then the song took on a life of its own.”
With lyrics like “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard/ And they’re like, it’s better than yours” and “You want me to teach the/ Techniques that freaks these boys”, surely, the song wasn’t as innocent as Kelis made it sound. She later changed her mind on it and said, “A milkshake is the thing that makes women special. It’s what gives us our confidence and what makes us exciting.”
We’ll leave that comment for you to ponder on and decipher what she means to say.
‘Like A Prayer’ – Madonna
Madonna’s 1989 hit song ‘Like A Prayer’, following its release, engendered a chain of controversies in its wake. Madonna described the song as being about a girl who was “so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life.”
Unsurprisingly enough, this enraged many among the conservative and religious audience because of the song’s dual meaning. On the one hand, it was about a woman, getting on her knees, and praying to God. Alternatively, it could’ve very well hinted at a sexual encounter between the woman and her partner, with lyrics like, “I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there/ In the midnight hour I can feel your power”.
‘Genie in A Bottle’ – Christina Aguilera
In Christina Aguilera’s ‘Genie in A Bottle’, the narrator of the song feels trapped and yearns for the sweet release: “I feel like I’ve been locked up tight/ For a century of lonely nights/ Waiting for someone to release me.” But she’s in a dilemma. Her “body’s sayin’ let’s go” but her “heart is sayin’ no”.
The Aladdin-reminiscent imagery is soon lost in the progression of the song that hints towards a girl weary of all the terrible sex she has had for the longest time, but remains optimistic: “Hormones racing at the speed of light/ But that don’t mean it’s gotta be tonight”.
‘Candy Shop’ – 50 Cent
From “I’ll let you lick the lollipop/ Go ‘head girl don’t you stop/ Keep going ‘til you hit the spot” to “You gon’ back that thing up, or should I push up on it”, it’ll probably redundant to point out that in no way, shape or form was this song about a candy shop.
Instead, the candy shop could be an allegory for the bedroom. In other words, the gist of the song ‘Candy Shop’ by 50 Cent’s is the incessant use of candy-related metaphors which in the end lead up to a very heated session of intimacy and lovemaking.
‘Longview’ – Green Day
Green Day’s hit single ‘Longview’ was a breakthrough in the mainstream — an area the band had not ventured into before. Billie Joe Armstrong commented on the making of the song saying, “I was just in a creative rut. I was in-between houses sleeping on people’s couches.” He further said, “I was coming from a lonely guy’s perspective: No girlfriend, no life, complete loser.”
For this song, Armstrong bored out of his wits, decides to go solo (unlike the rest of the songs on this list). As he sings, “Bite my lip and close my eyes/ Take me away to paradise/ I’m so damn bored I’m going blind/ And I smell like shit”. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s losing interest in pleasuring himself too, owing to how dull and monotonous his life has become: “When masturbation’s lost its fun/ You’re fucking breaking”.
‘December, ’63 (Oh What A Night)’ – Frankie Vallie & The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons’ ‘December ‘63’ was an instant global hit upon its release in 1975. When the song was still in its formative stage, it was based on the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. But many of the band members and associates objected to the lyrics and melody of the song. It was released only when everyone was content with it.
By then, it had turned into a kind of a love song. The group had to downplay the sexual undertones in the song, keeping in mind the conservative radio stations on which their song would be played. Frankie Valli, lead singer for The Four Seasons, later admitted that the song was “about losing your cherry”. Also, the falsetto in the latter half of the song sounds like a musical version of an orgasm, but that is probably something the kids don’t need to know about just yet.