Pop Songs & What They Are About

“Life is a song – sing it!”

Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual master

Fortunately, music is a great part of our life. It’s around us, affecting our emotions, bringing back memories, coloring our experience… I’m sure that each of us has their own favorite English songs, and I think it would be a good idea to work with their grammar and vocabulary to make learning more exciting. But in this post I’d like to write not about my favorites (besides, my selection might not appeal to many readers). I’d like to make this post about popular songs whose meaning is often misunderstood or not understood at all. In addition, they are interesting from the linguistic point of view. So, let’s get started…

The Weeknd – Starboy

See the lyrics here.

Song vocabulary note:

  • To put sb. in a bad mood (here “worst mood”) – to make sb. sad, depressed
  • P1 = McLaren P1 – an extortionately expensive sports car
  • Milli point two = 1.2 million (dollars) – the price of the P1
  • LambLamborghini – another enormously expensive car
  • Lease – a legal agreement in which you pay money to use a building, vehicle etc. for a period (on lease = rented)
  • Out of one’s league [liːg] – not a proper match for sb.
  • Centerpiece – the most important/attractive part/feature
  • 20 racks = 20 000 ($)
  • Ebony [‘eb(ə)nɪ] – a very hard dark wood of a tropical tree
  • Ivory [‘aɪv(ə)rɪ] – the substance that forms the tusks of some animals such as elephants, used to make decorative objects (here “ivory” is used with its slang meaning – cocaine)
  • A hearing aid – a device worn inside or next to the ear, helping people with a hearing loss hear better
  • To switch up – to change (usually in a way that brings an improvement)
  • Starboy – a Jamaican slang word for someone cool
  • To pull off – to start moving (about a vehicle)
  • Roadster SVLamborghini Aventador SV Roadster
  • Hefty – large in amount, size etc. (here “hefty pockets”)
  • Far cry – something very different (to be a far cry from sth.) (here “far cry” is a reference to a video game where the player has to kill the king)
  • Mulsanne = Bentley Mulsanne
  • Crib – home, house (slang)
  • Lavish – gorgeous
  • Wraith [reɪθ] of Khan [kɑːn] – Rolls Royce Wraith Kahn Edition
  • To get loose – to go wild, crazy
  • Dash = dashboard – the panel facing the driver of a vehicle

If you are interested in the line-by-line analysis of the song, you can find it here.

All in all, the song sounds great but its meaning… I hope it’s just a story which we shouldn’t take seriously. Otherwise, what is it if not drug promotion and materialistic propaganda? The message is clear: I’m a cool guy and I’m cool just because I’ve got expensive cars, I make more money in one week than most people do in one year, I have 2 girlfriends (judging by the vocabulary used, there is no sign of respect for a woman) and at least one of them is a cocaine addict; in fact, I don’t mind “killing pain” either. Oh, I love my mother and my love is expressed in her new house and a car. And finally, I love speed driving – “I don’t pray for love, I just pray for cars”. Again, I hope the Weeknd doesn’t really mean it… And I hope his numerous fans around the world, including kids, understand that…

Beyonce – Diva

“Diva” is a song about girl power, that is female independence, confidence and empowerment. But do the lyrics deliver any other messages? Let’s listen carefully…

See the lyrics here.

Song vocabulary note:

  • Diva [‘diːvə] – a very successful and famous female singer
  • Hustler [‘hʌslə] – a person adept at aggressive selling or illicit dealing + someone that makes money the way they want (source)
  • Benji – 100$ bill
  • To talk shit – to say sth. rude about another person
  • To pull up – to come
  • Hood (American English) –  the cover over the part of a car where the engine is
  • To pop the hood – to open the hood (here the phrase is slang, meaning having sex with her)
  • Six-pack – a case of six beers
  • Up in here – here
  • To talk back – to reply defiantly
  • Stilettos – woman’s shoes with narrow, high heels
  • To strut – to walk in a proud way trying to look important + to live with a feeling of style (source)
  • Stickup – robbery (slang)

Well, what can I say? Beyonce looks and sounds great as always, “Diva” is a good song to learn interesting slang words. As for the message, “If you ain’t gettin’ money, then you ain’t got nothing for me”…

Rihanna – Bitch Better Have My Money

No comment. Just watch…

See the lyrics here.

Song vocabulary note:

  • To call one’s bluff – to make someone prove that what they are saying is true, or to make someone prove that they will really do what they say, because you do not believe them
  • LeBron – a famous basketball player
  • Brrap – a vocal representation of a gunshot
  • Louis 13 – a unique and exquisite kind of French cognac
  • It’s on me = I will pay the bill
  • To call the shots – to be in teh position of being able to make the decisions that will influence a situation
  • Wasted – under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs (slang)
  • Drop top – convertible (cabriolet)
  • Rearview mirror – a mirror (as in a car) that gives a view of the area behind a vehicle

Well, this Rihanna’s song tells a very sad story about a successful woman whose accountant stole her money and had to pay for it with his life. What I like about this song is its subject – we rarely hear songs about stealing accountants. But perhaps, smoking a bong is not the best way to express yourself…

I don’t doubt the talent of Rihanna, Beyonce and the Weeknd. It’s just the other way round – I know how exceptionally talented and extraordinary these people are. I know and love many of their songs. The songs and videos above just reflect the world and society we live in right now. Where there is a demand, there is a supply…

At the end I’d like to mention that many modern pop songs are with really bad grammar and urban slang. Trying to learn English with such songs may be very difficult and ineffective. On the other hand, they shed light on a very exciting part of the English language, slang. So, listen, learn and remember not to take each song very seriously 😉