If there's anything I miss about the '90s, it's singing along to songs on the radio, blissfully unaware of what the words really meant. (OK, and butterfly clips, my general aesthetic of blissful ignorance, Sweet Valley High, and... yeah, you get the point.) Like most of my friends, I sang along to the sweet '90s tunes on the radio without knowing what they meant. The best part of growing up? Finding out the secret inspiration behind your favorite '90s songs. Because even though you thought you knew it all as a kid in the '90s, you didn't know everything.
Which is probably why your mother changed the radio station while you sang loudly along with 112's "Peaches and Cream", not really understanding what it was about. Gone are those days of innocence, and upon us are the days of researching what a song means before we go singing it at the top of our lungs. (It also helps that we now have things like Rap Genius and Urban Dictionary to leave no lyrical stone unturned.) Buckle your seatbelt, rewind the clock, and turn up the volume on your nostalgia station as you discover the secrets behind some of your favorite '90s hits.
1. 'Hook' by Blues Traveler
What is this song even about? Well, it's basically about nothing. "It doesn't matter what I say, so long as I sing it with inflection," starts off the hit, and it only spirals from there. But after listening to the lyrics carefully, you realize that the song is literally about writing pop music that doesn't necessarily soothe the soul, but that the masses will eat up. The fact that this song was a hit in the '90s only goes to show that John Popper knew exactly what he was doing. By bashing pop music in a catchy song, he curated a hit.
2. 'The Hardest Thing' by 98 Degrees
Shockingly dark material for a bubblegum boy band, I sang along to this one even though I had no clue what any of it was talking about. Turns out? It's about cheating. Who knew 98 Degrees had it in 'em?
3. 'Mr. Jones' by The Counting Crows
Mr. Jones is a real person, who knew?! According to lead singer Adam Duritz, Marty Jones was a bass player in all of the previous bands he was in before he made it to the Counting Crows. The story recalls the tale of Duritz going out one night, getting drunk, and trying to meet girls.
4. 'The Freshmen' by The Verve Pipe
Who didn't annoy the heck out of their parents by playing this one on repeat? Like most '90s children, I sang along blissfully unaware of the meaning behind the lyrics. As it turns out, the alternative ballad was depressing as hell, and about lead singer Brian Van Ark's experience when he was 15 and found out he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and that she was having an abortion.
5. 'If You Could Only See' by Tonic
The only song by Tonic that ever became a hit, the song tells the tale of a woman that the singer's parents don't approve of. Little do you know, it's a true life story. Lead singer Emerson Hart was 17 years old, dating a 32-year-old woman, according to People. His parents were less than pleased, but it made a smash hit song. Not all bad, mom and dad!
6. 'Lightning Crashes' by Live
This song Lightning Crashes is allegedly about Barbara Lewis, a close friend of the band who died in a car accident one night after seeing the band perform. Some say she was killed by a drunk driver, some say she was fleeing an armed robber — that same night, her heart was removed for organ donation and transplanted into a newborn baby that had been born with a heart problem.
7. 'Truly Madly Deeply' by Savage Garden
Obviously, a love song. But about who? What makes the story behind this song so amazing, is that the song wasn't written for a woman, but a man. Singer Darren Hayes is notoriously private, and kept his personal life just that, personal. Hayes didn't come out until the the 2000s, and while peddling gooey love songs to the masses, he was living his life. I love that music transcends seuxal preference. Booyah.
8. 'Macarena' by Los Del Rio
Yeah, Macarena! More like no, Macarena, no. This song is about a girl named Macarena whose boyfriend is being drafted into the army, so she cheats on him with two of his friends. Google translate, my friends.
9. 'Closing Time' by Semisonic
While the song became a favorite of bartenders everywhere, Closing Time is actually about childbirth. Frontman Dan Wilsontold American Songwriter in 2010 that he was thinking about babies while writing the song. "My wife and I were expecting our first kid very soon after I wrote that song. I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb." Babies, not bars.
10. 'Semi-Charmed Life' By Third Eye Blind
Upbeat and bouncy as all get out, Rolling Stone notes that Semi-Charmed Life is really about a couple doing crystal meth. The upbeat and light feeling of the music was completely intentional, according to lead singer Stephan Jenkins. He said to Billboard, "that was the feeling of speed."
11. 'Good Riddance' by Green Day
Decidedly a graduation or prom song, the acoustic song was written by frontman Billie Joe Armstrong about a girlfriend who was moving to Ecuador and leaving him behind.