People listen to music for lots of different reasons.
Sometimes, we want to simply enjoy an uplifting beat to dance along to, but other times we want to listen to lyrics that have meaning and something to say.
Song lyrics, like poetry, are often open to interpretation, meaning that fans can wonder to themselves about what the artist’s intentions were behind their favorite pieces.
Here is a compilation of some of the best songs with deep meaning of all time, covering an expansive range of artists and themes.
1. “Closing Time” by Semisonic
Semisonic is an American rock band from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
They released the song “Closing Time” as a single in 1998 and it remains their most well-known song.
Ostensibly, the song is about kicking people out of a bar at ‘closing time’, the sense of finality it brings while also excitement about what is coming next.
However, it has been hinted that the song actually has a deeper meaning.
The writer, Dan Wilson, was expecting a baby at the time, so the song can also be interpreted as being about the anticipation of fatherhood.
2. “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is a household name today, but it was his debut single “The A Team” that took him from obscurity into worldwide fame.
The song is a folk ballad about a homeless sex worker that is addicted to crack cocaine.
Sheeran wrote the song after visiting a homeless shelter and hearing about some of the stories of the people staying there.
The song became a top ten hit across many countries, including the UK, Australia, and Germany.
3. “As It Was” by Harry Styles
Harry Styles has been the center of attention since the release of his album earlier this year.
Styles was catapulted into stardom at sixteen after coming in third place on the X Factor alongside his fellow One Direction bandmates.
“As It Was” was released as the lead single for his third album, and the lyrics discuss life not being ‘the same as it was’.
Fans have been quick to come up with interpretations for the lyrics, but the general message is one of nostalgia and recognition for how much life has changed.
Fans can only imagine how much Styles’ life has changed since he was sixteen, making the lyrics all the more powerful.
4. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana
“Heart-Shaped Box” was written by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and was the last song he performed live in 1994.
The lyrics are very powerful, and many interpretations have been speculated.
Cobain claimed that the lyrics are about children suffering from cancer, but Courtney Love claimed that the song was about her and, specifically, about her vagina.
It can also be read as being about the general experience of being in a romantic relationship, with love being compared to an addictive opioid drug
5. “Mirrorball” by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift created a storm amongst her fans with the release of her Folklore album in 2020.
The album marked a change in style for Swift, moving away from her established pop sound and into something more acoustic and folky.
Swift also explored new ground lyrically, experimenting with fictional storylines and different points of view.
“Mirrorball” has been hailed as one of the most powerful and relatable on the album, with lyrics about the struggle of showing ‘every version of yourself’ to impress other people, ‘shimmering beautiful’ like a mirrorball before shattering into a million pieces.
Mirrorball describes the difficulty of wanting to impress those around you, changing yourself to ‘fit in’.
6. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” by The 1975
English pop rock band The 1975 rose to fame after the release of their 2012 self-titled debut album.
“It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” is from their third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
It is gospel-influenced, incorporating synthpop and power pop.
The lyrics are about Healy’s former heroin addiction, comparing drug addiction to romantic love.
7. “Pokerface” by Lady Gaga
“Poker Face” is one of Lady Gaga’s signature songs, bringing her worldwide fame after its release in 2008 for her debut album, The Fame.
The song is about Lady Gaga’s bisexuality and is a tribute to her rock and roll boyfriends.
There are many sexual innuendos throughout the song.
The song remains one of the best-selling singles of all time, having sold over 14 million copies.
8. “Chandelier” by Sia
“Chandelier” is a song by Australian singer Sia.
The lyrics are about the difficulties of struggling with drinking problems, and the feeling of reckless abandon that alcohol brings before being followed quickly by regret and self-hatred.
It is an electro-pop song with reggae and R&B influences.
It was Sia’s first single as a lead artist to appear on the Hot 100.
9. “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People
“Pumped Up Kicks” is a song from American indie pop band Foster the People, released in 2010.
The song was the group’s breakout and remains their signature song.
The lyrics describe a boy called Robert and his homicidal thoughts, as he is planning on going on a shooting spree.
The band said that the song was their comment on the mental illness epidemic facing the younger generation.
It was a sleeper hit, finding more chart success in 2012, two years after its release.
10. “Kids” by MGMT
MGMT is an American indie rock band, and they released their debut album Oracular Spectacular in 2007.
“Kids” was the third and final single for the album.
The lyrics can be interpreted as being about the experience of growing up, transitioning from a period of innocence and freedom to a period of responsibility and reality.
The song also alludes to global warming, with the lyrics warning the listener to “take only what you need from it”, because the “water is warm”, but it is sending them “shivers”.
11. “Let It Be” by The Beatles
The Beatles are regarded as the most influential band of all time, and “Let It Be” is one of their most famous songs.
It was written and sung by Paul McCartney.
McCartney has revealed the heartbreaking meaning behind the song, that it was written in tribute to his late mother, who died from cancer when he was fourteen.
He said in an interview that he had a dream in the sixties where his mother appeared and assured him that everything would be OK, which inspired him to write the track.
12. “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen is famous for his songs about American working-class life.
“Born in the USA” is no exception, a socially conscious song about the realities of American soldiers returning to the US after the Vietnam war.
The song’s lyrics have often been cited as being patriotic, however, the song was actually written as a critique of US society and the economic hardships faced by returning soldiers.
13. “No Tears Left To Cry” by Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande is one of the most successful pop stars in the world, but she has had a difficult journey and experienced tragedies.
When she was performing at Manchester Arena on her Dangerous Woman Tour in May 2017, a bomb was detonated by an Islamist extremist suicide bomber in an incident that killed twenty-three people and left over 1000 injured.
She was reluctant to write new music after the incident, but eventually wrote “No Tears Left To Cry”.
The song is one of optimism and home, with the lyrics explaining the fact that she has ‘no tears left to cry’.
14. “Wolves” by Selena Gomez, Marshmello
“Wolves” is a song by American singer Selena Gomez and producer Marshmello.
The song has been certified platinum in fifteen countries.
Gomez stated in an interview that the lyrics, which describe going through a difficult process to try and get through to someone, deeply reflect what she was going through at the time.
Gomez has been suffering from Lupus since 2013 and received a kidney transplant from her friend.
“Lupus” translates to “Wolf” in Latin, lending an alternative interpretation to the song.
15. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones is an iconic English rock band that found fame in the 1960s.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was written for their eighth album, Let It Bleed.
The lyrics address complex topics, like love, politics, and drugs.
It was the end of the decade, and there was an element of disillusion in the air, but also a hint of hopefulness.
This feeling is captured in the chorus: ‘you can’t always get what you want’ but you might ‘get what you need’.
16. “Forever Young” by Rod Steward
Rod Steward is one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
Stewart has said that the song has a special place in his heart because it is a heartfelt song about his kids.
He had realized that he had spent a good five years of his life touring and away from his family, and was wanting to make sure he didn’t make the same mistake again.
17. “This Is Me Trying” by Taylor Swift
“This Is Me Trying” is another song from Swift’s Folklore album.
It is an orchestral and dream pop song, featuring organs and drums.
The song has themes of addiction and mental illness, describing the experience of having grown up being naturally gifted, only to fall behind your peers and go through personal struggles at an older age.
It has been praised as one of the “most profound and underrated” songs on the album.
18. “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.
“Everybody Hurts” was released by American rock band R.E.M. for their eighth studio album Automatic for the People in 1992.
The song is melancholy but has a very important and positive message behind it.
It was written to try and save the lives of young people, designed to stop teenagers from committing suicide.
The lyrics are straightforward, as they are aimed at teenagers and are meant to be relatable to all that are struggling.
19. “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi
“It’s My Life” was recorded by Bon Jovi for their seventh album Crush.
The lyrics are interpreted as the singer’s determination to live life to the fullest.
The song is about standing strong in the face of struggles, but knowing that ultimately you aren’t going to live forever so you may as well ‘live while you’re alive’.
20. “Fix You” by Coldplay
Coldplay is a British rock band that formed in London in 1996, and is still going strong today.
“Fix You” was released as a single for their third album, X&Y.
The song was written by frontman Chris Martin for his wife at the time, famous actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who was going through a period of grief after the death of her father.
The song acknowledges the pain but ultimately lands on a message of hope, with an uplifting sound.
21. “Vienna” by Billy Joel
“Vienna” was originally released as the B-side to “Just the Way You Are”, but has continued to gain recognition throughout the years and is now more popular than ever.
As of 2022, it is Joel’s most-played song on Spotify.
Joel said that the song was partly inspired by his father, who left the family when Joel was young, and by a recent trip to Vienna.
The lyrics are about taking your time with life rather than worrying about fitting everything you want to do into your 20s and 30s.
22. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin is one of the best-selling artists of all time, with over 75 million record sales to her name.
“Respect” is one of her most well-known songs.
Franklin’s cover of the song, originally written and recorded by Otis Reading, became a feminist anthem for the second-wave feminism movement of the 1970s.
She refashioned the original song, as a declaration of herself as a strong and confident woman.
23. “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey
“Young and Beautiful” was written by Lana Del Rey for the 2013 film The Great Gatsby.
It has been praised for its haunting and somber melody.
The lyrics describe a woman’s fear that her partner will stop loving her when she’s ‘no longer young and beautiful’.
The song, the film and the book that it’s based on cover some deep themes, about superficiality, the American dream, and the anxieties of love.
24. “Real Friends” by Camila Cabello
“Real Friends” was written and recorded by Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello.
The lyrics are about her being unable to trust her friends and constantly feeling betrayed, wishing that she could find new people to surround herself with.
It was apparently written during a time of dissatisfaction in her life when she was very work-oriented and focused on producing her debut album.
The song has elements of reggae and Latin music.
25. “Ronan” by Taylor Swift
“Ronan” was a song written as a charity single by Swift as an iTunes-exclusive download in 2012, through Big Machine Records.
It was re-recorded and released years later by Swift for the re-release of Red, where it was brought out ‘from the vault’.
The lyrics are based on a blog by Maya Thompson, about her losing her three-year-old son Ronan to neuroblastoma.
The proceeds from the sale were donated to charity.
26. “Take Me To Church” by Hozier
“Take Me To Church” is a song by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier, who is known for his meaningful lyrics.
The lyrics use religious language to describe a romantic relationship in the face of Church discrimination.
The music video of two men in a romantic relationship, facing brutal homophobic discrimination, which adds another interpretation to the song.
27. “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is another artist known for his heartfelt and meaningful lyrics.
Sheeran revealed in an interview that the song was about the death of his late grandmother and the process of grief.
The song is written from the perspective of his mother.
Originally, the song wasn’t going to be included in the album, but when his grandfather heard Sheeran perform it at the funeral, he insisted that it be released.
28. “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn
“Dancing on my Own” is a song by Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn.
The song initially seems like an upbeat dance song, but the lyrics tell a different story: the singer is in a nightclub, watching her ex-boyfriend kiss someone else.
The song was apparently inspired by situations that Robyn saw while she was touring, as well as the dissolution of her own marriage.
29. “She’s Always A Woman” by Billy Joel
“She’s Always A Woman” was released by Joel for his 1977 album, The Stranger.
The lyrics describe a narrator’s love for a deeply flawed woman.
Despite her flaws and cruel actions, the singer will always see her as a ‘woman’, implying that he will always love her no matter what she does.
The song captures the blinding nature of love, and how it can turn flaws into endearing and lovable qualities.
30. “Another Love” by Tom Odell
“Another Love” was the debut single of British singer-songwriter Tom Odell.
It begins with a distinctive piano opening.
The lyrics are open to interpretation, but can be read as being about having a deep love for someone but not being able to give them anything emotionally because of the pain experienced before in ‘another love’.
31. “Jolene” by Dolly Parton
Country music is known for telling a story through its lyrics, and Parton’s “Jolene” is no exception.
The lyrics are from the perspective of a narrator who is pleading with a woman called Jolene not to steal her husband, even though the narrator knows that she could.
The song touches on the anxieties of being in a relationship, and the desperation to keep someone, even if you know that they don’t love you how they should.
32. “Yellow” by Coldplay
“Yellow” is another song from the British rock band Coldplay.
It was the lead single for their debut album and reached number four on the UK charts.
The song was originally inspired by a night when the band was recorded and went outside to look up at the night sky.
Martin was searching for a word to use to capture what he was feeling, so used the arbitrary word ‘yellow’ as a stand-in.
He was unable to find a fitting word, so kept ‘yellow’.
In doing so, he captured the feeling of trying to describe something that feels indescribable.
33. “Glimpse of Us” by Joji
“Glimpse of Us” was released by Japanese artist Joji earlier this year, as the lead single for his third album.
It is his most successful song to date and was nominated for the ARIA Award for Song of the Year.
The song is heartfelt and melancholy, with the lyrics describing the pain of being with someone while still having feelings for an ex-partner.
34. “Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean
American singer Frank Ocean is known for his emotive lyrics.
“Super Rich Kids” was released for his debut studio album, Channel Orange, and features rap vocals from Earl Sweatshirt.
The lyrics are about young kids with extortionate wealth and their lavish lifestyles, referencing fears of a financial crisis.
35. “Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is one of the biggest pop stars in the world right now, and she released her second studio album Happier Than Ever last year.
Eilish co-wrote the song with her brother, Finneas O’Connell, and she noted that COVID-19 gave her time for a lot of self-reflection, leading to the song’s conception.
The lyrics are reflecting on a failed relationship, describing the flaws and pains of the relationship and how she is now ‘happier than ever’.
The song has two distinct parts, a melancholy opening for the first half that crescendos into a powerful ending, perhaps reflecting the duality of pain and rage felt after a painful breakup.
36. “Like Real People Do” by Hozier
Another song from Hozier’s critically acclaimed debut album, “Like Real People Do” continued Hozier’s initial success from “Take Me To Church”.
The lyrics are about wanting to turn a blind eye to someone’s past and simply focus on the relationship at hand, with the narrator urging their partner to ‘kiss, like real people do’.
There are references to ‘burying’ that perhaps imply that the narrator’s lover is keeping secrets from them, which the narrator is trying to ignore.
37. “Liability” by Lorde
Lorde is a singer-songwriter from New Zealand.
Lorde co-wrote and produced the song with Jack Antonoff, who often works with Taylor Swift.
The lyrics are deeply personal, describing feeling like you are ‘too much’ for someone, that you are ‘a liability’ that people will soon get bored of.
She was apparently inspired to write the song after a night when she became overcome with anger and emotion and walked 8 to 10km home while listening to ‘Higher’ by Rihanna.
38. “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron
“The Night We Met” was released by American band Lord Huron for their second album, Strange Tails, in 2015.
It was included in the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why, which shot the song into world recognition.
The song has now been streamed over one billion times.
The lyrics are about reminiscing on a first meeting, with the narrator feeling ‘haunted by the ghost’ of their lover, wanting to return to a time before anything had gone wrong.
39. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears
Tears For Fears are an English rock band formed in 1981.
They were associated with the New Wave movement, making use of synthesizers in a style common in the 1980s.
The lyrics are about the human desire for power and control, stating that ‘everybody wants to rule the world’ and would be willing to do ethical things to get there.
Lyrics like ‘turn your back to Mother Nature’ allude to the fact that many large and powerful companies are destroying the world to make profits.
40. “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead
“Fake Plastic Trees” is a song from the world-renowned alt-rock band Radiohead.
It was released as the third UK single for their second album, The Bends, in 1995.
The lyrics are about yearning for a meaningful relationship in a world that is becoming increasingly materialistic.
The song was used in the popular 1995 film Clueless, which is credited for introducing Radiohead to a wider audience.
41. “TV” by Billie Eilish
“TV” by Billie Eilish was released this year as a single.
The song came to fruition when Eilish was touring with her brother Finneas for her Happier Than Ever tour.
The song comments on many very topical political issues, such as the overturning of Roe V. Wade and the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
Critics have praised the song for its sociopolitical and self-reflective lyrics.
42. “Between The Bars” by Elliott Smith
“Between The Bars” is a short ballad song that was included on Smith’s Either/Or album.
The lyrics can be interpreted in many ways, but many have read them as being about the struggles of alcohol addiction.
The song is read as being from the perspective of alcohol, calling Smith to drink.
The song covers the idea of having been someone else before and having lost potential, with a drink being the only thing to numb this pain.
43. “Matilda” by Harry Styles
Another song from Styles’ recently released album, “Matilda” covers themes of family trauma and abandonment.
In the song, Harry speaks to a friend, letting them know that they can let go of the pain their family has caused them and create a life of their own.
The title, “Matilda”, is an allusion to the Roald Dahl book of the same name, which follows a young girl with a cruel family.
44. “Getaway Car” by Taylor Swift
“Getaway Car” was recorded for Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album, Reputation, in 2017.
The song tells a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ type storyline, about a pair of criminals escaping in a ‘getaway car’ and running from the police.
The song has been interpreted as being about her relationships with DJ Calvin Harris and actor Tom Hiddleston.
Swift met Tom Hiddleston at the 2016 Met Gala and it was rumored that she left her boyfriend at the time, Harris, to be with him.
45. “High and Dry” by Radiohead
“High and Dry” was released as a double-A side single alongside “Planet Telex” for their second album, The Bends.
The song was written by lead singer Thom Yorke while he was at the University of Exeter.
It is about a girl he was seeing at the time but became ‘mixed up’ with ideas of success and failure.
The lyrics are pleading with someone to not leave them ‘high and dry’.
Songs With Meaning – Final Thoughts
Meaningful music can come from every genre, whether that is pop, alt-rock or folk.
Some songs may ostensibly be about one topic – perhaps something trivial – but when you peel back the layers you may find an alternative interpretation hidden underneath.
Songs on this list cover themes of grief, romantic love, failure, friendship, and more.
Music is a powerful tool for reflection, compassion, and growth, so it is important to look beyond the melody to the meaning underneath.