The Truth Behind Your Favorite Songs: What Are They Really About?

We play our favorite songs over and over again--on laptops, iPhones, radios, and more--until we are able to recite the lyrics verbatim. But how much do we really know about what those words mean? We can Havana na na na and walk it talk it all we want, but what does it matter if the lyrics have no intention behind them? Check out this song guide below to learn about artists’ motivation behind some of the most popular hits of 2018. Next time you’re belting out the words at a concert, you may even feel the slightest bit closer to getting to know your fave celeb.

“No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande

After a tumultuous year, Grande released this song to lay her emotions out on the table so fans can understand why she took a temporary social media hiatus. Allegedly, the lyrics of this tune are an indirect reference to the devastation the singer experienced following the terrorist attack at her Manchester Arena concert in May 2017. Although Grande put on a brave face when she headlined the One Love Manchester concert to raise money for the victims of the attack the following month, thoughts of the tragedy lingered on her mind for a long time after. One year, to be exact. Considering the fact that the track debuted at number three on the Billboard 100 chart, it’s safe to say that Grande certainly will have “no tears left to cry” now.

“Havana” by Camila Cabello

This track is a tribute to Cabello’s hometown of Havana, Cuba. The lyrics pay homage to her Cuban heritage, as well as reference a former relationship she had there prior to moving to Miami. Cabello has said that Havana was “an idea that I had for a song title; a lot of my songs are more dark and emotional. [This is] more summer, upbeat, it's very wind-your-waist tempo, if that makes sense. It's really cool, I did it with Pharrell [Williams], it's like a story of me falling in love with this bad boy from Havana." Surprisingly, Cabello also admitted on BBC Radio 1 that initially, people told her the song “shouldn't be a single and that it would never work for radio.” But they were certainly wrong: the single snagged the number-one spot on the charts in 11 countries.

“God’s Plan” by Drake

As the lyrics suggest, Drake’s haters have been “wishin’/...a lot of bad things” on the rapper. His words imply that he tries to keep his cool about the situation, but sometimes it’s a struggle for him to stay quiet. The popular tune is also packed with references to sleeping, shoutouts to his mom, and many other allusions to his experiences throughout the trajectory of his life. Drake recalls his hometown of Toronto (“I make sure that north-side eat”), the street where he grew up (“I finessed down Weston Road”), and how he got a tattoo of a friend who was shot down (“Fifty Dub I even got it tatted on me”). The Canadian rapper also informs people through his track about how he sold out concerts going from “02 into the 03” with guidance from his producers “40” and “Oli.” But the overarching message is that no matter what Drake goes through, some people will always project negativity upon him and hope that he will undergo “bad things.”

“The Middle” by Marren Morris and Zedd

The lyrics of this tune highlight a quarrel between a couple who can’t seem to find an agreeable in-between. Morris starts off by setting the scene: it is the aftermath of the duo’s fight and “floors are wet and taps are still running, dishes are broken.” She wishes that they can restore their relationship, and belts out that she wants her partner to “just meet me in the middle.” The song proves that in order to make a relationship work, each person must sacrifice something and be willing to change, no matter how scary or uncomfortable it may be to do so. But once a couple meets “in the middle,” their connection is solidified and stronger than ever before.i

“Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift

After a three-year-break, Swift’s return to the music industry marked the end of her innocent pop queen era. "Look What You Made Me Do" is a dark tune filled with angry yet honest lyrics that the singer performs with no filter. Rumor has it that the song is Swift’s way of inflicting revenge upon all who have crossed her in the past. In the track, Swift sings “I.../Don’t like your titled stage,” hinting at her feud with rapper Kanye West, who interrupted her during her MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech in 2009. West used a titled stage during his Saint Pablo tour in 2016--not such a coincidence. Another lyric, “You...Locked me out and threw a feast,” references Swift’s former friend, Katy Perry (Swift no longer speaks to her fellow pop star because she allegedly felt betrayed). Perry’s single “Bon Appétit” from her new Witness album is about a feast...hmmm. Certainly lots of bad blood here.

“In My Blood” by Shawn Mendes

In what Mendes calls “the closest song to my heart that I’ve ever written,” he exposes a vulnerable side to his fans as he openly croons about his battle with anxiety and fear of being alone. Mendes’ lyrics are his way of communicating the stress that comes with being a public figure and his inability to escape his mental struggle: “Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in/Sometimes I feel like giving up/No medicine is strong enough/Someone help me.” In an interview on Beats 1, the singer spoke about how it was essential for him to portray an honest message to listeners of his songs. In writing the track, Mendes wondered “How raw can we get?” and aimed to represent the tune as “the complete truth.”

It’s not easy to recognize the hidden meanings of the tracks when we’re simply singing along because they’re “catchy.” Singers dig down to the bottom of their hearts to find inspiration for their lyrics, often causing them to relive their pain all over again so they can inspire their fans. Say something to your friends about that--I guarantee that your weekly sing-along sessions will never be the same.