Alice Bolin recently wrote an excellent essay for The Toast about just how disturbing Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” is if you really stop and think about the lyrics. Not the chorus, specifically, or the weird pseudo-religious video — no, just the air of loneliness and sadness that surrounds the lyric in general. It evokes the sort of desperate hunger of teen love, which is appropriate enough given that Spears was only 18 when she sang it. But anyway, its catchy tune belies its generally depressing lyrics — and really, when you think about it, there are plenty of pop songs that fit this description. Here’s a selection of the most disturbing.
Britney Spears — “Baby One More Time”
The ambiguity of the “hit me baby one more time” chorus has been well documented, but even setting that aside, this is a startlingly bleak lyric when you really sit down and read through it. “My loneliness is killing me”? “When I’m not with you I lose my mind”? Yikes.
The Crystals — “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”
Perhaps the most disturbing pop lyric of all time, the clue to the disturbing aspect of this song is, well, in the title — Carole King and the late Gerry Goffin’s lyric sounds awfully like it’s equating domestic violence with love. In fact, it was written as a condemnation of an abusive relationship, but honestly, either way it’s decidedly discomfiting — and all the more so because it was sung by the perilously young Crystals (under the direction of woman-killing lunatic Phil Spector, to boot).
France Gall — “Les Sucettes”
Oh, Serge. French culture’s consummate provocateur wrote these lyrics for France Gall, aged 19 at the time, to sing in her most innocent, childlike voice. The lyrics were ostensibly a sweet little ode to the joys of lollipops — except that, Gainsbourg being Gainsbourg, they were shot through with a whole lot of allusions to oral sex. “When the sweet taste of anise flows into Annie’s throat, she is in paradise”? Dear god. And that’s not even mentioning the video.
Serge Gainsbourg — “Lemon Incest”
And speaking of Gainsbourg, he managed to outdo “Les Sucettes” with this, an ode to the joys of incest… sung as a duet with his 12-year-old daughter Charlotte. (It was released when she was 13, so it qualifies.)
Aaliyah — “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number”
Written and produced by the in-no-way-terrifying R. Kelly! Who may or may not have tried to marry the 15-year-old Aaliyah not long after its release! Not creepy and self-serving, eh, R. Kelly? Nope! Not at all!
One Direction — “What Makes You Beautiful”
So, pray tell, what is it that makes the object of the desires of pop’s current boy band sensations so beautiful? It’s, um, the fact that she’s insecure as fuck, apparently. The lyrics to this read like the sort of shit Nice Guys send girls on OK Cupid: “Don’t need make-up to cover up/ Being the way that you are is enough.” And the chorus? “You don’t know you’re beautiful/ That’s what makes you beautiful.” Because if she were at all confident or self-aware, that’d be unattractive, eh?
Kate Bush — “The Man With the Child in His Eyes”
About Bush’s first boyfriend, apparently, who was significantly older than she was. It was written when she was 16, and although its lyric celebrates the man in question’s childlike qualities, there’s also something mildly discomfiting about the characterization of an older man standing and looking at a 16-year-old as “the man with the child in his eyes.” (As is the fact that the love affair in question is characterized as clandestine and somewhat questionable.)
The Supremes — “Run, Run, Run”
“Don’t be fooled by the shyness in his eyes/ Don’t you know he’s just a devil in disguise?/ So you better run, run, run.” But does Diana Ross do what everyone’s advising her to do? No, of course not. Sigh.
Ricky Valance — “Tell Laura I Love Her”
In which a plucky teenager tries to demonstrate his love for the eponymous Laura by buying her a wedding ring. Unfortunately, the only way he can think of to lay his hands on the cash is entering a car race, an escapade that ends with him crashing and mouthing the words of the title as he is burning to death. Um.
Little Peggy March — “I Will Follow Him”
It’s harder to know what’s more disturbing about this song — its general implication that true love involves a woman following around a man like a small panting lap dog, or the (presumably) unintentionally stalkerish aspects of lyrics like “I will follow him wherever he may go/ And near him I always will be/ For nothing can keep me away.” Um… OK, he said, edging ever so slowly toward the door.