20 times pop music taught us to be better people

This is some of the best advice ever offered from a banger.

by Georgie Bretherton
10 March 2017, 1:09am

Everyone has those songs: the ones they know every word to, every key change and crescendo. No matter if you're tidying your room or in the club at 3AM, if that track comes on there is nothing that can stop you from singing along. Responses like that aren't only due clever rhyme schemes and catchy melodies, they're about something bigger. These are the tracks that you play again and again to comfort and protect yourself, that offer much more than the usual banger. Who needs to pay for a life coach when you've got Drake, Lana Del Rey and TLC to guide you through your day-to-day? Here are 20 life lessons gleaned from our favourite songs.

Dizzee Rascal, Bonkers

"Some people think I'm bonkers, But I just think I'm free/ Man I'm just living my life there's nothing crazy bout me"

In arguably one of the most catchy songs of 2009, Dizzee gives us a lesson in not giving a shit about what other people think.

Kelis, Millionaire

"Can't just put the cap on the old bottle once you pop it that will spoil it, go on, drink it and enjoy it."

This track teaches us that even though being super rich may not be everything you imagined, at some point it was all you ever wanted, so you'd better just embrace it and enjoy the ride. Okay, not immediately relatable, but the moral is there: Life is for living, so you may as well have a good time.

Ke$ha, We R Who We R

"You know we're superstars, we are who we are"

Ke$ha's Pride anthem, aimed at LGBTQ+ teens having a hard time finding their place in society, speaks volumes about self-acceptance and belongingness. Not bad for a song that rhymes "us" with "neck-a-lus."

Drake, Doing It Wrong

"When a good thing goes bad it's not the end of the world,It's just the end of a world, that you had with one girl"

In one of the most underrated ballads from this decade, Drake discusses the realisation that his relationship is no longer fulfilling. He warns against leading people on if your heart is no longer in it, as sometimes the noblest thing to do is walk away, even if that means breaking the other person's heart… you can break our hearts any day, Drake.

Frank Ocean, Super Rich Kids

"Sleeve rips off, I slip, I fall, The market's down like 60 stories/And some don't end the way they should, My silver spoon has fed me good/A million one, a million cash, Close my eyes and feel the crash"

This is one of those songs where the meaning can slip by you on an early listen. But really pay attention and you'll be rewarded. Ocean's comment on the darker side of wealth suggests the grass is not always greener on the other side. He uses the desolate image of a rich kid taking their own life to show having people around you who care is more important than money

Kanye West, All Falls Down

"It seems we living the American dream, The people highest up got the lowest self esteem/ The prettiest people do the ugliest things, For the road to riches and diamond rings"

Okay, there is a bit of a theme here. Kanye also notes there's more to life than being rich and famous. This 2004 lyric is over a decade old but still strikes a chord in the Instagram age: the "good life" is often just a false image, masking something a lot darker — the real life.

Justin Bieber, Cold Water

"Save me from my rocking boat, I just want to stay afloat I'm all alone/ And I hope, I hope Someone's gonna take me home, Somewhere I can rest my soul/ I need to know you won't let go."

Biebs reminding us that no matter how down or depressed you get, if you reach out and ask for help, there will probably be someone there to be your lifeline. All of this set to an upbeat tropical dance track that lifts your spirits a bit in itself.

Grandmaster Flash, White Lines (Don't do it)

"White lines go a long way/either up your nose or through your veins/with nothing to gain 'cept killin' your brain"

Don't take cocaine kids, it's really not good for you and it's super expensive. We must say though, Grandmaster Flash does bring the mixed messages later on when he sings: "Get higher, baby! And don't ever come down!" 

Beyoncé, Irreplaceable

"You can pack all your bags, We're finished/ Cause you made your bed, Now lay in it/ I can have another you by tomorrow, Don't you ever for a second get to thinking/ You're irreplaceable"

Bey couldn't have said it better. That cheating ex of yours who stole your Jaguar and drove another woman around in it behind your back? Well he is replaceable. Or more realistically, the dude who took four days to reply to your text? He can go too. Bad manners are bad manners, no matter what form they take.

Jason Derulo, Whatcha Say

"Girl, I was caught up in her lust, When I don't really want no one else/ I know I should've treated you better, But me and you were meant to last forever/ So let me in, Give me another chance/ To really be a man"

In something of a response to the previous Beyonce submission, here Jason takes on the role of the cheating partner. But in a refreshing change he's taking responsibility for his actions. Best not to cheat, but at least own your mistakes if you do.

U2, Beautiful Day

"It's a beautiful day, Don't let it get away"

Bono lays down a simple yet effective line to live by. Advice we're sure many of us have skipped out on when waking up on a beautiful Sunday morning, and opting for an all-day Netflix binge.

Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

"Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got til it's gone"

A poetic song about taking things for granted, and then missing them once it's too late. Joni said she wrote the song on her first trip to Hawaii, "I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart..."

Spice Girls, Stop

"Stop right now thank you very much, I need somebody with a human touch/ Hey you always on the run, Gotta slow it down baby, gotta have some fun"

Honestly, this whole list could be Spice Girls songs, but we have a soft spot for Stop. Everyone needs a reminded to prioritise human connection sometimes.

Green Day, Good Riddance (Time of your life)

"It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right/ I hope you had the time of your life"

Since its release, this song has soundtracked countless breakups and high school graduations. And why not? It's literally about making peace with change, even when it's painful, and trusting that life has something new waiting for you around the corner. Lead Singer, Billie Joe, actually wrote Good Riddance for his girlfriend when she moved to Ecuador, later adding "Time of your life" as a subtitle to appear less bitter.

TLC, Waterfalls

"Don't go chasing waterfalls, Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to/ I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all, But I think you're moving too fast."

TLC use chasing waterfalls as a metaphor for someone who goes full force into a situation without considering the consequences. An idea exemplified in the song's music video by a drug dealer who goes against his mother's wishes and ends up getting shot, and a guy who cheats on his partner and ends up contracting HIV. Your life choices might not be so dire, but the advice to take things slow still stands.

Lorde, Team

"We live in cities you'll never see onscreen, Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things/ Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams, And you know, we're on each other's team"

The theme of Lorde's whole first album was being proud of where you're from, appreciating your mates and resisting the seduction of other people's lives. Nowhere was this more eloquently expressed than on Team when the then-teenager chooses her own reality over someone else's dreams.

Lana del Rey, Girls

"This is what makes us girls, We don't look for heaven and we put our love first/ Somethin' that we'd die for it's a curse, Don't cry about it, don't cry about it"

Admittedly, things don't work out for the romantic bad girls at the centre of this song, but you have to respect their commitment to love and adventure. A lot of the previous tracks have warned you to stick to what you know, and appreciate what you have. Trust Lana to embrace love, adventure and possible destruction above all things.

The XX, Say Something Loving

"Say something loving, I just don't remember the thrill of affection, I just don't remember, Say something loving"

The British darlings keep things simple on their new track. If all else fails, say something nice and tell people how you feel about them.

Cherry Glazerr, Told You I'd Be With The Guys

"I was a lone wolf/ I thought I lost my pack/ Where are my ladies?/ I guess that was my fault/ Girl, I should've stayed/ Maybe another day/ When I'm wide awake"

On the opening track from Apocalipstick Clem regrets prioritising men over her female relationships while chasing the lure of being a "boys girl." Ultimately, she warns that you're better of sticking with the sisterhood.

Sonic Youth, Teenage Riot

"Say it, Don't spray it "

There's really no arguing with this one. An oldie, but a goodie. 


Text Georgie Bretherton
"Stop" still via YouTube

pop music
Justin Bieber
Spice Girls
the xx
Frank Ocean
lana del rey
Dizzee Rascal
green day
sonic Youth
Cherry Glazerr
Grandmaster Flash
Joni Mitchell
Jason Derulo