'guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm,' and other brilliant but underappreciated pop lyrics

In celebration of pop culture’s finest one-liners, here are 18 of i-D’s favorite lyrics in pop.

by Hattie Collins and i-D Staff
02 March 2017, 4:09pm

While music's greatest moments in metaphor are often celebrated, these honors tend to be bestowed upon artists from the realm of what is considered to be 'proper' music. Think Bob (Marley and Dylan), John, Paul, Mick, and Morrissey. (Note: they're almost overwhelmingly straight white men). Too often, pop music's lyrical offerings are overlooked, dismissed as mainstream bubble-gum goo with too little substance, too much froth. Yet there are a multitude of brilliant moments in pop music musings. 

These are songs we have all sung hundreds — if not thousands — of times over. They are so ingrained in our subconscious, so deeply part of our musical ecosystem, that rarely do we stop to fully appreciate these ones-liners, these perfectly placed disco haikus, pop paeans, R&B rhyming couplets. We know them so well, we don't often appreciate their brilliance, perceptiveness, ability to avoid cliché while managing to relate to every single person on the planet. So here, in no particular order, are our 18 finest one-liners from the world of pop.

1. George Michael, "Careless Whisper"
"I'm never gonna dance again/Guilty feet ain't got no rhythm."
George's considered choice of metaphor conjures up the ultimate imagery that anyone that has ever cheated/been unfaithful/been an idiot, can relate to.

2. Take That, "Back for Good"
"In the twist of separation, you excelled at being free."
It's simple, cruel, and rivaled only by super-specific imagery of "got your lipstick mark still on your coffee cup" — or the weary resignation of "I guess now it's time that you came back for good" (a companion piece to that great Leonard Cohen lyric from "Chelsea Hotel #2" — "that's all, I don't even think of you that often"). Here's Barlow at his most painfully relatable.

3. All Saints, "Never Ever"
"I'm not crazy, I'm sure I ain't done nothing wrong/I'm just waiting, 'cause I heard that this feeling won't last that long."
And there is heartbreak — just hold tight, it'll be ok. For other great Shaznay Lewis lyricisms, see also "Pure Shores."

4. George Michael, Fastlove
"In the absence of security, made my way into the night/Stupid Cupid keeps on calling me, but I see nothing in his eyes."
Written while he was still in the closet, George's search for sexual gratification is made all the more moving when you consider these words were written shortly after the death of his partner from HIV. Michael was one of modern music's greatest writers.

5. Britney Spears, "(Baby) One More Time"
"My loneliness is killing me."
Consider the potency of that line, sung by a then 16-year-old Spears, and how, perhaps, those words would later come back to haunt her. Foreboding stuff.

6. Little Mix, "Shout Out to My Ex"
"Shout out to my ex, you're really quite the man/You made my heart break and that made me who I am."
Zayn Malik gets it greatest during Perrie's verse in which she sighs relief that she no longer has to fake it. So many, excuse the pun, shots fired.

7. Rihanna, "We Found Love"
"Yellow diamonds in the night, now we're standing side by side/As your shadow crosses mine/What it takes to come alive. We found love in a hopeless place."
A simple, beautiful thought about addiction, sung seamlessly by RiRi.

8. Justin Bieber, "Love Yourself"
"My mama don't like you. And she likes everyone."
Tea, shade, and perfectly pink lemonade from the pen of Ed Sheeran for JB.

9. Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love of All"
"I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow/If I fail, if I succeed, at least I'll live as I believe."
Written by Linda Creed, who had breast cancer at the time, this is made all the more heart-breaking considering Whitney's desolate end.

10. Madonna, "Like a Prayer"
"Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone."
No, because it really is. And we really must. All the existential naval-gazing you could ask for from a song.

11. Robbie Williams, "Eternity"
"Youth is wasted on the young; before you know it's come and gone."
If only we knew to fully appreciate that supple teenage skin, unmarked by the ravages of time, disappointment, fear and betrayal. If only.

12. Beyoncé, "Irreplaceable"
"To the left, to the left."
Because who hasn't sung that on the rare — and beautiful — occasion of upgrade. Which wasn't the point of Beyoncé's lyrics, but never mind.

13. Simply Red, "Holding Back the Years"
"Nothing had the chance to be good, 'cause nothing ever could."
'Serial shagger' Hucknall may have become a source of tabloid mockery for much of his career, so it's easy to forget Simply Red had some amazing tracks, namely "Money's Too Tight to Mention" and this early offering. Hucknall wrote this song as a teen, reflecting on the period of time when his mother abandoned the family when he was three years old.

14. Spice Girls, "Wannabe"
"If you want my future, forget my past."
Forward-thinking feminism in one line. The Spice Girls were unapologetic, masters of their own fate, rulers of their own hearts.

15. Taylor Swift, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
"You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, but we are never ever, ever, ever getting back together."
It's no great surprise that Swift is a sharp songwriter; she was, of course, raised in the Mecca of Metaphor and Simile, Nashville.

16. Natalie Imbruglia, "Torn"
"I'm all out of faith, this is how I feel, I'm cold and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor."
The perfect use of imagery. Starkers, snot everywhere, cuddling Dominos (the heartbreak diet doesn't work for us all), Beyoncé on blast — we've all been there babe.

17. P!nk, "Just Like a Pill"
"I can't stay on your life support, there's a shortage in the switch/I can't stay on your morphine, 'cause it's making me itch."
As an allegory for a toxic relationship, with an underlying look at drug abuse, P!nk and Dallas Austin pretty much nail it.

18. Sugababes, "Hole in the Head"
"Seven hours since you went away, eleven coffees, Ricki Lane on play/But late at night when I'm feeling blue, I'd sell my ass before I think of you."
Yasssssss queens. Mutya, Keisha and [insert as appropriate] not only had the best bars, but they sounded the absolute dream when they sang them.


Text Hattie Collins
Image via Facebook

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