For a lot of us, music is our guiding light, our be-all and end-all, our way of life. For others, it merely acts as white noise to drown out the unbearable silence. No matter what it does for you, it’s impossible to deny that life feels incomplete without it.
That’s why various members of The Post’s Beat Staff have each compiled two sets of lyrics that never fail to make our jaws drop. Whether they’re clever wordplay, pure genius or flat-out heart-wrenching, these lyrics have stuck with us throughout the years. Now, we want to share them with you.
Here are 16 jaw-dropping lyrics:
1. “I’m in therapy / She’s in therapy / Turns out all the answers are just questions for next week’s sessions.” - “The Contours” by Owen
The world keeps going in circles — at least for Mike Kinsella, who hasn’t found a sliver of splendor since at least 2001, when Owen’s self-titled debut made it to shelves. Nine albums later, on The Avalanche, he has somehow reached his most poignant form, getting better and simultaneously sadder with time. The only constant in Kinsella’s life right now is the gloomy guitar accenting his aching words as he watches his marriage fall apart. They’ve tried couples counseling, but he’s discovered every time they thought something was solved, it would always have another unearthed layer the following week, and there’s never any progress. Just two tracks earlier on “Dead for Days,” he admits, “I can’t believe she stayed as long as she did.” By the end of this track, he’s asking her for one last night together before they say goodbye forever, and then Kinsella can channel his pain the one way he knows how: into song. - Bre Offenberger, @bre_offenberger
2. “I mean, if it was You that made my body, You probably shouldn’t have made me atheist.” - “If I Believe You” by The 1975
Matty Healy has been struggling with religion ever since he and the rest of The 1975 emerged onto the music scene. We’ve seen it in the fan-favorite “Antichrist,” and even on “Nana,” where he unhesitatingly says, “I know that God doesn’t exist.” Right here, though, he’s in his most vulnerable and volatile state, asking for a sign that he’s going to come out of this rough patch unscathed, but he’s finding nothing. A choral group vocalizes right behind him, hammering home his words and pain, as he confronts God head on. All he wants to know is what he can to compel himself to believe. After all, Healy wonders, if he was made to worship and trust Him, why can’t he escape this pool of doubt? - Bre Offenberger, @bre_offenberger
3. “I jack, I rob, I sin / Aw man, I’m Jackie Robinson / Except for when I run base, I dodge the pen” - “Brooklyn Go Hard” by Jay-Z
It’s no secret that Jay-Z allegedly got his financial footing as a drug dealer in the late 1980s and early 1990s before his rap career. In fact discussions about his career as a drug dealer were mainstays in Jay’s earlier work. However, as he matured, his content moved into subject matters far beyond this period of his life. Despite his shift in lyrical content, no single line sums up Jay-Z’s past, or perhaps any rapper’s, as effectively as this one. The clever wordplay on his past crimes listed off as “jack, rob and sin” evokes the image of Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson and seamlessly connects Jay’s story to the larger story of Brooklyn the song is trying to tell. Instead of stopping there, Jay keeps the metaphorical narrative on baseball by comparing his selling of freebase cocaine (“running base”) to Robinson, who was known for his speed when on base. Jay then reminds us that when he “runs base,” he’s avoiding a sentence in a federal penitentiary, not playing baseball. Hearing the line for the first time is truly mind boggling, and it’s a true testament to the storytelling prowess of one of the greatest artists of the last three decades. - Noah Wright, @NoahCampaign
4. “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me / Sign was painted, it said private property / But on the back side it didn’t say nothing / This land was made for you and me” - “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie
Obviously, compared to the other lyrics on this list, at face value these are not exactly breathtaking. However, when the context of these lyrics is fully taken in, the opposite is true. This social commentary on class and inequality does not come from a 1960s protest song, it comes from “This Land Is Your Land,” the apparently patriotic hymn most of us probably sang in grade school. Released by one of the earliest protest singers, Woody Guthrie, in 1940, the song has seen its meaning warped over the years. However, this line, which no longer exists on most versions of the song, attempted to pull back the mask on a pre-WWII, Great Depression ravaged America. It brings an immense amount of levity to a song that in many contexts simply sounds like an alternate version of “God Bless America.” Guthrie is quite literally saying America belongs to all of us, not just the few wealthy or powerful enough to own and control large swaths of it. - Noah Wright, @NoahCampaign
5. “Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain / You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today / And then one day you find ten years have got behind you / No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” — “Time” by Pink Floyd
This entire song touches the depths of my soul, but these lyrics specifically make me think deeper about life and how quickly it moves. These last few years especially, I have felt the fear of growing older, aging and slowly losing my youth. I know 21 is not old, but I feel like I was just 12, fan girl-ing over boy bands in my childhood bedroom in Barnesville, Ohio. Now, here I am, one semester left of college, interning and studying in Los Angeles, across the country from home. My lifelong dreams are in my grasp, and that is amazing, but every time I think of my childhood, I cry uncontrollably because life is so short. Next thing I know, I’ll be 30. “Time” taught me that life is short, and if I don’t live to the fullest every day, I’ll lose track of it. Roger Waters did his thing when he wrote this song, as I am sure many people took it as personally and emotionally as myself. Waters is truly a powerful lyricist. I want to thank my dad for introducing me to Pink Floyd at such a young age. - Hannah Burkhart, @hannahnoelburk
6. “If I seem edgy, I want you to know / I never mean to take it out on you / Life has its problems and I get more than my share / But that's one thing I never mean to do 'cause I love you.” — “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone
Since I was very young, I have always had trouble expressing my emotions properly. I have always been shy, a bit awkward around people who make me feel left out and scared to talk in group settings. Although I am shy, when I cry, it is a waterfall that I can’t seem to hold back, and when I am angry, I sometimes speak before thinking. My elevated emotions have led me to lose people in my life who don’t understand me or how my emotions work. I have been through some battles mentally, and I am aware that I have taken it out on loved ones. With these lyrics, Horace Ott, Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus gave Nina Simone the ability to express exactly what I experience on a regular basis. Simone had a way with revealing her emotions through her voice, and this is heard very strongly in “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” This song will always be in my top 10, and Nina Simone will forever be my favorite vocalist. It gives me goosebumps every time. - Hannah Burkhart, @hannahnoelburk
7. “He said Allahu Akbar, I told him, don’t curse me, yeah / ‘Bo-Bo, you need prayer’ I guess it couldn’t hurt me / If it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion” - “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean
On the surface, one may come across “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean and praise the track for his vocals and the toned down gospel tune utilized against a ballad. However, it’s the lyrics above all that make it an exceptional song on Christopher Edwin Breaux’s standout album, Channel Orange.
The lyrics written above are riveting and raw. For many individuals, religion can encompass a variety of meanings. For Frank Ocean, his religion, the faith he worships, is romantic relationships — something not too uncommon among both atheists and spiritual, religious individuals because of its lust appeal that can leave lovers insatiable — a sometimes addicting sensation. Ocean recognizes though, if a relationship causes him to end up on his knees, begging for reciprocation and requited love, it’s a bad religion, despite how enticing this form of worship may feel in the moment, it is ultimately unhealthy.
The track also alludes to how any religion can be corrupt, depending on the evil acts it can force people to do, and in the case of “Bad Religion,” the mass shooting of 49 innocent people at a gay club in Orlando. Frank Ocean went as far as posting a letter questioning why religious individuals believe God or whatever deity they follow, would want them to kill or harm others under their religious law. Above all, it’s a complex song that reveals a lot about one-sided love, such as the fact that it can often turn admiration to danger, and what Frank Ocean would describe as “cult-like,” a theme common among many religious individuals as well. - Emma Dollenmayer, @emmadollenmayer
8. “So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep / And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe” - “Last Kiss” by Taylor Swift
It’s no secret that Taylor Swift is one of the best lyricists of our time. Ever since her self-titled debut album, she has embodied the ability to make listeners feel heartbreak thick and through their bones. Essentially, Swift has generated her own genre of heartache, love, lust, revenge, heartfelt and confident songs in the midst of her ever changing style from country to pop to folk.
“Last Kiss” is one of her more coveted -- and longer -- tracks, at a run time of 6:07. The entirety of the song is filled with emotion and imagery as Swift reminisces on her past, yet most recent love, who she would have never imagined sharing a “last kiss” with. This song specifically made me wonder, “does anybody really imagine having a last kiss with someone they love so deeply?” The answer is usually no, which makes the track and the feeling of foreseeing an end in sight with your current partner, all the more painful. Even worse is being separated and trying to think back to that last kiss and coming to the realization, it was never supposed to be. This applies to a lot of situations in life.
Wholeheartedly, you never know when you’re going to have your last of anything -- something this song helped me see more clearly. Though, arguably one of the most powerful break-up lines of this song and in the music world in general, is the one written above. We’ve all at one point in time, had to watch someone who was once our best friend turn into a stranger, a lot of times, only keeping up through their social media when oddly, we used to be so close to them we were able to watch them sleep, feel them breathe and then one day, it begins to become a distant memory, and you can feel it happening too. You wonder how someone could ever go from one extreme to the other. It’s simply Spain without the “S.” - Emma Dollenmayer, @emmadollenmayer
9. “I hate you for what you did, and I miss you like a little kid” - “Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers
I think a lot of people can relate to this lyric. That’s part of the brilliance of it - Phoebe wrote this so it can apply to many different scenarios. It could be a romantic relationship, where you’ve been hurt so deeply by someone but you just miss them anyway. It could be a parent or guardian letting you down and having to carry that frustration around with you while also feeling that childlike sense of longing for parental support and care. Or, the lyric could apply to a completely different situation altogether.
It resonates with me so well because even when people hurt me or leave, I feel this unbridled sadness in missing them. It’s so interesting that even the people who hurt you so terribly can still hold a place of love in your heart, but I think Bridgers sums it up better than anyone. It’s easier to shove away certain emotions as you enter adulthood. But as a child, it’s much harder to control your emotions and have a deep understanding of what it means when people leave or hurt you. Bridgers reminds us of that feeling when anger combines with sadness, and how complicated our emotions can be when we are angry with those we love or used to love. - Riley Runnells, @rileyr44
10. “I love it when you’re fresh / I love it when I take your top off and we share the same breath” - “Nikki” by Logic
I will never forget when I listened to this song for the first time. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was driving home from tennis practice with one of my teammates. She played the song for me and told me to listen to the lyrics, so I did. What I heard was one of the most brilliant songs of all time. Logic has made some incredible music and his lyricism is typically well-done, but this song is a masterclass in writing. He takes you through this entire song believing that he’s talking about a girl; everything from the name “Nikki,” to referring to having sex with her and ditching another girl named Mary for her makes you think he’s talking about an addictive, toxic relationship. The brilliant part about it all is that he is talking about that type of relationship, except it’s not a romantic one. You get to the last line of the final verse, and Logic reveals that he’s been talking about his relationship to nicotine the entire time. Even the reference of “Mary” was referring to marijuana, and how he stopped smoking marijuana to further his nicotine addiction.
My jaw dropped when I heard this song and made the connection. I listened to it five more times immediately after just to hear all of the references and understand the story better from a different perspective. This song has always been one of my all-time favorites, so it was hard to pick just one line that I loved. But arguably the best Logic lyric he’s ever written is “I love it when you’re fresh, I love it when I take your top off and we share the same breath.” Not only is it so well-placed in the song, but it’s also incredibly clever. Anyone thinking about this in the song’s perceived context is thinking about him having sex and taking the person’s shirt off, which is why it’s so smart that it applies to smoking a pack of cigarettes as well. Addiction is a huge topic in the rap world to cover in albums and tracks, and Logic created not only one of the most vulnerable rap songs about it, but also one that’s wildly clever and gripping. - Riley Runnells, @rileyr44
11.) “Had a hundred friends, but I cut ‘em off, I don’t need ‘em / Not like any of them gave a f*** if I was breathing / Summer’s over so they switching around like the seasons / Gotta keep my guard up, now I’m playing defense” - “Hundred” by Khalid
Singer/songwriter Khalid has always done an excellent job of articulating his true feelings to his audience. His 2019 album Free Spirit describes his life in the public after becoming notable at such a young age. In “Hundred,” he speaks on how his life has changed since he gained fame.
Many people have used him for his name and not truly cared about him. I have been a fan of Khalid since near the beginning of his career. However, the release of this song completely changed my perspective of his storytelling abilities. This spoke to me greatly because as we grow older, many of our friendships drift apart or we are forced to cut off toxic relationships in hopes that we gain happiness in return. No one ever wants to cut people off, and many people can fear the consequences of doing so. We may even keep these toxic people in our lives because we are scared of change. We may be sad that we have to give up these people. But, in the end, it’s for our own good. - Hannah Campbell, @hannahcmpbell
12.) “But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family / In your head, in your head, they are fightin’ / With their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns / In your head, in your head, they are cryin’”- “Zombie” by The Cranberries
The Cranberries’ “Zombie” has been an iconic 90’s rock song that many still throwback to today. In what may seem like another heavy rock song, the band actually describes the conflict in Northern Ireland between nationalists and unionists. The song was written in memory of Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, who were both killed in an IRA bombing in Warrington, England. This song perfectly describes the strong effects of violence that children and their families have to endure during this time. The band uses the strange yet fitting analogy of a zombie to reflect how the violence has caused these people to live off of killing other people. I never truly realized the political impact that this song had prior to doing research. However, I think everyone can relate to their own personal battles, no matter who or what they are fighting. - Hannah Campbell, @hannahcmpbell
13. “So how can I convince the thought away / That if something good comes easy / It must be too good to stay” - “Passed Tense” by Future Teens
Boston-based band Future Teens describes its sound as “bummer pop,” and “Passed Tense” is simply no exception. Opening with glimmering guitars and building to a more explosive final minute, “Passed Tense” is a reflection of the rollercoaster of emotions a relationship brings and how it feels looking back on a relationship’s course. Guitarist and vocalist Daniel Radin opens the track by wishing he could go back to the way things were before he experienced falling in love — and the way it can all unravel at once. After some turbulence in his relationship, Radin’s partner tells him it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Radin doesn’t understand her until he reflects upon the relationship down the line, but he still can’t avoid intrusive thoughts. You’re bound to be thinking about the same harrowing topics as Radin for hours after listening to this track. - Abby Miller, @abblawrence
14. “Why do I tell you how I feel / When you’re just looking down my blouse? / It’s something I wouldn’t say out loud / If touch could make them hear, then touch me now” - “Blouse” by Clairo
Singer-songwriter Clairo dropped “Blouse” June 11 to announce the upcoming release of her sophomore album, Sling. The single is equal parts surprising for its departure from the soft indie-pop Clairo is known for and the poignant emotions behind the lyrics. With little beside an acoustic guitar, strings and backing vocals from Lorde, Clairo sings about a relationship that’s much more strained than the instrumentation makes it seem on the surface. Little is said between the couple, and whenever Clairo opens up to her partner, they’re seemingly uninterested. While Clairo is longing for a deeper emotional connection built on conversation and vulnerability, her partner only seems to care about physicality. The most heartbreaking part is that Clairo would still do anything to be heard by her partner. If physical touch or being intimate is the only way Clairo’s partner will hear her, she’ll do it. These lyrics are too relatable. Even if it’s not in the context of romantic love, everyone has had a relationship before where they feel at odds with the other person. Whether it’s a toxic friendship, a relationship like Clairo’s or something else, we all struggle at times with how much we put up with just to feel heard or forge a connection. The beautiful but soft instrumentation on this song is genius, allowing the gut-wrenching lyrics of “Blouse” to shine. - Abby Miller, @abblawrence
15. “And I’ve spent many months just hating on myself / I can’t keep wishing things will be different or leaving problems on the shelf / I wish I didn’t need to get help, but I do” - “It’s Not The Same Anymore” by Rex Orange County
I’ve been listening to this song on and off the past few months, and it’s really resonated with me a little extra recently. The song discusses the changes that happen with the passage of time, aging and the complications that go along with both. This specific lyric was touching to me as someone who has experienced a multitude of changes within my life and who I am as a person since graduating high school three years ago. I also felt emotional by this specific lyric from the song because it made me reflect on how high of a standard I personally hold myself to and how difficult it is to ask for help. The song also talks about the other mental health struggles, such as suffering in silence to a point where family and friends don’t notice. I think this is something others can relate to, as many of us experience individual battles with self-worth and, at times, symptoms of imposter syndrome. But, as Rex Orange County says in his song, “It gets better.” - Jillian Craig @JillianCraig18
16. “Whatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there, with open arms and open eyes” - “Drive” by Incubus
This is a song I listened to mostly in high school, but this particular lyric is meaningful to me because it perfectly describes my outlook on life and my personal way of approaching new experiences. Although it’s cliche to say it, life is full of uncertainties —both good and bad. I believe, however, that it’s best to embrace the unknown for whatever it may bring. As a teacher in high school once told me, “No one wants ‘he played it safe’ on their headstone,” and this lyric really encapsulates the “carpe diem” or “yolo” attitude that is necessary (to a certain extent) to have. This song encourages me to propel myself forward in life, even if I’m uncertain of what’s to come, and I know I’ll be tuning in to hear this lyric more as graduation approaches next spring. -Jillian Craig @JillianCraig18