I’ve found that I enjoy certain types of music more when I don’t listen to the words too closely. However, a mild addiction to karaoke and a lifelong inability to “just let it go” has made it impossible for me to avoid knowing the lyrics.
We’ve been known to criticize how science is portrayed in movies and television shows here on Southern Fried Science. Pop music is far from innocent when it comes to scientific misunderstandings, and it seems only fair that I criticize that genre as well. Here are some recent examples that have been driving me crazy.
1) Katy Perry’s feel-good anthem “Firework” contains a misunderstanding about weather, or at least about emergency preparedness for severe weather:
“If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow”
I understand the sentiment. Perry is trying to say that good things come after bad things, which is a nice message. However, seeing rainbows is more commonly associated with mild rain then major storms like hurricanes. According to NOAA’s National Weather Service:
“The main ingredients to see a rainbow are the following:
- You need to be standing with the sun to your back and the rain in front of you.
- The sun needs to be less than 42o above the horizon.
- The sun’s rays must be hitting the raindrops to create the rainbow.”
In other words, you wouldn’t see a rainbow if:
- It is no longer raining
- It is too cloudy or dark for the sun’s rays to reach a raindrop
- You aren’t outside or near a window
Most hurricanes that are expected to be strong enough to cause serious damage come with an evacuation order, and most residents wouldn’t return home until long after the storm was over. In other words, it would no longer be raining and there would be no rainbow by the time people returned home to assess the damage caused by the storm. Hurricanes that wouldn’t require an evacuation would still involve people staying inside and away from windows, so you couldn’t see a rainbow even if you were still in town.
Or, put another way,
“Obviously you can tell she… has never been through a hurricane. I never saw a rainbow after a hurricane, just destroyed buildings and fallen down trees”
2) Far East Movement’s “Rocketeer” has several lyrics that are troubling to anyone with a basic understanding of planetary and atmospheric science.
“Above the clouds in the atmosphere, phere
Just say the words and we outta here, outta here”
As it turns out, the atmosphere’s starting point isn’t “above the clouds”. It starts right at the Earth’s surface. Just ask the friendly geniuses at NASA.
This later verse just gives me a headache:
“Nah, I never been in space before
But I never seen a face like yours”
I get the idea- the girl he’s hitting on at the bar is extremely attractive. However, why would visits to space result in having seen faces more beautiful than those on Earth?
As near as I can tell, only six of the nearly 7 billion humans in existence presently live in what could be arguably described as “space”- the crew of the international space station. Don’t get me wrong, Russian Federation Cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri is a good looking dude. However, having seen his face does not cause me to re-evaluate how I view the attractiveness of Earthbound humans.
3) Though it’s not really a song lyric, part of Lady Gaga’s 2011 Grammy performance caused quite a stir. Prior to singing “born this way“, a new song with a gay rights message, she was delivered to the awards show inside a giant egg.
She claimed to have been in the egg for 72 hours prior to the Grammys. When asked about the symbolism behind the egg, Lady Gaga’s creative director Laurie Gibson had this to say:
“It was necessary to incubate her for a certain time, because tonight she is actually birthing a new race, a new race that doesn’t have the ability to judge or hate in their DNA, so she is incubating right now so she goes through that process.”
Um…wow. I really don’t even know where to start here. The performance was pretty good, I guess, but I don’t think it resulted in the birth of a new race. I could point out the fact that it takes more than 72 hours for evolution to occur, or that evolution is a population-wide phenomenon and not the result of one individual, or that hatred and intolerance isn’t really a genetic thing. Mostly, though, I want to know how she went to the bathroom while stuck for 3 days in a container that isn’t big enough to stand up inside.
Zombie science (which is totally a science)
4) Usher’s “DJ Got us falling in love” shows that his knowledge of the paranormal is far inferior to his dancing ability:
“Thank God the week is done
I feel like a zombie come back to life (back back to life)”
I suspect what he is trying to say is that after slogging through a bad week, a visit to the club has reinvigorated him (I know the feeling).However, zombie-philes know that his analogy doesn’t make sense. In the overwhelming majority of zombie lore, zomb-ism is incurable. You can’t bring a zombie back to life by making it no longer un-dead, you can only make it all-the-way dead. While I’ve occasionally felt all-the-way-dead the morning after a trip to the club, I don’t think this is what Usher was trying to say.
Bonus: A musician corrects her own science fail
Can anyone think of another example? I’ll send a free Southern Fried Science coffee mug to the person who provides the best one (as a comment below) in between now and next Friday at 5:00 p.m.
How about R.E.M.’s “Its the End of the World As We Know It?” It’s not so much of a pop hit now, but it was in its day. The song opens with,
“That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane –
Lenny Bruce is not afraid.”
Science dictates that the end of the world will not be caused by an earthquake, by birds and snakes, nor by “aeroplane.”
How can you forget “Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse??? “F*&#ing magnets, how do they work?” followed by “And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist, Y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed.” EPIC.
I love how you self-censored “Fucking magnets” but not “y’all motherfuckers lying”.
But, see, I fed some food to a pelican at Frisco Bay. It tried to eat my cell phone. It flew away?
My personal favorite is “Why the Sun Shines” by They Might Be Giants. While a marvelous educational song, a critic pointed out that it should be mentioned that the sun is a plasma, not a gas. TMBG made a whole new song in response called “Why the Sun Really Shines” with the lyric changed to ‘the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasm.” It’s on their album Here Comes Science. And that’s why they’re the best band ever.
Well, not really any point in trying after the ICP one. What about “Drops of Jupiter” by Train?
“Did you sail across the sun?” “Did the wind [in space…?] sweep you off your feet?” “Did Venus blow your mind [rather than cook you like a pot roast]?”
And zombies can be cured. One to 15 rounds of machete-therapy has been empirically proven to cure all zombies of zombism.
My personal science fail favorite: Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You”. The section that always gets me:
“Try to take a tiger from his daddy’s side
That’s how love is gonna keep us tied”
Adult tigers are not social animals. The males come on the scene to mate with the females, then go about their merry way and leave the females to face pregnancy and child-rearing on their own. Taking a tiger from his “daddy’s” side, therefore, becomes easier than taking fish from a clubbed baby seal.
I can’t believe that nobody has brought up the “They Might Be Giants” song “Mammal”. It has a line with very dubious phylogeny — speaking for mammals in general, it has a line “their cousin called Monotreme, dead uncle Allotheria”. A failure because both monotremes and the allotheres (RIP) *are* mammals.
Tinie Tempah, “Written in the Stars”
“Written in the stars, a million miles away”.
The closest star to us, the sun, is 93 million miles away. Others are orders of magnitude more distant.
The example I can think of is not actually a pop song but it is a song. It is the theme song to The Big Bang Theory. The offending lyrics are “The earth began to cool. The autotrophs began to drool…” It has really bugged me since the first episode of the series. I don’t think I need to explain why this lyric is so wrong. Autotrophs can not drool. Heterotrophs who have salivary glands (eg. mammals) are capable of drooling, but not plants. I am very disapointed that there is such a blatant mistake in the theme song, especially since it is a great show about science geeks that usually gets things very right.
That song is called “the History of Everything”, and it’s by the Barenaked Ladies. It totally qualifies as pop.
Oh! Cool! I had not idea it was an actual song. Should have know it was. All tv show theme songs seem to be real songs.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to announce the winner!
There were many great entries, but in the end only one song can really be categorized as both “pop” and a “science fail”. Elvis and They Might Be Giants are “oldie”. Insane Clown Posse is just terrifying and it slightly affects my opinion of Miriam that she listens to it.
REM is borderline oldies/pop, but “It’s the end of the world as we know it” isn’t really a science fail so much as a random combination of words that kind of rhyme. Drops of Jupiter is pop, but the whole song is kind of non-sensical as well.
That leaves us with “The History of Everything”. Barenaked Ladies is pop, and autotrophs do not drool. We have a winner!
Thanks for playing, everyone!
They Might Be Giants is Oldies? Barenaked Ladies is Pop? You are hereby banned from discussing music on this blog. You should go get checked out for Bieber Fever, I hear it’s going around.
First of all, don’t take your frustrations out on the Bieber.
Oldies is the wrong word for “They Might be Giants”, since they got started in the early 80’s, became popular in the early 90’s, and are still going.
I wouldn’t call them “Pop”, which is associated with top 40 on the billboard charts, however. I suppose “alternative” is a better descriptor.
Barenaked Ladies was originally Indie/Alternative, though you’re much more likely to hear a Barenaked Ladies song on a pop/top 40 radio station than you are to hear a They Might Be Giants song. At least that was true a few years ago when “Pinch me” or “One week” were new- now you’re not likely to hear either.
Barenaked Ladies also was nominated for a Grammy for “best pop performance by a duo or group” twice, for both the songs I mentioned above. One week was on the top 40 charts at #1, and pinch me was later on the top 40 charts as high as #15.
They Might be Giants has won two Grammys- one for “best song written for a TV show or movie” and one for “best album for children” and has never had a top 40 charted hit, though they did have a few songs that charted well under the “modern rock” category.
Clearly a serious case of Beiber fever, unless you’re a true Beleiber. In which case the small patch of dirt behind the chemical shed is our only option.
Here, this might cure you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
It’s your only hope.
I wouldn’t toss his name around so casually. When he didn’t get the Grammy, Twitter crashed.