'90s Songs That Were Actually Really Depressing

by Alyssa Giannone

The '90s left its mark on so many different areas of pop culture: fashion, television, movies, technology, and, arguably most of all, music. It was a time of expression with new sounds, like grunge and rock-reggae and pop-punk and horrible samples that we all loved. The feel good songs that we still hear today bring any kid of the '90s right back to sitting at the pool or road-tripping or heading to school in the morning. There was a catchy formula that we all fell into, helping establish some of the best '90s nostalgia playlists that we hear today, and the best VH1 decade documentaries.

But as happy as a lot of those songs sounded, there were plenty of us who didn't stop to listen to the lyrics or message of the top songs that blasted from our bright pink Barbie cassette/CD/radio contraption. With all the expression — and drugs — of the '90s, some of your favorite songs were a lot more upsetting than you probably realized.

Not to mellow you out or ruin your childhood, but here are some of those quintessential, feel-good '90s songs that were actually as depressing af.

1. "No Rain" By Blind Melon, 1993

Strap in 'cause we're starting pretty low here. While the song is crazy catchy and easy to enjoy instrumentally, the lyrics are dark, dark, dark. Bass player Brad Smith wrote, "And I don't understand / Why I sleep all day / And I start to complain / That there's no rain," excuses the need to get out of bed and live, even when there's nothing to live for. In an interview with Songfacts, Smith said he wrote this while trying to make his way as a musician, and along the way his "bouts of depression" didn't help, and some days he would just stay in bed. You can still hear his ode to mental instability on any radio station today.

2. "When I Come Around" by Green Day, 1994

One of Green Day's biggest hits was inspired by the estranged relationship between Billie Joe Armstrong and his now-wife, then-girlfriend Adrienne. For those of us who have been in a long distance relationship, this is an anthem that really sums up how much it sucks.

3. "Let Her Cry" By Hootie & The Blowfish, 1994

Hootie aka Darius Rucker aka one of today's biggest country stars, broke into the industry with his distinct alternative rock voice in the early '90s. The lyrics refer to the destruction that alcoholism can have on a relationship, so as beautiful as this '90s ballad is, there isn't much that's sadder than an unfixable relationship.

4. "Ants Marching" By Dave Matthews Band, 1995

Pop-fiddle was without a doubt one of the trendiest sounds to add to songs in the '90s, and "Ants Marching" was one of the biggest hits to include it. I'll admit, I never really know what lead singer Dave Matthews is saying, or even trying to say, in most of his songs. But this one stands out. The marching ants represent the fear of the monotony of everyday people with everyday jobs who live ordinary, everyday lives. Man, even that sentence bums me out. "When all the little ants are marching / Red and black antennae waving / We all do it the same / We all do it the same way." There's nothing wrong with stability, but not exploring or enjoying leads to such a drag of a lifestyle.

5. "Just A Girl" By No Doubt, 1995

First, I would like to point out that "Just A Girl" should be the feminist anthem. With badass satire and pomp, lyrics like "Don't you think I know / Exactly where I stand / This world is forcing me / To hold your hand," speak to the frustration that women still feel in a patriarchal society 11 years after its release. That's what makes it so depressing. Lead singer Gwen Stefani felt angry about her treatment as a human being just because she was a woman in 1995, so wouldn't you think we would've moved past that by now? Sigh.

6. "April 29, 1992" By Sublime, 1996

In keeping with the depression of lack of change, Sublime hit the nail on the Black Lives Matter head, even in 1996. The date "April 29, 1992" refers to the date of the LA riots over the beating of Rodney King, a black man seriously harmed by later-acquitted police officers. Sound familiar? The band's anger over the horrendous events led to this political reggae jam. What's most depressing is if you change the date to "April 19, 2015," or "July 11, 2016," the lyrics are just as sadly relevant.

7. "3 AM" By Matchbox Twenty, 1996

As one of the peppier songs from the '90s and one that put Matchbox Twenty on the map, lead singer Rob Thomas sings about trying to understand his mother's struggles with cancer. As much as we love singing along to, "She only sleeps when it's raining / And she screams / And her voice is strained / And she says 'Baby' / 'It's 3 AM, I must be lonely'," thinking about what that means puts a real damper on things.

8. "Bittersweet Symphony" By The Verve, 1997

This one-hit-wonder is one of the coolest songs of the '90s, combining classical and R&B and pop in one. It's beautiful, but the message is a rough reminder that "The Man" is always worshipped. "'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life / Try to make ends meet / You're a slave to money then you die." Pretty much sums it up, right?

9. "Jumper" By Third Eye Blind, 1997

Third Eye Blind is the ultimate '90s band with plenty of hits that we still listen to today. They're fun and easy to sing along with, but "Jumper" is a roller coaster. "I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend / We could cut ties with all the lies / That you've been living with / And if you do not want to see me again / I would understand," tells the story of preventing a suicide. Whoever is on that ledge, they need to be talked down, and while that itself is depressing it's an uplifting song that reminds us to "put the past away."

10. "The Way" By Fastball, 1998

As cool and wonderfully Latin-influenced as this song sounds, this is one of the most tragic stories to hit the radio during the decade. According to Signature, after reading a report in the Austin American-Statesman about an elderly couple, the Howards, who drove away from home and disappeared, Fastball's lead singer Tony Scalzo wrote this haunting song. "You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere / They won't make it home, but they really don't care / They wanted the highway, they're happier there today." The couple was found dead at the bottom of a cliff 10 days after the first report came out. But what better way to commemorate the Howards than with one of the coolest number one songs of the '90s?

11. "You Get What You Give" By New Radicals, 1998

Obviously, this is a lyrically heavy song. There isn't much instrumental influence besides the norm of poppy, feel-good '90s jams. But lead singer and songwriter Gregg Alexander told the A.V. Club that his lyrics were targeting huge political powers that only cared about themselves instead of the rest of the country. And wouldn't ya know it, some still need changing. The music video even takes a political stance on class and personality, causing chaos in a commercial shopping mall. The nice part about this song is that the chorus is affirmation that, somehow, the world will be OK.

12. Every Everclear Song Ever, 1991 - Present

Everclear's themes through its career have been the same with every hit song — abandonment, domestic abuse, poverty — and they just never get better. "Father Of Mine" is the staple of lead singer Art Alexakis' alternative rock therapy, speaking about daddy issues like someone would to a shrink. And it's the same with the others: "Wonderful", "I Will Buy You A New Life", "Santa Monica", and "Everything To Everyone." So while Alexakis had some major family hangups, we sat back and enjoyed the upbeat rock that came with it.

While we could lament about the difficulties that come with some of our favorite songs growing up, we can also learn from them. Addiction is real and hard to get over, relationships are worth fighting for, your own rights are worth fighting for, and don't worry so much about money or you'll lose yourself.

There will always be something good to take from something dark, especially the fact that Beans is the star of that Everclear music video.

Image: NoDoubtVEVO/YouTube