Inappropriate Songs I Enjoyed as a Child

My parents never taught me about sex. I don’t think they purposefully skirted the issue; ‘the talk’ just never happened. It was no matter – I was constantly bombarded with sexuality as a child. It was everywhere. In elementary school, my classmates and I would trade the crusted, phone-sex operator calling cards that were strewn across our kickball field. The cards were black and white and featured women and their breasts and not much else. I was a kid when George Michael was on both Dial MTV and the 10 PM news for exposing himself in a public restroom. My neighbor, who was an attorney, had a black and white portrait of Paul Reubens during his trial. It was propped up on his fireplace, the centerpiece of his mantel. I mean, PEE WEE’S SEX TRIAL WAS A CHILDHOOD STAPLE, for Christ’s sake. I was totally confused about sex. Was it supposed to be private? Because it sure as hell didn’t seem that way.

This was only amplified by the music I was listening to. My god, did the music make no sense? I knew all of the words, but damned if I had any clue what they meant. Below, the songs that I loved (but didn’t understand) as a kid.

Waterfalls, TLC

TLC: safe-sex crusaders of the ‘90s. If I were a teenager or young adult back then, I would’ve been like, “Oh, TLC? Yeah, they totally invented the condom eye patch. Rad girls.” But I was a kid, so I was more like, “WTF? What’s that neon green thing covering that one’s eye and where do I get one? What’s a condom?!” When Waterfalls came out, catchy as it was, the safe sex message was lost on me for at least a year or three. I think I thought the song was about appreciating your parents or whatever.

Most confusing line: “Three letters took him to his final resting place.” I had a fucking existential crisis trying to figure out what the three letters were, along with every other ten-year-old kid. HIV? But HIV doesn’t kill you, AIDS does! But AIDS is four letters, not three! Is the answer really as simple as S-E-X? That’s too obvious, it can’t be sex! The schoolyard debate of the century.

All That She Wants, Ace of Base

Because Ace of Base was covered on Full House and was most famous for I Saw the Sign (at least, to the elementary school sect), I was under the impression that all of their songs were written with the most lily white of intentions. For that reason, I was willing to accept the use of the word “baby” a lot more literally than intended.

Most confusing line: “All that she wants/is another baby” I mean, everything is confusing when you’re listening to this song and picturing newborns in a nursery. Or like, a young chick at an adoption center. “More babies, plz! Thanx!” Did it make sense? No, but it didn’t need to. From 1990 – 1999, I was fairly certain that lyrics were a consequence of songs. Music was a vehicle for an addictive beat, nothing more. Lyrics weren’t supposed to mean anything (in many cases, I was right). (See: every Backstreet Boys song ever.) She wants another baby? Give it to her! She’s leaving tomorrow!

Pony, Ginuwine

As far as I’m concerned, this was Ginuwine’s first (and best) single. It was all over the radio, it was all over my summer camp, it was playing on every music video channel. Who doesn’t remember that video? Ginuwine basically goes into a redneck bar, hops on a stage, and starts getting ‘90s sexy. Which is to say, not sexy at all. Whatever. What little girl doesn’t love ponies?

Most confusing line: “First we’ll show and tell/’Til I reach your ponytail.” Where, exactly, is the ponytail located? I have the feeling I’m going to need to throw out my scrunchie once this is over.

I Touch Myself, Divinyls

Is it any surprise that the person who thought Linn Bergrenn really wanted another infant is the same person who missed the mark on this ode to masturbation? I thought, “touch myself” and pictured Christina Amphlett crossing her arms and giving herself a hug while gently rocking back and forth (a total Amy Grant move).

Most confusing line: “I’d get down on my knees/I’d do anything for you.” I think it’s pretty commonplace to mistake getting on your knees for “begging” rather than “giving you a blowjob, yum!” when you’re a kid. …Right?

Sweat, Inner Circle

Often known as, “Alalalalalong,“ “Girl, I want to make you sweat,” “Lookin’ in your big brown eyes,” or “That UB40 song,” Sweat by Inner Circle was one of those songs that all girls with brown eyes were crazy for. In a society that celebrates light eyes, us “common” bitches go nuts for a good brown-eyed anthem (fun fact – blue eyed people all share a common ancestor. Gross!) As long as you mentioned brown eyes in your song, it didn’t matter what the rest of the lyrics were. “I’m serving forty-to-life but damn girl, check out you and your brown eyes”? I’ll take it. I’ll take three.

Most confusing line: “Girl, I want to make you sweat/Sweat ‘til you can’t sweat no more/and if you cry out/I’m gonna push it some more.” As a kid, I took the phrase “push it” to be a dance move; but now, these lyrics seem a little aggressive/something you would say when anal is on the table. “Look, before I make you all sweaty, let’s talk about this. There is a high likelihood that you’re going to cry out. It’s understandable. But if you do? I’m going to push it some more. It’ll be over really fast. You’ll thank me later, promise.”

You Oughta Know, Alanis Morissette

Jagged Little Pill was in heavy, heavy rotation when I was in 5th grade. I’m fairly certain Alanis drew the first headbang out of me, and it was likely a reaction to You Oughta Know. It is the perfect portrait of a woman scorned; a hymn I hold near and dear as an adult. Of course, I hadn’t experienced this sort of betrayal in elementary school, but that didn’t stop me from screaming the lyrics during art class.

Most confusing line: “It’s not fair/to deny me/of the cross I bear that you gave to me.” You Oughta Know is fairly cut-and-dry. “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” Maybe I didn’t know what fucking was, but I was able to guess based on context clues. On the other hand, the great Cross I Bear/Cross-eyed Bear clusterfuck of 1996 is quite another story. Alanis’s enunciation certainly didn’t do this line any justice, but I like to think that it was the ten-year-old in me who changed the meaning of that line from ‘metaphorical stain on my soul’ to ‘poorly-tailored teddy bear’. “He gave her a cross-eyed bear? Ugh. What a loser. Bet he bought it on sale from Sears.”

It was a confusing couple of years, but then lyric websites became “a thing,” and it was kind of hard to remain uninformed. I still long for days when I could scream things like, “RIDE IT, MY PONY” in public with the confidence and ignorant bliss only children possess. TC mark


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  • Nicole

    Up until this moment I always thought it was “cross-eyed bear.” Mindfucked.

  • Martin of 385 Union

    Reading this article makes me want to hold your head tight to my chest and pet your hair for hours. 

    She wants another baby? Give it to her! She’s leaving tomorrow!

  • Aja

    My younger sister used to sit in her car seat merrily singing Salt N Peppa's “Push It”.  One day we were in the car and it miraculously didn't come on the radio and she asked my Mum sadly, “Where's “awww smush it' ?”
    True story.

  • Caroline

    so many lols.

  • Guest

    Ummm 'I wanna have sex on the beach' by T-spoon used to always be on at school discos around 5th grade. We used to do the dance moves too which consisted mainly of thrusting…I'm not sure we knew what it meant but the fact that the teachers and random disco DJ must have makes it highly disturbing…..

  • Jordan

    Didn't know till now that it WASN'T about a literal baby.  I only have a cursory knowledge of Ace of Base but I figured it was one of those social commentary cautionary songs like Waterfalls (and FYI, I thought that was “Don't go, Jason Waterfalls” for a while, but it took less than 15 years to catch on to that one).   I kinda like it being about babies!

    There's gotta be hundreds of these songs, much like some Disney jokes, that go way over kids heads because they don't understand but just bob their heads and sing about getting wet or dicks or god knows what.

    • Sophia Anderson

      I feel less dumb now, knowing that there is someone else who until today also thought that song was about a literal baby.

  • ben Raifsnider, jr.

    “On the other hand, the great Cross I Bear/Cross-eyed Bear clusterfuck of 1996 is quite another story.”
    thank you for that.

  • mertzy


  • Nicole
  • Meghan Blalock

    Ditto on 'You Oughta Know.' My number one was 'Throb' by Janet… and 'If' by Janet… and everything else by Janet.

  • Kathleen Gambo

    Let's not forget the 5 infamous nymphomaniacs- The Spice Girls
    I crooned along to the song 2 become 1:
    “Are you as good as I remember baby, get it on, get it on” (what!)
    “Be a little bit wiser baby, put it on, put it on” [condoms!]

    'Cause tonight is the night when two become one [SEX!!]

    …my virginal ears…

    • bappada boopy

      I was going to say something about the Spice Girls hahahahaha awesome. It's so fun listening to their albums now that I'm in on the whole sex thing

  • Jason Ham

    When I was a kid it was definitely “Go, go, Jason Waterfalls”.

    This was a fun article. Reminded me of “GET DOWN” by “B44”. Any Canadians remember that one?

    • inflammatorywrit

      Yes! I distinctly remember arguing with my mother about the existence of Jason Waterfalls.

  • Steven Timberman

    This is fantastic. I laughed, I laughed, and I laughed some more. AND I have an excuse to listen to Ace of Base again.

  • Uncreative

    Wait, so….what is that Ace of Base song actually about….

    • mopey P

      When I was in third grade my mom explained it as: “This is a trash song because she is a welfare queen because she is Swedish and they all have welfare there because they are communists. “

      That didn't really help me understand it at the time. I still wasn't sure if it was “baby” as in “Always be my Baby” or the kind that come out of your hoo-ha.

  • isabel

    “Freak me” by Another Level is one of those songs. 
    I was 11 at the time, but damn, I just didn't understand this song has “SEX” written all over it. 

  • Michelle Jackson Gamradt

    You have described my childhood in music!!!  This is actually really crazy that you posted this today, because yesterday I was just thinking about how inappropriate it was for me to perform Waterfalls at our 4th grade lock-in in front of the school……

  • Brian McElmurry

    laughed on inner circle one!

  • bappada boopy

    ….totally didn't know that's what the TLC song was about…… thanks for informing me. I'm 21 :D

    • bappada boopy

      ..actually I'm 20. I'm just really confused today…

  • Becki Barlow

    cross-eyed bear… i will nevereverever hear “cross i bear” when i listen to this song again

  • Elle

    “On the other hand, the great Cross I Bear/Cross-eyed Bear clusterfuck of 1996 is quite another story. Alanis’s enunciation certainly didn’t do this line any justice….”

    This is basically my childhood music experience explained. I would always get words confused and be like WTF THAT MAKES NO SENSE.

  • Scott Lewis

    Madonna's Human Nature and when she said sex i thought she was saying six but i never questioned why she would sing a song about the number 6

  • Anna B

    …really? that was what “waterfalls” was about? dannng, I'm so behind D:

  • Waicool

    like a raisin in the sun i'm turning japanese reading this!

  • Jen

    “He gave her a cross-eyed bear? Ugh. What a loser. Bet he bought it on sale from Sears.”  BWAHAHAHAHAAA!!!

  • SewingSchatzi

    You would've been my best friend in middle school. Things I remembered while reading this …

    1. My female cousin and I sang and performed “When 2 become 1” by the Spice Girls and “Nice n Slow” by Usher for my cool aunt. She clapped and thought we did a great job. Why didn't they tell us we were singing about sex?2. Belting “You Oughta Know” in my room, because Alanis's JLP and No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom were #1 and #2 on my 6 disc cd changer boom box. I was very surprised to learn that she was just really pissed at Uncle Joey from Full House.
    3. I thought Gwen Stefani was a hermaphradite because I understood her as saying “I'm just a girl, a little of me.”
    4. Being the only girl in my group of friends that listened to Korn and Limp Bizkit, even though I didn't fully get what Nookie was.

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