I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

My Top 10 Songs of 2015: Meaning in Pop Music

My Top 10 Songs of 2015: Meaning in Pop Music


2015 gave us a LOT of good music. If you're here on the blog, chances are that you've enjoyed it too. What were your favorites? The Weeknd? Mumford & Sons? Ellie Goulding? Macklemore?

There's so much to choose from. (But if you have time, comment your top songs below, and I promise to get back to you). You can also email me at I'm particularly interested in what songs you found meaningful and deep.

Well, my interest is in pop songs that mean something and sound good. So, using those two criteria, I've culled together my ten favorite songs of 2015.

[Note that a few of these songs are explicit, or the music videos may not be appropriate for younger viewers. My top 10 is a listing of songs that were popular, important, or meaningful in 2015, not necessarily ones that were "clean."]

10. "Lifted up (1985)" by Passion Pit

I love Passion Pit, so I was as excited as anyone when they put out another album this year. The album's full of good music but the soul-stirring positive-but-real feel of this song makes it my favorite from Kindred. The song's probably about lead singer Michael Angelakos's wife Kristina Mucci. She was born in 1985.

9. "On My Mind" by Ellie Goulding

"On My Mind" is definitely the most poppy of all of the songs that I'm putting on this list, and its meaning plays little role in my picking of it. I just really like the sound of it, and I think it accurately stands as a standard for what 2015 pop sounds like--a little European, sassy, intense, and electronic. If you averaged out all of 2015's mainstream pop and added a little spice, you'd get "On My Mind."

And actually, its meaning may be appropriate to 2015 culture too--it's about not being sure why you're attracted to someone and being afraid to commit without fully understanding.

8. "Cheerleader-Felix Jaehn Remix" by OMI

"Cheerleader" has special significance to me. Not only do its island beat and rather shallow lyrics contribute to any party atmosphere (said with some sarcasm but also with some true nostalgia), but the song was almost my first big hit on this blog. To date it's had 44,000 visitors wondering about its meaning (and possibly wondering whether it was sexist or not). It's been a wild ride, but with "Cheerleader" and OMI, it's been a fun one.

7. "Downtown" (feat. Eric Nally) by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis [Explicit]

This song is pure fun. Harkening back to Macklemore's glorification of lower income classes that took the world by storm with "Thrift Shop," "Downtown" celebrates our freedom to ride cheaply and classily on mopeds. The song is amazing, and the music video is ironically stirring. Never before have the streets of Spokane been moved so profoundly and emotionally by crowds performing an ode to mopeds and inexpensive living.

6. "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

This song is the only one on this list that I can say has actually changed my life. I posted my explanation of "Can't Feel My Face" back in July, and, since then, it's garnered 457,000 hits, showing me that a blog about explaining pop music really can make a big impression and reach hundreds of thousands of people.

As for the song itself, people really can't seem to decide on whether this psychedelic, soul-and-funk fusion is about a woman or about cocaine.

5. "Stressed Out" by Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots did amazing things this year, and the band still is doing more amazing things. Their new album Blurryface released in May is currently 11th on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, up there with stars like Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Coldplay. "Stressed Out," a song about growing up and facing the fact you can't go back to childhood, is currently peaking at 13 on the Top 100 chart.  It's got a catchy reggae rhythm, mixed with cool effects, thoughtful lyrics, and Tyler Joseph's signature rap style.

4. "Believe" by Mumford & Sons

Before their album Wilder Mind, Mumford & Sons was hugely popular for its bluegrass/country-English take on folk and modern music. The band's literary lyrics and earnest harmonies made waves, but with this album the members decided to return home--a home few of their fans knew existed. In 2015, we all learned that Mumford & Sons wasn't originally a folk band but had adopted the instruments for a short time.

"Believe" has to be one of the most well-put-together and meaningful songs of 2015. The song's a Coldplay-esque alternative rock discussion on a relationship that the narrator is uncertain of and scared for. Others have argued with me, but my best interpretation suggests its about God and Mumford's need for God to show himself.

3. "Should Have Known Better" by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens made it onto some charts, but he's not on many of them now, so he's not incredibly popular, but he is an incredibly good song writer. His new album Carrie & Lowell is one of his most successful to date, partially because it's more accessible musically to a wider audience (not that it isn't also heavily artistic). The songs are beautiful and full of interesting personal stories. "Should Have Known Better" is calming and soothing, while still being interesting; it's a soul stirring reminisce on Sufjan's life after his mother's death.

2. "Alright" by Kendrick Lamar [Explicit]

"Alright" is probably the odd one out here since I don't listen to much rap, but this song was just plain good. If you listen to it (and depending on your tastes and context community), you may be uncomfortable with the explicit lyrics and opinions that you may not agree with. I'm not giving it #2 for either of those reasons. I've chosen "Alright" because it goes deep, it grapples with personal and social issues, and it comes to a positive conclusion: "we gon' be alright."

The song's about the African-American community and its struggles with not only police violence but also with Lamar's other, more personal issues that he also sees in his own communities. Based on the lyrics, you can tell that Lamar knows what it means to struggle, and he presents himself as a sympathetic and encouraging friend to African-Americans who listen and need hope.

1. "Pedestrian at Best" by Courtney Barnett

I'd heard "Pedestrian at Best" before but didn't really know what it was about. I ran across it again when I began researching my top 10 songs of 2015. When I listened to it, I was amazed by the intricacy of the lyrics and the depth of its meaning.

"Pedestrian at Best" is an existential study of what it means to be famous but to still feel normal and to know one's own weaknesses. Barnett promises that if her fans put her "on a pedestal," she'll only "disappoint" them. One of the main and most important conclusions that Barnett comes to is that if she (and consequently any artist) begins enjoying fame too much and writes music for the sake of the fame, the music will cease to be art.

What does "Out of the Woods" by Taylor Swift mean?

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