Lyrical Dissonance

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Pinkie Pie: Wanna hear the song I sang to my parents? Oh, sorry, the song they sang to me?

Applejack: Doesn't matter which one, Pinkie. As long as it's not one of those sad ones with a deceptively happy tune.

So, you're listening to this new song. Nice and springy, sounds like it's gonna be a fun little ditty. Then the lyrics start...

And the worst part is, the happy, upbeat music just keeps going. That's Lyrical Dissonance: when the music and the lyrics are going in opposite directions. Happy upbeat lyrics set to sad music also qualifies. This can also be used for comic effect, either by putting serious, dramatic music to silly lyrics, or by simply treating the subject matter as if it did fit the tune. This trope also applies with lyrics that seem unfitting for reasons other than happiness versus sadness - for instance, a particularly angry or violent-sounding song that has lyrics that are clearly humorous, or sad, or perhaps just thoughtful and introspective; or the reverse, a cheery tune with angry or violent lyrics.[2]

A rather old trope. One of the archetypal examples involves an evil chief of police plotting to blackmail a woman into having sex with him in order to save the man she loves, then having the man killed anyway, while all around him parishioners beg for God's mercy, all set to some of the most gorgeously beautiful music the composer ever wrote. That's from Puccini's 1900 opera, Tosca. Not the oldest by any means—but one that can easily compete with most of the examples below.

Sub-trope to Mood Dissonance. Compare to Soundtrack Dissonance and Hypocritical Singing. May lead to Isn't It Ironic?, if the song is used in a place where the people who selected it didn't listen to the lyrics very well. As one of the folders in this page shows, it might be related to The Cover Changes the Meaning.

Examples of Lyrical Dissonance include:

Anime[edit | hide]

  • In Macross Frontier, Ranka's signature song Aimo is later modified into a war song. The dissonance doesn't fully set in until the last episode when it's revealed that Aimo is a love song. In fact, they let the first line (Aimo, aimo, netel lhushe) intact - and Aimo means Anata.
    • It doesn't help that half of the song is in Zentran.

Comedy[edit | hide]

  • In Steve Martin's famous stand-up routine, "Excuse Me!", Steve gets angry with "the backstage crew", and then cheers himself up by playing the banjo. Which leads to this lyrical dissonance:

You just can't sing a depressing song when you're playing the banjo. You can't go:
[grins, plays happily and sings] "Oh, murder and death and grief and sorrow!" [continues grinning and playing happily]

Film[edit | hide]

The world's about to be destroyed
There's no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the planet dissolve around you
So long, so long, and thanks for all the fish!

    • The "Share and Enjoy" song from the Radio series is a cheerful little ballad, sung out of tune by a badly-programmed choir of robots. The lyrics are about how, when malfunctioning Sirius Cybernetics robots tear off doors and rape cats, the company's complaints department won't give a fig.

"Go stick your head in a pig!"

    • Disaster Area's song "Only the End of the World Again" can be heard on the now-rare Hitchhiker's Guide EP (with the rubber duck on the sleeve). It's a heavy rock ballad about a guy who kills his best friend to be with his girlfriend, takes her for a crash in her daddy's car, and then makes out with her as the moon explodes for no adequately explored reason.
  • "That Thing you Do" in the movie of the same name is an upbeat, Beach Boys-esque song about a guy lamenting his girlfriend leaving him.
    • In story, the songwriter intended for the song to be a slow ballad, but it became the peppy dance hall song it is after the new drummer decided to up the tempo without telling anybody
  • The opening number for Phantom of the Paradise, "Goodbye Eddie Goodbye," is about a singer who commits suicide in order to promote the sales of his upcoming album. The song is sung in catchy 50's style complete with "ya-ya-ya-yaahs" and the lead singer pantomiming Eddie's death throes.
    • The end credits song, "The Hell Of It", contains a bouncy piano breakdown along with the lyrics "Good for nothing / Bad in bed / Nobody likes you / You're better off dead / Goodbye." And a later verse declares

Love yourself as you loved no other
Be no man's fool and be no man's brother
We're all born to die alone, you know, that's the hell of it.
Life's a game where they're bound to beat you
And time's a trick it can turn to cheat you
And we only waste it anyway,
And that's the hell of it.

  • The Hangover has a band playing 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" in lounge style as well.
  • This Is Spinal Tap had fun with this one while parodying some of the more overblown conventions of the Heavy Metal genre.
    • "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" seems to be a fairly straightforward parody of sexually-charged, self-promoting Rock and Roll anthems directed at adoring female fans; until you realize it's talking specifically about pre-pubescent female fans.
    • At one point in the film, guitarist Nigel Tufnel plays a short piano piece. It's a hauntingly beautiful excerpt from a trilogy he's composing in D-minor, "The saddest of all keys", inspired by his love of Mozart and Bach. The name of this melancholy tune? Lick My Love Pump.
    • In a deleted scene (available on the DVD), after the breakup of Spinal Tap, David St. Hubbins discusses his long-time desire to create an classic, upbeat-style musical a la Oliver! titled Saucy Jack; based on the life of Jack the Ripper.
  • How is the best way to promote Roland Emmerich's latest film 2012? Give it a trailer tune sung by Idol Runner-up Adam Lambert, that's what! And the title of this song is "Miracle", of all things.
  • Team America: World Police: "EVERYONE HAS AIDS! AIDS AIDS AIDS!" Etcetera.
  • Bravely bold Sir Robin He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways indeed.
  • Life of Brian contains the song "Bright Side of Life", with such lyrically dissonant lines as, "always look on the bright side of death."
  • Richard Cheese swanks out a cover of Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness" in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
  • Mary Poppins invokes this with a soft, sleep-inducing lullaby called "Stay Awake".
  • Sweeney Todd (both the movie and the play) has the song "A Little Priest". Todd and Mrs. Lovetts are singing about murdering random strangers and cooking them into meat pies...but it's such a pleasant and upbeat tune!

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Maskerade has the "Departure Aria". It's said to be about how hard it is for the heroine to leave her lover, and when the last great diva sang it, "there wasn't a dry eye in the house". The lyrics translate to:

This damn door sticks
This damn door sticks
It sticks no matter what the hell I do
It's marked "Pull" and indeed I am pulling.
Perhaps it should be marked "Push"?

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Arrested Development episode "Afternoon Delight" involves a running gag in which several characters belatedly realize that the song of the same name is much more overtly sexual than its innocent tune suggests.
    • Or that a highly relaxing type of marijuana also shares that name.
  • In an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles John Henry and Savannah sing the Scottish novelty song "Donald Where's Yer Troosers?". It's sung slow and hauntingly over images of Sarah being arrested and Derek being buried.
  • The song "What A Difference A Day Makes" from Mongrels, a happy melodious love duet about underage sex and statutory rape. Just listen to it here.
  • Mr G's songs in Summer Heights High when he's trying to write an upbeat musical about a girl at the school who died from an ecstasy overdose.

Annabelle Dickson
When girls take drugs
And then they die
Who would have thought
At Summer Heights High
On days like these
It's a Bummer Heights High

  • Not really lyrical dissonance, but the 1970s game show The New Treasure Hunt, a largely comedy-based game show not unlike Deal or No Deal, had a somber, mellow ending theme.
  • Neighbours: The opening theme's lyrics are about neighbourly support and friendship, and while the show does explore such themes, it also necessarily thrives on common soap opera themes such as deception and betrayal. There have been a few incarnations of the tune over the show's long run - it was originally sung jovially by Barry Crocker - but all of them are upbeat.
  • The jaunty, upbeat Red Dwarf theme: "It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere, I'm all alone, more or less..."
    • The song "Tongue Tied" is an upbeat pop song which graphically deconstructs the Cardiovascular Love trope.
  • The chirpy Ending Theme from Captain Scarlet: "They crash him, and his body may burn. They smash him, but they know he'll return... to live again". Accompanied by images of a terrified Captain Scarlet in a variety of perilous and painful-looking situations.
  • Deliberately, blatantly, and hilariously invoked by Andrew Hansen of The Chaser, in his lounge arrangement of the Cannibal Corpse song "Rancid Amputation".
    • During "Yes We Canberra", they had a song with fast-paced and cheery music about the candidates. It's called the "Fucked Song".
  • Pretty much all the music-based games in Whose Line Is It Anyway? are built around this trope - except when it's Colin Mochrie trying to sing, then it's funny for a different reason.
  • Victorious does this from time to time, the most recent being "Freak the Freak out" a techno-pop, autotune, dance song about someone getting fed up with being ignored.
  • The theme from M*A*S*H (television) was usually played in instrumental form, and if not overly cheerful, it's at least a nice, relaxing tune. Then there are the lyrics, which are less so.
  • On Glee Blaine decides "Candles" by Hey Monday is the perfect song to sing a romantic duet with Kurt at regionals. The problem? It's about a girl who is alone for the first time after breaking up with her abusive boyfriend.
    • Also, similar to the Arrested Development example above, Emma decides that Afternoon Delight is the perfect song to sing with the celibacy club. When Holly informs her that it's about a nooner, we get this gem:

Emma: Exactly! A nooner is when you sneak out for desert in the middle of the day... right?

  • In Doctor Who the full version of Murray Gold's "Song for Ten" (featured in part at the end of David Tennant's first full episode) is a cheery tune with lyrics describing his eventual separation from Rose.

So have a good life
Do it for me
Make me so proud
Like you want me to be
And wherever you are,
I'm thinking of you
Oceans apart.

  • Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza had an Elizabethian era song about strippers.
  • The theme song to Community mixes cheerful tones and theme music with lyrics like "We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year..."

Radio[edit | hide]

  • In a round of "One Song to the Tune of Another" on radio comedy show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, in which Tony Hawks was given The Smiths' "Girlfriend In a Coma" to sing to the tune of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips". He made the rendition as upbeat and bouncy as possible, the result being hilarious. (This was reprised by Tim Brooke-Taylor in the live stage show.)

Theater[edit | hide]

  • My Fair Lady has "Ascot Races", in which lines of motionless, expressionless aristocracy sing about how "thrilling, absolutely chilling" the race they're watching is (though in this example, the music fits the restrained visuals rather than the words).
  • The Ballads of Booth, Clozgosz, and Guiteau from Assassins.
  • A Very Potter Sequel has "Guys Like Potter", a song with lyrics such as, "so many assholes in my face," and "you were totally pwned." It's a sad song.
  • A very darkly hilarious example comes from the Sister Act musical, where Shanke is singing of "finding" his girl (who just saw him commit a murder). It starts off like a jazzy love song, until he gets to the part about killing her in multiple violent ways. As horrible as it is, it's actually one of the most hilarious songs in the musical, especially when he starts adding the dance moves, and his henchmen begin singing in the background. It must be heard/seen to be believed...
    • When he keeps repeating the line "When I find my baby, I ain't letting her go," it only gets worse as the song moves on.
    • One verse in particular:

Yeah, yeah oh yes I know that girl,
And man I need that girl, I gotta have that girl,
So I can snuff that girl.
See I know my baby, she's already running.
That's how my baby, is gonna be done in.
I'm gonna drown that girl, or disembowel that girl,
or give her skull a big dent with a blunt instrument,
I tell ya soon that girl is looking at a world of WOE! (Wo-wo-wo-WOAH!)

Little Sally: What kind of musical is this?! The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart.
Officer Lockstock: Like I said, Little Sally. This isn't a happy musical.
Little Sally: But the music's so happy!
Officer Lockstock: Yes, Little Sally. Yes it is.

  • Little Shop of Horrors, true to its over-the-top comedy-horror nature, has toe-tapping, rock-out songs about impending doom ("Little Shop of Horrors"), the pleasures of sadism ("Dentist!"), and justifying murder to gain your own ends ("Feed Me (Git It)"). "Now (It's Just The Gas)" counts on some level, regardless of how it's played: some productions play it grim and scary, while others play it cheerfully. Either way, it's a song about being gassed to death with lyrics like "Though I giggle and I chortle/Bear in mind I'm not immortal".

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

It's a brand new day
And the sun is high
All the birds are singin'
That you're gonna die!

    • Or "Everything You Ever", which has triumphant lyrics and a tune more in line with a funeral dirge.

[[Pyrrhic VillainyHere lies everything
The world I wanted at my feet
My victory's complete
So hail to the king...]]

Everyone's a hero in their own way
You and you and mostly me and you
I'm poverty's new sheriff
And I'm bashing in the slums
A hero doesn't care if you're a bunch of scary, alcoholic bums!

The blood of the innocent shall flow without end
His name is Zorc and he's destroying the world!

  • From the Slender Man Mythos, we have Slendy's Watching Me. It's a cute, upbeat song about a child being kidnapped by the Slender Man.
  • Despite being one of the most upbeat numbers in Human Centipede the Musical, Dr. Heiter's Villain Song depicts Body Horror.
  • The theme song of The Spoony Experiment, "Break Me" by The Irresponsibles. While being a rousing piece of Crowning Music of Awesome, it has rather dark lyrics you might notice on first hearing it. Lampshaded by Spoony in a commentary where he said he loved the song but it was "basically implying that I'm a girl who likes to be domestically abused."
  • Homestuck has the "Squiddle Song" on one of its Leitmotif albums. Its a folk-music song about a childrens' cartoon... that talks about how "all your friends are dead" and causally references buckets of blood, without losing the folk-music kids-cartoon tone.
  • Cracked.com's The 5 Most Insane Teams in the History of Sports describes an incident in the 1990s when the Canadian Football League was attempting to expand into the United States. At one game, the Canadian national anthem was sung to the tune of "O Christmas Tree".


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of The Critic, the national anthem of an unnamed country sounds like a repeated chant of "pee-pee, pee-pee, pee-pee, poopy", but has a rather different meaning.
  • Tim Burton is a master of mixing the macabre and the lighthearted, so it's no surprise that the music in his movies are the same. The best example is "Remains Of The Day" from Corpse Bride, a swinging jazzy tune about death and murder. Even while you're tapping your feet to the beat, you probably don't miss the extremely dark chorus:

Die, die, we all pass away,
But don't wear a frown, cause it's really ok!
You might try to hide, and you might try to pray,
but we all end up the remains of the day!

  • "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind", from The Great Mouse Detective, is one of Disney's cheeriest villain songs. The most disturbing lyrics?

Even Meaner? You mean it? Worse than the widows and orphans you drowned?

  • The Island of Misfit Toys segment from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer starts with a song about the toys being unloved and missing out on the joys of Christmas, when the song itself sounds very cheerful.

If we're on the island of unwanted toys,
We'll miss all the fun with the girls and the boys...

  • "L'il Ark Angel" from Cats Don't Dance starts with Darla singing about the world being destroyed in a flood and people and animals drowning in exactly the same cheerful tone she later sings about the various animals she's rescuing. If you hadn't already realized she'd be the Big Bad of the film from the foreshadowing in the intro, it's hard to miss it after that.
  • Some of the Silly Songs With Larry invoke this. From an 80s love ballad...about cheeseburgers to a tango...about manatees, the team purposely make the music sound completely authentic to the genre while keeping the silly lyrics.
  • A cutaway scene from Family Guy features "You Have AIDS," a happy barbershop quartet song that Peter sings to someone who has contracted AIDS.
    • In the episode "Welcome Back, Carter", Peter sings a song to a soft romantic tune to "set the mood". Unfortunately, he chooses his favorite song, "Surfin' Bird".
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is built almost entirely on this trope:
    • "Up There": A rousing Broadway showtune about loneliness and wanting to get out of a bad place. Sung by Satan.
    • "La Resistance": "They'll cut your dick in half/ and serve it to a pig./ And though it hurts you'll laugh,/ and dance a dickless jig/ for that's the way it goes/ in war your shat upon/ though you die, La Resistance lives on." Sung by a choir of eight year olds.
    • "Blame Canada": A rousing march about evading personal responsibility to the extent of going to war with Canada, a country that seems to go out of its way to be America's friend. The song, however, is a satire on American tendency to scapegoat others.
  • Cartman and Cthulhu's Song from South Park episode "Mysterion Rises". Super cheery song about, well, being friends with Cthulhu and going on a rampage with him.
  • Another example from a cartoon, namely "Drawn Together", is Foxxy Love's touching ballad "Crashy Smashy Die Die Die."
  • "Batty Rap" from FernGully: The Last Rainforest. It has a fast and springy beat and tune.....with the lyrics being about how Batty was used in animal testing laboratory, with strong implications that he was conscious throughout all the processes. Due to its 'adult' nature, quite a bit of the song was cut from the film, but was left in on the CD.

The Eye makeup, when inserted rectally, has some effect...
Remove the brain cap...
If you notice, by dipping the bat in a series of paints...
After 600 packs of cigarettes, the animals seem to exhibit some carcinogenic tendencies..."
Oh God, I'm bleeding by my genitals!

  • As an example from a musical - The Lion King 2 has "My Lullaby", a brutal declaration of war and violence set to the tune of a children's lullaby.
    • On the other hand, it grows to be pretty creepy...
  • The children's movie The Brave Little Toaster contains a song near its end which the other wiki sums up perfectly: "Worthless is sung by the junkyard's broken down cars, each singing a few verses about their life before being smashed and killed by the compactor." However, they fail to mention the upbeat music it's sung to.
  • "Christmastime Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has lyrics that describe how wonderful Christmas is ("Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year") but has a very slow, almost melancholy feel to it. This makes it memorable.
  • "Won't You Come over to My House?", best known from the famous short One Froggy Evening. If your memory's a bit hazy, here's the cartoon, and here are the full lyrics.
  • This is pretty much the entire gimmick of Dethklok on Metalocalypse, as they render everything, from the blues to a jingle for a coffee shop to a birthday song, as over-the-top death metal.
  • The song "The Violin", by Brian Dewan, is included on the album Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, notably a kid's show. It is set to decidedly upbeat, Irish-sounding music. The song's lyrics discuss a kid who is constantly trying to break away from his controlling parents' desire to make him learn the violin, getting snubbed by his crush for someone who does, and then ultimately drowning in a shipwreck. It's a children's album, fun for the whole family!
    • The titular song by Rockapella could qualify, as a peppy upbeat number about an impossible-to-catch criminal and her various misdeeds.
  • Music by Jody Gray are great examples of this trope. Both "Arthur's Missing Pal" and Clifford's Really Big Movie features upbeat music... with downer lyrics about the protagonist's lost dog?!? In the latter, the opposite also occurs on a tribute CD: the owner of said big red dog sings upbeat lyrics about her dog to a bitter-sounding tune.
  • The song "Mother Knows Best" in Tangled is a cheerful, bouncy song where Gothel terrifies Rapunzel by listing all the "scary and dangerous" things in the outside world and how all of them will happen to Rapunzel if she steps out of the tower. Throughout the song, Gothel is intentionally emotionally abusing Rapunzel by playing with her fears to make her seem like she's the only one in the cruel world Rapunzel could trust.
  • "Little Brothers" from Phineas and Ferb is sung to an extremely sweet heart-warming tune, complete with an adorable through-the-years montage of Candace's relationship with her brothers. Then, you get to the chorus. Which is a combination of silliness and What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?.

You will always be my little Brothers,
Cause you're younger, we're related,
And you're boys.

  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Winter Wrap Up", the cast begin singing a jolly song about wrapping up winter. Rainbow Dash sings about awesome holidays, Pinkie about parties and Rarity about Fashion. Applejack? She's singing about possible starvation due to running out of food. Wow.
  1. It totally is one of those… and she sings it anyways.
  2. Such as this humorous arrangement of a brutal death metal song.