Pop Culture with Tatiana

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Learn the surprising stories behind your favourite songs!

They are plenty of interesting unknown stories behind popular songs that we all know, and that have become a part of our lives. Some famous songs were initially rejected, written for someone else or even sung by someone else! And other tunes might have a message behind their lyrics that you were never able to discern.

Here is a list of songs, whether you like them or not you definitely know them, and the stories behind their creation.

Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” was originally written by Pharrell Williams for Michael Jackson

One of the best songs on Justin Timberlake’s debut solo album, “Justified,” was meant for Michael Jackson.

Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” which was also written by Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes, was supposed to be on Michael Jackson’s final album “Invincible”. However, Jackson’s management ultimately rejected the song and it ended up with the former N’SYNC member. Coincidentally this is the song he was performing at the Super Bowl with Janet Jackson when the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” incident took place. The incident severely impact Janet Jackson’s career.

For Timberlake, this helped jumpstart his solo career. “Rock Your Body” peaked at number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and the album “Justified” sold more than 3.5 million copies in the U.S.

Kurt Cobain accidentally named Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” after a deodorant for teenage girls.

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ushered in the age of grunge, and changed music forever.  

However, the song seems less rebellious when you realise its title was a complete accident that had to do with a deodorant.

Cobain came up with the song’s title when his friend Kathleen Hannah, the lead singer of the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, wrote “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on his wall.

 Hanna meant that Cobain smelled like the deodorant Teen Spirit, which she and Tobi Vail, his then-girlfriend, discovered during a trip to the grocery store. Cobain said he was unaware of the deodorant until months after the single was released, and had interpreted it as a revolutionary slogan, as they had been discussing anarchism and punk rock.

Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” was a cover.

We all know the cover of this famous song by Britney Spears and the one by Miley Cyrus, but the one you all think is the original, is a cover as well.

“I Love Rock ‘N Roll” was originally written and sung by an English band called the Arrows back in 1975.

Joan Jett saw the Arrows perform “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” on their weekly UK television series while she was touring England in 1976. In 1981, Jett re-recorded the song, this time with her band The Blackhearts. This recording became a U.S. BillBoard Hot 100 number-one single for seven weeks. The single was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, representing two million units shipped to stores. Jett’s version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.

Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” was turned down by Pink and almost went to Hillary Duff.

“Since U Been Gone” almost went to two very different artists before it made its way to Kelly Clarkson.

Writers Max Martin and “Dr. Luke” Gottwald said that they intended it for Pink, but she turned it down. Hillary Duff also almost got it, but couldn’t hit the high notes.

It wasn’t until record producer Clive Davis intervened that the song went to Clarkson.

“Honestly, I don’t think Max even knew who Kelly was,” Gottwald said.“He lives in Sweden, and he didn’t follow ‘American Idol.'”

“Since U Been Gone” proved Clarkson was a pop star, with the song going on to have 2.6 million downloads.

Superbass by Nicki Minaj has a featured artist who’s name was then removed, but her vocals were not.

“Superbass” is the song that made Nicki Minaj a household name. One of the song’s co-writers was Esther Dean.

Minaj’s impressive rap skills are on full display during the verses, but you know that lighter singing voice during the chorus? That’s Esther Dean.

Dean frequently provided background vocals for Minaj, including in “Right by my side” and “The Night is Still Young”, but “Superbass” was originally released as Nicki Minaj feat. Esther Dean because of how heavily Dean’s vocals were present in the bridge.

But then her name was removed, supposedly to let Nicki Minaj have her moment in the spotlight. The song peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna features hidden vocals by Taylor Swift.

The song was released in April 2016 and was written by Harris and his ex-girlfriend who you might have heard of Taylor Swift. However she was initially credited with the pseudonym Nils Sjöberg in order not to take away from Rihanna’s success and because Harris and Swift did not want their relationship to overshadow the song.

The song was a commercial success, peaking at number 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. However, “This Is What You Came For” received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising the catchiness while others regarded it boring and found Rihanna’s vocals to be over-processed. Over-processed maybe because we can still clearly hear Taylor Swift’s vocals in the background? Once you hear it you cannot un-hear it. It’s Taylor Swift’s voice on the “You you you” part.

The track became a point of contention upon its release, when Harris, in response to being asked about the possibility of collaborating with Swift during an interview with Ryan Seacrest, said that he “can’t see it happening”.

Harris eventually confirmed on his Twitter account that Swift wrote the lyrics and contributed some background vocals, while he “wrote the music, produced the song, arranged it and cut Rihanna’s vocals”.

Cee Lo Green’s “F— You” was written by Bruno Mars.

Bruno Mars has written many hits, but one that may come as a surprise is Cee Lo’s “F— You.”

According to Entertainment Weekly, the song came out of a recording session between the two with Mars putting together the foundations of the song, along with Cee Lo’s NSFW chorus.

“When Bruno first sung ‘F— You’ to me, they were still a bit indecisive on whether it could work at all,” Cee Lo said.

The song went on to be a huge hit, peaking at number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Bruno Mars also wrote and sung on “Young, Wild & Free” by Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg. The song was included in the film “Mac and Devin go to High School” and on its soundtrack.

Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” is about birth control.

If someone was trying to figure out what Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” was about, not many would say birth control.

But that’s exactly what is it about.

Marley was an opponent of birth control, finding it to be sacrilegious, so he disliked the doctor who was prescribing the medication to his girlfriend.

That doctor would later go on to become sheriff, and “I Shot The Sheriff” became one of Marley’s most successful songs ever.

This is the version of the story from Marley’s then girlfriend Esther Anderson. Marley himself has said that the song is about justice, and against police brutality. He could not use the word police, so he used the word “sheriff”.

Rihanna’s “S&M” isn’t actually about sex.

If you thought Rihanna’s 2010 hit “S&M” was about kinky sex, I do not blame you because that’s the literal meaning of the lyrics, but you might be surprised to learn it’s actually about her relationship with the media.

“The song can be taken very literally, but it’s actually a very metaphorical song. It’s about the love-hate relationship with the media and how sometimes the pain is pleasurable,” Rihanna told Vogue Magazine n 2011, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “We feed off it — or I do. And it was a very personal message that I was trying to get across.”

Many of Britney Spears’s greatest hits were rejected, meant for, or written by other artists.

Did you know “Baby One More Time” was rejected first by the Backstreet Boys, then by TLC before it landed in the hands of Britney Spears’ team?

Also, I’m a Slave 4 U was written for Janet Jackson who turned it down (I can see how that would’ve worked). But then when Britney became a household name, she rejected songs that ended up being huge hits for the artists that recorded them.

Britney turned down Rihanna’s Umbrella, and Lady Gaga’s telephone.

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