Hello, pals! My name is Kayla, and I’m completely head-over-heals in love with music. I play it, listen to it, and curate playlists like it’s my full-time job (I’m not exaggerating — I’d be totally lost without it).
The pandemic has taken a toll on so many people the past few years, but the one glimmering light of joy has been all of the genius music released by artists. From Harry Styles to Silk Sonic to Maggie Rogers, musicians have dropped some BANGERS, and personally, it’s gotten me through such a hopeless time.
Aftermath / Atlantic
My favorite part about certain songs (new and old) is learning behind-the-scenes facts, and most importantly, how these songs come about. Along the way I’ve learned artists are inspired by films, books, and major pop culture moments when writing their songs, and it’s honestly cool as heck. In a TikTok video, Maggie Rogers said her 2022 single “That’s Where I Am” was inspired by the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You.
So, here are some popular songs you probably didn’t know were written about movies, books, and pop culture moments.
1.Taylor Swift’s “Death by a Thousand Cuts” was inspired by the 2019 rom-com Someone Great.
In an interview with Elvis Duran in 2019, Taylor Swift expressed how much she loved the heart and depth of Someone Great, and explained how greatly it impacted her life. She said: “For a week, I start waking up from dreams that I’m living out that scenario, that that’s happening to me. I have these lyrics in my head based on the dynamics of these characters.”
A few months after releasing Lover, Swift got a surprise email from the writer and director of Someone Great, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Swift told Duran: “[Jen Robinson’s] like: ‘I just wanted to thank you for mentioning my movie — it was about my own breakup. While I was moving across the country, the album I had on repeat was 1989.’ And so I’m sitting there [thinking]: ‘I just wrote [“Death by a Thousand Cuts”] based on something she made, which she made while listening to something I made,’ which is the most meta thing that’s ever happened to me.”
You can listen to “Death by a Thousand Cuts” here:
2.Megan Thee Stallion’s “Thot Shit” was inspired by the negative reactions she and Cardi B received from their 2020 hit “WAP.”
In a 2020 interview with Stephen Colbert, Megan Thee Stallion said: “I know the Republicans have had a bad year, and they probably need to take their frustration out somewhere. But, I want to tell them thank you for the streams, because without [them], I don’t know if we would’ve been here — I mean, them people crazy.”
So one summer later, the queen of Hot Girl Summer released “Thot Shit.” The music video emulated Megan Thee Stallion’s take on the negative reactions from “WAP” — in the beginning of the video, she showed a senator leaving hateful comments on one of her videos. Then in the middle of the song, Stallion rapped: “Watchin’ me go through it, still tryna drag me / Actin’ like you winnin’, if you think about it, actually / Are they supportin’ you, or really just attackin’ me? I don’t give a fuck ’bout a blog tryna bash me / I’m the shit, per the Recording Academy.”
You can listen to “Thot Shit” here:
3.Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” was partly inspired by the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name.
In a 2021 interview with Genius, Lil Nas X revealed it was a magical process writing “Montero (Call Me by Your Name).” He said: “The storyline happens this one night in the summer where I take a break from working on [Montero], and I visit this guy who’s an artist. He’s like: ‘Come visit my house!’ and I was like: ‘Okay.’ I get there, and I’m like: ‘Oh, I like this guy a lot.’ And the next day, I started writing the song.”
Lil Nas X explained that Call Me by Your Name was “one of the first gay films I had watched,” and how deeply the movie influenced his 2021 hit. “The song is called ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ which is themed after the movie Call Me by Your Name,” he said. “The song is my name [Montero], but it’s the person’s name because I’m calling them by my own name — you get it?”
You can listen to “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” here:
4.Harry Styles’ “Matilda” was inspired by Roald Dahl’s famous character Matilda Wormwood.
Harry Styles explained to NPR how “Matilda” came out. He said: “The disguising element was we’ll disguise [the song as] if you were speaking to [Matilda Wormwood] now that she’s grown up, who’s been mistreated by her family. How would you speak to her?”
“Matilda” was also inspired by Styles’ friend who was going through a hard time, which aligned with Matilda Wormwood’s own struggles. “People have so much guilt with things that they don’t necessarily need to have guilt with sometimes. I think it’s your right to protect the space around you and be protective of yourself and look after yourself,” he said. “‘Matilda’ means so much to me — it was a moment where it’s not my place to make someone else’s experience about me. It’s just wanting to reassure them that I was listening.”
You can listen to “Matilda” here:
5.Stevie Nicks’ “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)” was inspired by the Twilight movies.
On The Late Late Show with James Corden in 2016, Stevie Nicks happened to be on the show the same night Taylor Lautner made an appearance (who played Jacob in the Twlight saga). Nicks told Lautner: “I saw the first Twilight movie on the road — then I went to the movie theater and saw the second one, and I fell so in love with it that I went back to my room and I wrote this song called ‘Moonlight,'” she said. “It was about Bella and Edward and [Jacob], and it’s my favorite song.”
Nicks believed in the song so much, and declared that if it wasn’t for Twilight, her career probably would’ve gone down hill in the 2010s. She said: “[And] when I got back [from the road], I called my record company and said: ‘Well, I don’t care if it sells any records or not.’ If it hadn’t been for [Twilight], I would’ve never made In Your Dreams (2011) and 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault (2014) because I was so staunch in my belief that [my career] was over.”
You can listen to “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)” here:
6.Lauryn Hill’s legendary 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was inspired by Carter G. Woodson’s 1933 novel The Mis-Education of the Negro.
Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro focuses on teaching Black history in schools and other systems, and questioning the whitewashing of American history. The novel encourages people to seek out moments, facts, and figures of Black history, and for Black citizens to never feel inferior to these problematic institutions. Woodson once said: “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition — it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
In a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone, Lauryn Hill went in-depth about her creative process behind The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Not only was the title a direct nod to Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro, but it was also in-tune with Woodson’s mission. Like Woodson, Hill’s goal was to educate her listeners about empowerment and self-love: “During [the ’90s] especially, I always wanted to be a motivator of positive change. It’s in all of my lyrics, that desire to see my community get out of its own way, identify and confront internal and external obstacles, and experience the heights of love and self-love that provoke transformation,” she said.
Hill went on to explain her creative process that expressed nothing but mindfulness: “I sang from that place and chose to share the joy and ecstasy of it,” Hill continued. “[I also wanted to share] the disappointments, entanglements, and life lessons I had learned at that point.”
You can listen to “Everything Is Everything” here:
7.The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” was partly inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1871 poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking-Glass (1871).
Credited as a Lennon-McCartney song, John Lennon mostly took reign writing “I Am the Walrus” — it was inspired by his love for Lewis Carroll’s poems and books as a kid. This led him to write whimsical, escapist lyrics like: “Semolina Pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower / Elementary penguin singing ‘Hare Krishna’ / Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe / I am the egg man /They are the egg men / I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.”
In an interview post-Beatles, Lennon explained the impact Carroll had on him as a child and as an adult. “To me, [“The Walrus and the Carpenter”] was a beautiful poem — it never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles’ work,” he said. “Later I went back and looked at it, and realized that the Walrus was the bad guy in the story and the Carpenter was the good guy. I thought: ‘Oh, shit, I’ve picked the wrong guy.’ But that wouldn’t have been the same, would it? ‘I am the carpenter…'”
You can listen to “I Am the Walrus” here:
8.Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” was inspired by the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969.
Joni Mitchell was originally supposed to perform at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Aug. 1969, but at the last minute, her manager told her not to go. She was scheduled to appear on The Dick Cavett Show the next day, so instead of performing at the festival, she stayed back in New York.
Moved by one of the first huge music festivals in history, Mitchell followed the Woodstock news coverage on TV. It was that weekend she wrote the monumental song “Woodstock,” and unknowingly created the anthem of the late ’60s. “I don’t know if I would have written the song ‘Woodstock’ if I had gone [to the festival],” she told Life in 1994. “I was the fan who couldn’t go, not the performing animal — so, it afforded me a different perspective.”
The next day Mitchell appeared on The Dick Cavett Show alongside Woodstock performers Jefferson Airplane and David Crosby and Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Mitchell listened to their stories about the festival she unfairly missed out on. The song “Woodstock” became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in March 1970, and a month later, appeared on Mitchell’s album Ladies of the Canyon as a dark, piano ballad.
You can listen to “Woodstock” here:
9.Erykah Badu’s “A.D. 2000” was inspired by the murder of an unarmed immigrant named Amadou Diallo in 1999.
In 1999, 23-year-old immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot by four police officers 41 times — he was unarmed, and the police officers were acquitted of all charges. Diallo’s murder ignited protests nationwide, and greatly impacted US citizens — including famous musician Erykah Badu.
On her 2000 album, Mama’s Gun, Erykah Badu wrote “A.D. 2000” about Amadou Diallo’s murder outside of his apartment building. She penned moving lyrics that unfortunately still ring true today: “No you won’t be naming no buildings after me / To go down, dilapidated / No you won’t be naming no buildings after me / My name will be misstated, surely / This world done changed so much, yeah, yeah / This world done changed since I been conscious.”
You can listen to “A.D. 2000” here:
10.And Jay-Z’s “Moonlight” was inspired by the Best Picture incident at the 2017 Oscars, and how La La Land was announced the winner when really Moonlight won the golden statue.
In an iHeart Radio interview in 2017, Jay-Z explained the significance behind every song on his album 4:44. When it came down to writing “Moonlight,” he revealed: “The hook is ‘We stuck in La La Land, even if we win, we gonna lose.’ It’s like a subtle nod to La La Land winning the Oscar, and then having to give it to Moonlight. It’s really a commentary on the culture and where we’re going.”
Jay-Z’s music video for “Moonlight,” starring famous actors like Issa Rae, Tessa Thompson, and LaKeith Stanfield, adds additional commentary to “the culture.” It essentially illustrates how Friends was the “winning sitcom” of the ’90s, when in reality, the premise was stolen from Living Single.
You can listen to “Moonlight” here:
What’s a popular song most people don’t know are about movies, books, TV shows, or pop culture moments? Let us know in the comments below!