Music videos are the best. They bring our favorite songs to life in the most unique ways and, as an added bonus, we often get to see our favorite actors make cameos in them. What we find truly fascinating, however, is the fact that artists include tons of hidden messages that often go right over our heads.
From political and social commentary to movie references and personal relationships, these visuals tell deeper stories that most of us can relate to on a personal level. And we don’t know about you guys, but it’s quite refreshing to see music videos that go beyond the surface of shallow lyrics to share a whole new message. See all the secret messages you may have missed.
1. “Jealous” by Nick Jonas
You know that part of the video where he speeds down the highway on his motorcycle like a total badass? Well, if you look closely at his surroundings, you’ll notice that he passes a “Leaving Childhood” sign on the left. That represents the fact that he’s totally over his Jonas Brother days (as much as we adored his baby face and wild curls at the time).
You’ll also notice a second sign on his right that says “GRATTITUDE,” meaning that while he’s happy to leave his childhood behind, he’ll always be thankful for the experience and where it got him.
2. “Pillowtalk” by Zayn Malik
Though the song is about a romantic relationship, it looks like Zayn included a brief shoutout to his bandmates in the video. You see, when One Direction was still on X Factor, they dressed up as vampires and performed “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” They all sported some impressive vampire makeup, but Zayn actually chose to go with a single bloody tear. We knew that looked familiar.
3. “Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy Perry
The music video is loaded with tons of social and political commentary that’s quite obvious. But even so, there are probably some hidden messages that you missed.
For instance, did you ever notice that the cotton candy is all shaped like atomic bombs, or that Rose gets way fewer likes than her male counterpart? Also, remember the hamster wheel scenes? Where the white guy easily mastered it while the black man and Asian woman both failed to stay upright? That signifies racial inequality.
4. “DNA” by Kendrick Lamar
The lyrical content in this track is pretty deep. Kendrick discusses black identity and how challenging it can be when others’ perceptions of blackness differ so much from one’s own. But in the music video, he brings those words to life in the best possible way.
There’s a scene where Don Cheadle turns on the polygraph (which represents the criminal justice system) and it goes wild. This shows that the black experience is often misunderstood or seen as a lie. Also, in the same scene, a direct reference is made to the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, where Keanu Reeves was hooked to a lie detector and interrogated as a threat to mankind.
5. “Style” by Taylor Swift
The songstress did more than name her song after her ex, Harry Styles. In the video, she walks barefoot through the woods (a subtle reference to “Out of the Woods,” which is also rumored to be about Harry). But she also dangles a paper plane necklace exactly like the one she was spotted wearing during her relationship with the former Directioner — even offering a close-up shot of the piece of jewelry for confirmation. She may as well have sung the words “Oh hey, Harry. This one’s for you.”
6. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift
See that scarf the guy is putting around her neck? That happens to be the same scarf that she once wore in a pic with her ex, Jake Gyllenhaal. (Okay it’s probably not the exact same scarf but you get the idea.) After spotting it, fans quickly concluded that the song was all about her relationship with Jake.
But this wasn’t the only time she mentioned the famous accessory. In “All Too Well,” she sang: “Left my scarf there at your sister’s house, And you still got it in your drawer even now.”
7. “Where Are U Now” by Justin Bieber
Did you see it? It goes by in the blink of an eye, so unless you’re actually on the lookout for it, you could miss the whole thing.
As the background behind Justin changes, the question “Where R Now, Selena” is doodled right next to his face. Fans took it as a sign that the entire song was inspired by his relationship with his ex, Selena Gomez. But it doesn’t even end there because we see another doodle of Selena and her rumored other ex, Zedd, standing in the sun. That could very well be the answer to his previous question…
8. “Formation” by Beyonce
There’s more to that shot of Beyonce twirling her white umbrella than meets the eye. In the lyrics, she refers to her haters as “albino alligators,” which is a direct reference to the 1996 film Albino Alligators. In the movie, it’s explained that albino alligators are often used as sacrifices to distract opposing alligators and turn them into prey. This suggests that Bey’s haters are too weak to do any real damage and that they’re actually pawns in a much bigger game (they only turn out to benefit her in the long run).
9. “The Greatest” by Sia
The powerful video featured 49 dancers as a tribute to the 49 victims who died in the mass shootings at an Orlando nightclub. One dancer even shared a screen shot to Instagram and captioned the photo, “49 beautiful lives lost. This is for you.”
In the heartbreaking visual, the dancers seem to recreate that nightclub setting and then they all simultaneously fall to the ground by the end. So heartbreaking.
10. “Hold Up” by Beyonce
That gorgeous yellow dress wasn’t chosen by accident (and no, it has nothing to do with the color of lemonade). If you look it up, you’ll notice that Bey’s dress is strikingly similar to the yellow gown that’s worn by Oshun, the goddess of love and sensuality. It’s quite fitting, considering the fact that she’s singing about love and relationships in this song.
11. “Chandelier” by Sia
Ever noticed that tiny “7” on the door while Maddie comes into view? Well, it turns out the number seven represents both Sia and Maddie’s life path number (so if you add up their full birthdays then add the resulting digits, they’ll both get that number). Pretty cool, right? Who knew there would be so much background behind that one small detail?
12. “Chantaje” by Shakira
The two eagles you see on either side of her aren’t just for decoration. They actually represent her power and control in her relationship with that smokin’ hot love interest. Also, the design behind her shows triangles and pyramids. The pyramids you see represent three Egyptian gods: Horus, Isis, and Osiris.
13. “Lamborghini Angels” by Lupe Fiasco
Lupe is pretty clear about his message in the lyrics of this song. But still, the symbolism is quite powerful.
That young boy who gets handcuffed represents young black men who are brainwashed from childhood. They’re taught to believe that objectifying women, doing drugs, owning expensive things and having guns will make them ~real men~. Then, after they’re convinced that’s the way to live, they’re incarcerated by an unfair justice system. During times like these, the messages in music videos are all the more important.
14. “Telephone” by Lady Gaga and Beyonce
When Gaga calls Beyonce “Honey Bee,” it’s a reference to Yolanda’s nickname, “Honey Bunny” in the movie Pulp Fiction. Similar to the film, Gaga and her partner in crime cause some chaos in a diner.
Also, there’s a scene where security guards strip Gaga of all her clothes and leave her naked body on display. This signifies how celebrities are often laid bare for the entire world to see (and often against their will). When a guard leaves and says “I told you she didn’t have a dick,” the m.v. was also addressing the real-life rumors that were swirling at the time which questioned if Gaga was intersex.
Born This Way” by Lady Gaga
The series of “V” shaped imagery throughout this video is for “vagina.” It communicates that the women are strong and it’s also a statement against gender inequality.
Gaga also appears in front of a futuristic background and says “This is the manifesto of Mother Monster.” That look was inspired by the 1927 film, Metropolis. Very cool and we (obvi) love the message.
16. “Heartless” by Kanye West
Some fans suspect that three of those Campbell’s soup cans were intentionally placed there to show a symbol often associated with the devil, “666” (if you look carefully at the capitalized c’s). It may sound like a stretch, but if you think about it, it is kind of weird that Campbell’s soup posters would appear in a song that has nothing to do with food (and we’re pretty sure that such a successful company didn’t need the product placement). Tbh, we’re convinced.
17. “Diamonds” by Rihanna
Rihanna may not explicitly talk about her ex, Chris Brown in her 2012 hit “Diamonds,” but after the video component to the song came out — fans were totally convinced that the song was about her relationship with the controversial rapper. Many saw the way that RiRi was running away on the street (only illuminated by the headlights of a car) as a reference to Chris’ 2009 assault on the female singer in a car on the way to the GRAMMY Awards.
When a man shows up in the vid who’s been lit on fire, people couldn’t help but notice he looked an awful lot like Breezy, possibly representing how he was villainized in the media after the attack. At the end, surrounded by water, Rihanna looks almost reborn — leaving her and Chris’ violent past behind her, perhaps? We can only hope.