Musicians are narcissists. It’s the chief qualification for getting on stage and soaking in the adulation of the masses. So when a band or a songwriter references another performer in a song, there’s almost always a reason for diverting the attention.
Considering the rareness of this generosity, we decided to highlight a handful of those shout-outs — the best well-intentioned, intra-musical nods
But knowing that musicians are also legendary canard-makers, we wanted to consider the plausibility of the scenarios as well. What are the chances that, let’s say, Katy Perry was, in fact, listening to Radiohead as she was making out — which she alleges in “The One That Got Away?” We get to the bottom of this, and more, in the list below.
The song: "Party In The USA"
Lyric sample: "And the Jay-Z song was on."
Which song is being referenced: MIley is riding in a cab and she hears Hova on the radio. It's natural to assume she's listening to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," because it was ubiquitous, kind of like God. But Blueprint 3, from which the heartfelt Manhattan homage is taken was released a few weeks after "Party In The USA" had already hit the charts. So which track could it be? Well, since Cyrus admits to putting her hands up in the air — or as high as a cab roof will allow — and thus thereafter appropriates the song as her own ("they're playin' my song"), she presumably relates and connects to the lyrics on a substantive level. Therefore, the Jay-Z song that's on is "Girls, Girls, Girls," because Miley Cyrus happens to be one.
The probability of this scenario? After "Party In The USA" became a mega-hit, Cyrus was asked in an interview about the Jay-Z song. Her response: "I have never heard a Jay-Z song. I don't listen to pop music." This is a direct quote.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: None. Jay-Z is very famous, Cyrus or no Cyrus.
The song: "The One That Got Away"
Lyric sample: "Summer after high school, when we first met/ we made out in your Mustang to Radiohead."
Which song is being referenced: The chances of anyone owning a Mustang listening to Radiohead beyond Kid A are improbable. This limits the teens' make-out sesh soundtrack to a select track from one of three albums: Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer. Now, factoring in the high school reference in the lyrics, Perry, at the time, assuredly felt alienated, misunderstood, and that she didn't belong here wherever "here" was at the time. These two teens were undoubtedly listening to "Creep."
The probability of this scenario? Before Katy Perry ejected whipped cream from a plastic cupcake bra, she was a Christian pop singer — which, ultimately, would make this scenario unlikely. However, if the lyrics were "We made out in your Mustang to Jars of Clay," we might have a real autobiographical moment.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: Small. Yorke and company are plenty famous without a pop singer's endorsement even though, according to many disgruntled fans, they're trying hard to reverse that progress.
The song: "Hands Open"
Lyric sample: "Put Sufjan Stevens on and we'll play your favorite song."
Which song is being referenced: In the next line of the song, singer Gary Lightbody specifies The song: It's "Chicago," from the orchestral folk singer's album Illinois. The thing is, though, "Hands Open" is about a hopeful man courting an emotionally resistant woman who — side note — has a real affinity for a six-minute song about the Windy City. But writing a new song about playing a song for a girl seems like long route to wooing someone. Just play her the song she likes, don't write her a new one. Look at how much time I saved you, Gary.
The probability of this scenario? Incredibly likely. After soundtracking Grey's Anatomy with his compositions a number of times and presumably watching select episodes of the series, songwriter Lightbody is looking for sad, folksy and introspective music to help him deal with Meredith Grey's constant heartbreak.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: Well-intentioned. Or, in the parlance of the show, Lightbody is McWell-Intentioned.
The song: "Brian Eno"
Lyric sample: "We're always one step behind him, he's Brian Eno."
Which song is being referenced: Psychedelic hipsters Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden insist that Eno "taught [them] so many things," one of which was how to follow up a hit debut with a difficult follow-up. In 1977, Eno released Before And After Science, which many consider by to be his last "conventional" rock album as a solo artist. After that, he recorded a surreal ambient album which confounded the fans accumulated with his five classic glam rock records. MGMT took that lesson to heart. The duo's prog-heavy second album Congratulations confounded fans looking for more "Kids."
The probability of this scenario? Two kids from Wesleyan University listening to Brian Eno? That's practically a curriculum requirement.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: High. Eno's early output is, inexplicably, still underrated.
The song: "On The Radio"
Lyric sample: "On the radio, you hear 'November Rain,' that solo's awful long, but it's a good refrain."
Which song is being referenced: "November Rain" from Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion. And just to clarify, there are three solos: the first being 47 seconds long, the second one 24 seconds and the final, epic one at a goose-bumping 1:35. It's unclear as to whether Spektor considered the culmination of all three solos to be too long, or whether one of the three individual solos were superfluous. Or just maybe Spektor had a beef with Slash and chose to take it out on him here. That's possible, too.
The probability of this scenario? The songwriter, having emigrated from Russia in high school, was inevitably listening to hard rock, as most Soviet expats were inclined to do. Having been in Russia myself, the listening choices are pared down to either t.A.T.u., Michael Jackson or metal.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: High. We all need a reminder of how great Axl Rose and his band used to be.
The song: "Monkey"
Lyric sample: "Got nowhere but home to go/ Got Ben Folds on my radio now."
Which song is being referenced: In 1996, when Adam Duritz and the gang released Recovering the Satellites, the Chapel Hill trio Ben Folds Five had released just one album, and that was the self-titled debut. Therefore, there were only 12 songs for the dreadlocked frontman to play on his radio. "Monkey" also depicts Duritz as his most introspective, referencing a "lonely spiral" and a feeling of being "all messed up." It's a reference to his depersonalization disorder, which causes a person to live life as an imitation of himself. Adam Duritz was listening to Ben Folds Five's "Best Imitation of Myself."
The probability of this scenario? Highly probable. Crows that count enjoy band names with numbers.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: Even. Back then, Ben Folds Five was an indie act on a small label which lent Duritz some cred.
Mary Lou Lord
The song: "His Indie World"
Lyric sample: The whole damn song is a reference.
Which song is being referenced: In a span of two-and-a-half minutes, folk singer Lord references a total of 34 obscure indie rock artists, many of which her snobby boyfriend prefers over more common classic rock fare like Joni, Neil or Bob. There's Velocity Girl, Rocket from the Crypt, Slant 6 and Butterglory and a tossed salad of what was once considered alternative rock. Ultimately, the snob's lack of interest in her love may not be because of the lack of vinyl overlap. Dude may be too cool to, like, have a — insert air quote — relationship.
The probability of this scenario? Likely. Back when Lord wrote the song, people who differed in musical tastes still interacted with one another and even tried dating.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: Even. Everyone's obscure.
The song: "Catch My Disease"
Lyric sample: "I hear Beyoncé on the radio and that's the way I like it."
Which song is being referenced: It's a strange thing to write a love song about "opening your heart" and moments thereafter reference the possibility of a transmittable disease. But Lee is an open and communicable guy. When he invites a potential love interest to a two person viral party, he even says "please." Considering his politeness, the Australian songwriter could not be listening to Beyoncé's rude and fierce alter ego Sasha Fierce. However, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," which many consider as a literal admonition, could also serve as a veiled and metaphorical warning to "put a ring on it," or, in common parlance: wear protection at all times.
The probability of this scenario? Beyoncé and diseases are a pretty unlikely pairing, but then again, Ben Lee dated Claire Danes and that's an unlikely pairing, too.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: Beyoncé doesn't need your altruism, mortal.
The song: "Nick Drake Tape"
Lyric sample: "That Nick Drake tape you love, tonight it sounds so good."
Which song is being referenced: In "Nick Drake Tape," the song's narrator attempts to lull a stressed-out lover into slumber. They're listening to the "When the Day Is Done," a sweet lullaby about the culmination of the day's events.
The probability of this scenario? In 1999, Volkswagen used Drake's "Pink Moon" in what's considered one of the finest commercials in advertising history. The spot, titled "Milky Way," inspired a posthumous appreciation for the soft-spoken British folk singer. Yet, Eef Barzelay, the frontman for the rustic folk collective Clem Snide, wrote and recorded "Nick Drake Tape" in 1998, one year ahead of the trends. This would make Barzelay a genuine Drake Aficionado who can recognize the genius in any and every song from Drake's limited three-album catalog.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: High. It's hard to imagine, but Drake was a forgotten gem only rediscovered in the last decade.
Diddy Dirty Money
The song: "Coming Home"
Lyric sample: "'Tears of a Clown,' I hate that song."
Which song is being referenced: Not to be a stickler here, but the title of the song Diddy references is missing the all important "The." We're not simply talking about the collective tears of a clown over his or her lifespan. We're meant to consider a singular event in which the clown was brought to uncontrollable sobbing. Upon further inspection, "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson is about heartbreak. And while Diddy is coming home, he's probably only coming home because he has Coulrophobia, which is an irrational fear of clowns.
The probability of this scenario? Diddy, who likens himself to a New Jack Sinatra, appreciates the old school and could just as easily be listening to Smokey as he could be listening to Danity Kane. Which is to say his taste in music is inconsistent. And that he is afraid of clowns.
Altruistic nature of the shout-out: Diddy isn't familiar with this "altruism" you speak of. Is it a vodka drink?