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Search for the Best Pop Song of the 1990s: “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes

This is one blog’s search for the definitive “Best Pop Song of the 1990s.” Ground rules can be found here. This will be done by analyzing these songs far more than any song, or thing, deserves to be analyzed. You can find the other entries here.

“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes
Released June 23, 1993
Reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100

I was a little surprised to see that this song never made it higher than 14 on the Billboard charts, which led me to look at the songs that were number one during the months when this song would have had major airplay. The song “Weak” by SWV was number one for two weeks during this period. SWV! Also, Meat Loaf had the number one song for five weeks in November-December of 1993. I hope you feel shame, 1993.

Anyway, 4 Non Blondes. Here we go:

Twenty-five years I’m alive here still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
This is one of those classic songs that begins with acoustic strumming tailor-made for any first time guitar player, followed by an electric guitar riff tailor-made for any second time guitar player. I feel like the 90s were full of those. Also, I have spent my entire life believing that the first line was “Twenty-five years and my life is still.” This version makes more sense, but barely.
I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means
What does that mean? Seriously. What the hell does that mean?
And so I cry sometimes
When I’m lying in bed Just to get it all out
What’s in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar.

Did Linda Perry just create emo?! Eleven year old me watched this video thinking, “that nappy headed lady is very nasty looking.” Current me watches this video and thinks, “Linda Perry is attractive in a probably smells like patchouli and sprouts kinda way. I’d hit it.”I have matured with age.

And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What’s going on?
Eleven year old me also believed this song to be controversial because it mentioned getting high. I thought any song that referenced smoking anything (“Smoking in the Boy’s Room”), drinking (any country song), getting high (this song, mistakenly), or girls (anything by Motley Crue, but especially “Girls, Girls, Girls”) was an epic rebellion against my parents and the human race. Nothing said “eat this, mom” like blasting a 4 Non Blondes cassette tape. Now it seems that Linda Perry was getting high solely from breathing the air outside, like a “high on life” type of thing. That is way less interesting.
And I say: HEY! yeah yeaaah, HEY yeah yea
I said hey, what’s going on?And I say: HEY! yeah yeaaah, HEY yeah yea
I said hey, what’s going on?ooh, ooh ooooooooooooooooh
ooh, ooh ooooooooooooooooh

Ah, the chorus that will enter your brain on first listen and stay there until you want to climb a mountain just to throw yourself off of it. I mean, look at that thing. It’s mostly just vowels strung together. Crash Test Dummies would top this four short months later by creating a chorus constructed entirely out of consonants.

and I try, oh my god do I try
I try all the time, in this institution
She was probably placed in the institution after seeing the video for this song. There’s a crystal ball, a he-she playing guitar on a merry-go-round, and a Boy George impersonator playing the bass. People are skateboarding and playing with a yo-yo. What is going on? See what I did there.
And I pray, oh my god do I pray
I pray every single day
For a revolution.
I just realized that this song is four minutes and fifty-nine seconds long. Have you ever listened to a song that you wish was just a few seconds longer because you’re just so into it? This is not that song.
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What’s goin’ on?
And I say hey, hey
I said hey, what’s goin’ on?
And I say hey, hey
I said hey, what’s goin’ on?And I say hey, hey
I said hey, what’s goin’ on?
And I say hey, hey
I said hey, what’s goin’ on?
So this just repeats over and over for a while with Linda Perry occasionally screaming just a little bit louder. An attempt at harmony is eventually made, but I’m too distracted by the video’s scene jumping. Also, there is someone in the YouTube comments who states the following: “She reminds me of Janis Joplin.” Let that sink in for a moment. Are you sad now?
Twenty-five years I’m alive here still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
for a destination
Well, we’ve come full circle. Do you realize that a song entitled “What’s Up?” does not include the words “What’s Up?” Instead the words “what’s going on?” are repeated five million times. Wikipedia claims that this was to avoid confusion with the Marvin Gaye song and album “What’s Going On.” No one in history would make that mistake.

Conclusion
It’s hard to argue that any song in existence sounds more 90s than this song. It was a huge song that everyone knew and claimed to like at the time. It still gets occasional play on the radio and at ironic parties. However, it’s a pretty terrible song. The lyrics make no sense and the chorus is unbearable after the first time through. The 4 Non Blondes would never really be heard from again as a band, and looking back at this video and song, you can see why.

This is not the best pop song of the 1990s.

Lyrics by: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/whatsuplyrics.html

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5 thoughts on “Search for the Best Pop Song of the 1990s: “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes

  1. I too thought the first line was “Twenty-five years and my life is still.” Enunciate, Linda Perry, enunciate. Also, I’m pretty sure she wrote some songs for Pink and some others artists later in her life, so we actually have heard from at least part of 4 Non Blondes.

  2. Luis on said:

    Who hoooo!! This the king of deja vu’s, like a jump barefoot straight into the past 🙂
    yes… this song is so awful I must admit. Nowhere near any good about that decade, Alanis Morissette could have eaten her for breakfast and even Janet Jackson could take care of the rest of the digestion 🙂 but I can’t help it, it’s the symbol of being a teenager in the 90’s (though in 1993 I was 8). That song will be forever in our dna, no matter how disgusted we are.

  3. Lisa Beach on said:

    Your an ass! Sorry, let’s keep it real!

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