From Lou Reed to Alice in Chains to Third Eye Blind, there are tons of bands who have written songs about drugs and addiction—and 2015’s hot artists are no exception.
Here’s a look at some of the addiction-centric and drug-themed tunes that dominated the airwaves in 2015.
“Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd
Just from the title, it’s pretty obvious this song is about coke. The chorus is: “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you/ But I love it, but I love it.”
It’s written as if it could be about a bad news lover—some have speculated that the singer can’t feel his face because he’s smiling so much—but anyone with any familiarity with white powders knows better.
“And I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb/And she’ll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come,” The Weeknd sings.
The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, sings a lot about drugs based on his personal experience. He’s partied hard with everything from weed to ketamine to pills.
“I never needed detox or anything,” he told Rolling Stone. “But I was addicted in the sense of ‘Fuck, I don’t want to spend this day without getting high.'”
“S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
At first pass, “S.O.B.” sounds like a rowdy party song. At a closer listen, though, the uptempo hit is actually a depressing ditty about a man struggling with alcoholism.
“Son of a bitch/ If I can’t get clean/ I’m gonna drink my life away,” Rateliff sings.
The song describes detox—shaking hands, the sensation of bugs crawling everywhere—and acknowledges the life-or-death dilemma of addiction: “Now for seventeen years I’ve been throwing them back/ Seventeen more will bury me/ Can somebody please just tie me down/ Or somebody give me a goddamn drink.”
If you watch videos of his live performances, Rateliff looks like a man who’s been through a lot. Although he’s been in the music business for a while, he didn’t hit it big until recently. Before becoming a full-time musician, Rateliff worked a variety of odd jobs, including nine years as a trucker.
“My path in life has definitely shaped the way I write things,” he told campus.ie in 2014. “I mean I feel like I’ve probably always had that darker side in me, because even without any of the circumstances surrounding my life growing up, I would still be someone who would battle depression and things—an addiction problem.”
“Chandelier” by Sia
Although Sia’s song about alcoholism was actually released in 2014, it was still topping the charts through the first part of 2015.
Like the previous song on this list, at first pass, “Chandelier” seems like it could be a joyful song about letting go and living in the moment: “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier/ I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist.”
But the song is actually about a suffering party girl who’s barely keeping it together. “Sun is up, I’m a mess,” she sings.“Gotta get out now, gotta run from this/ Here comes the shame.”
The troubling, introspective lyrics seem to be based on personal experience. Though Sia is the rare pop star who does her best to avoid the limelight, she has done interviews where she’s talked about her struggles with addiction.
In 2013, she told Billboard, “I got seriously addicted to Vicodin and Oxycodone, and I was always a drinker but I didn’t know I was an alcoholic. I was really unhappy being an artist and I was getting sicker and sicker.” Eventually, after a suicide attempt, she sobered up.
“Drink You Away” by Justin Timberlake
Like “Chandelier,” this song was not released in 2015—it was actually released back in 2013—but it charted in 2015 after Timberlake performed it at the CMA Awards with Chris Stapleton. It’s a different sound for the former NSYNC pop star. “Drink You Away” is distinctly country both in sound and content.
As the title perhaps implies, the song is about someone trying to drown their break-up sorrows in a bottle of booze.
“Bottom of the bottle/ To fill this empty heart up/ A thousand proof/ Don’t change the truth,” Timberlake sings.
Although Timberlake got married the year before this song was released, the union has been plagued by breakup and divorce rumors for some time, so it’s hard to say how much this song is based on his real-life experiences.
“The Hills” by The Weeknd
There are an awful lot of songs by The Weeknd that could be on this list, but “The Hills” is one that stands out because of the amount of radio play it’s gotten over the fall and winter.
“The Hills” is about an affair, but it’s also about addiction—and a lot of the lyrics seem equally applicable to either situation. For instance, the line, “Keep on tryna hide it but your friends know” is in a verse about an affair, but it’s certainly something that’s equally applicable to addiction.
Some lines are more specific to drug use, though: “Always tryna send me off to rehab/ Drugs started feelin’ like it’s decaf.”
For anyone in recovery, what is arguably the saddest line is in the chorus: “When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me/ When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me, yeah.” That’s a sentiment that many people express while they’re still using and trying to justify not getting sober. But it couldn’t be further from the truth. Having lowered inhibitions is not the same thing as being real.
“Antidote” by Travis Scott
It’s not entirely clear what this song is about, but it definitely describes drug use, with lyrics like, “Poppin’ pills is all we know.”
The song covers a lot of ground, referencing everything from partying all week and doing blow, to being at shows and having lots of sex.
The opening lines, which are repeated throughout the song, don’t necessarily make a lot of sense: “Don’t you open up that window/ Don’t you let out that antidote.” (Of course, if the antidote is marijuana, then it would totally make sense.)
Nonetheless, the song, released over the summer, peaked in the top 20 on Billboard.
“Beautiful Drug” by Zac Brown Band
Ostensibly, this 2015 release compares a lover to a drug, which is a common enough musical trope. But, as is often the case with this trope, it’s often unclear whether the lover herself is a metaphor for a drug.
“You’re such a beautiful drug/ I can’t get enough/ Addicted and I’m dying for a hit of your love,” Brown sings in his country/electronica crossover hit.
Although the song’s meaning may be in the ear of the beholder, according to Brown, the tune is about a woman.
“Believe it or not, it’s about a girl,” he told Rolling Stone. “But she’s the guy’s beautiful drug. I think that’ll be a big crossover tune for us.”
The story originally ran on The Fix.