4 Non Blondes – “What’s Up?” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

Unfolding at the heart of 4 Non Blondes’ hit song “What’s Up?” is a journey of self-discovery and existential angst. The song is a lyrical expression of the universal struggle of feeling lost and seeking answers in an increasingly complex world. Lead songwriter Linda Perry encapsulates the confusion, frustration, and the hope for a profound societal change through this song.

Stay with us as we dive deeper into the world of 4 Non Blondes and their emblematic song. Unlock the song’s lyrics, history, and the compelling story behind it.

“What’s Up?” Lyrics Meaning

The opening verse sets the stage, with Perry lamenting, “25 years and my life is still / Tryin’ to get up that great big hill of hope / For a destination”. It’s a clear commentary on the struggle of navigating through life, searching for meaning and purpose. The ‘hill of hope’ symbolizes the obstacles we face, and our constant effort to overcome them.

As we move into the second verse, we get a sense of Perry’s realization about the human connection, “That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man / For whatever that means”. It appears to reflect the desire for unity and empathy, although she herself is uncertain of its true meaning or execution in the society she’s part of.

The powerful refrain sees Perry releasing her emotions: “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”. It’s raw, it’s relatable. Perry is painting an image of her grappling with her thoughts and feelings, a familiar scenario for many. The peculiar feeling might be the disconnect between her inner world and outer reality.

Perhaps the most iconic part of the song is the repeated query: “And I say, hey-ey-ey / Hey-ey-ey / I said “”Hey, a-what’s going on?””. This simple yet powerful line encapsulates the song’s overall theme. It’s a cry for understanding, an expression of Perry’s confusion and frustration in the face of societal and personal struggles. She’s essentially screaming into the void, searching for answers to life’s big questions.

In the following verse, Perry sings, “And I try / Oh my God, do I try / I try all the time / In this institution”. The ‘institution’ could refer to any systemic structure in society. Perry’s character feels trapped within these societal constraints, always trying, always striving, yet seemingly never arriving. This feeling is further intensified by the lines “And I pray / Oh my God, do I pray / I pray every single day / For revolution”. It reflects the longing for a radical change, a breakaway from the status quo, which brings us back to the initial desire for societal change expressed earlier.

The Story Behind “What’s Up?”

Behind the creation of “What’s Up?” is a state of mind that many can relate to, especially those grappling with their place in society. The 4 Non Blondes’ frontwoman, Linda Perry, was indeed in such a mindset during the song’s inception. The song was born out of the frustration and feelings of being an outsider, a sentiment that was very prevalent during her early 20s.

Perry has often spoken about how “What’s Up?” was a reflection of her life at that time. She felt disconnected and was continually questioning the status quo and societal norms, hence the famous refrain, “What’s going on?”. Perry’s feelings of existential angst fueled her songwriting process and contributed to the deeply introspective lyrics of the song.

The song also showcases Perry’s desire for societal revolution. During the period when this song was written, the early ’90s, the world was experiencing significant socio-political changes. The call for revolution in the song can be seen as a reflection of Perry’s aspirations for a better world, one where empathy and unity prevailed over societal differences.

So, “What’s Up?” isn’t just a pop culture anthem from the ’90s; it is a soulful exploration of existential angst, societal disillusionment, and the universal human desire for understanding and change. Its continued resonance with audiences worldwide is a testament to the timeless relevance of its themes.