Ten Songs That Get Science Wrong (Pt 1)

Well hi there! Welcome back to our Pop Science series.  After two weeks working on the best science references in music (Part 1 and Part 2) , we moved on to two weeks on the most mediocre science references (Part 1 and Part 2).  If you’re losing track, I made a page for the whole thing here.  Anyway, we are now moving down the ladder one step further and heading in to the worst science references we could find.  Hang on to your hats, there’s muppet fighting pits ahead.  Ready? Of course you are!

It’s Hot by Jay-Z
Nominated Line: “.38 revolve like the sun round the Earth.”

Bethany: Okay, so let’s start out giving Jay-Z a little bit of credit here. For the vast majority of human history, this line would have appeared correct to most people. After all, from a simple “look up in the sky” perspective, it’s hard to tell if the earth revolves around the sun or if the sun revolves around the earth.  Aristotle believed the sun revolved around the earth, and it took centuries before the debate was settled.

Unfortunately for Mr Z here, this debate has been settled for quite some time.  The entire idea of heliocentrism made the Catholic church pretty cranky back in the day, but even the Pope gave up on debating this point in 1822.  Some of the greatest minds in science worked on the idea (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Descartes, to name a few), and now the idea that the earth revolves around the sun is not particularly controversial.  Uncontroversial that is until a certain someone needed to rhyme the word “earth” with the word “dirt”.  Sigh.

Ben: Wow, you are way more forgiving of Jah’s lack of acceptance of one of the most basic principles of planetary orbit than I thought you’d be. It’s up to me to bring the pain.

First, let’s agree on this: this rhyming sequence is shoddy rubbish. It’s not that he uses “earth” to rhyme with “dirt” – it’s that he uses “dirt” to rhyme with “earth!” The nonsense bit of geocentrism kicks off the song’s third verse, and he rolls from that into “dirt,” “shirt,” and “hearse,” which is just a mess of a rhyming quatrain. And don’t try and tell me it’s an assonance. It isn’t.

There’s always an argument to be made about artistic license, but the rest of the verse is about guns… a word that already rhymes with “sun.” I feel this one could have been a quick fix.

Second, let’s expect more from Izzo, who proudly raps entirely off the top of his head and refers to himself as the “only n—– to rewrite history without a pen.” If you’re going to refer to yourself as an actual god, as you do in the first line of this very song, then at least meet the low standards we set for our third grade science classes.

Finally, you were 30  years old when you recorded this song, Mr. Hova. That is well past the date that you can refer to your reproductive parts as your “pee-pee.”

Bethany: It’s kind of hard to be harsh when you know there is no way someone would care about being corrected. I mean, this debate was settled 200 years ago. It’s not what he learned in school, it’s just willful ignorance. If I ran in to him, I’d probably just get something like this:

Ben: Truth. I would pay all the money in my bank account to have Jay-Z laugh the Jay-Z laugh at me.

Science by System of a Down
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: Man, who went and pissed System of a Down off? With lines like “science has failed our world” and “science has failed to recognize the most potent element of human existence”, I feel equal parts defensive and apologetic.  This might be a strongly religious song (“the spirit moves through all things” is repeated about a million times), I prefer the alternative explanation that Serj Tankian’s father was a robot who left he and his mother when he was a child.

Ben: It’s not just that this is a bad song (though it is), or that it’s anti-science to a truly alarming degree (though it is) – it’s the blatant lack of poeticism to the lyrics. It sounds like Serj wanted to see if he could write a song based entirely off the scribblings of a stoned high schooler’s Earth Science book cover. And I’m not sure he succeeded.

Mostly, I’m upset about the lack of evidence cited here, Serj. Tell us how science has failed us. Show your work.

Also, I set you up an appointment with the school counselor during your lunch break, just to make sure everything’s all right at home.

Bethany: I love how this series has taken Ben from a young and fresh-faced teacher to a grizzled veteran.

Ben: I’m basically Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson at this point.

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: …..

So, um, do I actually have to clarify that radioactivity does not cause muppet fighting pits? Because I’m happy to do that, but it seems like it should sort of go without saying. That video is really weird. I’m uncomfortable now. Here, have a video about the most radioactive places on earth while I go take a shower….a shower which, interestingly enough, would help me remove about 95% of radiation if I had actually been exposed.

Ben: I, for one, welcome our new muppet overlords.

There are real questions this video fails to address: how did muppet fighting pits begin? How was the pink bear granted his X-Manesque lazer abilities? If everyone is betting on the favorite, how is anyone making money on these fights? Why is everyone wearing cowboy hats?

More confusing is the behavior of the band, who has gotten themselves into a real pickle here. They’ve somehow become trapped in the basement of the muppet fighting arena, adjacent to but not connected with the muppet holding cell. They have their instruments with them, though they seem to have been taking very bad care of them – at this point, the drummer doesn’t even have any real drums, just barrels.

Even more concerning is the lack of awareness the band seems to have about basic radiation safety. The lead singer, Dan Reynolds, is literally sweating “rust,” which, when I ran it through WebMD, the site literally suggested I was having a brain aneurysm. The very next line, Reynolds announces he’s “breathing in the chemicals,” then we hear him take a deep breath. Guys: don’t do this.

On a probably related note, the song afterwards devolves into a collection of disparate actions so bizarre they defy interpretation. “I raise my flag, I dye my clothes, it’s a revolution I suppose.” Dude, if you aren’t sure, stop messing around with paint dye fumes and check yourself into a hospital. You really might be having an aneurysm after all.

Bethany: Oddly, I thought that line was one of the most straightforward and was just a 60s throwback/tie-dye reference. The rest sort of appears to be a fever dream of someone who just watched the Care Bears and the Deer Hunter back to back. Other than that Ben is completely correct. Chemicals, radioactivity, and laser beam teddy bears should not be messed with. Someone should make a gif-driven public safety video about this issue.

Ben: Challenge accepted. It’s our job to stop this before they conquer us all.


Ice Cream Freestyle by Flexmaster Funk or Canibus or Mike Tyson or something
Nominated Line:“I can double my density from 360 degrees to 720 instantly.”

Couldn’t find a video. Here are the written lyrics.

Bethany: Back when I was in engineering school, making sure you got your units right was a BIG DEAL. Like many other students, this admonishment from our teachers always felt a little pedantic to me. I mean, if I get the number you’re looking for then what’s the big deal?  About a month in to my freshman year however, an incident occurred that forever changed my perspective on this: the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter.  For those of you not familiar with this, it was a $125 million dollar mistake that occurred when Lockheed Martin (the designer of the space craft) neglected to clarify with the NASA folks in Pasadena, CA whether or not everyone was using the metric system or the English system. Basically, the rocket was built on one set of units and run on another, the whole thing melted down and we flushed a substantial amount of money down the drain. The moral of the story was clear: units of measure matter.

Hopefully that explains why I absolutely cringed when I heard this lyric.  While doubling 360 does in fact give you 720, density is not measured in degrees. Density is actually mass divided by volume, and this typically is expressed in kg/m3 or some other similar unit.  Degrees is either temperature or used to measure mathematical angles.

Now interestingly, I found a few people arguing that the two lines are unrelated…that he’s claiming he can double his density AND go from 360 to 720 degrees. However, that would mean he’s just spinning around in a circle twice….which doesn’t seem like much to brag about.  My preferred explanation here is that he’s actually referencing going from a wood like pine (about 373 kgs/m3) to oak (about 710 kg/m3). In the process of that, he’ll blow by 451 degrees, which is where wood starts to burn.  What? It makes about as much sense as the original.

Ben: I haven’t been this confused since the Millenium Falcon made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.

Math Suks by Jimmy Buffett
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: Oh Jimmy. Oh Jimmy. I’d say I was mad, or disappointed, but the truth is….I’m not. This is pretty much exactly what I would have expected out of you. It’s tepid, it’s vaguely tropical, and it’s about as fun and spontaneous as mandatory Hawaiian shirt day at the local Honda dealership. Math suks? Okay, sure Jimmy. Whatever you say.

Have a rebuttal from a young and still uneven Jon Stewart in a segment called “Actually Math is Quite Pleasant“. He’s nowhere near his peak in this, but it’s about what you deserve.

Ben: Look at that dark-haired young Stewart, with his baggy suit and unfortunate shirt, talking to the camera over a horrendous graphics package! And the Huffington Post couldn’t write up a clickbait piece the next morning explaining how Stewart had “eviscerated” Buffett the night before. What a simple time that was.

Look, Jimmy has made quite a career of his “there’s nothing that can’t be solved by a margarita or three!” ethos, and I applaud him for it. There are times that blatant ignorance is charming, and that time is usually when everyone is lightly sunburned and clad in hideous shirts visible from space and a man turns a middle school refrain into a pleasant, touristy tune that can be played over the speakers of a Sandals resort.

On the flip side, the YouTube suggestions for videos to watch after this one were entirely for a college commencement speech that Buffett had given, which seems to be moving entirely out of his wheelhouse. Fortunately, the college in question was the University of Miami, so no harm done.

Bethany, I’m finishing my section in a sleep-deprived haze, so I’m not certain of what really happened during much of this debate. Was there really a teddy bear that could kill people with his lazer eyes? It all seems so unlikely.

Bethany: Oh it happened.  By the way, am I the only one still surprised the song “Radioactive” was never featured on the O.C.? That’s the most O.C. song ever, and it pains me it came along 6 years too late to be the soundtrack for (spoiler alert) Marissa Cooper’s death.

And on that note, we’ll see you next week folks!

Read Part 2 here.

2 thoughts on “Ten Songs That Get Science Wrong (Pt 1)

Comments are closed.