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

It should be noted from the onset that Christa Hillhouse, bassist for 4 Non Blondes, has stated in regards to this track that “the lyrics, they don’t mean anything.  It’s the way the song makes certain people feel.” And in that regard, there is definitely a strong sentiment relayed, one of being appreciative of and inquisitive about life. However, the story leading up to that moment, as Hillhouse has suggested, is a bit incoherent.

It begins with the singer revealing she is 25-years old but expressing feelings of discontent and confusion. This results in her “lying in bed”, crying as a form of relief. However, by the time the morning arrives, she is feeling a whole lot better. And this sensation makes her “scream from the top of (her) lungs” the question “what’s going on?”

Later she expresses that her internal issues may actually be based on an “institution”, which reads like a personification of the culture at large. In fact her beef with the system is so intense that she actually ‘prays for a revolution’. 

Lyrics are against homophobia and sexism in America?

 Some have attributed these sayings to be in reference to the homophobic and sexist aspects of American society, since the 4 Non Blondes are openly-gay. However, that theory is yet to be definitively proven.

Lyrics of "What's Up?"

Facts about “What’s Up?”

  • This track has an unofficial title. And that title is “What’s Going On?”
  • The track was entitled “What’s Up?” despite that phrase never being mentioned in the lyrics. Rather the question asked in the song is “what’s going on?”. Being named so was done intentionally to avoid it being confused with Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic of the same name.
  • As aforementioned due to the sexual-preference of 4 Non Blondes as well as certain symbols used in the song’s lyrics, “What’s Up?” has been associated with homosexuality. As a matter of fact, even decades after its release, it is still used as “a queer anthem”.
  • This song was written by 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry. When she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015, Lady Gaga sang the song live in her honor.
  • “What’s Up?” was produced by David Tickle and released as a single by Interscope Records on 23 June 1993. But it initially came out as part of Bigger, Better, Faster, More! on 13 October 1992. 
  • Throughout the years “What’s Up?” has been featured or covered on a number of television shows and at least one movie

Success of “What’s Up?”

This classic met with a great deal of success. It was so successful that it landed at number 94 on VH1’s list of “100 Greatest One Hit Wonders”.  Furthermore, it topped the charts in a number of countries, including Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Also, it peaked at number 2 on the UK Singles Chart and number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. By placing so on the Hot 100, it became the first song to break by Top 40 by a group comprised of lesbians.

Certification

 “What’s Up?” has been certified Double-Platinum in Germany, Platinum in Australia, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands. It was also certified Gold in the United States and Silver in the United Kingdom.  Moreover the success of this song (in part due to its music video) enabled the album it is featured on, 4 Non Blondes’ Bigger, Better, Faster, More! (1992) to sell in the region of 6-million copies.

Singer Lady Gaga performing “What’s Up?” live

Did “What’s Up” win a Grammy?

No. As a matter of fact till date, the band is yet to win a Grammy. The only major award won by this song was at the 1994 Danish Music Awards. It won in the category of Best International Hit at the show.

16 Responses

  1. russell newman says:

    Haven’t heard if for years until recently in Sence8 and it brought back memories from the 80s and 90s. Fantastic song I can’t stop playing it.

  2. Ralph Hosier says:

    This song hits so deep, on a visceral level, that it stirs emotions to a very high level, without even knowing why . just an amazing song.

  3. Anonymous says:

    im not getting the gay thing ? its just a good song I guess it can mean different things to people

    • Anonymous says:

      Totally agree. It didn’t strike me as gay song. It struck me as a 25 year-old who’s confused about all that’s going on in the world. which most us are at that age.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I had no idea this song was about homosexuality and sung by lesbians. What?

    • LetthemB@peace.com says:

      It’s not. But people obsessed with something will start to see it everywhere. Also, idiots think that if you are anything other than the status quo/perceived norm/fabricated fantasy, then that divergence however minor is said to be the artist’s motivation… sometimes it comprises their entire identity, belief systems and way of seeing, being and communicating in the world.

      My friends and I sometimes get together and watch 80’s TV, especially music videos. After a time, we began to ask each other and ourselves, “How did we not see then, what we see now?”

      Were we blind? Were we not paying adequate attention? How could something so obvious be overlooked by so many?

      The answer was simple. We didn’t SEE it because we weren’t LOOKING for it. We had no idea it even existed… why the fuck would we notice something of which we were not even AWARE was not only possible, but everywhere around us… even, perhaps INSIDE of us?

      **

      Please: we need to stop filling our children’s heads with ideas, images and notions of sexuality and preferences, gender identity, racism and prejudices… please, PLEASE, do NOT offer what was not requested, PLEASE stop answering more than was asked.

      Let them know they are free to follow their dreams and that anything is possible. Remind them there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Most of all, let them know they are loved and that will never change, no matter what.

      • lorem ipsum says:

        But the world is full of those things, whether you like them or not. If you don’t teach kids about sexuality when they’re at the age to explore it, giving them enough knowledge is how you keep them safe from uninformed and dangerous decisions. Even without any knowledge about sexuality, everyone grew up with the whole “boy + girl = love” situation so it’s no wonder why so many are unaware that there are in fact other possibilities.

        If you have a child that is visibly part of a minority, letting them discover the hatred that some of the world harbors towards them on their own would probably just traumatise them. Some kids were born with bigger problems than fear and being a good parent means giving your child the tools they need to avoid crumbling.

        I’m not saying that dreams never come true or whatever, but if everyone brought up their kids on the notion that the world will just make a path for them, let’s just say that a lot of bubbles would be burst. Raising children to be ignorant does not protect them from the world.

        …That being said the song isn’t NOT about being gay. Some people here claim that it isn’t because *insert personal interpretation*, but all that proves is that it can be about literally anything based on the listeners personal experience. You can’t just say that the song ISN’T about a certain thing because it doesn’t line up with YOUR personal interpretation. That’s… impressively self-absorbed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I feel like the song mean life get hard sometimes but it is hope just love yourself in every way possible.
    Sence8 and cruel summer tv shows!

  6. Lyle Walker says:

    I never associated this song with homosexuality. I knew the band was game, but that doesn’t mean all their music is gay oriented. I didn’t like the song originally because I couldn’t understand the lyrics over the radio. I heard the song recently on the internet and the lyrics fit right in with the melody. I listened to a Linda Perry interview and her story really tugged at my heart. Hugs to you Linda. Keep on making music.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I also didn’t know about the orientation stuff….just feel the song deeply and couldn’t wait to learn to play it

  8. Anonymous says:

    I always thought it was about inequality and questioning why it still exists … “I realized quickly when I knew I should that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man…”, and the “institution” referring to the “boys club” within the workforce.

  9. John mason says:

    To me this song is about disillusion with what’s going on in society as a whole. Like “ for what it’s worth “ in the 60s. Many 25 year olds are confused by the way society works because it is confusing.

  10. Anonymous says:

    don’t care what the meaning of the song is, it’s just great to listen to. I was looking at Linda Perry in the video and something came to mind. take the hat off and put on a bandana. she would have been a great addition on the Black Pearl.

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