is there a word to identify a song where the music is happy but the lyrics are sad?

What about the opposite a song where the music is sad but the lyrics are happy?


  • 1
    not the answer but something to let you start your own research, when something is both pleasant and sad : bitter-sweet "pleasant but tinged with sadness" collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/bittersweet
    – P. O.
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 12:36
  • It's called lyrical dissonance. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 2:05
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    – J. Taylor
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 2:14
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3 Answers 3


To a large extent, it depends on what you mean by happy and sad.

Both grunge music and punk (e.g. Pearl Jam and the Clash, respectively) have rhythms that are energetic, peppy, and excellent to dance to; however, the content of the lyrics tend to deal with death, love lost, promises broken, and of course (the cover of) "I Fought the Law [and the Law Won]." And what about nursery rhymes like "Humpty Dumpty"?

I'd say gospel and opera have the general ability to portray happy themes with sad melodies, "Amazing Grace," for instance. I would call these types of songs uplifting.

Music is generally categorized by genre. But certain bands take on an energy of their own, capable of performing both types of music you mention without ready categorization, such as the Grateful Dead and Depeche Mode (or when I was in high school, Depressed Mood).

I don't like giving answers with social references, but it is a question about music.

  • Since you mentioned Depeche Mode (a band that I love) the song Strange Love is a perfect example of it. It has very happy music but the lyrics a sad. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 8:11

Discordant is good but Bittersweet is more apt. Depends on perspective too. Lyrics can belie the positive melody and the opposite also occurs where 'up' lyrics are sung to a sad melody.


The term prosody could be helpful to describe what you are looking for.

To the degree that the sad or happy feel of the music is due to the meter, pronunciation, and emphasis of how the words are sung, you could say the music lacks good prosody. (OED but use Wikipedia link below if you do not have an OED account)


In linguistics, prosody (from Ancient Greek: προσῳδίᾱ prosōidíā "song sung to music; tone or accent of a syllable", Attic Greek pronunciation: [prosɔː(i)díaː]) is concerned with those elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segments (vowels and consonants) but are properties of syllables and larger units of speech. These contribute to linguistic functions such as intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or by choice of vocabulary.

Also, you might consider describing the music as being discordant or even dissonant with the lyrics. Although used generally to refer to the clash of any two elements (e.g. "dissonance between campaign rhetoric and personal behavior"), discord and dissonance in the first instance are used to refer to musical notes that are not in harmony. So, this might cause confusion since you are in the context of music -- people may assume you are talking about dissonant musical notes rather than dissonance between the feel of the tune and the lyrics.

  • Prosody has nothing directly to do with the emotional content / effect of a piece of music. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 17:01
  • Could you provide a link that doesn't require an OED account?
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 20:14
  • I humbly disagree with @Edwin Ashworth - According to Wikipedia, prosody "may reflect...the emotional state of the speaker."
    – thomj1332
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 21:17
  • Prosody can't be said to be a word meaning 'a song where the music is happy but the lyrics are sad'. Facial expressions usually reflect the emotional state of a speaker. But that doesn't mean 'a song where the music is happy but the lyrics are sad' can be called a facial expression. Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 0:22
  • There are also songs that are intentionally humorous by contrasting sad lyrics with happy music. For example, in "The Train," a semi-serious song, the Roches sang, "He's miserable, I'm miserable, we are miserable" in cheerful, chirpy voices. There are other songs like this, but I don't know of a name for that kind of song.
    – Literalman
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 13:18

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