Meaning of “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

What’s Up? is an anthem for those feeling lost, seeking purpose, and grappling with the complexities of life. It portrays the internal struggles and moments of reflection we all experience. Essentially, it’s about a personal journey to find meaning and a place in the world. The resounding question “What’s going on?” epitomizes a longing for understanding and clarity.

Dive deeper below to uncover the layers of this iconic track.

“What’s Up?” Lyrics Meaning

“25 years and my life is still

Tryin’ to get up that great big hill of hope

For a destination”

From the outset, we’re introduced to a person who’s been on a life-long quest. The uphill journey is symbolic of the struggles we face while searching for our purpose.

“I realized quickly when I knew I should

That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man

For whatever that means”

Here, there’s an acknowledgment of societal expectations and the collective experience. But there’s also a hint of skepticism – “for whatever that means” suggests a quest for deeper meaning beyond surface-level interpretations.

The verses where the lyrics mention crying in bed or feeling peculiar underscore emotional vulnerability. Everyone, at some point, has nights filled with contemplation and the weight of existence. The lyricist isn’t afraid to admit this vulnerability, resonating with listeners who’ve felt the same.

When the chorus erupts with “And I say, hey-ey-ey… I said ‘Hey, what’s going on?'” it’s both a cry for clarity and an exclamation of exasperation. This refrain encapsulates the essence of the song – a yearning to understand life’s intricacies.

“And I try

Oh my God, do I try

I try all the time

In this institution”

The institution can be symbolic of various societal structures or frameworks that one feels trapped in. Trying repeatedly represents perseverance, even in the face of adversity.

“And I pray

Oh my God, do I pray

I pray every single day

For revolution”

The prayer for revolution can be both personal and societal. It touches on a desire for change, evolution, and a break from the monotonous patterns of life.

As the song progresses, the emotions crescendo, leading us back to the central theme of seeking understanding amidst chaos and confusion.

Why Was “What’s Up?” Written?

4 Non Blondes’ lead vocalist, Linda Perry, was the mastermind behind “What’s Up?”. At the time of its creation, Perry was grappling with her own identity, emotions, and place in the world. The lyrics ooze raw honesty, offering a window into Perry’s state of mind during this phase of her life.

Being in her mid-twenties when she wrote the song, Perry was at a crossroads, like many in that age group, questioning societal norms, personal purpose, and the broader significance of life. The repetitive question, “What’s going on?”, encapsulates that overarching feeling of bewilderment, a sentiment that resonates with many.

In a broader context, the early ’90s was a period of transition and change globally. As the world moved from the Cold War era, there was a collective sense of uncertainty and anticipation. “What’s Up?” not only captured Perry’s personal journey but also echoed the sentiments of a generation.