Top 20 Songs That Started Catchphrases

Top 20 Songs That Started Catchphrases
VOICE OVER: Rudolph Strong WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
These catchy songs had serious staying power. For this list, we'll be looking at the most iconic song lyrics that have now been enshrined in our pop culture lexicon. Our countdown includes “Who Let the Dogs Out”, “No Scrubs”, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, and more!

Top 20 Songs That Started Catchphrases

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Songs That Started Catchphrases.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most iconic song lyrics that have now been enshrined in our pop culture lexicon.

Which of these lyrical catchphrases do you use the most? Let us know in the comments!

#20: “Who Let the Dogs Out” (2000)

Baha Men
It’s a question whose answer has eluded philosophers and scientists since the turn of the millennium: Who really did let those damn dogs out? Released in the summer of 2000, this calypso tune quickly became a hit after being included in the “Rugrats in Paris” and “Men in Black II” soundtracks. As the song became a staple in dance clubs around the world, its addictive hook soon found its way into our daily lingo. While the creators of the track intended it as a dig at men who cat-call, the titular phrase has since taken on a life of its own. Today, it is often used as a chant or rallying cry, particularly in sporting events.

#19: “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” (1986)

Beastie Boys
This was the song that helped propel the hip-hop group Beastie Boys to international fame. At the same time, it also earned us all the right to let loose and just have fun! The song itself was a satirical take on the party culture at the time, with lyrics that poked fun at the excess and indulgence that were prevalent in the music scene. However, it was later embraced by the same people it parodied and soon became an anthem of freedom and rebellion. All of this is captured to perfection in the track’s rallying title. The phrase has also gone beyond the party scene into sports, where it is now synonymous with NFL player Travis Kelce.

#18: “Life in the Fast Lane” (1976)

Eagles founding member Glenn Frey was in a car that was speeding on the freeway when he got the idea for this song’s title. The third single from the band’s Grammy-winning album “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane” revolves around a couple whose excessive lifestyle takes a heavy toll on their well-being. Although the lyrics warn about the dangers of such habits, the phrase seems to have taken on a certain allure for those who seek adventure and thrill in their lives. It is now used to describe a lifestyle of fast-living, risk-taking and sometimes, reckless indulgence. “Life in the Fast Lane” aptly evokes the debauchery of its time, and still rings true in modern society.

#17: “No Scrubs” (1999)

The term “scrub” had been around for a while, but it was this hit song by the legendary girl group TLC that enshrined it in the pop culture vocabulary. Reportedly originating in Atlanta, the word was used to describe men who are deemed to be unworthy of women’s attention. Former Xscape member and future “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss wrote it into a song, which was eventually tweaked and released as the lead single from TLC’s “FanMail”. The track became an international hit, topping the charts in multiple countries and taking the contentious phrase “I don't want no scrubs” everywhere it went. It generated a bit of controversy and inspired a few response songs from male artists.

#16: “The Motto” (2011)

Drake feat. Lil Wayne
Granted, Drake didn’t invent the saying “you only live once”. In fact, some version of it has been traced as far back as the 18th century. But when he dropped this Lil Wayne-assisted single in 2011, he made the phrase, and its rhythmic acronym, a literal motto. You could hardly go anywhere, or scroll through your social media feed, without the word “YOLO” popping up somehow. Based on the idea that life is short, this quickly became a reminder to live it to the fullest and make the most of every moment. Although, some began using it as a justification for reckless behavior. This phenomenon was spoofed on a song by The Lonely Island, Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar.

#15: “In da Club” (2003)

50 Cent
As his first official release as a recording artist, “In da Club” was one of the defining moments of 50 Cent’s career. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for nine consecutive weeks. In crafting the hit single, 50 Cent capitalized on the fact that everyday is someone’s birthday somewhere. The rapper opens the track with the now iconic line [Go, shawty, it's your birthday], which has been used not just for the aforementioned celebration, but also for many other special occasions. “In da Club,” with its catchy hook and irresistible production, is an undeniable party anthem, and has remained a cultural touchstone decades after its release.

#14: “Gettin' Jiggy wit It” (1997)

Will Smith
After being the Fresh Prince for six years and subsequently becoming a movie star, Will Smith made a resounding comeback to music in 1997. His debut solo effort “Big Willie Style” was more than just an album, it was an entire mood, perfectly encapsulated in the hit single “Gettin' Jiggy wit It”. The song took a term with a derogatory background and turned it into a reference point for a carefree, cool and confident attitude. And who could forget the signature dance move? This track may have gotten some bad rep since its release, with Pitchfork calling it one of the worst chart-toppers of the ‘90s. But that won’t stop us from staying jiggy no matter how old we get.

#13: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (2008)

Beyoncé tied the knot with her husband Jay-Z at a private ceremony in April 2008. A few months later, the music icon released this rallying anthem for single ladies all around the world. The song has had a lasting impact for many reasons: the wildly popular music video, unforgettable choreography that inspired an internet craze, and the blunt lyric that has been burned into everyone’s memory. Not only did it serve as a playful reminder for men to step up and take their relationships seriously, it also became a symbol of empowerment for women demanding respect and commitment. And judging by its multi-platinum status, it’s a message that was heard loud and clear.

#12: “Sexy and I Know It” (2011)

After first hitting Billboard’s top spot with “Party Rock Anthem,” American electro-pop duo LMFAO achieved the same feat with “Sexy and I Know It”. Featuring their signature humor, the song spawned a braggadocious tongue-in-cheek expression, similar to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”. The song may be cheesy as hell, but this phrase captures the idea of feeling sexy and confident, even if one doesn’t exactly fit into the conventional standards. This was clearly LMFAO’s way of bringing sexy back to a generation dealing with the rise of selfies and social media validation. You don’t have to care what other people think. As long as YOU know it, that’s all that matters.

#11: “Born to Be Wild” (1968)

The counterculture movement never remained the same after Steppenwolf released this 1968 hit single. Considered by some to be the first heavy metal song, “Born to Be Wild” provided a slogan for hippies and other rebels alike who desired a life of individuality and adventure. This was largely helped by its prominent use in the 1969 film “Easy Rider,” which also closely associated the track with biker culture. Originally written as a ballad, Steppenwolf opted to go down the heavier, more upbeat route while recording the song, producing the version that we all know and love today. It became the group’s most successful single, reaching the top two in the U.S. and Canada.

#10: “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (2004)

Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell Williams
If you’re a true hip-hop fan, then you know that this titular catchphrase has been in use years before this song was even released. From Jay-Z in “Cashmere Thoughts” to Lil Wayne in “Back That Thang Up,” it’s an expression that had already been making the rounds. However, in the hands of Snoop Dogg, it turned from a random expression into a cultural phenomenon. Snoop and Pharrell Williams each earned their first Billboard number-one hit when this song dropped like it was hot in late 2004. The endless possibilities of the phrase means that it has been used everywhere from the dancefloor to a basketball pitch, and even to the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

#9: “Bust a Move” (1989)

Young MC
Was anyone saying these words before New York rapper Young MC burst onto the scene and popularized them? We hardly think so. Young MC came out the gate strong, delivering one of hip-hop’s most beloved singles with a smooth flow, clever lyrics and a catchy-as-hell bassline from Red Hot Chili Peppers member Flea. But most people remember it for being a party anthem, largely due to its accessible title that implores partygoers around the world to leave it all on the dancefloor. Although this has been his only big hit, this phrase ensures that Young MC will always remain relevant for as long as there are wedding ceremonies and awkward company gatherings.

#8: “Respect” (1967)

Aretha Franklin
One of the most recognizable songs ever, it can sometimes be hard to believe that Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” is actually a cover. The original song, which was recorded by Otis Redding, was written from a man’s perspective, demanding respect from his wife. In her rendition, however, Franklin flipped the roles and incorporated elements that made it a bona fide hit. By spelling out the song’s title and adding the “sock it to me” chant, Franklin not only created a rallying anthem for the feminist and civil rights movements. She also updated the daily lingo of the time. Franklin may have passed on in 2018, but her legacy will live on through this song for one simple reason: Everyone wants respect.

#7: “U Can’t Touch This” (1990)

MC Hammer
When it comes to lyrical catchphrases, only a handful of people did it better than MC Hammer. The Bay Area rapper was a branding genius - known for his signature dance moves, fashion pieces and enduring expressions, such as this one. Featured on the album “Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em,” the song and popular phrase had already begun to catch on before it was released as a single. It became one of MC Hammer’s biggest hits, earning him Grammys in the R&B and hip-hop categories. Although “U Can’t Touch This” is widely regarded as his signature song, Hammer found another hit in “2 Legit 2 Quit,” whose title also became a popular catchphrase.

#6: “Ghostbusters” (1984)

Ray Parker Jr.
Advertising jingles have existed since the advent of the radio - probably even longer. But perhaps none has creeped into our vocabulary like the one created for the fictional ghost-catching venture in 1984’s “Ghostbusters”. Inspired by an actual commercial, Ray Parker Jr. wrote this song for the classic comedy film, intending to craft a pseudo-advertising tune for the titular business. The now-iconic line, in turn, became a popular marketing tool, with real-life companies capitalizing on the “Ghostbusters” image to promote their own goods and services. Even though the film was released decades ago, its multiple reboots and sequels have ensured the longevity of its trademark line. If there ever is a paranormal apocalypse, we sure know who to reach out to.

#5: “Don't Worry, Be Happy” (1988)

Bobby McFerrin
The origins of this song’s titular catchphrase have been traced to the musings of the Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. Indeed, it was a poster of Baba’s teachings that reportedly inspired Bobby McFerrin to craft this incredibly optimistic 1988 tune. Featuring a simple, upbeat melody made entirely with McFerrin’s voice, the song encourages listeners to focus on positivity, even in the face of adversity. Just as the track rose to become the first a capella song to top the Billboard Hot 100, the phrase also took off on its own, being used widely as a self-help mantra. While some may not be fans of the over-the-top optimism, it definitely helps to look on the bright side once in a while.

#4: “Another One Bites the Dust” (1980)

One of their two Billboard number-one singles, Queen gave the world a buzzing catchphrase with this 1980 hit. When listeners sank their teeth into this tune, it clearly left a lingering taste, in the form of its snappy title - much in the same way as their previous singles “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You”. The colloquial term “to bite the dust” simply means to pass on, typically in battle. As the track begins, the phrase is used literally until the song is seemingly revealed to be about a turbulent relationship, rather than a combat casualty. It has since been used in a variety of contexts, usually as an expression of resignation or defeat when something fails or comes to an end.

#3: “The Real Slim Shady” (2000)

Eminem is well-known for being adept at clever wordplay and crazy rhyme schemes, so frankly, any of the one-liners in this 2000 single could easily have caught on with the public. However, it is this phrase, which is repeated multiple times throughout the chorus of the song, that became a widely recognized and often-referenced part of pop culture. Eminem, whom we’re hoping is actually the real Slim Shady, takes shots at his critics, copycats, and apparently even his own fans with the song. Due to the massive success of the track - his highest-charting single at the time - the line soon became a way of expressing the idea of authenticity and separating the real from the fake.

#2: “Baby Got Back” (1992)

Sir Mix-a-Lot
If there’s one message to be had from this 1992 hit, it’s that Sir Mix-a-Lot appreciates a good rear end, and for the life of him, he cannot lie. The Seattle rapper got the biggest single of his career with “Baby Got Back,” a track that celebrated full-figured women at a time when their media representation was lacking. It claimed the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and the opening line quickly entered the cultural lexicon. Despite the controversy that “Baby Got Back” generated upon its release, the phrase has endured as an expression, and a symbol of body positivity and self-love. It got renewed attention in 2014 when the song was heavily sampled in Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”.

#1: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (1983)

Cyndi Lauper
When Robert Hazard first wrote this song, we bet he never thought he’d be creating one of the greatest feminist anthems of all time. While Hazard’s version was written from a male perspective, Cyndi Lauper’s rendition switched things up, making the title all the more symbolic. The song, which was Lauper’s major solo debut, connected with listeners around the world and hit the top 10 in more than 25 countries. With a message about women wanting to be as free as their male counterparts, the title quickly caught on with people, becoming a rallying cry for many feminist causes. Through its lyrics and award-winning music video, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” has earned its place in the pop culture hall of fame.