Grunge was a powerful genre because it helped people really feel something. It spoke to a generation’s sense of listlessness, confusion and ennui. Take, for example, Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” where singer Eddie Vedder says — wait, what the fuck is he saying there? I can’t make out a word of it. I mean, it sounds good, for sure, but how the fuck did anyone decipher this before you could Google the lyrics?
The CD must have come with liner notes, because there’s no way someone could translate “annaweeelaaaan, onawisitonawaaaaya, annacohlonaseyannawowannasayannacohlahahagaaaaan” into “On a weekend wanna wish it all away, and they called and I said that I want what I said, and then I call out again.”
In fact, according to TikTok, nobody has been able to figure out those lyrics on their own to this very day.
While the joke of not being able to understand Eddie Vedder has been around for years, it’s made a recent resurgence on the app, particularly among those of us who weren’t even born when the song was first released in 1992. Over the last few weeks especially, TikTokers have been riffing on the incomprehensibility of “Yellow Ledbetter” with videos comparing it to Swedish road signs or joking that “when Eddie Vedder said *complete mumbling* I felt that.”
One TikTok from a year ago made fun of how Gen Xers complain about mumble rap, yet consider “Yellow Ledbetter” to be a total banger. In another, from last April, a guy posted a video of himself pretending to be dead with the caption “me when someone puts a gun to my head and says ‘name one line from ‘Yellow Ledbetter.’’’
Currently, there are over 4,100 videos on TikTok using the song, some of which have several million views each. Google Trends is also reporting an all-time high in interest in the song. It’s unclear exactly what’s driving this Pearl Jam revival, though. Super Pumped, the fictionalized account of the rise of Uber, featured Pearl Jam throughout the series among other grunge hits, and closed with “Yellow Ledbetter” in its finale on April 10th, so it might be that. However, several TikToks predate this episode, so there’s definitely something else going on here. Maybe it’s just the simple fact that the song is a classic — turn on any rock station, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear it eventually.
What works about all these TikToks, though — beyond the universal experience of realizing you have absolutely no fucking clue what Eddie Vedder is saying — is that the actual lyrics are just as confusing. “They called and I said that I want what I said, and then I call out again”… what? Who called? You said what? He might as well be yelling a random soup of vowels and consonants.
In any case, lyrical opacity aside, this TikTok moment proves that Pearl Jam continues to have longevity 30 years on — and is still hilariously confusing.