Tattoos have come a long way since they were only found on sailors and those more irresponsible members of society. These days, teachers, bankers, and doctors have them too. So it’s no surprise that many musicians have written lyrics about them, right?
Here are the best songs about tattoos of all time.
1. “Rose Tattoo” by Dropkick Murphys
Song Year: 2012
If you ever come across the phrase “Celtic punk,” you almost certainly automatically think of Dropkick Murphys. The band delivers that Celtic punk with “Rose Tattoo,” a song with a narrator proclaiming with words and with ink his devotion.
He lists off the tattoos he has, but always returns to the one of a rose tattoo, which he got for someone he loves— the person to whom the song is directed.
2. “Tattoo” by Jordin Sparks
Song Year: 2007
The second single from Sparks’ self-titled debut album, “Tattoo” made it to the number-eight spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s a pop ballad about the pain of a broken heart and the lingering memories of a lost love.
The lyrics tattoo in question isn’t one the narrator has but is instead a metaphor for the good and bad memories of a lost relationship that stay with us, permanent reminders of something from our past.
3. “Ink” by Coldplay
Song Year: 2014
Coldplay’s Ghost Stories debuted at the top spot on the Billboard charts, and while “Ink” wasn’t released as a single, it got a lot of listens by virtue of being part of that album.
It’s closer to being a ballad than much of the band’s other material and finds frontman Chris Martin singing from the point of view of a man searching for love and his place in the world.
4. “Ink My Whole Body” by Wiz Khalifa
Song Year: 2008
“Ink My Whole Body” is an early piece from Wiz Khalifa, and while it didn’t storm the charts, it helped the rapper make a name for himself in the rap scene.
It celebrates tattoos and finds Khalifa announcing his desire to ink his whole body as a way of expressing himself and his identity. This one isn’t for kids, though, even if you are okay with your kids getting tats. There’s salty language and plenty of references to myriad adult activities.
5. “Tattoo On a Sunburn” by Luke Combs
Song Year: 2017
This One’s for You went to number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and it contained the bittersweet “Tattoo On a Sunburn,” a country ballad about past love and the memories the narrator has from it.
Summer romance is a singular thing, and the best (and also most painful) are the ones that burn hot and fast and leave a lasting scar. The pain the narrator feels in the wake of the loss is bad enough that it hurts as much as getting a tattoo on sunburned skin. Ouch.
6. “Tattoo” by The Who
Song Year: 1967
The Who Sell Out nearly made it into the top 50 on the Billboard 200 chart, so the band certainly had more successful albums. Still, it’s a solid piece of work from a reliably shin-kicking band.
“Tattoo” has a catchy riff and the signature shouted singing from frontman Roger Daltrey. The song tells the tale of a man who gets a tattoo to impress a girl but soon regrets his decision. It’s decidedly derisive of the idea of tattoos as a form of rebellion, and it makes fun of people who think a little ink makes them into something new.
7. “Tattoos on This Town” by Jason Aldean
Song Year: 2010
Jason Aldean scored a number-two hit with “Tattoos on This Town,” a song about leaving one’s mark on the past. The tattoos the narrator left on his hometown aren’t literal, but they’re there nonetheless, whether it’s a rope swing he and his childhood friend built or the tales of their adventures.
The town, the narrator says, left a mark on him and his friends by molding them into the adults they became, but they also marked the town for their presence in it.
8. “Tattooed Heart” by Ariana Grande
Song Year: 2013
“Tattooed Heart” is a good old-fashioned love song. In the first verse, Ariana Grande refers to going steady and how that phrase is from the 1950s. The song itself has some elements of music from that era, driving the point home.
The narrator wants the one she loves to have her name tattooed on his heart, metaphorically speaking. Grande has a glorious voice and astounding control, and both get displayed in this song. It may seem like a throwaway pop song, but her performance is anything but.
9. “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett
Song Year: 1977
While “Margaritaville” isn’t exclusively about tattoos, a tattoo figures prominently in the song's events. From the album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, the song reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remains one of Buffett's most well-known songs.
It’s a laid-back song about a man who has lost his salt shaker, but it’s also a cautionary tale regarding living without regard for future plans. The tattoo the narrator ends up with isn’t anything he even remembers getting, so living in Margaritaville and searching for a salt shaker has begun to take its toll.
10. “Like a Tattoo” by Sade
Song Year: 1992
“Like a Tattoo” came from a chance meeting Sade had with a Vietnam veteran. He ended up sharing some of his harrowing experiences, and the singer wrote “Like a Tattoo” to process some of the stories she heard.
Like other songs on this list, “Like a Tattoo” uses inked art as a figure of speech to make a point about the permanence of things that happen to us. The traumatic experiences the man endured marked him, leaving lasting marks on his psyche and soul. Listening to the song, you get the feeling that the man’s stories left scars of their own on the narrator.
11. “New Tattoo” by Mötley Crüe
Song Year: 2000
The title track from Mötley Crüe’s eighth studio album, “New Tattoo” marks a first for a Mötley Crüe— a literary reference to a work by Oscar Wilde. Go figure.
The song sounds unlike some of the band’s earlier music, which was raw and frantic, but instead has a pensive feel to it. It’s not a ballad, though the band would be hard-pressed to argue that it doesn’t fall into the “power ballad” category.
The narrator wants his beloved to be as permanent as a tattoo, and he thinks of her as his newest tattoo.
12. “Summertime” by Kenny Chesney
Song Year: 2006
As the Gen X incarnation of Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney has cultivated a laid-back image and seems like he’d be a really great hang.
“Summertime” did as much to endear him to the world as any of his other hits as it ticks off a lot of things that make summer such a nice time. The mention of a tattoo comes in the chorus as one of those things that we see in the summer. A tattoo represents the season because many people have tattoos in spots that might normally be covered up by work clothes.
But putting on a sleeveless shirt and some shorts tends to show that ink to the world.
13. “Tattoo Vampire” by Blue Öyster Cult
Song Year: 1976
Sadly, there’s no cowbell in this odd little song, but maybe that’s a good thing. “Tattoo Vampire” tells a story about, well, a tattooed vampire— a woman who steals the life force from her victims with her tattoos.
Supposedly, the band wrote the song based on a story that singer-songwriter Patti Smith told them, but whether she made it up for kicks or had a run-in with a tattooed vampire is anyone’s guess.
14. “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” by The Offspring
Song Year: 1998
The Offspring’s frontman Dexter Holland has a Ph.D. in molecular biology, so he’s a pretty smart guy. As such, he writes some pretty clever songs. In this case, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” is a blistering takedown of cultural appropriation and mocks the sort of people who change who they are to impress people.
The tattoo in this song is an emblem of failure, as the white guy in question gets one to be cool, but the tattoo artist screws it up. The guy has a lifelong reminder now of what a dork he is.
15. “Tattoos and Scars” by Montgomery Gentry
Song Year: 1999
A classic country ballad about emotional scars, “Tattoos and Scars” discusses the two things in the title. Both tattoos and scars tell stories, but the difference is that most of the time, we choose a tattoo. Scars, on the other hand, get chosen for us by life.
A rough-and-tumble life will leave more scars, the song says, and may drive someone to get more tattoos to commemorate different aspects of life.
16. “She Looks So Perfect” by 5 Seconds of Summer
Song Year: 2014
“She Looks So Perfect” was the first thing most of the world heard from 5 Seconds of Summer as it was the lead single from the group’s self-titled debut album. It didn’t break the top 20, but it was a hit nonetheless and in several countries in addition to the US.
It’s a straight-up love song that celebrates the narrator’s girl, someone he loves so much that he got her name tattooed on himself. Love is great and all, but the whole name tattoo thing doesn’t often work out super well.
17. “Red Dragon Tattoo” by Fountains of Wayne
Song Year: 1999
Ah, young love. “Red Dragon Tattoo” finds a young kid getting a tattoo to prove to the one he loves just how much she means to him. The kicker is that, through the lyrics, we learn that she may not even know he exists.
The narrator is nerdy and not exactly the tattoo-getting type, as he makes a point of bringing antibiotic ointment to his appointment. After all, an infected red dragon tattoo would just be sad.
The song has the same catchy melody and cool harmonies that characterize many other Fountains of Wayne songs.
18. “Springsteen” by Eric Church
Song Year: 2012
Eric Church’s signature song might be “Springsteen.” Many country songs look back at old relationships with poignant nostalgia, and that can be good or bad. It’s good in this song.
It’s not a song about Bruce Springsteen but rather about the relationship defined by the music of The Boss, which the couple spent a lot of time listening to.
Church mentions a tattoo he got in honor of his love, and here it represents the singular focus we can have on that significant other in our lives.
19. “Tattoos Together” by Lauv
Song Year: 2020
Electronic pop has evolved drastically since the 1980s, and Lauv’s 2020 release How I'm Feeling was another step in that evolutionary chain. “Tattoos Together” immortalizes that feeling during the first flush of love when you can’t imagine that anything will ever separate the two of you again. So why wouldn’t you get matching tattoos?
Some might argue that such an act can be the kiss of death for a new relationship. Lauv sings that while that may be true, things could also go the other way and have everyone live happily (and tattooed) ever after.
20. “Smile” by Avril Lavigne
Song Year: 2011
Avril Lavigne’s narrator in “Smile” sees herself as a complicated woman who’s something of a handful. She expresses gratitude to her partner for putting up with her. The partner makes her happy by loving her, even when she gets into shenanigans like getting a tattoo while blackout drunk.
Hey, we’ve all got our habits.
21. “Another Tattoo” by “Weird Al” Yankovic
Song Year: 2011
With the king of parodies still churning out music, no song is safe. That includes Bruno Mars’ “B.o.B.,” which Yankovic repurposes here to sing as a heavily tattooed person who seems much more obsessed with quantity over quality. There are misspellings, tattoos of singers and pop culture figures, babies, weapons, aliens, and a clarinet-playing Boba Fett.
22. “Tattoo” by Hilary Duff
Song Year: 2015
Ed Sheeran penned this sad piece about the ending of a relationship and what it leaves behind. That may be good memories or the inability to return to that restaurant you both loved but is too painful to visit these days. Whatever it is, there’s always something.
Sheeran’s melody sits beautifully in Hilary Duff’s range, and you can hear the pain in her voice.
23. “New Tattoo” by Saving Abel
Song Year: 2008
“New Tattoo” tells the raucous story of a chance encounter that results in a short but torrid affair. Once the pair have spent a weekend in a hotel room, they decide to get out and do something.
What else to do other than get a tattoo? That’s what the woman does, and shortly thereafter, she’s gone. The ghosted narrator then goes and gets his own new tattoo in hopes of remembering what shaped up to be one hell of a weekend.
24. “Queer Tattoo” by Stephen Lynch
Song Year: 2012
Stephen Lynch is a singing comedian who writes songs that hit people pretty hard. In “Queer Tattoo,” he takes aim at tattoo culture in general— or at least the people who get tattoos for silly reasons.
There’s the guy whose tattoo is misspelled, there’s a barbed-wire guy, and many cliched tats are getting lampooned here.
Lynch makes a point in one of the later verses to specify that by “queer,” he means “bad,” not “gay.” He goes on to describe what an actual gay tattoo would be, complete with rainbows and pink triangles.
25. “Tattoo” by Hunter Hayes
Song Year: 2014
Another song linking the permanence of a tattoo to the hope for the future of a new relationship, “Tattoo” comes from the point of view of a narrator who casually decides that a tattoo of his new love’s name seems like a pretty good idea.
The song is not autobiographical, as Hunter Hayes has made a point of remaining ink-free.
26. “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry
Song Year: 2010
It’s common for songs to have stories of people getting tattoos in their quest to prove their love to each other. Katy Perry sings about that in “The One That Got Away,” but the song also contains that rare lyrical content about the narrator’s ex getting his tattoo removed.
When young couples get their matching ink, the world is magical at the time. Learning later that your ex doesn’t have his anymore ends up being sadder than you’d expect. At least that’s according to Perry.
27. “Tattoo” by Ava Max
Song Year: 2020
“Tattoo” finds Ava Max’s narrator comparing herself to a tattoo. She contends that she’s the permanent addition to her love interest. Her tattoo metaphor includes the fact that you don’t forget your first one, so she knows he’ll always remember her, and the idea that tattoos can hurt just like love can from time to time.
28. “Angel with Tattoos” by Skylar Grey
Song Year: 2019
Skylar Grey’s pop ballad is a melancholy meditation on our tendencies to judge people on their appearances.
The narrator sings to her love interest, whose mother doesn’t like her. The narrator admits to making mistakes in the past and compares herself to an angel with tattoos. The idea is that even if you don’t like tattoos, who doesn’t like angels? She just wants to be given a chance.
29. “Black Tattoo” by FM Static
Song Year: 2011
A woman caught in an unhealthy and possibly abusive relationship finally has enough of it all in FM Static’s “Black Tattoo.” She decides to leave the relationship and return to being the woman she was meant to be.
Tattoos done in all black can be starker and more striking than some of their multi-colored counterparts. She wants to show the world who and what she is with the same stark power.
Top Songs About Tattoos, Final Thoughts
The permanence of tattoos figures prominently in many songs about body art, and songwriters have written a lot of music about love and loss using imagery related to them. Nods to the pain of getting a tattoo are also common and often hearken back to the pain of a breakup. And if you have a tattoo of the person who dumped you? It hurts that much more.