5 Disturbing Messages That Always Show Up in Love Songs
As a divorcee with roughly two dozen failed relationships and a rudimentary knowledge of how chords work, I'm clearly the perfect candidate to talk about love songs. They're basically the only reason music exists at all -- people who make you feel all cooey and gooey inside is la-la topic number one by a pornographically huge margin. And yet, despite our endless harmonious yammering, we still write song after song from fucked-up viewpoints that make it clear we actually have no clue what love is.
Whether it's your job to write them or you're simply an everyday lothario too cheap to splurge on a goddamn rose, make damn sure the protagonist of your goopy love song doesn't use ...
Passive-Aggression: Pointing Out All Their Partner's Flaws
Singing about your perfect and angelic lover is pure bullshit (stop singing about their halo, because they don't fucking have one). But singing about how imperfect they are is even worse, especially since it usually winds up being passive-aggressive and insulting. For some twisted reason, focusing on the dirty, sloppy, awkward, fat, ugly, stupid side of your supposed paramour is totally copacetic if you throw in some variation of "but I love 'em anyhoos!" at the end.
"What rhymes with 'veiny cankles?'"
This variation on crooning all began with the Crystals' "He's Sure the Boy I Love." The singer accepts that her lover "doesn't look like a movie star and doesn't drive a Cadillac car" (as opposed to, say, a Cadillac spaceship), which is fine and mature. But then she starts digging her fucking nails into his spine, going on about his perpetual unemployment and how "he always buys on the installment plan". So not only is he not Sean Connery, he's not even Sean Connery's favorite valet. Does she like anything about him?
Oh, he's a decent hugger. Gotcha. Couldn't have based the song around that instead of all the homely jobless stuff? Double gotcha.
"When I hold my nose so I don't sniff that sweaty old wifebeater you never change out of, our embraces are out of this world."
In the '80s, Deniece Williams doubled down on the Crystals' anti-sentiment with "Let's Hear It For the Boy," which is all about her *ahem* love for a complete schlub who dresses like a hobo, can't sing, and never has anything interesting to say. Williams was one record scratch away from recording an old-school diss rap. But because he's good at ... something (probably dickin'), she loves him anyway. Too bad her constant "let's hear it for my maaaaa-ayaaaannn" comes across as sarcastic golf clapping in song form. Did Williams record this while sporting a pained smile-frown, like how we look when our kid spills a 20-pound bag of flour on the cat?
"As long as I can still masturbate to thoughts of somebody better, you're all I'll ever need."
Guys can be sarcastic fucks too. Total Scanners explodey-head moment, I know. Take "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" by Nine Days, a band named after the amount of time they were relevant. His girlfriend is a depressive basket case "who cried a river and drowned the whole world" and who always looks sad no matter what. It drives the singer bats, really: "Now how many lovers would stay / Just to put up with this shit day after day." But our tragic hero does in fact love his girl ... "when she smiles." You should smile, girl! You're so pretty when you smile. No more sadness from my pretty smile girl, mm'k?
Rock-solid proof that I did not make this band up.
And since balladeers never learn, One Direction recently joined the fray with "Little Things," about how much they love a girl despite her big 'ol thighs, fat butt, back dimples, tea addiction, and endless sleep-talking. All these things depress and mortify her, but luckily for her five dreamy boyfriends, there's nothing more romantico than putting them front-and-center for the universe to hear.
"Now you definitely don't know you're beautiful. And you never will."
Obsession ... Over Absolutely Nothing
It's one thing to write a song about your lovers' eyes, or their touch, or the adorkable way they hide their enemies' bodies in just the right places. It's a whole other deal to take the most inane, meaningless events possible and base your crappy, melodramatic love tune around it.
"I got the 'My Baby and I Watched The Chase and She Got More Answers Right Than I Did' blues."
Sam Smith, that guy who just won Grammys for both Best Song and Best Record (just like how Return of the King won an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Color Talkie) does this as well as anybody with his Redundancy-Award-winning tune, Stay With Me. "Oh, won't you stay with me? 'Cause you're all I need" sure sounds sweet and romantic until you pay attention to other lines, like, oh, the entire first verse:
Guess it's true, I'm not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love 'cause I'm just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don't want you to leave, will you hold my hand?
Yes, Mr. Smith is crooning a weepy tune about a dude he brought home from the bar to fuck. He probably never asked for a name, he'll be out the door in a few hours, and Smith fucking knows it. That's not stopping him from serenading the guy, calling him "darling," and begging him to cuddle for an indefinite period of time, because that never turns out poorly.
"Oh, won't you stay with me?
Or I'll kill your family."
But at least Smith's one-night-only man knows he exists. In "You're Beautiful," James Blunt declares his love for a girl with whom he briefly locked eyes while on the subway one goddamn time. According to him, that was "a moment that will last till the end," and he sadly mourns how he'll never get in her drawers. Never mind that his beloved likely just saw a spider behind him and turned away in disgust, never once acknowledging Creepy Starey Guy's actual existence.
Angel dreams aren't quite the infallible love connections they used to be.
But at least Blunt's lady exists, period. Michael Buble's "Haven't Met You Yet" is exactly what the title advertises: a heartfelt serenade for a beautiful girl whom he's never, ever seen or heard of before. "Wherever you are, whenever it's right / you'll come out of nowhere and into my life." It's "Someday My Prince Will Come," except Snow White has an excuse to be naive and dramatic because she's 14 years old. Michael Buble is damn near 40 -- not exactly a prime age for staring out the window and dreaming of a Form Letter Girlfriend who will be "so amazing" once she gets around to tracking his ass down.
"On second thought, never mind. I'm good now."
Delusions of Grandeur: "I'm the Most Important Thing In Your Life"
As wonderful and perfect a couple as you might be, you need other good things in your life to keep you going. There's nothing healthy about the only good aspect of your life being the person you share a bed with, which makes delusional love songs that imply as much the musical equivalent of deep-fried chocolate french fries.
The Weeknd is just as good at playing the hero as he is terrible at spelling. In "
Fuck you, Guy Fieri. My ideas kill way more arteries than yours.
I can take you there
Girl, fly you through the air
Girl, I can be your superhero
Fly you through the stars
Let me light up your darkness
I can be your superhero
Basically, this girl is in a terrible relationship and has absolutely nothing going for her, sav for th lov of Th Weeknd. And God, does he pour it on thick. He "saw [her] signal from afar," because besides antler hair, his main mutant power is girl-helping. She's a "damsel in distress" because we're suddenly not in the 21st century anymore, and "[his] heart is the key" to her being happy again.
Then there's Reuben, the greatest band ever named after a corned beef sandwich. If their song "
Where's Bane when you need him?
Let's hear it for the girl.
Worst of all, there's the Backstreet Boys, whose lyrics rarely ventured far beyond "ooh baby, wub wub" simplicity, playing the literal Savior Card with "The One," in which they cast themselves as the soothing, heavenly glow that will remove all the darkness and toxicity that has plagued your pitiful, meaningless life since, oh, birth:
I'll be the one / Who will make all your sorrows undone
I'll be the light / When you feel like there's nowhere to run
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, once you were lost, but now you're found. Praise be to AJ McLean. The girl in question is "wild and free" and that's apparently a bad thing all of a sudden. Luckily, the Boys are the "helping hand to make it right" and will "take you from darkness to light." So the next time '90s kids debate Backstreet Boys vs NSYNC, remember that only one of them delivers both soothing harmony and actual Jesii.
Freedom's just another word for not yet accepting that you too want it that way.
Social Comparison: Equating Your Relationship to Other (Shitty) Couples
Like, when Obama becomes Supreme Dictator of the Milky Way as foretold by Beckstradamus, can he order that nobody ever invoke Romeo and Juliet in song again? Those star-cross'd cliches (preteens who met one day, got married the next, and killed themselves the day after) inspire way too many troubadours who know nothing of the story aside from "they fall in love and die." In "Love Story," Taylor Swift casts herself as Juliet and Guy She Dated That Week as Romeo, simply because her dad didn't like him.
Swift's song contains no teen death though, which actually makes it more faithful to Troma's version of the story than Shakespeare's. She should boast about that more, and absolutely record a sequel where she learns Romeo was her alien-penis brother all along.
Some things you just can't shake off.
Peggy Lee invoked the two in "Fever," with lines like "Thou givest fever, when we kisseth / fever with thy flaming youth," which didn't give English majors fever so much as aneurysms. She also compared her fever to that of Pocahontas and John Smith ("Captain Smith and Pocahontas / had a very mad affair"), even though they never actually fucked. So add Disney's most infamous Wrong Couple to the list of lyric sheet no-no's.
Also, Bonnie and Clyde were not good at coupling (and even worse at criming), so shut the shit up about them, too. Kellie Pickler trekked this potholed route, painting her lover as "dangerous" and bragged that "We're like whiskey from the still / the kind of buzz you just can't kill." Because Clyde probably drank whiskey. Maybe. Ah, he was a rebel anyway. A perpetually broke-ass rebel, but still a rebel.
He didn't conform to society's demands that ties not look like they shrunk in the wash.
Jay-Z and Beyonce did the same damn thing with "'03 Bonnie and Clyde", which was at least less creepy than when Eminem did it and cast his infant daughter as Bonnie. But Z-yonce (my couple name for the two that you already despise) went even further, also comparing themselves to "Bobby and Whitney." How they've lasted this long when inept criminals, violent drug-addicted abusers, and drug-addicted assault victims are their role models is beyond me.
At least Katy Perry appropriated June and Johnny -- a good famous couple -- in "The One That Got Away." That song still shouldn't have existed, though, because of what happened outside that one line ...
Nostalgia: Endlessly Pining for the Past
What's sadder than writing a bad love song to someone you're with? How about writing one to an ex you're not likely to ever see again? Look, unless you're a wizard made of love luck, chances are you're going to deal with heartbreak and loss at one point, or several hundred. Singing about it is one thing, but doing so in a way that makes it clear you're not over this failed long-ago romance, and will go to your grave pitifully pining for it, is just about the saddest route one can take. Yes, even sadder than serenading an animal.
Patsy Cline popularized this depressive sentiment with "Why Can't He Be You," featuring soul-affirming poetry like "He gives me love that I never got from you / he loves me too, his love is true / why can't he be you?" Basically, she has an awesome guy who all but worships her, but because he's not a previous beau who treated her like dirt but at least had the common courtesy to court her first, she wants fuck-all to do with him.
"Yeah, thanks for curing Mom's cancer or something. If only you had taken me to Junior Prom too."
If that wasn't bad enough, decades later Dido gave us "White Flag," about a woman so obsessed with her ex that she's not even bothering to date anymore, because that would be like surrendering the relationship she already lost however long ago.If you're ever into a girl but hear her warble:
I will go down with this ship
And I won't put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I'm in love and always will be.
Move on. She clearly hasn't. She's a one-woman Titanic band, wishing to taste ocean floor as soon as possible because it's the loverly thing to do.
Because one trip to the bottom clearly wasn't enough.
Men can pathetically pine forever, too, like with Hinder's "Lips of an Angel." Forgot about Hinder? Lucky you. The barely-singer has a girlfriend who, based on the complete lack of detail he indulges about her, is a perfectly fine human being. But he's not over his ex, and the entire song is him talking to her on the phone while his current belle sits unknowingly in another room:
My girl's in the next room
Sometimes I wish she was you
I guess we never really moved on.
Yes, "we." Both he and the ex are pining for one another, because who wouldn't want another round of Hinder cock in their lives? And did I mention his ex also has a new beau who committed the war crime of not being in Hinder? Because she sure as fuck does:
It's funny that you're calling me tonight
And, yes, I've dreamt of you too
And does he know you're talking to me
Will it start a fight?
No, I don't think she has a clue.
"She's over there, like, baking me a four-layer cake from scratch or whatever. What a useless hag."
And with that, this column's officially gone full circle, with a disgustingly terrible love song calling one's then, now, and forever beloved an angel (angels cheat on their boyfriends, you see). How he managed to not caterwaul about her halo is truly a testament to artistic restraint.
So how should a love song go, then, if not any-of-the-above? Simple:
Because love needn't be sad, obsessive, dramatic, or sarcastic to be real love. It simply needs to be chewy.
Jason got a Donatello valentine in second grade that the kid forgot to sign, and it ruined love for him forever and ever. Console him on Facebook and Twitter, but not with Donatello valentines. He does machines, and that's weird.
For more from Jason, check out 5 Kids' TV Shows That Would Have Caused the Apocalypse and 5 Ways Things Change When Accused of a School Shooting Plot.
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