Friday, October 24, 2008

why are so many songs about love?

I was switching between radio stations yesterday, and every station was playing a love song. Half the songs are about how great it feels to be in love, and the other half are about the sorrows of losing that love.

How did it become a social standard that pop songs are all about love? I suppose the experience is more universal, as opposed to politics, where any song will alienate a portion of the population. Or songs about a particular line of work, which would bore people from other professions. Love appeals to all ages, from teenagers to seniors.

Regardless, there are so many other facets to life. Why aren't there more songs along the lines of "I'm worried about the health of my grandparents" or "I love my job" or "The global gloom-and-doom is a difficult thing"?

34 comments:

Piaw Na said...

It's a lot less offensive to sing a love song than to say how much you love your job during a recession when your neighbors might be losing theirs. :-)

Niniane said...

I don't see how that's more offensive than singing a song about how much you love your new partner, when your neighbors might be going through a bitter divorce. As I said, half the songs are about painful splits.

Niniane said...

Also, there are scarcely songs about "I hate my job" either. There must be something else besides your logic.

傑特 said...

I think it's human's nature: longing for love.

swattalk said...

I have always wondered about this! Trust me! Every song I listen is all about break up or pain or happily in love... Why?!

Andrew said...

I've wondered this. I think it boils down to laziness. I like songs that break the mould: my MP3 player has songs on about a coach company, the irrational fear of ferris wheels, not being able to get to sleep, the Mandelbrot Set, and some that are just nonsense. It makes music far more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Well Niniane, if you want something different you can listen to Christian Gospel music. Or you can listen to Public Enemy's fight the power.

Jake said...

"You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs.
But I look around me and I see it isn't so.
Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs.
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know, cause here I go again"
Paul McCartney

(we) love you niniane

Anonymous said...

Love makes the world go 'round...

Melinda O said...

Well, "I love/hate my job" doesn't really make sense, because the person singing it is a pop star. Songs about how much you love being a pop star, while more common than songs about lots of other things, still come off as arrogant.

I think that non-superstar singers tend to sing about a wider range of topics. Love is something that everyone across all ages and income levels can relate to.

Melinda O said...

Also, other genres of music, like country, cover a much wider range of topics.

Adam Sweet said...

There are songs like that. They're called "Folk Songs" and were more popular in the college-ages during the 50's and 60s (think Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, etc). Woody's Pastures of Plenty was written about the migrant worker crisis of the 1950s.

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Take_This_Job_and_Shove_It

ArC said...

Rap also covers other topics besides romantic love...

One of my favorite bands writes a lot of songs that have lyrics along the lines of self-help books, BTW.

DF said...

As someone who writes and plays music (albeit without lyrics), I have thought about this a lot. My theories:

1) Entertainment is successful to the extent that it engages people enough to revisit and spread it.

2) Emotional appeals are the most successful way to engage people.

3) One of the strongest, most engaging emotions is love.

4) To a lesser extent: love is less controversial than other strong emotions, hence more likely to be acceptable to the mainstream.

Note that there are popular or well-known songs about other emotions: anger, hate, in-tribe/out-of-tribe feelings, etc.

randell said...

I found the answer in your own post. =p

John K. Lin said...

I've also often thought of this and have to agree with many of the comments posted. Love is one of the strongest emotions. Everyone wants to be loved.

I have to agree that other genres, especially country music, seem to have a wider topic for songs.

Anonymous said...

If you have a boyfriend then you would not be so sensitive to those love songs.

So, get a boyfriend.
The clock is ticking.

Anonymous said...

a) most subjects don't provoke the same kinds of sappy feelings that love, unrequited love, or destroyed love do, so people don't write pop songs about them.

b) listen to other genres of music if you want to hear about other subjects.

Anonymous said...

super interesting post, as always -- (1) i agree totally & dig songs like "Here & Now" (letters to cleo), "peaches" (presidents of the USA), 5:15 (the who) & "my sister" (julianna hatfield) just to take a few examples of interesting &/or upbeat songs that have nothing to do with relationships; (2) i have so much respect for metallica for coming up with such substantial & well written songs that could stand on their own as poetry & never are about love/relationships

Greg said...

I've had a similar question in my mind for a while now. I've wondered why so many songs are about romantic love but none about the experience of having children.

I haven't had children, but have been around enough parents to see how much it consumes them, how much they, umm, love it. And its also fairly universal.

I asked my girlfriend her opinion a while back, as she has written a fair number of songs. Her answer (paraphrased) is that good songs have drama and tension and that songs about children that contained drama and tension would freak people out too much.

Jeremy said...

Most music comes from deep down inside and the emotion that often evokes the strongest reaction is love.

Philipp said...

> How did it become a social standard that pop songs
> are all about love?

Look closely and you'll notice many to most love songs are specifically about unfulfilled love, i.e. desire, and even more specifically, about the perfect unfulfilled love. Why is that? One possible reason is that planting the idea of an ideal, unfullfillable desire holds the potential to trigger people to commit substitute acts, i.e. to buy more stuff, and at the same time, to understand that it's normal that all not things in life can be achieved, i.e. shut up and live with it and don't complain. Of course, more songs could be on the subject of "get involved politically" or "start a revolution if you're unhappy" or "buy less and focus on what's important", but perhaps that wouldn't really benefit the same industry producing these songs.

snowball said...

How about a song to help you do the CPR?

http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/10/16/disco.song.health.ap/index.html

ArC said...

Philipp, I think you are insufficiently cynical about how much commercial applications could repurpose/twist 'message' music if they felt like it...

FWIW, I would suggest that part of the problem suggested in N's post is that she was listening to /radio/. Radio, IMO, just sucks.

s said...

I agree with philipp's observations, but not necessarily his conclusions. If you write a song about unfulfilled love, you have a good chance of connecting with most of your audience, since most of us have had some unfulfilled attraction during our lives. If you write about being a "smug married," it is harder to construct a motivating conflict, and you won't establish sympathy with potential buyers. Shakespeare also wrote a lot about unfulfilled love, but I don't think it was part of an overarching consumerist agenda.

There are other popular genres that are considered "safe," such as patriotism, and there are several blockbuster examples, such as "Born in the USA," and "Proud to be an American." However, this theme seems to be less open to variation than love, and it gets wearing pretty quickly.

I have my own personal beef with the way relationships are portrayed in romantic literature and some popular culture. There is a lot of suggestion that a) there is a single right person who is a perfect match, b) mutual attraction is sufficient for a relationship to work, c) mind games and stalkerish behavior are okay (in light of a), as long as you can finagle a way to establish b. These messages are, I think, ultimately harmful. I don't really have a solution to propose, since it seems that communicating subtlety is not the point of radio music.

(You may think that a and b are somehow mutually exclusive, but the underlying problem is that unlike some writers, you believe the world has more than 10000 people.)

sanjuro said...

Because love is cheesy and pop songs are cheesy, they wind up making a cheesilicious match.

Anonymous said...

probably because we, as listeners, either aspire to be in love, are in love or are getting out of it. So, it is a safe bet to sing about love or break up. Try bruce springsteen if you want to hear about other stuff.

But on the other hand you maybe ready to move to the next step in your music progression. pop->soft rock->hard rock->metal->alt->world music->classical/jazz. With some minor variations for each individual of course.

If you want a different spin on the love songs, try Brandy Carlile and Norah Jones. The lyrics are meaningful but you have to have an appetite for soulful songs. Some people are put to sleep.

swannjie said...

Love songs are not always about loving a person. It could be landscape, home country, being a man or a woman etc. "Love" songs about break up etc appeals to intense stimulation of romantic feelings - apparently linked to dopamine centre of our brain - people love to stimulate this region. A love song about your dog maybe very nice, but will be less likely to go round and round in our brains. A lot of love songs are in the rhythm too not about content of the lyrics, to take a well known example: Proud Mary sung by Tina Turner (it just happens to be on the radio that I listened to five min ago); Thats a sweet/bitter love song. With the round and round rhythm it makes a great classic and relates to more than man/woman love, its also about toil, hardship, giving up... etc. All the no fun things that goes with love. hahahahahah

Just another artist creating art about Love. said...

Love is all you need.

There is no greater feeling than falling in love. So why not sing about the best of all human emotion. Besides; war, economic hardship, politics aren't these things caused by a lack of love in this world? Everyone needs to stop dwelling on all the things that are wrong on this planet and start doing the things that will heal us.
So love, fall in love, show the world how much love is your heart.
Sing about it, write about it, create beautiful art.

NikiWonoto said...

hi I am from Indonesia, a country in Southeast Asia :)
it's funny how i recently thought about this same topic too, and then I googled, and finally got into your page accidentally.
I've read all the comments above, but basically I have to agree with the conclusion that it's because Love is such an universal thing that almost every single person can relate, no matter what age, race, ethnicity, background, social classes, etc.
In fact, when you think deeper about it, Love and Music both have one exactly same purpose : to unite people together despite of different race, ethnicity, age, etc. it's just such a beautiful thing, though abstractly, but indeed most of the beautiful things in our life lies in abstract things isn't it?
and this is why I have a strong urge to want to become a musician too, to share the Love :)

But I have to agree that there're sometimes too many love songs, and not to mention, what i would call as 'dry' love songs (although even the definition of this is very subjective to each person).
Hence I agree with the comments to try listening to different genre, or even artists, i'm sure you'll find a whole lot of artists/musicians too that sings other topic than love, or even goes much deeper in the topic of Love, such as: Norah Jones.

And these days, you guys should also try check out many INDIE music that usually lies more on the Net, rather than in popular radio & TV.
These indie musicians very often sings their lyrics covering unique topics. I think this is on a rise nowadays, and this is good!

Also, one of the thing that I like Japanese music (J-pop J-rock, etc) is because these japanese artists/musicians or people generally often discusses many things in life, including love, in much more methaporical, imagery manner, which I think is just very deep, and also beautiful!
You have to try listen to some japanese pop songs, for example, like Utada Hikaru , or Mika Nakashima, or Ai Otsuka, or Mr.Children, and many more.
look at the translation of the lyrics (you can just google it) , and you'll be surprised to see how beautiful the lyrics usually is/are.

And surely, this discussion has further confirmed and boosted my confidence that indeed I can make an unique positive contribution in Music, by covering wide variations in lyrics.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

There are so many songs about love because the word is difficult to define. Say the word to yourself. It is clumsy and meaningless. Reach out and grab it, try to manipulate it. Perhaps you find that the word is quite pliable; you can mold it into many shapes. This is because four letters are not sufficient to describe the most profound feeling a human can experience. I think that a lot of the love songs out there are trying in some way to lend a certain amount of clarity to a concept that is difficult to clearly define.

Anonymous said...

I'm a songwriter myself and I try breaking the chain of love/hate songs. But I believe that it's simple easy and comes natural to people to be honest.

disqus_N5QDnfrFHA said...

http://acollectionofmusings.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/one-more-love-song-and-ill-be-not-the-least-bit-surprised/ here's another piece which echoes the same sentiment