What Our Current Music Choices Say About Modern Love

Scan the Top 40 Billboard chart today and you’ll recognize two distinct themes: breakups and sex.

In the breakup corner we’ve got “Love Yourself,” “Sorry,” “Hello,” and “Same Old Love.” Meanwhile, sex-wise, we have “Pillowtalk,” “Hands to Myself,” “Down in the DM,” and “The Hills.”

And we get it. Everybody loves a good breakup anthem. How else would we get through getting brutally dumped if we couldn’t yell along to “IDFWU?” And sexual songs are perfect for late night at the club.

But what ever happened to the love song? In fact, what happened to love? It’s not to say that people aren’t looking for love in our generation, but it seems that if you are in a relationship you’re more often teased for being “wifed up” than commended for being “adorable.” With the rising marriage age and the increasing divorce rate, it seems that we’re all much more preoccupied with the single life, which ultimately brings us more anti-love songs.

If you look back to the Top 40 Chart from 1964, the tail end of the baby boomers, you’ll see that people were proudly proclaiming “I Want To Hold Your Hand” rather than “My momma don’t like you, and she likes everyone.” In fact, nine of the songs in the 1964 Top 40 explicitly have the word “love” in the title. Take Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody,” at number six on the charts:

Everybody loves somebody sometime
Everybody falls in love somehow
Something in your kiss just told me
My sometime is now

Guess how many song titles include the word “love” in the current Top 40? Just two. And neither of the songs (“Love Yourself” and “Same Old Love”) are referring to love in a positive way. In fact, at first listen you (or your mom) may assume that Justin Bieber is crooning an uplifting message to girls everywhere about loving themselves. But after you hear “Love Yourself” for the eighteenth time on your local radio station, you realize that his lyrics aren’t about self esteem, they’re about telling someone to fuck off in a radio-friendly way.

In 1984, the word “love” graced the Top 40 chart four times, and some newer themes were emerging. Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” hits at number 15, inspiring hundreds of future songs that muse about girls being single and loving it. There were certainly songs about partying (take Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”) and songs that were totally random (“Ghostbusters” was number nine on the charts). But amidst all these various musical themes, there were still classic love songs like Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”

I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care
I just called to say I love you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart

I’m pretty sure that if Justin Bieber came out with similar lyrics today, there would be a thousand headlines saying he’s gone crazy for Selena or that he’s “changed” — or that he’s lame. Not to mention that you certainly wouldn’t hear that song played at your local nightclub.

Perhaps that’s the key to having a hit song today? Having a song that can be played at the club? Even hits with slower rhythms gain their popularity when remixed to an uptempo beat suitable for a dance floor (take Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” for example). It’s safe to say that the majority of Grey Goose guzzling club-goers probably don’t want to be drunkenly slurring along to songs about unrequited love, and would much rather belt out angry lyrics directed towards their ex or mindless lyrics about raising their drinks in the air. With America’s 10 biggest nightclubs earning over $550 million in revenue last year, it would make sense that pop artists are catering their sound to the places where their music will be played the most.

Even in 2000, the number one song on the charts was Faith Hill’s “Breathe,” a slower song about two lovers “melting into” each other. Sure, it definitely has some sexual undertones, but I don’t think it compares to Nicki Minaj rapping “Then he put his hands in my pants, felt them thick lips, and got wood.”

2000 was also a good year for break-up anthems, with the Top 40 Chart including ‘NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” (classic), Pink’s “There You Go,” and The Backstreet Boy’s “Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely.” Although it hit at number 46 and wasn’t technically in the Top 40, Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married” deserves an honorable mention.

I know these so-called playas wouldn’t tell you this
But I’ma be real and say what’s on my heart
Let’s take this chance and make this love feel relevant
Didn’t you know I loved you from the start

So what’s the deal with our current music scene? Is the age of Snapchat sexting and sliding into the DM’s not the right breeding ground for an unapologetic love song? Are popular musicians simply crafting songs that are best played via a DJ at a packed nightclub? Or have we as a generation become disenchanted with the idea of love?

Maybe since we’re all more comfortable talking about sex now, we can’t help ourselves from obsessing over it in music. Maybe we’re over the Disney movies and the Beatles songs that gave us false expectations when it comes to true love, and we’d rather sing about shit that actually happens, like having “Bad Blood” with an ex or simply being “Stressed Out.” All we know is that the next artist who comes out with a straight up, in-your-face love song is either going to be widely applauded for originality or publicly ridiculed for sappiness.

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