We’ve talked about lyrics here before (and here, and here). With our recent “Save the Date” series, I thought it might be fun to look at the lyrics of popular love songs and see what pop culture is saying about love.
For ideas, I looked at a few lists with titles like “The Best Love Songs of All Time” or “The Most Popular Wedding Songs.” One thing I realized pretty quickly is that a lot of love songs do get it more or less “right.” (By “right,” I mean it describes the kind of love that can support a lifelong marriage; the kind of love the Bible talks about.)
But there were also some songs that I was surprised would be on a list at all. You really want that to be the first dance at your wedding? I’m not saying they are bad songs. But if you consider what they’re really saying, and the ideas you’re singing along with, you need to make sure you’re not also buying in to the ideas they’re selling.
Fallin’ by Alicia Keys
One thing I want to be clear on is that these songs don’t get it “wrong” in describing how some relationships go. You may absolutely be able to relate the lyrics to your own real experiences. I’m just saying that these are relationships to avoid, and a definition of “love” that you shouldn’t set your heart on.
Like in the lyrics to Fallin’:
I keep on fallin'
In and out of love
Sometimes I love ya
Sometimes you make me blue
Sometimes I feel good
At times I feel used
Lovin’ you darlin'
Makes me so confused
This song sums up the whole problem with “falling in love”: if you can fall into a feeling, you can (and will) fall back out at some point. As I talked about here a couple of weeks ago, the Bible describes love first and foremost as an action. It’s something you do. If you choose to actively love someone, the strong feelings will also come along with that. But during the times that the feelings aren’t there, you can still stay committed to actively loving them.
The very word “falling” implies that love is a force of nature, impossible to control. A promise, like the promises of a wedding vow, you can control. You can choose to actively love someone every day from here on out.
Contrast with: I Swear by John Michael Montgomery and/or All-4-One
Yes, this song was a huge hit for both a country singer and an R&B group, and both at roughly the same time. And it happens to be a song I loved growing up. The lyrics get it mostly right, describing love as a choice and a promise:
By the moon and stars in the sky
I'll be there
Like the shadow that's by your side
I'll be there
For better or worse
Till death do us part
I'll love you with every beat of my heart
Stay With Me by Sam Smith
This song sounds exactly like a love song, but the song itself claims that it’s not:
This ain't love, it's clear to see
It’s actually about a one-night stand. The problem is, in our culture, we sometimes get these things confused.
Guess it's true, I'm not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love 'cause I'm just a man
You still need “love,” but that’s not what you’re getting in this story.
Oh, won't you stay with me?
'Cause you're all I need
But it’s not all you need, because:
Deep down I know this never works
But you can lay with me so it doesn't hurt
This is really one of the saddest songs I’ve heard in a while. It’s about self-deception and being in denial. But it’s the kind of denial and self-deception many people use in justifying the choices they make in having sex before marriage or “hooking up.”
Contrast with: Let’s Stay Together by Al Green
Based on the title, this song could be about the same thing as Stay With Me. Instead, it’s about staying together “forever,” and “whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.”
Need You Now by Lady Antebellum
Another one that sounds like a love song and made it onto several love song lists:
Another shot of whiskey, can't stop looking at the door.
Wishing you'd come sweeping in the way you did before.
And I wonder if I ever cross your mind?
For me it happens all the time...
It's a quarter after one, I'm all alone and I need you now.
And I said I wouldn't call but I'm a little drunk and I need you now.
And I don't know how I can do without.
I just need you now
It’s about drunk-dialing your ex at 1:15 a.m. Don’t think I need to say much else.
Contrast with: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift
I Think I Wanna Marry You by Bruno Mars
Surely there’s nothing wrong with this song, right? It’s about marriage! Well, there’s a smart attitude about marriage and then there’s a “dumb” one:
It's a beautiful night,
We're looking for something dumb to do
I think I want to marry you
Telling someone that it would be “dumb” to marry them is not the greatest proposal ever. That’s probably because he’s drunk:
Who cares if we're trashed got a pocket full of cash we can blow
Shots of patron
And it's on girl
The most telling part about the song’s attitude toward marriage is this line:
If we wake up and you wanna break up that's cool
No, I won't blame you
It was fun girl
Though few people take it to that extreme, there are many who look at marriage as a contract of convenience. If, at some point, they decide that marriage isn’t working out for them, then getting a divorce is seen as OK. It’s worked its way into the legal system as a “no-fault divorce.” But that’s way different than Jesus’ instructions on marriage and divorce.
Contrast with: I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz
I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
Marry Me by Train
This song sounds like it gets it right. It’s about marriage, and a lifelong commitment, and living out that commitment every day. There’s only one small problem: the guy making this lifelong commitment to the girl hasn’t even asked her out on a first date yet.
If I ever get the nerve to say
Hello in this cafe
At first I thought I was hearing it wrong, but the video for the song confirmed it. He’s never even spoken to this girl. So the song’s really about the idea of love at first sight. Love based only on the way someone looks isn’t love; it’s lust.
Contrast with: Will You Still Love Me by Lana Del Rey
Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?
That’s a really good question to ask, or at least make sure you know the answer to:
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will
What love song lyrics have you noticed that get it wrong (or right)?
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)