Bad romance: how come love songs aren’t soppy any more?

Modern musical declarations of lurve are tainted by the dating nightmares of the hellscape that is 2022, our columnist argues. Happy Valentine's Day!

Has anyone got you looking so crazy right now, by which of course I mean their love’s got you looking so crazy right now? Someone who, when you’re so sad that your bones unexpectedly ignite, will try to fix you, or at the very least slap you with a damp towel and alert the emergency services? Someone who says it best, frankly, when they say nothing at all? Want to keep hold of them past Valentine’s Day?

Then, whatever you do, don’t make them a modern-day love song playlist this February 14. Because it’ll be about as romantic as serenading them at their window with a Jimmy Carr routine.

The days of “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah”, “God only knows what I’d be without you” and “after all, you’re my wonderwall” are long faded into pop history. The uncynical statement of undying love in song became cringe-worthy cliché – a bit like plugging your headphones directly into Richard Curtis’s brain stem – on the day that Wet Wet Wet pulled all remaining copies of ‘Love Is All Around’ from the shops in 1994 to avoid becoming as universally loathed as Bryan Adams was for ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’. And failed.

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It’s over 20 years since The Magnetic Fields perfected the form on ’69 Love Songs’ and you have to look back at least a decade to find the last great glut of soppy pop: Bruno Mars’ ‘Just The Way You Are’, Adele’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’, Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’, Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’, Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’.

These days Ed Sheeran’s lovestruck ‘Perfect’ is a rare outlier; sending someone a compilation of, say, Marie Claire’s 31 best rom-songs of 2021 would make you look tragically needy (Swift’s ‘Right Where You Left Me’), broken and bitter (Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Good 4 U’, Avril Lavigne’s ‘Bite Me’), deeply insecure (Justin Bieber’s ‘Anyone’), casually horny in a massive house (Silk Sonic’s ‘Leave The Door Open’) or addicted to unspecified hard drugs (Sheeran’s ‘Bad Habits’). You might even begin to think that the art of the unabashed love song – the full Shania Twain – might be dead.

It’s understandable, really. Pop relationships tend to mirror the experience of the generation it’s talking to and, let’s be honest, it’s a romantic sewer out there. It’s no surprise that pre-Tinder love songs were more naively optimistic – dating apps are so full of players, catfish and con artists that the most romantic songs about the early flush of love in 2022 would be called ‘Not Ghosted Yet’, ‘Actually The Age You Said’ or ‘Maxing Out My Credit Card For You’. And by turning the search for love into a supermarket of casual sex and a pingdemic of unsolicited genitalia, it’s made male songwriters think they’re being hopelessly romantic simply by refraining from giving their latest paean of adoration a title like ‘Send Nudes’.

Meanwhile, social media has encouraged us all to be more open about our personal struggles, so our love songs now come laced with anxiety, insecurity, more baggage than Stansted and the nagging knowledge that, behind our public facades, we have all emitted odours that make us unworthy of love. Plus, the runaway success of Adele has proved to the pop world that misery sells and true love is less lucrative.

All of which adds up to a generation who, if they want to sing their partner a love song that won’t make them run a mile, need to speak Korean. And even then they have to dodge lines that translate to “stop playing hard to get before I kick you in the butt” (why BTS, you little charmers, *flaps fan*).

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What the world needs now, of course, is love, sweet love – so, songwriters, put your messy divorces, deep-seated personality flaws and one-night stands with Galway’s maddest ravers to one side this Valentine’s Day and write us a worthy successor to Shania’s ‘Still The One’, Steve Wonder‘s ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ or Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ ‘Maps’. Less ‘WAP’, please, more sap.

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