Romance in pop
I’d be willing to say that pretty much every single artist that identifies as a mainstream pop singer has sung a handful of love songs, if not more, within their time in the industry. Given that tracks in this genre are meant to give their listeners something to resonate with, this subject is probably an easy choice to target a wide audience. But as the ideas of love and romance have evolved with the decades, so have their representations in pop.
Over a decade ago, when I was deep in my Backstreet Boys and Westlife phase, all they sang about was finding “the one”. This was a time when everything we consider a cheesy cliché today was shamelessly used repeatedly. Too many tracks, sung by male and female artists alike, speak of seeing signs in your eyes and feeling their heart skip a beat, and far too many throw in the word “forever” to indicate their undying love. It seems that the younger generation, who pop artists usually target, were more keen on the idea of long-term commitment around this time – love songs were a lot more intense and extreme.
A little later, around the early 2010s, the idea of being in love and being together forever weren’t so closely knit. Bruno Mars sang about being drunk and wanting to marry someone and then stated, “If we wake up and we wanna break up, that’s cool” a few lines later. Taio Cruz proudly proclaimed that he’s “only gonna break your heart”. As social media became more and more prominent in our lives, and relationships didn’t necessarily always hold the intensity they did before, an increasing number of songs started focusing on living in the moment rather than thinking about the future. As we became less conscious about expressing ourselves, singers began to focus on physical attraction far more explicitly. We went from overusing the word “beautiful” to “apple-bottom jeans and boots with the fur / the whole club looking at her”.
And now, here we are in 2017, facing some kind of divide: On the one hand, we have the old-school romances, like James Arthur’s Say You Won’t Let Go and John Legend’s All of Me. These songs attract our attention when they hit the charts because now, they stand out, and maybe sometimes take you back to what love songs in pop once used to be. On the other hand, we have what dominates pop music nowadays – songs about being in the club and hooking up, e.g. Drake’s One Dance. Needless to say, these aren’t really “love” songs, but I suppose they do qualify as what a lot of our generation empathises with. I’m not saying this is what our idea of “love” is, but there’s no denying that we are far more carefree and open to the idea of not having a long-term commitment at this age than the generations before us.
Maybe there’s also something to be said here about the changes in music style over the years. Pop artists convey love, passion, or any other emotion mainly through the lyrics, and it’s just harder for me to imagine them being sincere about loving someone when the song is meant to be danced to. Mario and Justin Bieber both have a hit song titled Let Me Love You. The former released his in 2004 whereas the latter was released last year. Both sing different lyrics about wanting to be with someone, and asks them to let him love her, and yet, Mario’s comes across as so much more sincere with his understated R&B style, compared to Bieber’s collaboration with DJ Snake, in which the focus seems to be more on the synth effects than his words.
At the end of the day, admittedly, I have to say, maybe we’re in a better place now than we were earlier. Okay, yes, the music is worse, and everything sounds painfully similar. But then again, considering the aim of pop is to give the listener something to resonate with, maybe we need all kinds of love to be described, and not just an everlasting commitment – let the audience take their pick.