If you were asked what the most popular type of pop song was you’d probably reply ‘love songs’, and with good reason. At the time of writing the number one in Official UK Top 40 has the title Love Me Like You Do, and a quick scroll down the list reveals that the most common theme by far is the mystery of human intimacy (or its less mysterious and more graphic cousin).
This all seems obvious. The only reason poetry was invented was because somebody wanted someone else’s genitals in and around their mouth, and people have written love songs since Christianity made it improper to just write, “I want to bite your face (in a nice way)”, in shit outside someone’s grovel. Love songs are easy to write, easy to consume and easy to drink. It makes sense that there are a lot of them, but then are what we have right now really love songs?
Just look at some of the lyrics to our current number one by Ellie Goulding. In the first verse we have “You’re the light, you’re the night / You’re the colour of my blood / You’re the cure, you’re the pain / You’re the only thing I wanna touch / Never knew that it could mean so much, so much”. Then in the second, “Fading in, fading out / On the edge of paradise / Every inch of your skin is a holy grail I’ve got to find / Only you can set my heart on fire, on fire”.
Regardless of their artistic merit, the style is clear to see. The description is vague, with the metaphors painting a very open picture in terms of detail, yet the act itself is easy to interpret. It’s also very focused on the listener as the object of Goulding’s desire isn’t a he or a she, it’s a you. Whilst this could be an artistic choice, to personalise the song and engage the listener, it also easily allows the listener to imagine themselves within the song, either as Ellie’s partner in Ellie’s place with their own partner. For it to truly be a love song it would also convey vulnerability, intimacy and a true knowledge of the partner, not just a hazy description of a fuck.
This vagueness has become a staple of the industry and a focal tactic in career building. The best example of it is almost certainly One Direction, who live their entire lives, not just their songs, through this principle.
The band lives in a state of constant openness and publicity. Fans are promised access to the band 24/7 through their songs, DVD’s, books and social media accounts. They have to be obvious and visible, like the scenario in the song, yet they can never divulge anything real, as it would ruin the illusion. Fans are given hundreds of inconsequential facts to memorise, use, buy, and thus choose their favourites accordingly; yet nothing is revealed about who they really are and what they think. A fan can never find out anything that would make them realise that the imaginary relationship or friendship they have created would go anything less than perfectly.
A quick browse through the member’s Twitter feeds reveals this contradiction. They’re an almost constant stream of content but contain nothing real; posts are rarely more than a few sentences and are often just one phrase about something pop culture related. Harry Styles in particular has developed this into a borderline art form. Examples of his Twitter genius include ‘Playing top ten fruits with my mates’, ‘Christmas songs… I am your slave’, and simply ‘Burgers’.
It’s not just One Direction though, Justin Bieber was the template everything is built on, and Selena Gomez even went Meta with it by releasing ‘Love you like a Love Song’. These two stars, as well as the likes of Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and The Jonas Brothers, had to fight to get out of this mould, and it’ll be interesting to see how long One Direction last.
But anyone, to return to our title, where is the love song? Well, I guess it’s everywhere, but it’s all nothing at the same time.
No, me neither. I’m going to listen to Bright Eyes.