Written by Lily Weeks
Valentine’s Day might have already passed by the time this article is published, but as far as I’m concerned, the entire month of February is Valentine’s Day. Pink teddy bears and candy hearts are still for sale, are they not? It’s the season for lovey-dovey sweet music. So, in my infinite generosity, I have compiled a list of the genre’s greatest hits for your listening to by yourself or playing for a lover while staring soulfully into their eyes.
- “Love Story” by Taylor Swift
Sticky-sweet love songs have been Taylor Swift’s purview since her career began at the tender age of 14. The aptly-titled “Love Story”, from Taylor’s sophomore album Fearless, reimagines the Romeo and Juliet story. Instead of its tragic conclusion we all read in freshman English, Swift’s telling gives the story a happy ending instead, with the young lovers getting married with their fathers’ blessings. While perhaps a bit unrealistic, this is part of the song’s charm. The soft vocals and moderate tempo transport the listener to a fairytale world where love truly does overcome all. The song peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified 8x Platinum by the RIAA. If you can name any Taylor Swift song, it’s probably this one.
- “The Way” by Ariana Grande and Mac Miller
“The Way” is Ariana Grande’s debut single, after publicly disowning the bubblegum pop song “Put Your Hearts Up.” “The Way” would effectively foreshadow Ariana Grande’s later career as a maker of fun, flirtatious pop with not-entirely-subtle innuendo, as well as her relationship with Mac Miller. Mac Miller’s untimely death lends the song a bittersweet edge, but one can argue the song has only gotten better. Something about the beat brings to mind middle school dances; sickly sweet fruit punch and sugar cookies, shimmery dresses purchased off of the clearance rack, swaying in the middle of the gymnasium floor as balloons drift across like tumbleweeds. The atmosphere is quite similar to the Valentine’s Day aisle at Target.
- “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole
“L is for the way you look at me… “ You have definitely heard this song before, even if you think you haven’t. This song has been covered countless times by countless artists, including Michael Buble and the cast of Glee. The song is quite short, only about two and a half minutes long, with two identical verses sandwiching a simple chorus. The popularity of this song despite these factors seemingly working against it proves the universality of love as a theme that connects all people. It also has a really catchy hook, which likely helps, as well. Another universal theme is that it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
- “Adore You” by Harry Styles
Full disclosure, I wasn’t particularly into One Direction at the height of their popularity, and disliked them partially out of an emo middle-schooler’s disdain for the mainstream. However, I am quite glad a friend of mine sent me “Adore You” as a recommendation for this list, because this song sounds like a sunset. It is the best way I can describe it; you are on the deck at your girlfriend’s family’s house, and her parents and siblings have gone inside, leaving you and her alone in the fading sunlight. She is twirling to this song on the radio, the wind blowing her hair, and you are watching her, backlit by the remains of the sun like an orange rind and filling up with love like you are a pitcher and she is pouring water into you. That is how it feels to listen to this song.
- “Gravity” by John Mayer
John Mayer has gone on the record saying that “Gravity” is “the most important song I’ve ever written.” The meaning of the song is somewhat ambiguous, with some interpretations making it about depression or celebrity culture, but I interpret the song as being about unrequited love that one cannot help but still feel. Rather than being upset about it, however, the protagonist pleads to “keep him where the light is.” They want to be near their beloved — gravity draws them towards them – even if they cannot have them. It is quite different in that respect from other songs on this list, but I still think it has a place.
- “Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett
I am a registered member of The Country Music Defense Squad, and “Die a Happy Man” is objectively an incredible song. It was written by Thomas Rhett and dedicated to his wife, Lauren Gregory. I don’t particularly care if you think you’re too good for country music, even though you are wrong, that is incredibly sweet. In a culture saturated with casual misogyny in the vein of “ball and chain” jokes portraying a wife as nothing but a nagging burden who cooks at times, Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” is downright revolutionary in its unapologetic worship of Rhett’s wife. Be like Thomas Rhett this Valentine’s Day, if you are lucky enough to have a partner.
- “Halo” by Beyonce
Would this list really be complete without a good old-fashioned power ballad? “Halo” details Beyonce’s insecurities about love, and the person she is “underneath all the makeup, underneath the lights and underneath all the exciting star drama,” according to MTV News. The lyrics speak to a sublime love, one that breaks down walls one has built around themselves for fear of getting hurt. Beyonce’s lover in this song exudes a light she can see and feel that comforts her always, who is “everything I need and more.” Twelve years later, still relationship goals.
- “Wasteland, Baby!” by Hozier
We live in a world that is falling apart around us. Every day, we turn on the news and learn of a new storm or drought or famine that injures, sickens, kills people around the world. The hot days are hotter and the cold days are colder, and there is no sign of any of this reversing any time soon. It is not despite this, but because of this, that Hozier sings tenderly of love in this soft ballad. He compares falling in love to an apocalyptic event, and frames it not as a destruction of all we once knew — though it is that, too — but a new beginning. In this song, Hozier finds the sweetest of joys in the worst case scenario. “Wasteland, baby / I’m in love, I’m in love with you.”
- “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma!
This one’s for the theater crowd, but those of you not familiar with the play from which it hails will likely still enjoy it for what it is. The song’s context is that townsfolk are spreading rumors about the two main characters, Curly and Laurey, who are in love, as a matter of fact, but don’t want everyone to know about it. Laurey advises Curly on things not to do, in order to dissuade such rumors, her clear affection for the man slipping through all the while. The next verse is sung by Curly, chastising his sweetheart for being a bit of a hypocrite, and advising her to “just keep a slice of all the advice you give so free.” The song concludes with them professing their love for each other in a somewhat roundabout way. It’s a delightful, flirty little duet and is likely the most well-known song from the musical.
- “The Power of Love” by Celine Dion
I said earlier in this list that it would not be complete without a ballad, and who does ballads better than Celine Dion? There is something so uniquely romantic about a ballad that no other genre can quite capture, and Celine nails it with her passionate vocals and unapologetically sincere lyrics. The song tells the story of a new relationship, like many of the songs on this list; a new relationship that is beginning to get serious, and Celine is a little scared, but she doesn’t falter. “Cause I am your lady / And you are my man / Whenever you reach for me / I’ll do all that I can.” Now, reader, I ask you: are you ready to learn of the power of love?