I was recently having dinner with a friend at a restaurant and Boyz II Men "End of the Road" started playing.
"They don't make songs like this anymore," I overhead the guy sitting next to us say.
While waiting for our drinks to arrive, my internet addiction kicked in and I decided to scroll through Twitter.
"Are Dating Apps Killing Long-Term Relationships?"
"Americans Are Falling Out of Love With Valentine's Day"
I wondered to myself, "Could that be why they don't make songs like they used to? Is no one in love?"
I spoke with my friend, another pop culture and music lover like myself, about his favorite love songs. He talked about Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and Sade. As a child of the 90s, I added my two cents. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Babyface, Toni Braxton. They sang songs about wanting love, needing someone to hold onto and cherishing the love being created together.
When did that stop?
Millennials, folk born after 1980, are often described as self-absorbed with a need for instant gratification. Obviously a generalization, but if true for most of us because of our access to so much technology, does it explain our lack of desire to connect with a romantic partner in deep and meaningful ways? After all, that takes time and effort and we simply don't have the patience. Also if true, does our music choices reflect this lifestyle?
Gone are the days of making mixtapes for your crush. Gone are the days of calling the radio station dedicating a love song to your boo.
Which died first, the romance or the music?
I did some quick research. It's not scientific, but it's something to think about.
Since 1996, there's been a noticeable decline of love songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Looking at the Billboard Hot 100 Year End Charts for each year, but focusing only on the top 20 songs, the decline is easy to see. In 1996, 14 of the songs on the year end chart were love songs.
By "love song," I'm talking about I-love-you-I-can't-live-without-you-I-miss-you-please-don't-leave. Songs you'd dedicate to your significant other. Songs acknowledging your desire for a connection on an intimate, romantic level. Songs that’d be included in those music collection box sets you’d order from the TV. Songs you’d dance to at your wedding. So not, you-broke-my-heart-and-I-want-to-kill-you.
Sorry Kelly Clarkson.
In 2016, there was only one song in the top 20 year end chart.
Between 1996 and 2004, love songs accounted for approximately 40 percent of the songs in the top 20. In the last 10 years, most years drop below 20 percent. In 2012, there were no love songs in the top 20. (Again, I'm talking year-end chart, meaning the most popular song.)
In 2014, I counted 3.
Where did all of the love songs go? And what were they replaced with? And why?
As I continued my non-scientific research, I noticed some themes. The decline in love songs can be seen in both genders. It's not just men who aren't talking about love anymore, but women, too. Usher filled the early 2000s with love songs. Chris Brown had a few appearances as well. #Awkward
For the ladies we had Mariah, Taylor, and one hit wonders from Leona Lewis and Vanessa Carlton. But one thing that stands out is the increase in sexually empowered anthems performed by women.
Destiny's Child gave "Independent Women" an anthem in 2000 while Blu Cantrell told them to "Hit 'Em Up Style" if their man did them wrong.
Ciara sang about her "Goodies" in 2004.
Nelly Furtado was "Promiscuous" in 2006.
Beyonce gave "Single Ladies" an anthem in 2008 and Katy Perry explored her sexuality and "Kissed a Girl" and liked it.
In 2011, Rihanna was singing about "S&M."
In 2013, Miley gave party girls "We Can't Stop."
And in 2016, Fifth Harmony sang about sexting their baes in "Work From Home."
Meanwhile, Sisqo gave us an ode to "Thongs" in 2000 while Shaggy lied about having an affair saying, "It Wasn't Me." Lil' Jon delivered a bunch of strip club anthems from 2003-2005 and Akon joined in in 2007 with the very straight forward "I Wanna Fuck You." And the rest of the time, guys just wanted to have a good time.
Taio Cruz said don't fall for him because he's just going to "Break Your Heart." Cee-Lo didn't want to deal with his emotions after being dumped so he was just like "Fuck You' and fuck her, too." Robin Thicke gave us the rape culture anthem of the century, "Blurred Lines." And we got a song called "Panda" that no one can explain the meaning of.
What does all of this tell us and who the hell cares?
Songs are more or less reflections of our society and culture. Think about "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen and it's connection to a time of war. Think about Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" in the early 90s. Think about Green Day's "American Idiot" in the immediate years following 9/11. Think NWA's "Fuck the Police" in the late 80s.
Even Aristotle talked about music's ability to communicate the emotional states of humans. "Music directly imitates the passions or states of the soul...when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion; and if over a long time he habitually listens to music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form."
Translation: If you're wondering why you don't have a Valentine for the 200th year, the answer just might be playing in your ear.
Happy Valentine's Day!