We're Emotional Wrecks

Our society tends to value human emotions over intellect, and it is quite evident in our tastes in popular music.

Pop music is typically aimed at the heart, not the head. Lyrics often portray the singer (or the song's subject) as someone who is helpless, frail, and utterly dependent on the validation of some love object.

Some common themes we find in the "neurotic love ballad," are identified in Wm. Robert Miller's "The World of Pop Music and Jazz (Christian Encounter):"

  • Things happen to me. I have no control over them and no responsibility for them.
  • Life has no discernible meaning or purpose; it is governed by an inscrutable fate: "What will be, will be."
  • I am alone in this frightening, incomprehensible world. (Although there is safety in conforming with the crowd, this doesn't alleviate my basic insecurity.)
  • If love were to happen to me -- your love -- all my anxieties would be magically resolved. You, the love object, are so incomparably wonderful (in fact, divine) that I worship you and would do virtually anything to obtain you.
  • If you withhold your love, or if, as fate might decree, you turn it off and give it to someone else, my loneliness and anxiety become unbearable.

Lyrics that emphasize these themes highlight feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and powerlessness, but also objectify the love object by requiring their service. The love object becomes a tool or a prop, used to buttress a failing personality.

As I read these ideas in this old book (it's almost 50 years old) I thought, "There's no way modern pop love songs are this predicatable!"

Well, as it turns out, they still are! Consider these verses from Mariah Carey's Dream Lover:

I want a lover who knows me
Who understands how I feel inside
Someone to comfort and hold me
Through the long lonely nights
Till the dawn
Why you don't take me away

I don't want another pretender
To disillusion me one more time
Whispering words of forever
Playing with my mind

I need someone to hold on to
The kind of love that won't fly away
I just want someone to belong to
Of my life
So come and take me away ... etc

This example seems to fit the style pretty well. In it we see a portrait of two individuals:

  • The singer (subject): alienated, passive, distraught, lonely, needing someone to hang on to, afraid of rejection, etc
  • The "hero" (or love object): understands, comforts, takes the singer away

Now that I've seen this in action, I am going to have fun keeping my ears open for other examples. I'd encourage you to do the same!