Sometimes it seems like every song on the radio is about love. Love found, love lost, love remembered, love treasured, love sought and love broken. It seems to be the part of the human experience that most drives us to create art, expressing the nuanced emotions that can feel incredibly difficult to put into words. Love makes us happy and it makes us sad and nothing seems to quite express that like adding some chords and rhymes.
It’s even a common shortcut in television and movies. Want to show that a character is falling in love? Have them dance and sing.
|(Despicable Me 2: Gru dancing to Pharrell's "Happy")|
Want to show that their heart has been broken? Singing sad love songs alone in their home is a pretty good indication.
|(Bridget Jones' Diary: Bridget singing Celine Dion's "All By Myself")|
Personally, I almost always have a soundtrack going. Sometimes internal, sometimes external. It's one of the reasons why I have specific playlists that help me get into the mood of a scene for writing. The right music helps me to connect to the emotions I need for my characters. It's also the reason why I tweet out some inspirational lyrics every Tuesday, because I know I'm not alone in how music makes me feel.
In the movie Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant has a surprisingly insightful rebuttal to the common dismissal of pop songs: "nothing will make you feel as good as fast as 'I got sunshine on a cloudy day/When it's cold outside, I got the month of May'." Music links to our memories and emotions in a similar way to smell. It's not just the melody or the lyrics, it's the memories of being happy or heartbroken that come up with every repetition. With only a few notes, we can find ourselves immersed in an emotional flashback.
There are love songs for every phase of a relationship or crush, from Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling". There's songs for longing, from ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You" which is about missed opportunities and regrets of what might have been to The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" which is about wanting to be with a particular person so much that the singer is willing to give up everything. There are songs about attraction (Glass Tiger's "Hungry Eyes" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face") and songs about recovering from heartbreak (Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On"). (And that's just a small sampling from my music library.)
When I'm feeling stuck on a plot point, I'll listen to random songs and try them out against my storylines. Maybe my heroine is recovering after being hurt by an ex-boyfriend. Is she going to be defiant (Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") or wistful (Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love") or optimistic (Phil Collins "You Can't Hurry Love")?
Writing to music isn't for everyone, but music is an important part of our lives and that's what makes it easy to connect to. There have been a number of theories that suggest that music, like math, is a universal language that transcends barriers and different cultures, which is why samples of music were included in the Voyager space probe. It can feel incredibly intimate, like when someone thinks of their partner every time a particular song comes on. But no matter what a person is experiencing, odds are that someone, somewhere has written a love song about that experience.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to spend some time browsing on iTunes.
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Or have a look at the stories that all of these love songs have inspired.