5 Love Songs That Send the Wrong Message

Love.

We are obsessed with it. Many of us bask in its glory; worship its treasures and truths. Others are shaped and molded by its destructive affect and merciless circumstance. Then there is the rest of us: those that are almost certainly meant to spend life trying to figure out if love is as real as Bigfoot, honest politicians or a Detroit Lions Superbowl win, and not some made up, human hoax to sell greeting cards and movie tickets. One thing is certain, though. We love to sing about love.

If it’s not about partying or politics, at times, it appears that every song ever written is about the wonder of or dismay for love. The Beatles, for example, used the word “love” 613 times in their songs. From Tin Pan Alley to Daft Punk, musicians have been trying to figure out the best ways to formulate their feelings. Some do it better than others. Good love lyrics? See Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do” or “Rocket Love”, I don’t think it gets better than that. Bad love lyrics? Uh, John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland” or “Figured You Out” by Nickelback.

One pair of candy lips and your bumblegum tongue…? Ugh…

However ridiculous, cheesy, stupid and immature these lyric may be, though, it’s not like John’s head is in the wrong place. Let’s give John Mayer that, at least. Because there are just some songs that go in and out of the recording studio and into your ear buds and, with a good look at them, you can’t help but ask, “are they really going there?”

Sometimes, we should be ashamed of how many songs’ lyrics we just let go and give free passes to because they’re catchy. Sure, I have a lot of time on my hands, and think about this kind of crap all the time, but, really, we should probably take time and get to understanding the lyrics before we start belting them out at weddings. For example, don’t call yourself a feminist and then request “Blurred Lines” at the bar (this goes for guys and girls). Or, don’t kid yourself into thinking that that was a year Bryan Adams was singing about.

And before we delve in here, let me disclaim by saying you should read this knowing it was written by a 23 year-old who has as much experience in love as Brad Ausmus has in managing Major League Baseball teams. Maybe it takes but a good observer to be a great critic, though. Hopefully you find the songs below to be as off-base as I do, and maybe Brad Ausmus will prove all of us wrong as well.

(5) “I Want You Back” – Jackson 5

WHY WE LOVE IT:

This song rocks. You probably think it’s one of the greatest songs ever written. It grooves, it’s got soul. Berry Gordy’s “I Want You Back” has one of the illest bass lines in Motown history, doused in some classic Detroit strings and performed by the greatest dancer of all time. The song’s chorus is one of the catchiest. It makes everyone–from college frat boys to old, crusty jugglers–scream out with their inner soul power. It’s the kind of song that is a must-have on wedding band request lists. It’s also the kinda song I used to sing at open mic, back when I played guitar:

WHAT IT’S REALLY SAYING:

It’s crazy that Michael Jackson was 11 years old when him and his brothers made this song famous, because this track is shallower than a kiddie pool. This song is all about being jealous, and not realizing what you got ’til it’s gone, but not in the sweet, innocent kind of way.

When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around    

Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd

I’ve been singing that opening verse my whole life, and, until recently, I never really took “a second look”. Literally, look at those first lines. Michael, the narrator, is telling this girl: I had you, but I decided I didn’t want you to be with me because when you are standing in a crowd of pretty faces, yours stands out.

You’re ugly.

Yes! This sweet little 11 year old is singing about having some high standards. And before you think that the song is trying to tell this girl that she’s prettier than the crowd of pretty girls, Michael makes it very clear in the next line that the reason he even wants her back in the first place, is because someone saw something in her first, that he never cared to see was there in the first place:

But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance was all it took

Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look

I’m not sure I know what love is, but it’s not jealousy. These lyrics scream envy. The narrator had an opportunity to be with a girl, but he didn’t want to be with her because she wasn’t attractive enough for him, and the fact that she’s getting attention from other guys makes her more attractive. The narrator is finding love for the wrong reasons. He only seems to be looking to be in a relationship with girls that other guys are interested in. That can’t be the best way to fall in love. I hope she doesn’t go back to him. But I know she does…

(2) “Get It On Tonite” – Montell Jordan

WHY WE LOVE IT:

It gets us in the mood.

Girl if it’s all right, 

Let’s go somewhere and get it on tonight, 

You shouldn’t have to be alone tonight

It’s one on one tonight, tonight

If you can forgive them for rhyming three straight lines with the same word, it’s actually kind of romantic. I mean, as romantic as late ’90s pop R&B gets.

WHAT IT’S REALLY SAYING:

It’s okay to cheat on your girlfriend if your girlfriend is stressin’ you out.

I mean, this isn’t really a secret. This song isn’t supposed to be anything else. Like, watch the music video:

When I look at you, I keep thinking, 

Why can’t she be like you, so I’m scheming,

I can’t go on like this, believing her love is true

For every song about heartbreak, there’s 10 other songs about cheating. Which is just nuts to me. One of my favorite love songs of all time, “Say Goodbye” by Dave Matthews Band, is about cheating. It’s beautifully written, but the song talks about the narrator convincing a girl to just have one night of romance and then tomorrow she can go back to her man. Which is fine, I get it: songs are storytelling. A songwriter can write a song about an affair like a screenwriter or novelist would write a story about an affair. But, in Montell Jordan’s case especially, you gotta wonder what the point of making an R&B song like this is. Was Montell trying to create a song that scheming lovers could put on in the background while cheating on their spouses?

What’s really strange? Montell has been married to the same woman since 1994, which–even for C-list music celebrities–is impressive in the entertainment industry.

I wonder what she thinks of this song’s message. I guess I shouldn’t question it because they have been happily married for 19 years. That must just be how the Jordan family “do it”.

(That’s a joke).

(3) “As Long as You Love Me” – Backstreet Boys

WHY WE LOVE IT:

Don’t these verses just make you want to be white, wear baggy clothes and dance to hip hop? You gotta appreciate that late ’90s synth-snare, too. Where did that go? Along with Ecto Cooler, console game cartridges, and a thriving economy, I wish someone would bring that sound back to the pop music scene.

This music video is just incredible, too. You know the Backstreet Boys are crossing demographic barriers because they are bouncing basketballs. I also have no idea what the storyline of this video is, but I would love to hear your theories, please leave them in the comments below.

WHAT IT’S REALLY SAYING:

The Backstreet Boys are surprisingly desperate in this song. Either they weren’t getting any kind of action when they recorded this track–even as pop superstars–or the late ’90s were not only as good as everyone remembers, but they were way better; things were so fantastic that you could fall in love with just about anyone, as long as they had affection for you.

I mean, really, Backstreet Boys?

I know I’m picky at times, but something tells me even the easiest of love-seekers out there think that who you are, where you’re from, and what you’ve done are some of the key components that matter in finding a compatible significant other.

This is the kind of attitude that leads to terrible relationships, Backstreet Boys. So why were you trying to spread this kind of love culture to my generation? I blame you for everything. When you love someone just because they love you, that can’t possibly be real love. When you don’t care what they’ve done, that’s when you know you really need to step up your standard and credentials. What if Chelsea Handler loved you, Backstreet Boys? Would that really be enough, even for her?

(2) “Put Your Dreams Away” – Frank Sinatra

WHY WE LOVE IT:

It’s Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board is the epitome of romance. You could fall in love to “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” if it was Frank Sinatra singing it. Christ, listen to this song. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

WHAT IT’S REALLY SAYING:

Gurrrl, you don’t need a career or ambition or any of that junk. All you need to be happy is me!

Let’s face it. Love in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s was just different. This is the same guy who used to sing the ever popular song, “Slow Boat to China”, which, if literally taken, appears to be a song all about capturing a young lady and taking her on a slow, gross, 1940s water dungeon to China and back.

But this song is just weirdLike, really weird. Take a look, and a listen:

Put your dreams away for another day, 

And I will take their place in your heart, 

Wishing on a star never got you far, 

And, so, it’s time to make a new start. 

When your dreams at night fade before you, 

Then I’ll have the right to adore you. 

Could you imagine singing this to someone you love? Frank is basically–no, not basically, Frank is ABSOLUTELY telling a woman here that all of the hopes, dreams, careers and challenges she was planning on tackling in life should be put on hold so that she can start a life with him, because that is his right as a man.

These lyrics are completely off base. I’ll speak for all sane men here when I say that we’re looking for women who are career-driven, passionate, talented and have thoughts and ideas about things, too! I half-expect the narrator of this song to sing a line about how she doesn’t need to vote or drive a car either, now that she can be in love with him.

(1) Stephen Stills – “Love the One You’re With”

WHY WE LOVE IT:

The do-do-do-do-do-doo‘s.

WHAT IT’S REALLY SAYING:

While most of the song is hippy bull-crap, the point of the song is, well, quite a simple message—

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.

But, damn it, Stephen Stills, you’re creating quite the paradox there . With such a simple single-sentence lyric, Stephen has had me thinking about the meaning of this song for quite some time now. Because if you can’t be with the one you love, and love the one you’re with instead, do you not really love the one you can’t be with, and do you now love the one you’re with? Or, are we talking about the difference between being in love and the act of love? Is Mr. Stills in line with the Backstreet Boys? Does it not really matter who you are, or where you’re from, or what you did, just as long as you’re with someone? Would Stephen Stills tell Montell Jordan to stay with his wife, regardless of if he loves someone else, because he can’t be with that woman anyway, so he should love his wife, because that’s the one he’s with!? AND, Stephen Stills, would we be undermining the sanctity and power of what we believe to be love if we just settled for the one we’re with instead of the one we love!?

Out of all of those questions I have for Stephen Stills, it all comes down to one, knee-jerk reaction I always have to this song’s chorus:

It’s the wrong message because—

If you can’t be with the one you love, try to be. 

About Kale

Kale is a proud MSU Detroiter with filmmaking and social media aspirations. Currently in Production Assisting Purgatory, Kale has two goals in life: (1) Have a million followers on twitter and (2) Never pay a mortgage. So help Kale reach one of those goals, follow him @kaledavidoff
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