How did "Baby" become the most popular word in pop music?

“Baby” as a term of endearment for a lover is a pretty old term, but it’s rivalled in common English by a number of other words and variants, like “honey,” “Darling,” dear," “babe,” “sweetie” and any number of pet names.

In pop music, though,it’s 100% “Baby,” all the time. Listening to my daughter’s beloved Virgin Radio, which granted only plays 7-10 songs, I note that “baby” is essentially the ONLY term of endearment ever used in modern pop music when referring to the object of the singer’s desire. In fact it’s used so often it’s essentially become filler.

Why is that? Why “Baby”?

Because it’s easy to rhyme?

And, hey Mod, wouldn’t this go better in Cafe Society?

Good question! My WAG is this: Given the (via-one-pathway-or-another) blues origins of rock music and most pop music, it’s inevitable that a few old blues elements (chord patterns, lyrical habits, etc.) would still be remnants in today’s music. A lot of blues lyrics were about one’s “woman”. For reasons someone else can explain, many of the terms for one’s woman, in the culture/time period that the blues came from, were diminutives – that is, terms which in their literal sense would not be used for a grown woman – “little girl”, “baby”, etc. Of these terms, “baby” has survived as the most widespread in today’s musical contexts. This is mainly due to chance, but could also be because, of the various old blues terms of this sort, it was among the* least* connected to its literal meaning, and therefore could take on its secondary meaning more completely, without mainstream listeners worrying about its iffy implications (as they would with, say, “little girl”).

Endearments in many languages use diminutives. Spanish does this all the time. In Lithuanian, they like diminutive endearments so much, they even address God with a diminutive form (“my little God”). They can be either grammatically diminutive forms, like Spanish guapita, or lexically diminutive like baby. My guesses are 1) this draws on a universal human instinct to go awww and adore infants (very useful for their survival when they’re entirely helpless and entirely dependent on others), and 2) maybe it also expresses a man’s subconscious wish to keep his girlfriend helpless and totally dependent on him instead of being a strong woman and his equal.

Often when I’m in a Mexican restaurant (assuming they’re playing some kind of Spanish-language muzak), I like to amuse myself by listening until I hear the word corazon. I don’t think it’s ever taken longer than it took for the food to come.

Often, it happens before the drinks arrive.

I’ll second everything Johanna said. The linguistic urge to invent diminutives is so strong, especially in some languages, that a word whose diminutive’s origin has been forgotten sometimes gets diminutized a second time – e.g., Latin avia (grandmother) --> Spanish abuela (“little” grandmother, later understood as just “grandmother”) --> recent colloquial Spanish abuelita (“little” grandmother)

(thanks to John McWhorter for this example)

Totally! Although this is not a Spanish language trait, so much as a regional trait. Cubans make fun of Mexicans for always singing about “corazon, corazon, corazon”, while Mexicans make fun of Cubans for singing about anything and everything (mangos, peanut vendors, the wind in the palm trees, whatever!).

You can run a side bet on “te quiero”, if you like.

Old joke:
Q: How do you change an R&B song to gospel?
A: Everywhere they sing “baby” change it to “Jesus”


That helps in the Spanish-speaking market, too, but of course the pronunciation is a little different.

Jesus, Jesus, why don’t we just shut off the lights…

Bieber played a big part of it.

Britney Spears got there a long time before Bieber. And others probably got there before her.

Moved to Cafe Society from GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Before Britney Spears there was Amy Grant who started in Contemporary Christian before becoming mainstream, whence The Simpsons joke originated.


Amy Grant’s hit Baby Baby was supposedly about, or at least inspired by, an actual baby.

Call it the “Lennon-McCartney Act of 1964”: all rock / pop songs shall henceforth be obliged to use the words “baby” and/or “yeah!” as often as possible in the lyrics.

My WAG: “baby” just handily fits into the rhyme scheme of most pop music lyrics, which is most often written in a iambic quadrameter syllables, i.e. long-short/long-short/long-short/long-short. It fits right with the standard four beat pattern of most pop rock: ONE-two/TWO-two/THREE-two/FOUR-two.

Try saying “dear” (one syllable) or “honey” (a word that stresses the second syllable more than the first) to a rock & roll beat. They just don’t fit.

Yeah, but I think the ubiquity of “baby” predates 1964. Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Kiss me baby” (from “Great Balls of Fire”) and Elvis’s “Since my baby left me” (from “Heartbreak Hotel”) spring to mind, not to mention “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” which the Beatles covered but was written and recorded much earlier.

“It appears you are actually in love with Christ.”

Definitely. In my iTunes collection alone, I have 9 songs dating from before 1935 with “Baby” in the title, the earliest two from 1926 (“Kiss Your Little Baby Goodnight” and “She’s Still My Baby”). “Baby” is also used for both genders.