Why is 90+% of poular music about romantic love and when did it start?

Romantic love is an important part of the human experience but it is only one part, yet the vast majority of songs are variations of “I love you”, or “you broke my heart”. There are of course exceptions, and it is my impression that song topics are getting more diverse, but still the vast majority are romantic. Why do people want songs of love and heart break, but not so many songs of birth, death, working, family, accomplishment etc.?

It seems to me that this has been going on since at least the 20’s but it doesn’t always seem to have been so. While there are a number of traditional love songs, they are at leas an equal number of drinking songs, songs of war, hymns, etc. Was there a specific inflection point or event that started this change or was it a gradual shift.

There were love poems for centuries before the 1920s.

The issue is that most of the love songs of the 1800s and earlier have been forgotten. There are no recordings. Sheet music exists, but few people have looked through the sheet music of the pre-recording days to make a survey.

The songs you are familiar with were the few that managed to survive until they could be recorded. Many thousands of others were forgotten long before that.

The three most popular song topics have always been

  1. sex(including love)
  2. drugs
  3. rock & roll

I was explaining to my kids my little knowledge about song topics. And I said relationships/sex, drugs, partying. Then, relationships/sex could be the same as drugs. And partying is really about drugs. So all songs are about drugs.

*Alas my love you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously;
And I have loved you oh so long
Delighting in your company.

Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves.*

But why stop there? It’s not like Greensleeves was the first love song.

*Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.

Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!

Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.*

And Solomon wasn’t the first, either, though back further than that, it gets harder to find examples preserved to the present.

Y’all forgot religion. Most of the best-preserved ancient songs sung by regular folks were religion-based, not surprisingly (since often those who could afford scribes were church-connected). So we’ve got a skillion songs about Christ, the Virgin Mary, God, and assorted supporting players. And Christian Rock / Christian Country are still things.

A subset of “partying” would be songs about music/dancing/singing themselves.

Thinking of art songs by Mozart, Schubert, Faure, Debussy… yeah, most of them are about romantic love too, although nature and religion get some heavy mentions. Sometimes both! (Debussy’s “Green” from his Ariette oubliées is a song about having sex in a meadow, climax and post-coital relaxation included.)

…Although by Debussy’s time, classical was less considered “popular music,” so maybe that doesn’t count.

Back in the 1970’s there was some comedian/musician (Bobby Goldsborough, maybe?) who had a TV show in which he was humorously explaining Pop music. He was saying Pop music has, for eons, been broken down into

[li]person A (typically a boy) meets person B (typically a girl) [/li][li]person A pines for person B[/li][li]person A and person B start dating; they’re sooooo in love…[/li][li]person A breaks up with person B[/li][li]person A whines about missing person B[/li][li]person A crows about person B coming back[/li][/ul]

That IS Pop music, whether it’s set to orchestral, folk, latin, jazz, carribean, punk, electronic synthesized, mariachi, thrash-metal, blues, grunge, soul, bluegrass, or polka* instrumentations.

Pop music is characterized by catchy repetitive choruses and frequent airplay, which becomes earworms :wink: It’s POPular. The target audience is primarily teenagers and young people around 25 and under. Why? Because that age group is heavily concerned with relationships AND because, since the end of WWII, that age group$ has extra money from allowances and/or part-time jobs that they have nothing better to spend on than a personal copy of the latest pop music recording.

The other stuff you list is more like Adult Contemporary music. Young teenagers don’t want to worry about death (after all, they’re invincible!) and, hopefully, aren’t worrying about giving birth# or paying mortgages.

“Pop music often tells you everything is okay, while rock music tells you that it’s not okay, but you can change it.” --Bono (U2)

There are, of course, lots of other genre in music, even in modern music. Some differences have to do with the technical formulas (I, III, V-flat versus I, III, IV, V versus ???) and some have to do with the moods and themes (the world is great versus the world is fine so long as you’re stoned versus disenfranchised anger versus repressed rage versus meditative bliss) being conveyed.

But, aside from existing to be played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over on the radio, Pop music is also an ideal format because the masses who favor it so much are often able, willing, and eager to shell out their money to the advertisers whose commercials are broadcast in between all of those endless repetitions of catchy feel-good tunes.

  • Yes, I’m exaggerating and I know I’ve mixed in styles with formats.
    $ Because everyone in that age group is either affluent or inconsequential (yes, I’m stealing this from the late Douglas Adams).

Greensleeves is marijuana.


Reminds me of a conversation with a buddy about a certain rock band.

Him: All Rolling Stones songs are about sex and drugs.

Me: What about Street Fighting Man?

Him: Who wrote Street Fighting Man?

Me: Jagger and Richards.

Him; Jagger and Richards ARE sex and drugs!


“Well now, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock n’ roll band?”

“sing for a rock n’ roll band” means “take drugs”


I found a top 10 chart from July 1940.

8 out of 10 of the songs were about romantic love. Here’s a listing:

PLAYMATES - Friendship! Maybe!
Here’s one version: https://www.songsforteaching.com/folk/playmatecomeoutandplaywithme-lyrics.php

Here’s another: https://genius.com/Kay-kyser-playmates-lyrics

WHERE WAS I - Romance
PENNSYLVANIA 6-5000 - It’s in the song title.
SIERRA SUE - Romance
Ok, ok, maybe 9/10
Here’s a listing from 1900 http://tsort.info/music/yr1900.htm

People like music that appeals to their emotions, and romantic love is a strong emotion. Many of the things people care about come and go, but romantic love is always there. The sixties and early seventies gave us a wave of political and protest music, but that had to do with the times. People always fall in and out of love, regardless of the era.

Love songs became different when youth culture took over. If you go back far enough you get things like Silver Threads Among the Gold, which is an aging man’s declaration of love for his wife. No one today would write something like that.

You have to be careful when looking through the lens of history. What was popular in the past may not be what people remember today. The two most famous songs of the Civil War era are Dixie and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The most popular song among the soldiers, though, was probably Lorena, a love song.