Collie Creating
Codex Firestarter

Love: have we learned anything?
A ten year comparison

by Collie Collier
February 2005 Firestarter column

Last February (it being the traditional month of romantic entanglements) I got a great deal of enjoyment writing a Firestarter titled, "What is Love?" This February I decided to do something slightly different. Instead of writing solely about today's world, I thought it might be interesting to do an evaluation of how love is seen today and how it was seen ten years ago.

In order to provide a comparable medium of comparison, I used the top ten songs for the month of January in 1995, and in 2005. I chose the beginning of January for the experimental dates mostly so I'd have a month free to study the songs and see what came floating up in my head regarding how love is seen by the populace.

This is all, of course, just for fun, so feel free to take it with a huge grain of salt -- especially since what is most popular is not always best or most representative. Those two criteria are far harder to come by objectively, however, so let us simply state: the masses have spoken, damn them! -and take a moment to hear what they apparently have to say. ;-)

Therefore, without further ado, here are the top ten songs for 1995, and a quick review of content. The songs and review for 2005 are listed afterwards.

7 January 1995

2On Bended KneeBoyz II Men
3Here Comes The HotstepperIni Kamoze
4Take A BowMadonna
5Sukiyaki4 P.M.
6Every Day Of The WeekJade
7Hold My HandHootie & The Blowfish
8The Sweetest DaysVanessa Williams
9Be HappyMary J. Blige
10Before I Let You GoBlackstreet


What can we generalize for these songs? Well, with the sole exception of Here Comes the Hotstepper, they're all love songs. I'd say this indicated pretty strongly love was quite the obsession in our culture.

I'd guess the one non-relationship song was popular due to the ability to dance to it. Also, it was mostly an "attitude" song, so even though it wouldn't really speak to people wishing to be close and romantic, it was still fun. Being part of a movie sound track probably didn't hurt either.

This would therefore seem to indicate (by wildly projecting statistics where they don't really deserve to be so abused ;-) our culture felt people had a 9 in 10 chance of having a relationship. Sounds good, right? Okay... let's look at those nine love/relationship songs, and see if we can postulate what sort of relationships our culture expected all to fall into.

How did we see romantic relationships?

Brace yourselves. The number one song was about a person who was in love, but believed she was being cheated on and lied to -- so what did she do? She decided to cheat also -- to "protect" him! Stunning logic.

I must admit the title was apt -- Creep was just creepy. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but a message of returning bad faith with more bad faith, such as:

"Love you forever baby soul & mind
And you gotta know if
You don't give it I'ma
Get mine...
because I need some attention....

...doesn't sound like love to me. Furthermore, how could she "creep around" and still assert she'll "never go astray"? Makes you wonder just what she was doing, doesn't it?

The one thing it doesn't do is make you think she was doing anything constructive, like being honest and communicating clearly with him, or leaving him because he's a liar.

What did the other songs say about relationships? Well, let's look at them in quick synopsis:

Every Day of the Week:

showed a potentially good developing relationship.

Hold My Hand:

about trying to draw someone into a relationship and a better life. Interestingly, the lyrics don't specifically state genders.

Before I Let You Go:

about a man who felt his lover slipping away from him and didn't want to let her go.

Take a Bow:

about a woman leaving a lover, even though she still loved him, because he did not reciprocate the feeling.

Be Happy:

tells of a perennially self-interested person: "all I really want is for me to be happy," even as she lamented her treatment by her lover: "Why do you have to play with my mind / All the time...."


relates the pain of a man whose sweetheart left him. He didn't know why she left, but he was sure she was lost forever.

On Bended Knee:

tells of someone pleading with his ex-lover to accept him back.

Interestingly, only one of the love/relationship songs (The Sweetest Days) was written about a good relationship -- and yet even there, the lyrics and music held a wistful note, as if she expected the relationship to sour, and was doing her best to remember these good times in preparation for the expected bad times.

So what does all this tell us about 1995? By further torturing statistics, we can come up with the following postulations:

  • Our culture believed we have a 9 in ten chance of being in a relationship

  • Unfortunately it also believed we only had a 1 in five chance of having a happy relationship!

  • In the one "happy" relationship the woman seemed wistfully, almost trepidatiously happy.

  • In two of the three songs about developing or existing relationships, neither of them were really happy!
  • In all the songs which mentioned it, women were no better than men at facing reality or being honest in their relationships.

  • Men were most often left by their lovers (five cases), as opposed to no cases of women left by men.

  • However, of the five cases where the women left or were leaving, two of them were very unhappy and/or tortured themselves endlessly.

Still, before we despair, we should keep in mind the compositions would seem to also indicate we had a 1 in ten chance of going dancing. ;-)

Anyway! To synopsize again, it sounds like our culture believed men were utterly clueless when it came to romantic relationships, and women were perennially depressed about them. Bleargh! Maybe things have gotten better since then. Let's take a look at the songs of 2005:

1 January 2005

1Let Me Love YouMario
2Drop It Like It's HotSnoop Dogg & Pharrell
3Lovers & FriendsLi'l Jon & The East Side Boyz, Usher & Ludacris
4Over & OverNelly & Tim Mcgraw
5SoldierDestiny's Child
6My BooUsher & Alicia Keys
71, 2 StepCiara & Missy Elliott
8Disco Inferno50 Cent
9WonderfulJa Rule, R. Kelly & Ashanti
10Boulevard of Broken DreamsGreen Day

Unfortunately, between my writing about the 1995 and the 2005 top ten songs my sound card died (ARGH!), so I didn't get to listen to all of the songs. Still, at least I found lyrics for them all. So what's the categorization scores for 2005, and what can we generalize for these songs?

Well, it's definitely a little more complex than in 1995. For starters, there seems to be a new point of view emerging. It's not just men who look at women as nothing more than sexy, flashy objects of desire -- apparently now women return the "favor." We have a new type of song emerging here -- one which talks about the other gender as being much akin to a pleasing fashion accessory, with which you can also have sex.

These types of songs are obviously "brag" or "attitude" songs, but at what point, in bragging about how many women you have, does a song also become a love song? Or should we call them sex songs instead of love songs? If sex is something men pay for, and they're bragging about how much money and women they have, can we really call that love?

Interestingly, they often chastise women in general for being such mercenary bitches -- yet aren't they setting that relationship up themselves in the first place with the callous way they treat women -- as nothing more than purchasable items of consumption?

Also interestingly, we have several "attitude" or bragging songs by women as well. They differ in one significant respect -- men brag about their sexual conquests, while women brag about their dancing skill. This means these songs now do double duty as dance songs as well.

Finally, there's one song which mentions only once even the possibility of a relationship -- the rest of the song the guy is stating his aloneness. Apparently white males either can't get away with (or don't want to?) viewing women as occasional sexual decorations.

Instead, they seem to view women as active where they are passive -- the women will hopefully "find" and save them from loneliness. It's as if white guys expect a woman to complete them emotionally, one on one, while black guys expect the women to complement their street image, with one guy and many women clustering around.

How do we see romantic relationships now?

Okay, so now let's look more closely at the songs and see what we can see about romantic relationships today. I found the number one song, Let Me Love You by Mario, to be interestingly atavistic. The man is singing to a woman about how she's hanging around the wrong guy, who's obviously not faithful to her. Instead, she should hang around with the singer, who will treat her so much better.

You should let me love you
Let me be the one to give you everything you want and need
Baby good love and protection
Make me your selection
Show you the way love's supposed to be

He promises a classic love affair: she is a beauty and therefore he will protect her and pay for her with expensive gifts. Amusingly, during the song he berates the woman for hanging around with someone who's obviously not interested in her. I found myself wondering -- isn't he doing the very same thing?

Not a hopeful start, at least as far as our potentially having learned anything about romantic relationships. Still, there are nine other songs -- we shouldn't give up yet. Since our theoretical subject of interest is love, let's look at love songs first, then the others. We've already looked at Let Me Love You, so here's a quick synopsis of the rest:

Lovers & Friends

which is as much a brag song as anything else. Interestingly one of the singers (Li'l Jon) seems willing to wait on the girl's decision as to whether she wants to have a sexual relationship. Another (Ludacris) talks about wanting to be friends as well as lovers, which sounds wonderfully romantic until he starts singing about how he's going to sexually dominate her

Over & Over

is a love song, but oh, my god, is it depressing! It's one long metaphorical howl of pain at the girl having left


could perhaps be a love song, although it's just as much women bragging about the tough "street" guys they want. Well, maybe it's more of a sex song. If so, it would appear "street" relationships are hard, fast, tough, and mercenary:

If your status ain't hood
I ain't checkin' for him
Betta be street
If he lookin' at me
I need a soldier
That ain't scared to stand up for me
Gotta know to get dough
And he betta be street.

My Boo

is definitely a love song for this decade: a charming tale of a man and a woman agreeing they're true loves -- despite the woman being with another man, who apparently hasn't been informed of this interesting fact


is a brag song with, depending on your mileage, either a love or sex sub-theme:

If it wasn't for the money, cars, and movies stars and jewels
And all these things I got
I wonder, hey
Would you still want me
Would you still be calling me
You be loving me?

I lean towards it being purely a sex theme, for the simple reason that I suspect if you're paying for it, it's probably not really love.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

I classify this as a love song, but it's weak, I know -- it's on the basis of only one line: "Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me..."

Drop it Like It's Hot

is a straightforwardly unapologetic brag & sex song:

I'm a Bad Boy, wit a lotta ho's
Drive my own cars, and wear my own clothes
I hang out tough, I'm a real Bo$$
Big Snoop Dogg, yeah he's so sharp...

1, 2 Step and Disco Inferno

are both dance songs. The latter is probably also a brag song, all things considered:

You see me shinin', lit up with diamonds
as I stay grindin', uh-huh
Homie you can catch me swoopin'
Bentley coupe and switchin' lanes
U see me rollin', you know I'm holdin'
I'm about my paper, yeah
Niga I'm serious, I ain't playin'
I'm embedded in ya brain, I'm off the chain.

So what do we learn about relationships and love from these songs? Well, this time around we have exactly zero songs about good relationships! Furthermore, only half of them are even unequivocally recognizable as love songs.

However, there are now two dance songs instead of just one, and a brand new category which encompasses fully half our data points: brag/attitude songs. Thus we can (horribly and gleefully) mangle statistics again to conclude the following about 2005:

  • Today, our culture believes we have only a 1 in 5 chance of being in a loving relationship. Unfortunately, that also means we're invariably not with the one we really want or who really wants us

  • However, we do have an overwhelming 7 in 10 chance of a purely sexual relationship! Alas, it is usually a "love 'em & leave 'em" situation. Still, that allows us to do the following:

  • We now brag far more about our sexual prowess (if we count dancing as a metaphor for sex, which the Puritans certainly did). Indeed, half the time we apparently prefer to brag rather than just love

  • However, 1 in 5 times we're all, all alone, and quite depressed about it. Still, in the end...

  • We're dancing twice as much as we were ten years ago!


So what have we learned about love in the last ten years? It would appear we now know dramatically less about happy and loving relationships. However, we've apparently compensated by having both genders decide to be casually and unrepentantly sexual about it.

No love and no hope of love? No worries! Pay for sex, and then you get bragging rights too. "Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am!" and that's all there is to it. Sex is also now more athletic, less emotional, and flashier -- style over substance! And if we can't even get that, we just resign ourselves to not being with anyone at all -- perhaps by going dancing more?


On the surface, it would now appear our culture believes we're all clueless and depressed when it comes to love, and loving relationships are in fact just doomed. Therefore over the last decade we've whipped one hell of an attitude on love, working hard to convince ourselves we should be satisfied with self-centered quickies instead. Yay, us?

In the end, what this really teaches us is: you shouldn't listen to snarky writers who view pop culture with a mix of amusement and incredulous disbelief. Relationships are what we make of them; may ours all grow and flourish in health and joy, despite silly songs.

By the way, anyone want to donate a sound card to a totally unworthy cause? ;)
02.03.04 EDIT: Wow, I was mostly teasing -- thanks for the sound card, Lou! You're wonderful!

Reader comments

02.20.05: David's thoughts

(and my replies)

Lord Jeasus woman, Agh!

LOL! No, David, don't hold back... tell us what you really think! ;)

<Commence rant mode>

Try, "Have the <expletive deleted> swine who run the big music companies and popular radio slipped even farther into the gutter since 1995?" That's what you are really measuring here.

Heh, you caught me. ;) I admit, this Firestarter is a very tongue-in-cheek one, written mostly to be silly and light-hearted.

Pop music has been complete trash since the mid-1980's; they haven't let anything good on the radio since The Art of Noise. That 1978 to 1983 punk rock/New Wave explosion of kewlness was mostly driven by MTV for the tiny short period it was independent, and in Canada by CFNY in Toronto. Everything dumped upon us by mainstream music since about 1987 has been derivative, formulaic crap that I pretty much can't stand, notable only for its ever increasing level of sexual expliticity (I declare expliticity to be a word, the same way disrespect is a verb). Then there's rap, which I've heard described as the new Culture of Death for black kids.

Ah, I remember MTV... back when they actually played music occasionally! *sigh* I miss that. ;-p

Hmm... I've heard the rap/hiphop genre referred to as the new protest song genre. I even had a very fun anthropology course on "Pop Culture" which let us examine some of the lyrics for the really early rap and hiphop. I can see, in some of those pieces, a bit of originality and often-naughty humor... but I think rap has the same problem now that pop music has: it's big money, so the truly original have been either bought out or overwhelmed with over-hyped garbage. Sure went fast, too. Profane, thoughtless rage sells, apparently.

Take a look at those two lists. The 1995 one is mostly boy bands and "entertainers" who never had an origional thought in their lives; in 2005 you've got the same exact thing plus 50 Cent and Snoop Doggie Dog for God sakes. The guy is a friggin' convict! Looks like he belongs in an orange suit chained to 12 more drug addicts just like him, picking up garbage in the highway median. In fact, that's what he was doing a few years ago before he got his record contract.

Personally, from the P.O.V. of a cranky 48 year old white guy who lived for music as a kid, the whole thing is an attack on my integrity as a human being. Music has gotten so bad I don't even own a proper home stereo system, and I used to work in the development lab of the best speaker company in Canada. Had the ultimate audio gear on the planet at my disposal, haven't seen the need to spend a dime on any since I left the company. Nothing worth playing.

Well, I still love a lot of the classical pieces I heard repeatedly as a kid. When I can't stand the garbage on the conglomerate-owned pop channels, I can still listen to classical. In context, it too had its crazy and eccentric geniuses, its well-paid purveyors of the boring same-old same-old, its occasional heart-wrenching bursts of artistic brilliance -- and best of all, only the greatest stuff has survived over the years!

I only listen in the car, and then I only listen to CD's which are all instrumental dance, trance, or techno. It's the only genre that exhibits any originality. Given the repetetive nature of Techno, that's a pretty scary concept. I'm switching over to MP3s these days, just to be able to download something original from kids in their basements with a synthesizer and a bit of imagination. If you get them before they go commercial they haven't had all the life smashed out of them.

I think I have to agree here. The RIAA is, IMNSHO, shooting itself in the foot. Every impartial study I've ever read of "piracy" (in both music and writing) shows the artists gain by allowing free downloads. Poor college students may be satisfied with a crappy quality free recording, but the average workaday people with money aren't. They go out and buy better renditions -- and then they also try out other works by the artist. So-called piracy actually measurably drives sales up.

Almost everything on radio is Britney/ Christina/ Jessica/ Biansay/ flavour of the week stripper crooning some perverted lyric, or boy band type doing same. Plus rap, which is just plain radio porno. Hell, porno movies have better sound tracks.

</end rant mode>

The Ever So Cranky David

P.S. Does this mean I'm old?

Heehee! I couldn't possibly say -- I'm too busy being crotchety myself on other subjects as well! ;)