Writing love songs
One of the most successful female songwriters of the past century—Diane Warren—has made her career out of writing love songs. She's the genius behind hits like "If I Could Turn Back Time" and a roster of over 600 songwriting credits, often about love.
As Warren’s chart-topping career indicates, there are countless songs about love, so how do you keep it fresh? Well, you could go the Sara Bareilles route and write a song about... not wanting to write a love song ("Love Song"), or maybe explore a different angle.
Let’s dive into twelve different approaches to the iconic love song to help power your next songwriting session.
1. New love and falling in love
Those first few weeks of being in love. The breathlessness, the butterflies, the racing heart. Try to capture that feeling into your song. For inspiration check out Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," Walk the Moon's "Shut Up and Dance" or Kelsea Ballerini's "Music." Often times, songwriters will talk about the thrill, but also the hope relating to the future of this new relationship. You could write your song from the perspective of:
- Meeting this person for the first time and feeling that special something
- Wondering if they feel the same way you do
- Being infatuated with everything about this other person
Looking for inspiration on how to write a great song about wanting to tell someone you‘re in love with them but being afraid they’ll get weirded out by it? Listen to Celine Dion Barbra Streisand’s “Tell Him.” She uses some neat ideas in there. And if you want an interesting modern take on new love, give a listen to Hannah Ellis' "ILYSoWhat." There’s some brilliant stuff in the lyrics.
2. The romance and commitments
In this type of love song you've already passed through the "honeymoon phase" and you're now romantic with each other, making promises and commitments. For ideas listen to The Shires' "State Lines," Andy Grammer's "Honey, I'm Good," and Scott Krippayne's "May I Have This Dance." This category can also include marriage proposals or renewal of vows, like in Bruno Mars' "Marry You." Many songs in this category will also focus on the massive appreciation for all the little things the other person does for you. Tina Arena's "Unsung Hero" does that in a beautiful non-cheesy way.
3. Familial love
There's a difference in the love we feel for a partner vs. a family member or a dear friend. Songs written from this perspective often focus on the love for a parent, or a parent's love for their child. Calum Scott's "No Matter What," Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me," and Westlife's "I'm Already There" are three different examples of songs about this type of love.
4. Forbidden love
The “I want you but I know I can’t have you” theme has been one that’s been explored throughout the ages countless times. From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Rose and Jack on the Titanic, hundreds of stories have been told about couples who fell in love despite not being allowed to for one reason or another. Whether cultural/social taboos, wanting someone who’s already in a relationship or falling in love with someone despite being in a relationship yourself, there’s a lot of material to explore here. Check out Ne-Yo’s “So Wrong,” Carly Pearce's "Hide The Wine" or Daniel Bedingfield’s “If You’re Not The One” for inspiration.
5. Lust and seduction
This category is one that has grown significantly in recent years as cultural tastes have changed. Way back when Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" would have been considered very forward. Compare that to today's songs like Jessie J's, Ariana Grande's, and Nicki Minaj's "Bang Bang" and The Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha.”
Hip-hop and R&B are two genres which are known for having more freedom regarding lyric topics, which is why you can find more lust, sex, and seduction-based songs in those styles. It’s a topic that sells really well, so if you’re feeling so inclined, it’s one that may be lucrative to explore.
6. Loss, loneliness, and longing
Torch songs are sentimental songs about loneliness, heartache, and unrequited love. This includes topics like:
- Being in love with somebody who doesn't see/love you
- Missing a loved one who is gone (death, accident, breakup)
- Being single and wanting love
One of the most famous songs in that last sub-category is probably Celine Dion's "All By Myself"—whether used in Bridget Jones's Diary or on its own, it's a great story that so many of us connected with at one point or another.
The most aching ones, of course, are the songs which speak of a loss of life. Danny Gokey's "I Will Not Say Goodbye" talks about losing his wife. In "Why," Rascal Flatts use a beautiful metaphor to tell the story of a tragic loss through suicide.
If you like someone, odds are you’re not the only one. Occasionally you’ll have a rival that you may be competing against. This real-world scenario translates into interesting songs. Dolly Parton’s “Jolene“ is a great example of that. Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney did an awesome rivalry duet titled “The Girl Is Mine.”
Relationships have their ups and downs. You could have misunderstandings, disagreements, and fights. While awful things to experience, they do make for great songwriting inspiration
In an AABA song form, the B section is usually a great place to throw in a little conflict. In a verse-chorus song form, the Bridge will be a perfect place to contrast the happy times with a little “but” moment. If you feel inspired to elaborate on this more, try writing a whole song about conflict and how you deal with it.
9. Abusive love
Some relationships and loves are more complex and harmful than others. Whether emotional or physical, any abuse can leave people broken, damaged, and scarred. Savage Garden’s “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine” talks about running away from an abusive relationship, but unfortunately always feeling the pull and need to return. This is definitely a darker side of love, but one that has to be spoken about, so by putting it in your music, you may empower other people to actually open up about their troubles.
We all make mistakes. Some small, others large, but at the end of the day, we’re all imperfect, which means sometimes we do someone wrong and we have to apologize. Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” and Bryan Adams’ “Please Forgive Me” are great examples of apology songs. Have you tried writing an “I’m sorry” sorry? Give it a whirl!
11. Breakups and divorce
Nothing lasts forever, and heartbreak happens to us all if we're lucky. Some breakups are one-sided, whereas others can be something that both sides want. Some you can see from a mile away, others come out of the blue. But no one says it better than Bonnie Raitt in "I Can't Make You Love Me."
Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok” tells a great story of a woman who caught her man cheating. On the other hand, Dolly Parton’s “Starting Over Again” paints a great picture of trying to navigate the emotional landscape of separation. Rascal Flatts’ “Here Comes Goodbye” takes it from the perspective of knowing that the other person is about to break up with you and trying to accept it all while reminiscing on the relationship you've had. Songs in this category can include a mixture of confusion, anger, regret, acceptance, and ultimately forgiveness.
12. Healing and moving on
The period after a breakup or loss of a loved one is a hard one for many of us. Which is why it makes such a great writing topic filled with emotions. Rascal Flatts’ “Easy” approaches this from the angle of trying to heal and move on and shows how fragile and difficult this time can be for both people. On the other hand, give a listen to Nils Landgren Funk Unit’s "When All Is Said And Done" (or the ABBA cover) or Reba McEntire’s “That’s When I Knew” for ideas on great emotion-based storytelling where the lead finally is able to close the door on the pain and move on with their life.
I hope that these twelve phases of love give you inspiration for some great songwriting about love! Hopefully, you can see that not all love songs have to be cheesy, and there’s so much to explore. If you dig around, you’ll surely find other angles to talking about love in unique ways. With that said, happy Valentine’s Day!