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Typology of Romantic Music: A Highly Scientific Thematic Analysis

Posted By Randall Reitz, Kaitlin Leckie, Friday, May 15, 2015


 We conducted a survey of popular music. Full disclosure: no factor analyses or structural equations were hurt in this study. Rather, we created our typology by plumbing our memories of high school and trolling the radio presets on a drive to work.  We then googled the song lyrics and consulted websites that use crowd-sourcing to explain lyric meanings.  We can neither confirm nor deny that Urban Dictionary informed our findings.



We’ve concluded that the relationships described in all popular music fit neatly into 1 or more of the following 5 categories:

·         Co-dependent: 25%

·         Over-sexed / Rapey: 25%

·         Unsustainably sappy: 25%

·         Bitter / Emotionally cut-off  20%

·         Healthily committed: 5%



Lady Antebellum is still clearly the gold standard:


"It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk and I need you now.

Said I wouldn’t call, but I’ve lost all control and I need you now.

And I don’t know how I can do without, I just need you now.

Oh, whoa, guess I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all.”



Over-sexed / Rapey

Yes, "Blurred Lines” is the obvious song to define this category, but we’ll keep things fresh by highlighting every middle schooler’s favorite Maroon 5 song:

"Baby I’m preying on you tonight

Hunt you down eat you alive

Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals”



Unsustainably sappy

Dido’s "Thank You” would have gone thankfully unnoticed were it not picked up by Eminem and sampled into his hit "Stan”:


"I drank too much last night, got bills to pay

My head just feels in pain

I missed the bus and there’ll be hell today

I’m late for work again

And even if I’m there,

They’ll all imply that I might not last the day

And then you call me and it’s not so bad

It’s not so bad and

I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life

Oh, just to be with you is having the best day of my life”


"Stan” also has the notoriety of turning obsessive jealousy into a sing-along homophobic anthem.



Bitter / Emotionally cut-off

While we applaud female artists who have expanded the definitions of feminism to include self-empowered sexuality and masculine bravado, sometimes these songs aspire for Angelouian lyricism but their Icarusian arc drops to petty trash talking.  Beyoncé to wit:

"You must not know ‘bout me

You must not know ‘bout me

I could have another you in a minute

Matter fact he’ll be here in a minute, baby


"You must not know ‘bout me

You must not know ‘bout me

So don’t you ever for a second get

To thinking you’re irreplaceable”




The Trifecta

Leave it to the 50 Shades of Gray soundtrack to offer an ear worm that exalts 3 categories simultaneously (spoiler alert: co-dependence, over-sex, and sap are nearly always followed by bitterness).

"Fading in, fading out
On the edge of paradise
Every inch of your skin is a holy grail I've got to find
Only you can set my heart on fire
Yeah, I'll let you set the pace
Cause I'm not thinking straight
My head spinning around I can't see clear no more
What are you waiting for?”



Why are we drawn to songs about unhealthy relationships?
Why are songs about loving, normal, enduring couples reserved for wedding days and anniversaries?

We assert 2 reasons:

1) Healthy relationships are artistically dreadful. Boring. No one wants to hear a song detailing the work required to sustain such a relationship—the patience everyday compromises, tradeoffs of action movies with rom-coms, and biting your tongue when your partner loads the dishwasher wrong AGAIN. In contrast to this tedium, the tension and discomforting images of the unhealthy relationship songs provide a captivating edge.

2) We identify with the unhealthy lyrics. Our selves and our relationships reflect the dysfunction of our popular songs. We’ve all been there at a quarter after one (+/- the alcohol) yearning for the affection of someone whom we know is bad for us. We’ve all found healing in dissing the person we had hitherto deified. Few, if any, of us have relationships as idyllic as an Air Supply chorus. We identify with the unhealthy lyrics.

That said, in our clinical work, the couples with whom we work struggle with levels of dysfunction that threaten the survival of the relationship. Healthy song lyrics (especially ones that tell a narrative of resilience) can play the same role as bibliotherapy and youtube clips. Here are a few recommendations for therapeutic songs that are both artistically alluring and therapeutically relevant:

Power of Two and Prince of Darkness by Indigo Girls
Same Love by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
The Middle by Jimmy Eat World
Remember When by Alan Jackson
Unpretty by TLC
Umbrella by Rihanna and Jay-Z
Forever by Ben Harper
Stuck in a Moment by U2
Til Kingdom Come by Coldplay




What do you think? Is our typology complete? Do you recommend music to patients? If so, what are your favorites? 

  Randall Reitz, PhD is the Director of Behavioral Sciences at St Mary’s Family Medicine Residency and Medical Family Therapy Fellowship. His tastes in unhealthy lyrics vary from Queen to Avett Brothers to Lady Gaga.


  Kaitlin Leckie, PhD is the Director of Behavioral Health Education at Southern Colorado Family Medicine Residency. Her Pandora radio is constantly shuffling between alternative, rock, rap, and everything in between.


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