What Mariah, the Cure and Fitty Can Do For Your Love Life

Music has always been a form of expression. But does it express the sentiments of love — or can it define how we think and feel about love?

From sentimental love songs like the Cure’s “”Lovesong”” to songs about breakups like Ne-Yo’s “”So Sick,”” and others about just plain sex like Jamie Foxx’s “Unpredictable,” popular music deals heavily with the heterosexual guy-girl dynamic.

The content of popular music is diverse, but with mainstream hip-hop and its typical fare of “pimps and hoes” topping the charts, one begins to wonder if we actually use this language in dealing with each other.

It has been suggested that popular music can define our dialogue about relationships and everything that comes with them. David Horton conducted a study in the late 1950s on why adolescents use language from popular songs in courtship. He argues that teenagers borrow dialogue from music to express and shape their undeveloped feelings in romance and dating rituals.

We’ve come a long way since the 1950s, but do we still use popular music to express ourselves in our relationships?

Sociologists like ex-rock critic Simon Frith argue that songs do not replace our conversations. Rather, songwriters or musicians can make us feel like our emotions are richer or more convincing, he claims in “Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music.” For example, hearing a song like Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” may dramatize emotions after a breakup.

While popular music has an effect on the individual, it is also the individual’s tastes that shape popular culture.

As Frith says, “Pop tastes do not just derive from our socially constructed identities, they also help to shape them.” This is to say that popular music reflects our relationships, but it is also created and made “popular” by our relationships.

So, if our relationships are both reflected in and help to shape popular music, do we hold the same values that popular songs portray? Are songs like “Laffy Taffy” really what we are all about?

At places like Pacific Beach Bar and Grill on a Friday night, one might say there is an element of truth in the ways popular music, particularly mainstream hip-hop, portrays the interaction of men and women. The bar scenario, of men and women with the “holla at ya girl” mentality in an atmosphere of alcohol and lust, is a part of the male-female interaction, as shown by songs such as “There it Go,” more commonly known as that “whistle” song.

The connection between relationships and music is not so direct, though. The music of mainstream popular culture is the output of a large equation of marketers, publicists, songwriters, media conglomerates and talent agents.

Also, the value of songs does not just lie in lyrics. Frith argues that it is not necessarily the lyrics that we respond to in a song, but rather the voice that we identify with.

So we may like a song not because the lyrics are particularly appealing, but because we identify with the sound: the voice, the beat or the rhythm.

So while some people, especially women, would be thoroughly offended if they focused on the lyrics of songs such as Eminem and Nate Dogg’s “Shake That,” they might still run to the dance floor at the clubs proclaiming, “Oh yeah, this is my jam.”

Other factors such as nostalgia relate to why we may be attracted to certain songs. Songs that remind us of a certain time or place come to hold special value for us, even if the song’s lyrics do not reflect our own values.

In this regard, songs play a special role in relationships. A song that becomes “our song” in a relationship may be special in that it represents feelings wrapped up in time and places, but not necessarily for the specific values the song represents itself.