Youth Culture Window
Loss is never easy, regardless if it’s money, a prized possession, or time. But when a loving relationship is ripped apart, the pain seems insufferable, especially for young people. Interestingly, exactly half of today’s Top 10 songs are addressing that pain.
But how does it suggest we deal with lost love?
Right now, three of the Top 5 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 trace the agony of lost love, with another two in the bottom half of the Top 10 doing the same. That’s right; 50% of the most-popular music in the country right now revolves around heartbreak.
Is this purely circumstantial? Have these artists merely decided to chronicle their own sorrows in song…all at the same time? Or is this indicative of something deeper?
About a month ago we wrote a two-part article reviewing all the #1 songs of 2011. At the end of the article we noted an observation, that almost every #1 song of the year was about one of two things: temporary thrills, or pain. And often, these very temporary thrills lead to the pain and regret being sung about.
Maybe today’s artists are generating this music because they know the subject matter will resonate with a world that experiences lost love on a regular basis. But more importantly, what do these songs have to say about dealing with that loss?
We can learn a lot by peeking at the content behind the Top 10. Here’s an overview of the songs currently in the Top 10 that deal with the heartache caused by lost love…and how the artists cope with their grief.
Set Fire to the Rain (Adele)
Right now, this song is #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100…but it’s by Adele, so saying that it’s #1 is redundant, because every song she’s released from her latest album 21 has gone all the way to the top!
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Adele’s fans learned that her music was inspired by the pain caused when her ex broke up with her. She said, “I don't think I’ll ever forgive myself for not making my relationship with my ex on 21 work, because he’s the love of my life.”
She goes on to say that she’d give up everything to be with him again…even her career. “Well, I would still be singing in the shower, of course, but yeah – my career, my friendships, my hobbies. I would have given up trying to be the best.”
Little wonder then that we find such compelling phrases in her previous songs like Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You. But in Set Fire to the Rain, we find a palpable anguish that’s causing Adele to seek closure. Take a look:
I set fire to the rain
And I threw us into the flames
Where it felt something die
'Cause I knew that there was the last time, the last time!
Sometimes I wake up by the door,
That heart you caught must be waiting for you
Even now when we're already over
I can't help myself from looking for you.
I set fire to the rain,
Watched it pour as I touched your face,
Well, it burned while I cried
'Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name
Don’t misinterpret these lyrics. Her relationship isn’t “on fire” in a good way. The song’s lyrics reveal that her relationship is basically “going up in flames.” In the end, Adele is left with nothing but ashes.
But, is “moving on” as difficult a task as setting rain on fire? Adele sure seems torn about what to do in this desperate moment (as many of us would be). But given that this song is #1, it means that plenty of teens identify with her confusion.
Stronger (Kelly Clarkson)
Thankfully, Billboard’s Top 10 is somewhat balanced by a song of hope from Kelly Clarkson entitled Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You). This song is currently #2 on Billboard’s Top 100 and continuing its reign at #1 on iTunes where it has resided for about a week now. In her typical, upbeat, rocky manner, the original American Idol winner sings about overcoming the pain caused by lost love. While she definitely seems to be dealing with the upset in better ways than the other artists above her on the charts, Clarkson isn’t trying to hide the pain she’s experienced.
You think you got the best of me
Think you had the last laugh
Bet you think that everything good is gone.
Think you left me broken down
Think that i'd come running back
Baby you don't know me, cause you're dead wrong.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
We like this song because the rest of the lyrics show that life doesn’t have to come to an end just because love is lost. (Perhaps this song is the necessitated Part II to her previous hit song, My Life Would Suck Without You.) Though Stronger is currently in the #2 slot on Billboard, chances are it’s going to hit #1 just like it has on iTunes, partly because of the message, and partly because of its sound. In fact, because of its popularity, we just launched a brand new MUSIC DISCUSSION resource based on this song that will help you show your kids how to deal with loss.
Kelly’s message of hope can be contrasted to that offered by the next artist, a song that offers a lot more hopeless than hope…
We Found Love (Rihanna)
By the title alone, you might be led to think this song is about “love gone right.” Ummm…it’s not. The most gripping words from Rihanna are actually spoken during the song’s introduction:
It’s like screaming and no one can hear
You almost feel ashamed that someone can be that important
And without them you feel like nothing
No one will ever understand how much it hurts
You feel hopeless like nothing can save you
And when it’s over and it’s gone you almost wish you could have all that bad stuff back
so that you could have the good.
So, according to Rihanna, you must have the bad to have the good, too. The rest of the song’s lyrics clearly show that Rihanna has indeed “found love in a hopeless place.” But this song resonates with young people, and in his blog, Jonathan did a good job of breaking down why. The music video for the song exposes all the mistakes people are prone to making in the midst of love gone wrong: hopelessness, risky behaviors such as drugs and alcohol, and of course, sex.
By the way, this song screamed to the top of the charts in early November and has hovered in or around the #1 position since then. Currently, it’s sitting at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Sadly, Rihanna didn’t find real love, and if kids model her actions, neither will they.
It Will Rain (Bruno Mars)
The lyrics are pretty clear:
If you ever leave me, baby,
Leave some morphine at my door
Cause it would take a whole lot of medication
To realize what we used to have,
We don't have it anymore.
There's no religion that could ever save me
No matter how long my knees are on the floor…
This song has been on the chart for 18 weeks, peeking at #3, currently resting at #6. In all fairness, this song is a little different than the other four because it’s not looking back in regret about a breakup. It’s looking ahead and saying, “If I lose you, baby… everyday it will rain.”
This probably is a nice sentiment to say to a loved one, “I don’t ever want to lose you.” But is that all this song is suggesting? Is it just saying, “I love you soooooooo much!” or is it saying something more? I’m sure Bruno isn’t advocating that kids actually take drugs when they’re depressed, right? This is just vivid imagery… right? I guess when you don’t know what a person’s words mean… just look at his actions.
The One That Got Away (Katy Perry)
This song is the most blatant and straightforward example of lost love to be found on this list. The tune is from Katy Perry, and ironically, it’s her first song from the popular artist to gain airplay since her recent divorce from British comedian Russell Brand. The couple was married for roughly 14 months before Brand filed for divorce in late December of 2011.
The song’s lyrics reference several examples of brokenness: getting (and then removing) matching tattoos, admittance of broken promises, a desire for a time machine, and of course, regret. Take a look at the song’s chorus.
In another life I would be your girl
We'd keep all our promises
Be us against the world
In another life I would make you stay
So I don't have to say
You were the one that got away
The one that got away
The music video – which depicts an elderly Perry reminiscing upon her youthful days as an art designer – shows her angrily destroying her lover’s masterpiece and him leaving in a rage…only to die in a fatal car crash.
In other words, he’s gone for good.
This song has been on the chart for fifteen weeks and is currently at #9, just above Rack City (don’t even ask), though it peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Which attitude will teens identify with the most? Adele’s, Kelly’s, Rihanna’s, Bruno’s, or Katy’s?
Leading Through the Loss
Let’s go ahead and assume that these songs are important to many young people today. After all, there’s a reason why no one is singing about weather patterns in Antarctica: nobody cares. But lots of artists sing about lost love, and lots of teenagers are clearly downloading and listening to that music right now.
Is that because these young people can so readily identify with it? Perhaps. If so, what can we do about it?
- Show them love. This is the most important action you can take, for a couple of reasons. First, if love is what your teens have lost, it is what they will need the most. Although advice, pity, or even comfort food is important, in the moment of loss, love is the most crucial. Second, Jesus commanded us to love one another (see John 15:17). Love is the hallmark of Christianity; it’s what we (are supposed to) do better than anybody else in the world. But let’s not wait around until love has been lost to share it with our kids. Let’s be proactive in loving our kids, and model for them a love that they will seek for themselves in future relationships.
- Outline healthy responses to lost love. If a teenager decides to date, he/she will inevitably go through the pain of lost love. There are a number of truths which are fundamental to moving beyond the hurt and pain of broken love and broken promises. First, avoid self destructive behavior… or at the risk of sounding like a pastor (oops, we are pastors), avoid “sin.” Many people’s immediate reaction to being hurt is usually to self medicate, get angry, retaliate, or seek revenge. We know the many dangers of self medication, but what about these other responses? The Apostle Paul teaches that it’s OK to be angry, but it’s never okay for us to sin in our anger (see Ephesians 4:26). But we should also forgive. That’s always easier to do if we look at them the way Christ looks at them. Finally, we should make healthy, responsible choices. Making those kinds of decisions will go a long way towards avoiding the confusion Adele sang about, and the regret that Katy Perry sang about. But if love is lost for whatever reason, at all costs, we should avoid the self-destructive coping mechanisms Rihanna sang about.
Love is the greatest experience in the realm of humanity. But when it goes wrong, it hurts the most, as well. Let’s do all we can to ensure that our teenagers model love…even after losing it.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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