The Secret to Great Romantic Lyrics

2019-07-02 Essay


by Alec Plowman

There’s something really affecting about a great romantic lyric.

When a love song with a true and relatable sentiment comes on the radio, it can stop you in your tracks.

Love songs have been ubiquitous in music for hundreds of years. It’s hardly surprising when you think about it. Love is a universal human emotion, meaning that plenty of songwriters want to express it.

The problem is that, with so many love songs out there, few of them really hit home in the lyrical department. The ones that stop you in your tracks are few and far between, lost in a sea of over worn sentiments.

With so many love songs out there, is it even possible to write a great and affecting romantic lyric anymore?

Of course it is! But, there’s a knack to doing it.

Today, we’re offering three pointers on writing great romantic lyrics that stand out from the pack and really connect with the listener.

Approach clichés with caution

Almost as long as there has been popular music, there have been love songs. And, with the love song canon being so massive and well established, there are a lot of well-worn romantic tropes.

It’s easy to draw on these clichés when writing romantic lyrics. They’re so engrained in our cultural fabric that it becomes almost second nature. But that’s precisely the problem with them. We’ve heard these sentiments so many times that they lose their meaning.

A love song is supposed to have heart. But, a song with an overabundance of clichés evokes the opposite reaction. It sounds disingenuous, like it lacks true feeling; it ends up being the absolute opposite of what a good love song should be.

So how do you avoid clichés?

Well, writing from actual experience, rather than writing what you think a love song should be is a good start. Chances are that your experience of love and romance doesn’t fit all the clichés because, let’s face it, few things in life ever do. There are complexities, nuances, and contradictions in emotion. Peppering your lyrics with these sentiments makes them feel more personal. And that makes a better lyric for two reasons:

1) It feels genuine – essential for making a love song connect with the listener
2) It articulates things in a new way, which is much more attention grabbing

As well as this, you want to be specific in your writing. The devil’s in the details, as they say, and it’s those specific observations – about your partner, about the emotions associated with love, about the scenarios that you find yourself in – that paint a distinctive picture.

Does that mean that you should avoid clichés altogether? Not necessarily. The truth is that there are some motifs that recur in love songs for a reason. “I love you” and “I miss you” are probably two of the most used lines in love songs ever, but that doesn’t mean we should stop using them now.

The trick here is balance. A handful of well-worn sentiments in amidst new ideas and emotions are a good way of grounding the track. While you want your love song to be fresh, you don’t want it to be completely out there either.

Be vulnerable

In real life, love isn’t perfect. Even the strongest of couples will fight from time to time, be tested by their circumstances, and exhibit flaws and imperfections.

When writing romantic lyrics, it’s tempting to shy away from these aspects. You want to paint a picture of love and romance as perfect and wonderful.

By doing that, though, you end up with a very sanitized lyric. It’s a vision of romance straight out of The Stepford Wives that doesn’t speak to people’s real, lived experiences.

Talk about the subject’s imperfections. Talk about yours. Express the emotions that you’re actually feeling (even the mixed ones) rather than the emotions that you think you should be expressing.

Real life isn’t perfect. It has drama. And, even in a romantic song, it’s that sense of real-life drama that’s going to establish a connection with the listener.

There are a couple of caveats here, though. Firstly, you don’t want to outweigh your song with negative emotion. Mentioning flaws and faults is fine, but too much of that turns your love song into a hate song. That’s ok if you’re in a metal band, but not ideal for a romantic number.

Secondly, don’t make it all about drama all the time. This can get overbearing. Contrast is key to any good piece of writing. You need a dramatic pull in there, yes, but peppering that with lighter observations, humor and softer sentiments will bring that all-important balance to your writing.

Have a trajectory

It’s easy for love songs to become unfocused. Again, this tends to come about as a result of using clichés as a crutch. But, like any good piece of writing, a romantic lyric needs a good framework. You want a sense of a story developing, with each verse building on the other.

Assuming you’re working with a three-verse song, you might approach it one of these ways:

You/Your Partner/The Couple

Before/Today/The Future

Your Hang-Ups/Their Hang-Ups/Stronger Together

With each of these frameworks, you get the sense of a story developing, with the third verse offering a conclusion. Within these frameworks, you might use the chorus to summarize the conclusions you come to in verse three and the bridge or middle eight to build some dramatic tension before the resolution.

By writing this way, you’re guiding your reader through the song. You don’t run the risk of them getting to the end and not really knowing what you were talking about. A good love song is about getting the listener to relate ¬– so make sure you give them all the tools to do just that.

What’s the secret to great romantic lyrics? Ultimately, like with romance itself, the trick is being genuine. Find your voice, rather than someone else’s, and your lyrics will connect.

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