Highlights of History
Because music is so subjective, what makes a great love song is hard to define
Here is our list of the 16 best love songs of this millennium (so far).
Editor’s Note: CNN Sweet ’16 The series celebrates 16 things we love about 2016 in areas such as entertainment, travel, food and culture.
What makes a great love song?
The answer, of course, is in the ears of the beholder. What makes one listener pass out can squeak at another like the sound of a dial-up modem. And almost any song can become a love song if it evokes an emotional memory of someone we love or love.
As the most universal – and worn out – of subjects, love has inspired songwriters for centuries. Among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, “love” appears in the lyrics more than any other word.
Yes, love songs are more common than Internet chats. Great love songs, however, are much rarer.
Making a shortlist of the greatest love songs of all time would be a daunting task because there are so many of them (see gallery above). We have therefore refined our criteria.
Here is our list of the 16 best love songs since 2000 – defined as an affirmation of desire towards someone, preferably with some emotional weight. Our rules: Songs in English only, sorry. No more than one song per artist. And no wildly obscure tunes from that indie band you and 37 other folks loved in college.
You will undoubtedly disagree with most of our choices. (This is a widely used, pop-dominated list.) That’s fine, everyone’s tastes are different. But consider voting for your favorite or least hated song below.
What are your favorite love songs from the past 16 years? Tell us in the comments.
It was a difficult choice between this song and “If I Ain’t Got You”, Keys’ 2004 single, about how little material things matter to the power of human relationships. But “Fallin ‘”, Keys’ first hit, skillfully expresses both the ecstasy and the pain of being in love.
“Don’t Know Why” was the hit single from Norah Jones’ debut album, which sold a billion copies and won her five Grammys. But this sultry invitation, with promises of mountain-top kisses and walks together through the grassy fields, is much more romantic. “Come with me into the night…” Jones sings, “… and I’ll write you a song. It’s a tough offer to resist.
You know those heady first days of romance, where everything is fresh and intense? Beyonce captures this dizzying feeling in her first solo hit # 1, with the help of a horn riff and raps from her new boyfriend, Jay-Z. When they sing about being “so crazy right now” you believe them.
No, this alternative rock jam is not a typical love song. An apparent appeal to a wayward lover to begin with, it features a shimmering guitar line from Nick Zinner and a moving voice from singer Karen O. As she moans, “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you. “over and over again you feel his pain.
The breathless, melancholy songs of Conor Oberst, who records under the name Bright Eyes, can be almost too sensitive for their own good. But this detached and heartfelt ballad – just him and a guitar – beautifully captures the limitless promise of new love. “Yours is the first face I have seen,” he sings. “I think I was blind before I met you.” Aww, how sweet.
The ’90s Queen of Pop makes our list for this shattering comeback, a simple lament over realizing (too late?) That a deceased lover was The One. Carey evokes real emotion in his plaintive voice. Bonus points for the video, in which she throws Eric Roberts at the altar to escape with Wentworth Miller.
No, we don’t know what the title means either. But this deceptively simple ballad, used to great effect on “Grey’s Anatomy”, turns into a heart-wrenching crescendo. “If I lay down here / If I lay right here / Would you like to lay down with me and forget about the world?” Yes, I think we would.
This singing duo was featured on a 2006 Swell Season album, but it wasn’t until “Once” hit theaters the following year that it became a hit. When Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova sang it together in the film, the romantic chemistry between them was undeniable. “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar for Best Song in 2008.
Several of Swift’s well-crafted storytelling songs about Young Love could have made it onto our list. We picked this one because her lyrics – “she wears high heels, I wear sneakers / she’s captain of cheer, and I’m on the bleachers” – resonates with any high school kid who felt like a misfit when fighting a more popular classmate for the ailments of a crush.
We know what you are thinking: where is “Someone like you?” This heart-wrenching ode to a past love is indeed a great song, but its sad tone isn’t quite the romantic vibe we’re looking for here. This 1997 Bob Dylan song was covered by everyone from Garth Brooks to Kelly Clarkson, but when Adele recorded it for her debut album, she made it her own. The great soulful voice of the British singer expresses the emotion of every line.
A late-night booty call doesn’t seem like the most romantic subject for a song. But who can’t understand the lust in Hillary Scott’s voice as she sings, “It’s a quarter past one, I’m a little drunk and I need you now.” I said I wouldn’t call, but I lost all control and I need you now. There’s a reason he won record of the year and song of the year at the Grammys. We’ve all been there.
If you prefer bouncy love songs to sad songs, this ramshackle hippie hymn is for you. A Valentine from Lover to Lover, the song has some wacky lyrics (“Holy moley, me oh my, you’re the prunelle of my eye”) but its feeling is one any lover can appreciate: “Home is where I am with you. Indeed.
Yeah, Billy Joel said it first. But Mars brings new energy to a time-worn feeling. It’s hard to resist a lover who tells you, “When I see your face, I wouldn’t change a thing, because you are amazing the way you are. ”
The neo-soul crooner pours into this stripped-down piano ballad, a heart-filled hymn to a lover and “all your perfect imperfections”. The song, Legend’s first hit, was inspired by his then-fiancée, model Chrissy Teigen.
Smith’s sore tenor elevates this raw ballad, in which the singer begs his one-night stand not to leave. The young British crooner layered his own voice in the recording studio to sound like a gospel choir, adding weight to the swollen choir. The song’s brutal honesty – “It’s not love, it’s plain to see” – only adds to its emotional power. Sometimes we just need to feel loved for a while, even when we know it’s not real.
On first listen, this shameless melody doesn’t sound so special. But these are slow-burning charms, backed up by Sheeran’s moving promise that “I will love you until I’m 70,” have captivated listeners the world over. “Thinking Out Loud” became the first single to spend a full year in the UK Top 40, and its old-fashioned ballroom dance video has racked up nearly a billion views. It’s both song and record of the year at the 2016 Grammys.