Take a moment and think about a love song that means the world to you. Depending on where you are on your life journey, this question might spur some butterflies in your tummy, or it might fill you with dread. The song you’re thinking of might be pegged to a certain time, like your wedding, or tied to feelings for a certain person, whether romantic, platonic, or familial. What a singular love song means to a listener can be both deeply personal and universal, and that meaning can ebb and flow throughout the listener’s life. As we grow older, the idea of what constitutes a “love song” can even change.
I’ve always been drawn to the simplest love songs. Growing up, The Beatles were a nonstop presence in my house, and just as I was learning about shapes and colors in school, I was getting an education in '60s British Invasion music at home. The Beatles were masters at the love song, so if you had asked me as a kid what my favorite was, without a doubt I would have replied with one of theirs.
If you asked me in high school, my answer would be something with much more angst. In the mid-to-late 2000’s, the love I wanted was never the love I received, so there were a lot of breakup songs playing in my silver Volkswagen Beetle. You can easily insert any early Dashboard Confessional track here when I was sad, or Bright Eyes’ “First Day of my Life” when I was feeling hopeful.
As an adult, after about a decade of learning what love is as a grown-up through good relationships, bad relationships, and an unfortunate amount of heartbreak, my answer to the love song question has probably changed times more than I could count. It got me thinking about how artists view the love song, and if it changes as time goes on. As we get older, do love songs hold more or less importance? Does the generation we’re born into have anything to do with it? To find out, I reached out to 33 artists and bands, including Aly & AJ, Seratones’ AJ Haynes, CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry, and NIKI, who helped Refinery29 craft the ultimate Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure.
Ahead, see each artist and band’s picks and what makes them ideal love songs.
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.