11 "Romantic" Songs That Are Actually Offensive
These so-called "love songs" are about stalking, abuse, and more dark subjects.
There are plenty of songs you've probably sung along to without realizing what you were actually saying. Certain songs have been an inextricable part of pop culture for so long that we take them in without critically thinking about them. And because of their ubiquitousness, a lot of problematic lyrics might just be slipping past you. Even some songs that seem romantic are actually offensive when you really pay attention to them. In some cases, this is because the lyrics are creepy and stalker-ish. In other cases, the songs are about falling in love with someone who isn't yet of legal age (a lot of these unfortunately exist). And sometimes, they're otherwise violent, misogynistic, or thoughtless.
Read on to find out more about 11 supposedly romantic songs that are actually anything but.
"Every Breath You Take" by The Police (1983)
"Every Breath You Take" is one of the most famous songs by the Police and has scored romantic scenes in several movies, but the lyrics are actually pretty uncomfortable. Frontman Sting repeatedly sings, "I'll be watching you" about the song's object of affection, and the lyrics also include the possessive line, "Oh, can't you see/You belong to me?" According to the Financial Times, Sting himself said in 1983, "I think it's a nasty little song, really rather evil. It's about jealousy and surveillance and ownership."
"Your Love" by The Outfield (1985)
"Your Love" by The Outfield tells a story about a man whose girlfriend is on vacation. The lyrics include lines like, "You know I like my girls a little bit older," "I just want to use your love tonight," and "Stay the night but keep it undercover." Depending on your interpretation, at best, it's a song about cheating and using someone for sex; at worst, it's about doing that with a young girl.
"Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" by Aaliyah (1994)
It takes knowing the background of this song to fully understand why it is so problematic. Firstly, it was recorded by the late Aaliyah when she was only 14 years old and is about a young girl who is interested in someone older. "Age ain't nothin' but a number/Throwin' down ain't nothin' but a thing/This lovin' I have for you, it'll never change," Aaliyah sings. Other lyrics include, "Take my hand and come with me/And let me show you true ecstasy/Boy, be brave, don't be afraid/'Cause tonight we're gonna go all the way."
As if that's not eyebrow-raising enough to put in the mouth of a young teen, the song was written and produced by R. Kelly, who secretly married Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27; the marriage was soon annulled. In 2022, Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison related to child sex and sex trafficking crimes.
"Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones (1966)
The music of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb" sounds so lighthearted that it seems like a typical love song at first. Instead, the lyrics are about controlling a partner. "It's down to me, yes it is/The way she does just what she's told/Down to me, the change has come/She's under my thumb," Mick Jagger sings. The lyrics also refer to the woman as "a siamese cat of a girl," "the sweetest pet," and "a squirming dog."
"Baby, It's Cold Outside," written by Frank Loesser (1944)
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is a holiday season classic that has been recorded by singers including Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald. But, in recent years, the song has been reevaluated, and it's pretty clear that it's about a man pressuring a woman to stay the night at his home by any means necessary. The woman gives reasons for why she needs to leave, including "My mother will start to worry" and "My father will be pacing the floor." At every turn, the man in the song shoots back with a reason she can't leave, most often referring to the bad weather outside.
"He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" by The Crystals (1962)
The title pretty much says it all when it comes to this 1962 song by The Crystals. The lyrics include, "He hit me and it felt like a kiss/He hit me and I knew he loved me/If he didn't care for me/I could have never made him mad/But he hit me and I was glad." According to Far Out, the song was already controversial at the time, the Crystals were hesitant about performing it, and Carole King—who wrote the music but not the lyrics—expressed regret at ever being involved in the track. King also shared that she and writing partner and then-husband Gerry Goffin were inspired by their babysitter, who shared a story similar to the one told in the song.
"Steal My Girl" by One Direction (2014)
It might not be as offensive as some of the other songs listed here, but the main issue with One Direction's "Steal My Girl" is that it's about a man being possessive over a woman. Also, the subject of the song has her agency taken away with lyrics repeating that it's possible to "steal" her. "Everybody wanna steal my girl," the band sings. "Everybody wanna take her heart away/Couple billion in the whole wide world/Find another one 'cause she belongs to me."
"Young Girl" by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap (1968)
It's a love song about a girl who is too young—illegally young—for the singer. And the lyrics make that very clear. "Young girl/Get out of my mind," the song goes. "My love for you is way out of line/Better run, girl/You're much too young, girl." Lead singer Gary Puckett also sings, "Beneath your perfume and make-up/You're just a baby in disguise" and "Get out of here before I have the time/To change my mind."
"Invisible" by D-Side and Clay Aiken (2003)
"Invisible" is a song originally by the Irish group D-Side, but it became much better known in the U.S. thanks to Clay Aiken's cover. Add this one to the list of songs that veer too far into stalker territory. "Invisible" is about a man who is ignored by the person he has a crush on, while he imagines what he would do if he were actually invisible: "If I was invisible/Then I could just watch you in your room/If I was invisible/I'd make you mine tonight."
"Crash Into Me" by Dave Matthews Band (1996)
Speaking of stalkers… Dave Matthews himself admitted that "Crash Into Me" is from the perspective of someone secretly spying on a woman. According to American Songwriter, he said on VH1 Storytellers that the guy in the song is a "little bit of a crazy man." As for the lyrics? "Oh I watch you there/Through the window/And I stare at you/You wear nothing but you/Wear it so well." Matthews also sings, "Hike up your skirt a little more/And show the world to me."
"Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" by Neil Diamond (1967)
If she's still not yet a woman, you probably shouldn't be singing about her. In this 1967 song, Neil Diamond sings about a man who is in love with a young woman and wants to be with her despite what those close to her think. "They never get tired of putting me down," Diamond sings. "And I'll never know when I come around/What I'm gonna find/Don't let them make up your mind." The chorus goes, "Girl, you'll be a woman soon/Please, come take my hand/Girl, you'll be a woman soon/Soon, you'll need a man."
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