Is Love a Pop Song?

One of my favorite songs is “Mystery” by the Indigo Girls.  It was released in 1994, and for a year I listened to it on repeat while lounging in adolescent angst on my bed.  But even as an adult, seventeen years later, I still go back to it again and again.  One of my favorite parts of that song reads, “So what is love then? / Is it dictated or chosen? / Does it sing like the hymns of a thousand years / Or is it just pop emotion? / And if it ever was there and it left / Does it mean it was never true?”

It would be so nice to believe that love is permanent and un-wavering.  That when you find it, you know without a doubt that it will last a lifetime.  That it’s strong enough to carry through years, distance, and hardship.  But the human heart is so much more complicated and ever-changing than that.  What if some love—most, even—is temporary? 

I don’t think that makes it any less real or significant.  It doesn’t change how all-consuming it is in the moment, or how far you’ll go to protect it.  It isn’t false or deceitful or unhealthy (necessarily).  It’s still love.

But if it was there and it left, it’s a one-hit wonder, like “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners or Hanson’s “Mmmbop.”  You still adore those songs in their heyday.  You blast them in your car, learn all the words, and gleefully dance to them at weddings.  They have a place in the musical canon; a legacy, even.  But those aren’t the songs that you reach for when you’re looking for answers in a world full of questions.  They don’t make you emote or reflect on your life in any profound way.  They don’t give you strength, or motivation, or a sense of peace.  They don’t speak to your soul.  And so, eventually, you leave them behind, seeking something deeper.  More complex.  Believing that it’s out there somewhere.

It doesn’t matter how many years pass.  Every time I hear “Mystery,” I’m moved.  It resonates with me.  It endures.  The best songs—those meaningful, poignant pieces—put a knot in your throat.  You hear something new every time you listen to them.  You understand a lyric better, or you notice the cello in the second verse, or you hear a harmony more clearly.  They’re special and powerful; as multi-dimensional as a person that you know completely…and yet sometimes not at all.

I could name a few of these songs for me—“Defying Gravity” from Wicked, Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands”—but they’re far less common.  And maybe that’s the way love is.  Maybe that kind of raw, multifaceted love exists, but it’s a lot harder to find.  It’s the kind of relationship in which people are stripped to the core of their beings and completely vulnerable.  They look into each others’ hearts and meet there.  Connect.  They know each other completely and honestly; they understand and accept each other.  This kind of love persists because it has reserves.  It has supplies on hand—no matter how hard you have to look for them—even as people change and grow and life gets in the way.  It’s love with an arsenal.  With backup.    

But maybe that kind of depth and complexity is more exceptional than we’d like to think.  Maybe most love is a pop song.

6 Responses to “Is Love a Pop Song?”

  • Mia Says:

    I still think of my high school loves, and of you, when I hear that song!!

  • Sara (Suglia) Ewell Says:

    Hi Colleen-Facebook is my late night treat after my kids are in bed, the house is quiet and I have a little time to relax. I have to admit I’ve found myself reading your blog (or whatever this is called) more nights than not. You have an amazing talent for writing and your thoughts so often connect with my own life…particularly your pieces on memories and connections. I love “Mystery” and too find myself searching for new meaning, maybe even new memories when I listen to it. And the other day I was listening to Ani DiFranco’s Both Hands and my two year old says to “Mommy I like this one. Can we listen again”. You’re right there are songs that resonate, that mean something and those that are just a great dance at a wedding. Thank you for your my late night treat of your writing. I look forward to buying your first book. Hope you are well and prospering.
    xoxo Sara (Suglia)

  • tessa Says:

    when a song is born into your life, how do you know if it’s going to be a fleeting pop song or a hymn of a thousand years?

  • Colleen Conrad Says:

    I think that’s exactly it! How do we ever know in the moment, when it’s still fresh and new and exciting?

  • Colleen Conrad Says:

    Thanks so much, Sara. This means a lot to me. I really appreciate the feedback, and the fact that you’re reading my stuff! I’m proud to provide your late-night treat. ( :

  • Colleen Conrad Says:

    Yeah, me too! I’ll spare both of us the embarrassment of naming them here, but we did have some great high school loves…And good, long talks about them together!

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