NPR logo The Good Listener: How Can I Avoid Love Songs?

The Good Listener

The Good Listener: How Can I Avoid Love Songs?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pheromone-laced collars we ordered in the hopes that our cats will stop acting like jerks is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how the heartsick can avoid songs about love, sex and desire.

Brittany writes via email: "I love music. But 99 percent of the time, music is about love — or, worse, its absence — which becomes grating when whatever love/sex/relationship situation I'm in inevitably implodes. Where are all the great songs that aren't about love, sex or desire? They can be about anything else. I just want a killer playlist that doesn't make me constantly relive my failed love life while the wounds are so fresh.

When it seems like every song on earth is about love or its absence, the heartsick need a strategy. hide caption

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When it seems like every song on earth is about love or its absence, the heartsick need a strategy.

Elsewhere on this blog, Bob Boilen is attempting to crowdsource some sort of definitive "Ideal Romantic Song" — an impossible task, given that there are as many kinds of love songs as there are kinds of love. Crowdsourcing a definitive way to combat love songs isn't much easier: Some prefer vitriolic statements of opposition, some seek out instrumental music to steer clear of words entirely, and some, like you, want songs that mercifully change the subject.

The path you've chosen is the trickiest, really, and requires the most advance preparation. Any chump can point you to visceral shout-along catharsis — if you ever want to go that route, allow me to steer you in the direction of a little band called The Mountain Goats — and any algorithm can feed you an endless stream of wordless music. But if you know that love songs will serve as painful triggers during future bouts of heartbreak, then you'll need to think ahead.

Given that you're looking at heartbreak as a down-the-road condition rather than one in which you're currently mired, you have an opportunity to get ahead of the situation. However you organize and listen to music — iTunes, Spotify, CDR mixes, shelves you set aside for piano rolls you've sorted by mood — there's a way to begin building a playlist of songs you like that trigger only platonic emotions. Title it "Comfort Food" or "Anything But Love" or whatever you'd like, but curate it constantly as you notice songs that remain blessedly neutral. As an added bonus, the more you file away songs about cars and death and summertime and nothingness and partying and friendship, the more you'll find that nowhere near 99 percent of all music is actually love-themed.

The important thing, though, is knowing upfront that when heartbreak looms, you'll have one less reason to feel overwhelmed by the world around you. That playlist is your "In Case Of Devastation, Break Glass" fallback — always there when you need it. Here's hoping you never do.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at or tweet @allsongs.