This is the second in a five part series, in which I explore the meanings and cultural implications of the top ten most downloaded songs of all time. Read part one here.

The Number Eight Most Downloaded Song of All Time: ‘Love Story’ – Taylor Swift
If there’s one thing you can say about ‘Love Story’ (and most of Taylor Swift’s catalog), it’s that it’s “sweet,” though it’s hard to say anything more complimentary than that. By design, it’s a color-by-number generic retelling of a relationship. It borrows from classic novels that teenagers read in high-school: both Romeo and Juliet as well as The Scarlet Letter having been name-checked specifically in the song.

What’s startling, though, is just how whitewashed these references are by the determination of the song to have an ending that is just as romantic as the rest of the song. That happy-go-lucky banjo persists throughout the song, appropriately accompanying a happy-go-lucky love story that rarely exists, if at all.

The song does an admirable enough job of acknowledging that troubles exist, but in this song they exist only as obstacles that increase the mystic of the relationship itself. The disapproving parents, the need for secrecy, they all serve to prove that “this love is difficult, but it’s real.” In other words, they are necessary tests, that provide the male to prove his love. The real trial, a time of loneliness and questioning about the nature of the relationship ends with a realization that the trial never really existed at all: “Romeo, save me. I’ve been feeling so alone. I keep waiting for you but you never come. Is this in my head? I don’t know what to think. He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring.”

The allusions to Romeo and Juliet as well as The Scarlet Letter don’t ground the song in reality as they should, because the true lessons of those classics are wholly ignored. Concepts of repentance, the dangers of unrequited love, the cost of rebellion, and the sacrificial nature of real love are eschewed in the name of a happy beginning, middle and ending. It would all be fine and dandy if only she’s use appropriate references and call it what it is: a fairy tale.

The Number Seven Most Downloaded Song of All Time: ‘Low’ – Flo Rida

This song represents a host of other popular dance songs, that find their meaning not in even the most shallow soul searching or exploration of human experience. Instead of reflecting human experience, ‘Low’ exploits it. It is the story of a male on the prowl, an ode to a woman who does all the right things to catch his attention. The sexuality only escalates as the song drones on, and for once I find myself relieved that the majority of those on the dance floor don’t pay any mind to these lyrics, though further reflection and a glance at the typical club atmosphere shows us that these songs do have actual cultural implications.

One thing’s for sure, Flo Rida’s breakout hit makes it just how clear how low we’ll go for a song that we can dance to.


  1. Taylor Swift’s thing was pleasant and ineffectual. The kind of thing I would never pay for or click on ever again, but not something that would bum me out if it came on in a grocery store or a local eatery.

    Florida’s thing was thoroughly obnoxious though. It had loser stink all over it.

    In other news, people don’t like the music I like. Big surprise, huh? In other news, Scott fell in love at 22 and I deeply approve.

  2. Taylor Swift’s song is pretty sappy and formulaic. But I must admit to being smitten by it in spite of myself. What I do like about it and her is that it doesn’t try to sell sex (at least not as far as I could tell) and sees marriage as the cementing and eternality of her “love story.” The image of the proposal, which included asking the girl’s father for her hand, was kind of endearing in spite of itself. Maybe this is just one of those naive green shoots springing up against my more general cynicism. But I will say I like this countdown of downloaded songs. Keep it up.

  3. Yeah, I think “endearing in spite of itself” is the right way to put it. Really, what I was trying to point out was just how that sort of endearing quality can often catch us off-guard and make us unaware of the problems inherent in songs like this. And by “us” I mean the intended audience, which in this case is much more impressionable.

  4. I don’t know about the song as the only lyrics I could make out were “Romeo” once or twice and then “Juliet” twice. The video, though, had some hilarious sexual imagery that made me chuckle out silent.

  5. I really appreciate this series Rich. I glanced at the whole top ten after your first article and was somewhat disappointed that is all you have to work with, but I think it will be an interesting set of articles to say the least.

    I am really interested in the question, what is it that our culture wants from our music? I don’t have an answer but depth seems to be nowhere near the list, unfortunately.

    I think you can look into a set of feelings that people seem to be searching for. Love Story to me suggests that people deep down really want to be part of a true romance. However, the song, like so many other songs and movies, completely skips the work and devotion that go into making something like that actually happen.

  6. Well said, Peter, and that question of what people want from music is one of many I’ve been considering. PREVIEW: I’m doing Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” next, and amazingly, Gaga herself speaks to that particular question: “I think that everyone is looking for a song that really speaks to the joy in our souls and in our hearts and having a good time. It’s just one of those records. It feels really good, and when you listen to it, it makes you feel good inside. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s rocket science when it comes to the heart. I think it’s a heart theme song.”

  7. Okay I have a few quotes for you. “That’s okay I like being suck. All you preps are out of luck” “Tie dyed girl please call me soon. You remind me of a full moon. Tie dyed girl please hold my hand my love for you I can not stand”. Whether you believe she wrote the songs or not her age has alot to do with it because it is possible that she wrote it at 16 or 17 and look at what you wrote. Did your lyrics express the greatest world view? They were the way you viewed the world at the time.

    People liked our music because it was catchy nothing more. Heck we liked our music because it was catchy. The lyrics were just a bonus. I know that this is atleast a part of your argument, but to most lyrics don’t matter. I’ll never forget when one of our friends called me out for listening to a band with a horrible name like “Orgy” and then I called her out later for liking “Crash” just because it was catchy.

    Anyway not really arguing just wanted to quote Woking Stick.

  8. Mitch, you really should lay off. You’re going to have to go pick him up from the water tower if you’re not careful.

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