One of the best and worst parts of high school is the near-guarantee that relationships are temporary. This allows a great deal of flexibility and experimentation, but also enables for a great deal of heartbreak. Without high school love, we’d have no Say Anything, no Clueless – but we’d also be without 16 and Pregnant. Together, we’ll explore the highs and lows of adolescent romance through four major themes: Sex, Innocence, Immaturity, and Obsession.
Teenagers are notoriously hormonal. Though Freud believes humans of all ages are primarily motivated by sex, I have to add that teenagers are the least subtle about it. The make-out anthem Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs epitomizes the desperate undertones of teen love, with Karen O’s earnest tone and the understated but urgent riff in the background. For those looking for a demonstration of Karen O’s lyricism, take a gander at Let Me Know. The song’s simple accompaniment allows Karen’s hypnotizing melody to shine through. The imagery is both relatable and grand: “Like that night we hit the ground / And all the lightning sends a chill / Can’t forget about you still / All of a sudden all alone / I’m calling out, I’m calling…” reflecting on the heady narcissism of the teen years.
The xx is a band dedicated to capturing young passion. Uncomplicated but enrapturing, the trance-inducing bass and throaty vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim create an intimate atmosphere. The lyrics are often exchanged between Croft and Sim, making the songs like secrets exchanged between young lovers rather than gaudy demonstrations of lust. VCR and Stars strike me as two of their songs that best orchestrate this covenant between voices, between the listener and the music.
SoKo, a French pop songstress, has the market on cutesy love songs (step down, Ingrid Michaelson). Maybe it’s the French accent. Maybe it’s the broken English lyrics. Maybe it’s the Matthew Gray Gubler. But SoKo certainly has a Power Over Me. In contrast to its pessimistic title, It’s Not Going to Work is the cheerful rally cry of a lover against negativity. Her ideas and words are sweet, but somberness comes through in her soft, blunt tone. Despite obstacles and better judgment, her constant stream of hope is a window to the perseverance of young love.
Another foreign import, Noah and the Whale takes the hope of Soko and translates it into a more serious, orchestral format. The elaborately arranged Blue Skies is the first break-up song on this playlist, the most powerful single off the break-up album The First Days of Spring, written by frontman Charlie Fink after his messy split with fellow British indie star Laura Marling. Marling can be heard on the pre-breakup Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, providing stark contrast to the later album. Incredibly upbeat, complete with a jaunty string section and Fink’s matter-of-fact tone, 2 Atoms in a Molecule is a standout on the album.
Louis XIV’s vulgar lyrics and pseudo-British accented lead (spoiler: the band is from San Diego) may not make for a well-rated band on Pitchfork, but is a perfect recipe for juvenile sex songs. If you’re ever feelin’ rowdy, take a listen to their album The Best Little Secrets Are Kept. Their eponymous song Louis XIV is raunchy and narcissistic (“Me” is said 35 times), with punchy guitar and swagger drips out of the rumbling drums and rambling lyrics. Pledge of Allegiance, on the other hand, seeps lechery with lyrics that read like a teenage boy’s wet dream. A list documenting the pubescent mindset would be dry without Louis XIV.
Pop-punk cannot be narrowed to any one band, but the genre has made vital contributions to the realm of angsty teen love songs. Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy is a single off Fall Out Boy’s first full-length studio album that finds a balance between lovelorn lyrics and guitar-heavy backing. Meanwhile, Feeling This, the lead single off blink-182’s fourth, self-named album, is marked for its contrast between guitarist Tom DeLonge’s spit lyrics and violent passion and bassist Mark Hoppus’ more tender, melodic chorus. Packaged with Travis Barker’s signature, dynamic drumming, Feeling This is an ode to adolescent sexual frustration.
Characteristic of high school is a narrowing of interests, particularly romantic ones. This leads to easy infatuation, and few bands capture this crush culture as well as Cake. Supported by rhythmic bass and spunky trumpet, Love You Madly’s vaguely desperate message grasps the frustration with flighty romantic interest felt by many high-schoolers. Their Osvaldo Farrés cover, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, puts a swanky, rocking spin on the classic ballroom aria, finding common ground in the brass section. The lyrics, translated from Spanish, illustrate a lover scorned by the coy indecision of his partner, and with Cake’s modern spin are relatable words to many teenagers.
Boat is an indie band out of Tacoma, Washington, that sounds like the lo-fi offspring of The Beach Boys and The Strokes. With textured harmonization and strong bass, Forever in Armitron is a buzzing number that walks the listener through a day in the shoes of an infatuated couple. More explicit is (I’m A) Donkey for Your Love, which alternates between heavily layered, urgent verse and a vibrant, victorious chorus, all the while building tension with increased instrumentation. The song reflects the polarity of high school relationships in its arrangement and sincere, unpretentious lyrics.
High school can be rough, and the pressurized romantic scene does not always help that. Hopefully in this range of perspective, from the ultimately hopeful to the completely frustrated, you have found something relatable. If you have a song that has helped you get through the teenage dating scene, please share in the comments!