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5 Love Songs You Need to Know

For your reading (and listening) pleasure, Lior Phillips, has put together a list of the top 5 love songs that you need to know. Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

Did you hear that? That was the sound of hundreds of thousands of mixtapes being kickstarted. Whether going old-school and putting feelings to cassette or opting for the more easily shareable playlist, nothing quite beats a carefully curated series of songs explaining how you feel. And pairing Valentine’s Day with a handpicked soundtrack works just as well for those trying to tell someone how they feel for the first time and those celebrating decades of love.

Googling “Best+Love+Songs” won’t cut it. We need to climb the mountains of musical discovery, open our hearts to artists from countries around the world, from across decades, and unfurl our precise love language.

In this day and age, with millions of songs at your fingertips, actually achieving that curatorial feat may seem daunting. Here is a little starter pack of musical mind-stirrers to help you dial in your own mixtape and expand your horizons beyond the American/UK pop and rock that special someone may be expecting.

1. Johnny Clegg & Savuka, “Great Heart”

This one ain’t baby-making music—it’s life-making music. As a proud South African and the author of South African Popular Music, part of the 33 1/3 Genre Series, it’s my duty to bring you music from my home. And while I can be easily reached on social media for dozens more South African, and songs from Africa that could grace your lovelorn playlists, this capsule needed a track that tapped into those lifelong loves, the romances of fulfillment and inspiration as well as passion—and Johnny Clegg belting out “Great Heart” can’t be beat in that conversation. “I know I can make it on my own if I try/ But I’m searching for a great heart to stand me by,” he sings, Jabu Mavuso’s rubbery bass propelling him to the skies. The song is an equal call for that spiritual heart partner as it is a tribute to the African countryside, which if you’ve been, you’ll recognize as the most romantic setting possible. (And no, I’m not biased whatsoever.)

2. Tomoko Aran, “I’m in Love”

If you’ve yet to delve into city pop, this little slice of love-struck bliss can offer the perfect entry point—and will make a suitable companion for any “Hey, I’ve been secretly into you” playlist you may be working up. The genre sprung out of Japan in the ‘70s and ‘80s, somehow both retro and futurist, flashes of disco, classic pop, funk, tropicalia, R&B, and more all coinciding. Here, Aran leans on the disco ball, the track feeling like watching your crush cross the street on their way to your front door as you stand at the window, summer heat pouring in and your ice water dripping condensation.

3. Karol G, “Ocean”

On “Ocean”, Karol G delivers an anthem to that all-consuming love, those moments where life seems impossible without that someone. Over the sounds of lapping waves and a simple piano pattern, the Colombian reggaeton pop star details why all the good things in life that are “por ti”—all of her happiness is because of you, and if she died she’d come back for you. Delivered in that soft and lustrous voice, it’s easy to believe just how ocean-deep this love must be—surely a familiar feeling that would resonate at the end of a Valentine’s Day mix.

4. Therapie TAXI, “Blesse-moi”

French pop experimentalists capture the giddiness of love–no matter how foolish—on the ecstatic “Blesse-moi”. The clever pairing of John Hughes soundtrack-era synths with summery acoustic guitars and fizzy sugar-rush energy matches that inescapable feeling, that way that you can ignore everything saying no and just go for it. “Hurt me again,” Adélaïde Chabannes de Balsac and Raphaël Faget-Zaoui duet on the first line, but their full-speed-ahead energy thereafter shows just how willing they are to move past the pain to recapture the pleasure. “Tu tabasses mon cœur dans tous les sens/ J’avoue, je joue un jeu dangereux dans tes hanches,” they add—and if my rusty French is translating correctly, the idea of playing “a dangerous game in your hips” matches the energy of the track perfectly.

5. Elif Sanches, “Me Quedas Tu”

It’s hard to beat a track that is both romantic in and of itself, and also for which the artist’s story pulls equally on the heartstrings. Born Elif Cakmut, the Turkish vocalist grew up singing traditional folk music, then studied jazz oboe and vocals, and eventually moved to the United States to attend Berklee College of Music—where she met an Ecuadorian-born trumpeter, fell in love, and got married. Her 2022 album, Mi Voz, fuses Turkish and Latin traditions in the most romantic way possible. Album opener “Me Quedas Tu” paints the picture of desolation and sadness, only to find relief and joy that even in the darkest hour having the one you love can make it all tolerable. From the rich vibrato in Sanchez’s vocals to the gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar, this one’s got all the right moves.

Lior Phillips

is a South African music and culture journalist originally from Cape Town, now based in Chicago, USA. She writes about music, film, art, and more for international publications, including Dazed and Confused Magazine, The Recording Academy, Variety, BillboardRolling StonePitchforkThe Quietus, NPR, The GuardianConsequence of Sound, and GQ South Africa. In addition, she is the creator, producer, and host of This Must Be the Gig, a podcast dedicated to artists’ vital memories of their first gigs and passion for live music and performance.

South African Popular Music is out now and available to buy in bookshops and online (including at Bloomsbury.com).

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