We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package of Omaha Steaks that sat on our front porch for the duration of a three-week vacation is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to incorporate music into romantic gestures.
Anonymous writes: “Say you have a crush on a really good friend. This is not an ‘I admire the nameless guy from afar’ type of situation. How should one go about using music to reveal her love to him? I personally would love it if he would start playing ‘Kiss the Girl’ while we’re hanging out, but I’m just one person. What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to provide song suggestions, as well as ideas for the big reveal: Ask him out to dinner and play something in the car on the way? Play the song over the PA at the grocery store where you both happen to be?”
Romantic gestures toward people you care about, like all worthwhile pursuits, carry with them an element of risk — risk of rejection, risk of awkwardness, risk of picking an important song to accompany the occasion, only to have it become a trigger for you once it symbolizes a moment of rejection and awkwardness. I’m not here to be a wet blanket, or to suggest that your confession of love might not be well-received. But do always remember that you’re one of two people in this scenario, and that the other person gets a say in how this story plays out.
For this reason, I’m extremely wary of — and cynical toward — grand romantic gestures of the public variety. Every time someone proposes marriage on the Jumbotron, or on live television, or in any setting with a large audience of gawking onlookers, I cringe, because the proposer is denying the proposee the opportunity to think, reflect, react, discuss and possibly reject. So my advice on this front is to go the private route; to keep a private moment private, whether things go wrong or right.
I know you’re asking about music, and that this isn’t a column of relationship advice, but the two topics really do fit together in this case. Think small, think sweet, think simple; don’t overcomplicate; don’t script out your big moment, because the best stuff always happens off-script anyway. Why memorize a monologue and hash out a playlist when you can just say what you’re feeling?
Where music is concerned, pick a single love song — I recommend forgoing grandiosity and picking something about tiny but meaningful gestures, like Adem’s “Spirals” — that sets a mood and reflects your feelings. But you’ll want to relegate it to the background and use it as mere scene-setting. Don’t expect a song to speak for you on its own, because people listen to music in many different ways and often don’t hang on every word the way you might under the circumstances. The articulation of emotions has to come from you — the song is a supplement, not the expression itself.
Finally, remember my favorite rule of speechmaking: that, in most instances outside of the classroom, no one is holding you to a minimum length. You’re not required to confess your love in an oral report that must be at least 500 words long, and besides, the longer you intend to carry on, the more nervous you’re likely to get. Focus on the five sweet, simple words you most need to say — “So, um, I love you” — and let those speak for themselves the way someone else’s song could never do.