So-called ‘romantic’ songs with very questionable lyrics

OPINION: The R&B landscape is rich with songs that make us feel love, but have you ever really listened to what some of these singers are saying?

American soul singer Teddy Pendergrass performs live on stage in New York, United States in April 1981. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Music is a huge part of my life. I listen to it every day while working, cleaning, cooking, driving—you name it.

Because of my close relationship with music, I have had the opportunity to repeatedly listen to songs and analyze their lyrical content. I have to say, what passed for good music back in the day would really get the side-eye today—not because the music is bad, but because at times the subject matter or the lyrics raise some eyebrows and questions.

For example, have you ever really paid attention to “Come Go With Me” by Teddy Pendergrass? In the song, Teddy is trying to convince a woman he has just met at the club to leave with him and go to his place. He tells her that he doesn’t feel like being “lonely” that night and he “needs some company.” Knowing absolutely nothing about her, he tells her that she looks like she is his type. He acknowledges that they just met, and claims he would understand if she says no, but then tells her she better not say no. What? Sir, that is inappropriate.

As the song goes on, we hear Teddy and the woman having a conversation via ad libs. He’s begging and pleading with her to go, and she is very kindly refusing his advances, but Mr. Pendergrass refuses to take no for an answer and continues to press.

That, my friends, is coercion. As much as I love this song, I have to say that with the knowledge that I have now, I understand these lyrics to be very questionable.

Teddy had a way of being very demanding in a few of his biggest hits. In “Turn Off the Lights,” he yells so loudly for the woman to whom he’s talking to turn off the lights that I got scared and called the power company and shut all my stuff off too, because whew. Nothing like a demanding man in a late ’70s R&B melody to scare us into doing stuff.

Teddy was a member of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and they had a number of hits as well. “I Miss You” was a chart-topper for them when it was released in 1972. The song is about a man who couldn’t do right by his woman or the child they had together, so she left him. He spends the majority of the song telling her how miserable he is now that she’s gone. He’s just drinking himself to death, wallowing in his sorrow, and begging her to come back.

The best part of this song is the monologue, and by “the best part” I mean it is the most ain’t ish speech you have ever heard in your life. The man sees the woman he lost, and he starts telling her all about what’s going on with him now. He finally got a job. He hit the number and got a little extra money in his pocket. Things are starting to look up for him, and he’s wondering if they can maybe connect again. He even asks about his child, and it’s clear from the way he asks that he hasn’t seen that baby in ages.

“Does he ever ask about me,” the man asks, and it’s like sir? That baby don’t even know you. What are you doing? And is all of this supposed to make this woman drop out of her panties and forget how you left them hanging high and dry?

Again, this song may have been considered romantic back in the day, but listening to it now, I always laugh. It’s a jam, but what a horrible person this man is.

But this isn’t all about Teddy or the groups he was associated with. There are plenty of others with questionable lyrics too.

When Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat had their Verzuz a while back, I was watching right along with everyone else, and singing along to some of my favorite hits from my teenage years made me realize all the sexually coercive lyrics we were exposed to and maybe didn’t realize at the time.

In Keith’s “Right and Wrong Way,” the very first lyrics are “You may be young but you’re ready.”

I’m just going to leave it at that.

I love me some Usher, and I know y’all do too. Ever since he came out he has been a star, and his music is great.

In his collaboration with Ludacris and Lil Jon, Usher told a young woman in “Lovers and Friends” that once she got inside his car, she couldn’t change her mind about what they were about to do, and that is categorically wrong. Ladies, you always have the option to change your mind at any point, no matter what he says. That’s my PSA for the moment.

It was Lil Jon who actually rescued the song with his own lyrics about consent. Way to go, Lil Jon.

I could lay out more songs, but we are running out of space here. Suffice it to say, if you go through your music collection, you are bound to find what I like to call “questionable bops.”

Sing the lyrics if you want, but keep in mind that they may not necessarily be as romantic as we once thought they were.


Monique Judge

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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