The latest revival of Manual Labor’s music rotation comes from Giovany Vasquez. Volume IV highlights the quintessential tool in music’s artillery: love songs. So, get ready to feel, either the faint tremors of heartbreak as you relive feelings you might have repressed or the flutters in your stomach at the thought of your love—because it’s time to relish in this little-known emotion called Love.
Behind the Scenes:
Love songs are the bread-and-butter of music. Present from the very start of music creation, creatives have always tapped into matters of the heart for inspiration. And bless them for doing so because they have given music the distinction of being a universal language: something we can all speak and understand.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to create a playlist that featured songs highlighting love in all its forms. From tearjerker ballads to upbeat, smiling-from-ear-to-ear tracks, get ready to feel it all. Without further ado, I present Manual Labor’s Ultimate Valentine’s Playlist:
Both Sides Now
I’ll admit, I am very late to the Joni Mitchell party. But I’m a millennial baby, cut me some slack! I first came into contact with Mitchell’s music through one of my favorite holiday films, Love, Actually. Seeing Emma Thompson break down while clutching Mitchell’s Blue album piqued my interest and I hit play on her discography soon after. In Both Sides Now, Mitchell paints a picture of someone who is trying to understand the world a bit better. Growing up, our view of things like life and love can be naive and simple but through the ebbs and flows of actually living, we are suddenly faced with the reality that no one really knows anything.
Nothing beats Coldplay’s older tunes, especially The Scientist. Lyrically, the song takes listeners on a journey through a relationship that is facing some tough times, giving way to frustrations and confusion. All they want is to go back to the start when things were easy and clear. While the lyrics tug on your heartstrings, it’s Coldplay’s lead singer, Chris Martin’s voice that sells the song. The sadness and defeat you hear as he sings “ Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard” instantly wounds me every. single. time.
Love on Top
As soon as you hear the opening notes of Beyoncé vocalizing, you know you’re in for a ride. And what a ride it is! This song is pure joy. With a sound that is heavily inspired by music from the 80s, Bey sings about a love that fulfills her every need. A love that is so giving and uplifting... whew! A boy can dream. But the real treat in the song is the last minute, where Bey sings the chorus over and over again but modulates to a higher key each time. There’s a reason she’s been given the moniker of Queen; who else can do what she does?
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
John Mayer’s album, Continuum, ushered him to a heightened level of fame and acclaim. The eighth track on the album, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, gives listeners a visceral symbol for a dying relationship: a couple slow dancing as the room around down is aflame. It’s a symbol of two people becoming so complacent within a relationship that is destructive and chaotic. This song is beautifully written and when paired together with Mayer’s excellent guitar solo, it makes for a heartbreaking song. For a more stripped-back version, check out this cover from BLACKPINK’s Rosé (more on her to come).
Jesse y Joy
This simple guitar-driven song is one that everyone can relate to. With ¡Corre!, sibling duo, Jesse y Joy, give us a song that shows a different side of love: walking away from a relationship that no longer serves you. Singing in Spanish, Joy presents the age-old story of someone who has emotionally checked out of the relationship yet continues to play games with her heart. But she’s through with allowing the gaslighting to continue, painting a picture of someone who knows their value and what they deserve. A great reminder for anyone who may have forgotten that relationships are about reciprocity.
Every so often, you come across a song that is truly perfect. From start to finish, you feel your entire being transported to another realm. Say It by Maggie Rogers is one of those songs. While it was first released in 2019, appearing in Rogers’ debut album, Heard It in a Past Life, I first came across it thanks to Twitter a few months ago. With a pretty sparse instrumental and vocals that brim with cautious optimism, the raw and vulnerable lyrics are the true star of this song: “And every time our fingers touched/I felt like it would be too much/And too little to hang on to/ I cannot fall in love with you/I cannot feel this way so soon, so soon.” The idea of being in love with someone who may never love you back and having to accept that the feelings might not evolve into anything else because you just can’t bring yourself to “say it” is debilitating. This song is just…it. When I say this song changed my life, I truly mean it.
Through the Night
As mentioned before, music has become a universal language. Even if you don’t speak the native tongue of the artist singing, you can still understand the feelings they are trying to convey. Case in point: Through the Night by IU. IU is one of the biggest stars out of South Korea, known for her lyrical genius and soft and clear voice. In Through the Night, listeners are treated to lyrics filled with yearning for a loved one long gone. Singing with a voice wrapped in melancholy, IU recalls moments shared with her loved one and lets them know that they are missed and still loved dearly. Towards the end of the song, IU sings “어떻게 나에게 그대란 행운이 온 걸까,” which roughly translates to “How can I be so lucky to have met you? What a blessing.” brb, crying.
Over the last two years, there have been countless artists who have taken inspiration from 70s/80s dance music. But with Angel Baby, Troye Sivan tapped into the pop ballads of the 80s instead. Written from the perspective of a lovestruck person, Sivan sings with hearts in his eyes. Lyrics like “Started giving up on the word forever/Until you gave up heaven so we could be together/You’re my angel” are tiptoeing into vomit-inducing feelies but you can’t help but sway along while listening to this tune. It can easily be placed at the end of any John Hughes movie.
2020 was a big year for K-pop girl group, BLACKPINK. With the release of their first full-length album and successful collaborations with superstars like Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez, the quartet was dubbed the world’s biggest girl group. But 2021 was a relatively quiet year for them, with the girls focusing on solo projects instead of group activities. One of them, Rosé takes center stage with her sing-in-the-shower kind of song, Gone. Singing about the difficulties of moving on from a relationship even when you know your ex wasn’t the best person for you, Rosé's warm voice easily balances the frustrations of lingering romantic feelings and utter disappointment.
To Be Loved
Can you have a love song playlist without the Queen of Heartaches & Sobs herself? Absolutely not. After a six-year hiatus, Adele returned last fall with her new album, 30. Filled with tracks about self-doubt and discovery, the penultimate tune, To Be Loved, instantly becomes one of the best in her discography. Over a sparse piano melody, Adele sings about realizing that love requires sacrifices, both from the one who loves and the one who is being loved. While the sacrifices can seem impossible, it’s important to do the work necessary in order to remain true and happy with yourself and your partner. Love can be chaotic and a hard-to-understand emotion but, when you’re able to step back and make sense of your life and your feelings, it’s a breakthrough worth noting. And baby, Adele took notes.
Whether you’re walking hand in hand with your loved one(s) or wrapped in a blanket on your couch alone (same, sis), press play on our playlist and feel something. It’s the only way to know for sure you’re alive. Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”― Lao Tzu