In the last few years, modern pop music has gotten something of a bad reputation where sex is concerned. This is by no means universal, and to be clear there are plenty of artists associated with positive sexual messages. But the headlines in recent memory have been largely negative. The first example that comes to mind is Robin Thicke’s infamous hit ‘Blurred Lines,’ which despite topping the charts for what felt like an entire year was labeled by many as “rape-y” due to lines like “I know you want it,” and “I hate these blurred lines.” Perhaps even worse, as TMZ reported last summer, Lady Gaga’s recent single ‘Do What U Want’ actually had its music video pulled due to blatant sexual assault themes.
And yet, focusing on these kinds of negative headlines is probably unfair to the pop industry as a whole. It still manages to produce not only sexually positive music, but music that can enhance and improve romantic situations. After all, what else is romantic music for?
According to an Adam & Eve survey about external stimulants during sex—much of which focused on elements like drugs and alcohol—music actually still plays a major role in a lot of people’s sex lives. Fifty-two percent of people responding to the survey said that music can help to set a mood. Not only that, but 40 percent went as far as to claim that music during sex can be as much or more of a turn-on than their partner’s physical touch! That may sound a little bit extreme, but the numbers are real. They indicate that, beyond the headlines about explicit lyrics and inappropriate material, music still plays an important role in sex and romance. And while pop isn’t necessarily the go-to genre for bedroom situations, the category itself has broadened in recent years, and some of our biggest artists regularly combine slow, easy listening with upbeat pop anthems.
But who does it best? In recognition of modern pop stars’ continued relevance in sex and romance, here’s a look at some of the popular artists who do the best job of making mood music.
Yes, JT has some pretty pop’d up songs that would be nothing short of awkward in the bedroom. You have to be in either a really weird or really fun relationship, for example, to throw on ‘Rock Your Body’ or ‘Suit & Tie’ and expect either to enhance a sexual encounter. But if you’ve listened through the album “The 20/20 Experience,” you know he’s actually got some straight-up mood music on there. Buzzfeed pointed to ‘Pusher Lover Girl’ as one of the most “heart-melting” love songs of 2013, and we’d also point out songs like ‘That Girl’ and ‘Strawberry Bubblegum,’ for the right mood.
She might not be as big a name as Justin just yet, but Jessie Ware is producing some of the most consistently sensual sounding music in years. For a lot of people who don’t keep regular tabs on popular music, she’s probably the sort of artist you’ve heard a million times but never connected a name to…. But check out tracks like ‘Say You Love Me,’ ‘You & I (Forever),’ ‘Desire,’ and even ‘Champagne Kisses,’ and you’ll get it. She’s one of the rare artists who can sound utterly romantic while singing about just about anything.
And then there’s Bruno Mars. He’s almost difficult to include on a list like this because there tends to be something vaguely sad about his more romantic tunes, and he almost seems to be trying too hard to set a mood in some cases. And yet, there are certain undeniable examples like ‘Just The Way You Are,’ ‘It Will Rain,’ and the more upbeat ‘Nothin’ On You’ that can all set a mood. They aren’t necessarily traditional bedroom songs, but whether romantic or relaxing, they’re not bad for cozying up with that special someone.
Naturally there are plenty of other examples out there. Pretty much every other Beyoncé song could fall into the category of romantic or sensual; Lana del Rey is a popular pick for mood music; and even Kanye’s ‘Bound 2’ might appeal to certain couples. But with the sexual side of pop under fire in recent years, artists like these are consistently keeping the mood appealing, romantic, and relaxing.