May 01

Voices We Wanna Kiss: How Romantic Leads Are Like Music

“But… How do you love someone like a love song?” my brother-in-law asked, exceedingly perplexed by the lyrical content of a jam by one Selena Gomez (titled “Love You Like A Love Song”).

“She loves this dude like… a thing that talks about love? What does that mean?” he wailed, slapping his hand against the steering wheel of his jaunty yellow Jeep.

“Beats the hell outta me, bro-bot,” I responded, changing the channel because I didn’t really care.

Despite my previously more-cavalier attitude, in recent weeks I have revisited that sentiment (loving someone like a love song) and found it lacking — as well as sadly intertwined with some of the romantic figures I’ve seen bopping blithely around in YA lit of late.

This is kind of a roundabout mind-loop, but stay with me…

The “Love Song” = The Stock YA Romantic Lead

If you think about it, loving songs/musicians is a lot like loving a character in a young adult novel (or any novel, really): You don’t really get any tangible visuals (covers don’t count). You only get the feeling gleaned from said character’s actions — or, in the case of the  song, from the lyrics as well as the emotion it stirs in you.

Therefore, loving someone like a love song is…pretty grim. You’re loving someone because you’re supposed to. Because you’re told to. Because you’re told that they are intrinsically romantic. You don’t love him/her because of the way s/he leans… you love him/her because you’re told s/he has abs and is nice.

A lot of books employ a kind of formula designed to force you to care about the characters — a series of archetypes that the author doesn’t really need to flesh out that much because the reader already knows how they’re supposed to feel about said characters.

There’s the shy girl who doesn’t think she’s hot: “Cool! She’s the blank slate that I’m supposed to scrawl my personality on so that I, too, can fall in love with a fallen angel/vampire/kinky dinosaur by proxy!”

And, like clockwork, there’s the too-perfect dude who usually knows much more than the girl about life but  loves her without fail: “Awesome! An unrealistic romantic ideal that will inevitably set me up for a life of countless disappointments that I’m willing to accept at present because I am so, so alone here in Suburban Nowheresville, USA.”

When you write such a character you are, essentially, churning out a mainstream pop song — a love song, really. A jam/man that draws from a series of tried and true cliches that is guaranteed to appeal to the widest swath of humanity.

Congrats! You are officially safe to be played/read in airports and grocery stores around the globe!

The…Any Other Song = Someone Really Cool

Imagine, though, if you decided to take another path — if you were to model your romantic lead on, say, a punk song or an R&B slow jam or some kind of weirdo math rock. Yeah, there might not be the specific call-out in there to LOVE this character, but there are, instead, quirks and qualities that will make someone FALL in love with that dude/girl all on their own. Or not. But that’s life. Not everyone is everyone else’s chipped cup of whiskey.

Going along with this rather twisted-up theme of romantic leads equating to songs, I asked a ton of my favorite authors to tell me which voices (not musicians — not faces) they would most like to hook up with. Read and listen below:

Rainbow Rowell: NICHOLAS PETRICCA from Walk the Moon. Because he sings about girls in a way that doesn’t make you regret being a girl. Because his falsetto turns me inside out. And because I swear you can hear his ridiculous dimples in every joyful chorus.

Isaac Marion: CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG. It’s a tough call between her and Cat Power.

Sarah McCarry: MARK LANEGAN, whose solo stuff I listened to non-stop while working on the third book in my trilogy, and who manages to pack a lifetime of bad decisions, shitty bars, broken hearts, lost chances, and too much whiskey into every single note. (I’m a sucker for lost causes, what can I say.)

Stephanie Feuer: JIMI HENDRIX. I’d be his sweet angel any day. And since this is full-out fantasy, Joss Stone’s voice takes me places.

Siobhan Vivian: MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN. I’ve just always found his voice disturbingly seductive — poignant, powerful, detached, and dangerous all at the same time.

Anna Shinoda: JIM MORRISON. Jim Morrison can croon and whisper and holler  — his voice can be dark and mysterious, raunchy and seductive, dreamy and smooth. All I want to do is dive into his baritone and get lost there for hours.

Tonya Kuper: TRENT REZNOR and Brian Aubert (Silver Sun Pickups), Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol), Dan Smith (Bastille), Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon). They each have their own reasons. Brian’s voice is razor-like, thin, sharp, and desperate; Gary’s, rich and tender; Dan’s is almost conversational with a thick accent (non-pretentious); Trent’s is emotionally rich, usually appealing to my darker, grittier side; Caleb’s voice is raw, putting up no façade. But all of them are real and unique, which is beyond attractive.

Brenna Ehrlich: MAC DEMARCO. I tend to like voices that sound both confident and a little unhinged. Not sure what that says about me.

Danielle Paige: JARED LETO. His voice is almost as pretty as he is! But there’s an edge to it that promises surprises!

Image: Valeria Preisler