This feature was originally published in October 2016.
If it haunts, chills, or creeps you out, you’ll find it at Forever Halloween, where it’s Friday the 13th, Devil’s Night, and All Hallow’s Eve 365 days a year. Yeah, we’re pretty much sick bastards.
Halloween traditionally celebrates the ghoulish, haunting, and gory facets of fright, but let’s not forget the three scariest words in the English language: I love you. To some, “love is patient, love is kind,” but to the musicians on this list, love is violence, stalking, and destruction of property. So, this week — in anticipation of Valentine’s Day come Friday — we bring you a different type of terror: The 13 Scariest Love Songs.
With themes ranging from keying cars to necrophilia, these artists seem to have just as much trouble with their love lives as us regular folk. Most of the songs seem fairly tongue-in-cheek, but in all seriousness, if you are a victim of domestic violence or stalking, please seek help via The National Domestic Violence hotline.
13. The Cardigans – “Lovefool”
On the surface, the disco-pop sheen of The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” is all Lisa Frank hearts and unicorns. The song’s dreamy element is only further cemented by Nina Persson’s Swedish dimples and its affiliation with Baz Luhrmann’s psychedelic Romeo + Juliet. Fans never seem to remember that Shakespeare’s tortured lovebirds perish at the end of the tale when played by the scrawny-yet-sublime Leonardo DiCaprio and ethereal Claire Danes. And all those crushing teens who once religiously said goodnight to a poster of the Oscar-nominated actor gazing through a fish tank don’t realize that the tune paints their devotion as pathetic, if not obsessive.
The narrator of the song cries, prays, and begs for the object of her affection to declare his undying love, even if it’s a downright lie. Go ahead and fool her if he must; she only wants him to promise to never leave — the underlying and unspoken threat here being that if he ever tries to escape her clutches, she’ll cut him. The only appropriate response when faced with this kind of break from reality is borrowed from The Dismemberment Plan’s “The Ice of Boston”, where Travis Morrison bellows to an imaginary Gladys Knight: “Oh, Gladys, girl, I love you, but oh, get a life!” –Janine Schaults
12. Carrie Underwood – “Before He Cheats”
Carrie Underwood hit it big with “Before He Cheats” in 2006. The song rationalizes trashing her former lover’s car because of his wandering ways. Keying cars seems to be a go-to for jilted exes, but this song takes it to extremes by busting in the windows and the headlights, “[slashing] a hole in all four tires,” and then justifies it all by making it seem like an altruistic endeavor because she “might’ve saved a little trouble for the next girl” — presumably the one he’s cheating on her with. Personally, I would love to hear the follow-up song to this where Carrie spends the night in jail because her ex prosecutes her for the destruction of property, which can carry jail time and hefty fines. So before carving your “name into his leather seats” (seriously, that’s how you get caught) and keying your ex’s car, maybe try writing a strongly worded letter instead. –Claire Sevigny
1`1. The Cure – “Pictures of You”
When an obsession over someone becomes all-consuming to the point where it’s all you can think about, you lose track of time. Friends seem far away. You go about daily tasks like an automaton because your passion is lost wandering in the emptiness that lies between love and unlove. You retrace your memories (“Remembering you standing quiet in the rain”) and regrets (“If only I’d thought of the right words, I could have held on to your heart”) in hopes of finding solace, but the yearning only serves as a reminder of what you no longer have. “Pictures of You” comes from a pit of despair, and it’s scary because it’s so damn real. –Jon Hadusek
10. Xiu Xiu – “Fabulous Muscles”
On the title track to Fabulous Muscles, Xiu Xiu imagines the romance between an athlete and the urn of ashes he keeps underneath his lifting rig. This 2004 album comes loaded with vocal acrobatics from singer Jamie Stewart, but on “Fabulous Muscles”, he shelves the screams and lets himself be unabashedly, horrifyingly tender. Here, love is something that passes between bodies: living bodies, deformed bodies, breaking bodies, oozing bodies, decaying bodies, even bodies run through the incinerator and reduced to piles of heavy dust. “Cremate me after you come on my lips,” begs Stewart. “Honey boy/ Place my ashes in a vase beneath your workout bench.” Love is visceral and packed with pain; Xiu Xiu envision it in all its gory extremes. –Sasha Geffen
09. Florence and the Machine – “Kiss with a Fist”
Florence and the Machine add an alarming twist to the theme of domestic violence by reveling in its spilt blood. Most disturbingly, the song poses as an invitation to violence, and instead of the abuse being one-sided, it is a mutual return with both partners engaging in malicious behavior. “Kiss with a Fist” delineates an unhealthy sadomasochistic relationship where tit for tat goes to the extreme of breaking each others’ jaws and legs. The partners seem to be both foes and allies: First the protagonist sets fire to their bed and then invites the other to “sit back and watch the bed burn” together. In true 50 Shades of Grey style, the couple celebrate their dysfunction with the constant refrain of “a kiss with a fist is better than none.” –Claire Sevigny
08. The Beatles – “Run for Your Life”
Not only is “Run for Your Life” the creepiest, most misogynistic song in The Beatles’ repertoire; it’s also a bit of a rip-off. John Lennon admitted to stealing the tune’s opening lyric (“I’d rather see you dead, little girl/ Than to be with another man”) from Arthur Gunter’s “Baby Let’s Play House”, which Elvis Presley famously covered in 1955. Lennon took Gunter’s longing sentiment at face value and injected a healthy amount of rage and jealousy, resulting in a song that’s not nearly as playful as its buoyant melody suggests. It’s no wonder that he later disavowed “Run for Your Life” as his least favorite Beatles song, but by then the world had already been granted a peek into the mind of an insecure wreck who would stop at nothing to ensure that his lover remained his and only his. –Collin Brennan
07. Lana Del Rey – “Born to Die”
Technically, we’re all born to die. It’s a fairly clichéd sentiment. We were all brought into this world and will all be taken from it. The only thing making the trip worthwhile is finding another to share the load. So, when Lana Del Rey tells her beau to choose his last words one last time because “you and I, we were born to die,” it’s not entirely clear if she’s warning him of impending doom or just making a casual statement about the human condition. Yet, nothing ups the creepiness factor of the title track from Del Rey’s second full-length quite like the timbre of her monotone voice. And, of course, her bloody corpse emerging from a ball of flames in the arms of her lover at the end of the video. The polarizing artist told Q Magazine that the song is not about fucking, so check that one off the list of influences. But, strangely, she equates this dirge, with all its talk of insane girls, getting high, and taking a walk on the wild side, with finding someone who makes her feel truly happy. One person’s bliss is another’s dark, twisted fantasy. –Janine Schaults
06. Gnarls Barkley – “Necromancer”
While “Crazy” still stands as their greatest song, Gnarls Barkley would go on the flip that song title into something more literal later on the duo’s often overlooked St. Elsewhere. Replace “mancer” with “phillia,” and you get the picture. “Very naughty necrophilia,” Cee Lo Green says — to clarify that there are levels of severity to this. Off-putting, but then again, so is a lot of Gnarls Barkley’s material (including “Crazy”). What makes “Necromancer” stick is how the dark arts seems to seep into the production; the brooding vocal samples are mixed higher than Cee Lo’s voice, implying that the voodoo in the background is much more important. Random riffs break from within the detritus to add a thrill to what’s a disturbing fantasy at its core. –Brian Josephs
05. Eminem – “Love You More”
Recent Eminem invective isn’t only problematic because of the misogyny. It’s all delivered haphazardly, giving it a hollowed, saying-it-just-to-say-it feeling. Needless to say, Eminem always had the same mindset. (Which brings up another problem: He never really grew up). But, a decade earlier, he managed to squeeze every bit of empathy he could out of the quagmire. Eminem did that even in the bonus track of what was then his worst album. Slipping into a drug stupor that would eventually sideline him, Eminem again found a way to twist his obsession with his career-long muse into something compelling. In fact, you can argue this is the most compelling look you’ll get. –Brian Josephs
04. Misfits – “Die, Die My Darling”
In their typical macabre fashion, Misfits denote a love affair gone wrong in “Die, Die My Darling”, which borrows its name from a 1965 British horror film. The song has all the undertones of a Romeo and Juliet-style love affair, but ultimately eschews the romance of Shakespeare’s wayward lovers for something darker. When Glenn Danzig sings, “Just shut your pretty eyes,” the compliment is quickly lost through the following line: “I’ll be seeing you in hell.” The violence remains sheathed in the forms of “oblong boxes” and “dead ends.” Never does Danzig promise to actually harm anyone, but the intent remains clear. The objective is less of an ill-fated suicide pact and more of a homicide with the gory visual of “your life drains on the floor.” Moral of the story: If Glenn Danzig tells you you’re pretty, run! –Claire Sevigny
03. Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”
The deeper complications behind “Closer” are perhaps overshadowed by its legendary chorus — “I want to fuck you like an animal.” It is sung from the perspective of a man who desires sex to the point where it is the only thing keeping him alive. He claims an “absence of faith,” yet his lover brings him “closer to God.” His attachments and desires are possessive and absolute. Most frightening is the implication that without this absolute possession, the protagonist is truly lost, physically and existentially. –Jon Hadusek
02. Garbage – “#1 Crush”
Like a lacquered, red nail scraping across skin, “#1 Crush” drives home its glamour with a sick edge of violence. This isn’t just Shirley Manson at her most calculating and demented; this is arguably peak Garbage. Manson sings as a woman consumed with what she calls love, totally obsessed, willing to die for her beloved a million times just so long as her affections are returned — or even acknowledged. Her perfect snaking chorus ends with the words “I will never be ignored,” as though we needed the confirmation that she was stuck in our heads for good. Few confessions of romantic intent come loaded with this much threat, and even fewer manage to sound quite this sexy. When Manson crushes, she crushes hard enough to break bone. –Sasha Geffen
01. The Police – “Every Breath You Take”
True story: I didn’t actually get spooked by The Police’s landmark single until I was about 15 years old and read a fan-fiction novel based on the Halloween series. In the story, a character haunted by Michael Myers turns off “Every Breath You Take” on her stereo and says something about it scaring her. This confused me until I actually re-listened to the lyrics again and realized, “Oh, yeah, this song’s about a stalker.” That’s about the greatest attribute of Sting; at his finest hour, he’s one subversive motherfucker, and this was his finest trick of all.
To date, the song pops up in dance halls and weddings because, on the surface, it’s one of the true diamonds of ’80s FM radio. But, it’s always meant to be a horror story. “I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil,” Sting told the press in 1983. “It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.” So, what’s scarier: the fact that most listeners have been clueless all these years or that Sting was able to pull a fast one on everyone? Rhetorical, of course. –Michael Roffman