Sinéad O'Connor performing live in 2013Man Alive! / Wikipedia Commons

As February 14th rears its chocolate-dipped, heart-shaped head, we are forced once more to contend with the very real fact that our society prizes romantic love – and displays of it – over most other expressions of the emotion. I decided a few years ago in a fit of teenage spite that I was going to boycott the holiday for the rest of my days and make sure my anti-Valentine’s proclamations were heard far and wide. Then I read bell hooks and calmed down a bit; I have since decided to make Valentine’s day a quiet celebration of all the people I love in my life, regardless of whether romance features that particular year. What follows is a short playlist of alternative Valentine’s day songs – some are romantic but most I chose because I think the lyrics could be interpreted to fit many forms of love and attachment. Most are a little bit sad because I’m nineteen, but I think you’ll cope.

“Our society prizes romantic love – and displays of it – over most other expressions of the emotion”

Haunted – Shane McGowan & Sinead O’Connor

Every time I hear the first chord of this my body is filled with an indescribable emotion somewhere between waking up next to a friend in the same bed and having my intestines pulled out through my navel. McGowan and O’Connor’s voices blend so beautifully, making this the perfect song for a Valentine’s day where all you feel like doing is thinking about the past (which I can’t in good conscience recommend but I feel this is a very ubiquitous experience).

Dramamine – Modest Mouse

I first heard this song because Matthew Gray Gubler put it on his Valentine’s playlist and it was legitimately all I listened to for about a month. It’s actually a waltz but too fast to effectively dance to (I have tried).

Chelsea Hotel No. 2 – Leonard Cohen

There is a line in this song that is so unbelievably rude and romantic:

“You told me again you preferred handsome men / But for me you would make an exception”.

It’s a joke, but there’s a bite (I did say this playlist would be alternative…). I don’t condone negging but if you’re Janis Joplin talking to Leonard Cohen I think it can be overlooked in the interests of art.

Quiet Eyes – Sharon Van Etten

Written for Celine Song’s Past Lives, this song is like sitting under a trellis in a warm, rainy garden with your lover. Anything Sharon Van Etten writes is disturbingly brilliant and ‘Quiet Eyes’ is no exception. You’ll cry but in a good way this time.

“You’ll cry but in a good way this time”

Ghost – Neutral Milk Hotel

Who wouldn’t want to listen to a song about death and ghosts and rockets on Valentine’s day?!! For extra trauma you could listen to the entirety of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea without stopping, although again I take no responsibility for the traffic accidents you may cause whilst doing this.

The Trapeze Swinger – Iron & Wine

The only ten-minute song deserving of its length. Another death one I’m afraid, but one that focuses much more on remembrance and the minutiae of shared experience than parting. I can also recommend Gregory Alan Isakov’s cover on YouTube if you’re feeling particularly masochistic.

I Will Follow You Into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie

I first came to this song via Miya Folick’s cover in 2020 but the original is now firmly my favourite version. There’s something about the softness of the instrumentals and the tragic commitment of the lyrics that hollows me out. The great thing about this, like most songs on this playlist, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to allude to a love that’s romantic, just deep.

This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush


Mountain View

Valentine’s Heartbreak Hits

GREATEST. SONG. EVER. WRITTEN. The vocals. The lyrics. The emotion. Childbirth? Terror? Women? Love? So unbelievably brilliant. As a diehard Kate Bush fan, I firmly believe this is her best work both sonically and lyrically – perfect for a Valentine’s day centred around female pain and connection, which I think is what all Valentine’s days should be about. Would pair well with The Book of Margery Kempe and a cathartic scream.

Us – Regina Spektor

Although it was ‘Folding Chair’ I first fell in love with at fourteen, ‘Us’ quickly became my go-to when recommending a Regina song. The piano riff is so simple but genius, the lyrics haunting and lovely and terrifying. Should be listened to only while walking across a moor alone during a storm – if this specific set of circumstances is unavailable, lying on the floor next to a close friend in dim lighting can create the same effect.

Happy loving!