"Baby, Baby" exploits our assumptions about love songs [May 20, 1991]
It's about a literal baby
This week’s Number 9:
‘Baby, Baby’ by Amy Grant
Name any hit pop song of the past 70 years. Any song you want. Now, tell me what the lyrics of that song are about.
Chances are, the lyrics are about one of two things:
Boy meets girl, they get together, it’s awesome
Boy meets girl, they don’t get together, and it sucks
Pop lyrics have other common tropes, like breaking free, being yourself, and putting your hands up because it’s time to party. But the love song is the dominant mode of pop music, whether it’s a drippy ballad or an intense club anthem.
Studies have shown that this is not an illusion. One study by the University of Florida found that half of the biggest chart hits were about love. By the mid-00s, that figure rose to 60%.
And I understand why. Pop songs are supposed to be relatable, and falling in love is one of the most relatable experiences in the world. Even more relatable: the feeling of being deeply, madly in love with someone for around 3 to 4 minutes, and then forgetting all about them.
Pop music is the perfect vehicle for expressing that feeling.
‘Baby, Baby’ dropped in April 1991 and was inescapable for months, and as a shy 13-year old who had lots of intense crushes but was yet to hold a conversation with a girl, I found the song very relatable. Yes, Amy, I thought, you have perfectly encapsulated the feeling of being in a stable relationship with someone great. Well done.
Like many teenagers, I assumed that grown-up love would be something like the ‘Baby Baby’ video, with lots of goofing around in a 90s romcom montage.
Plot twist: ‘Baby, Baby’ is not about love. Or not about romantic love. It’s about Amy Grant’s brand-new daughter, Millie. The baby in ‘Baby, Baby’ is a literal baby.
It’s not dumb of us to think that she was singing about a boy. Here’s a stat: according to lyrics.com, the word “baby” appears in over 290,000 songs. Most of them use it as a term of endearment for a romantic lover. Plus, there’s the fact that the video shows her singing the lyrics to a grown-ass man.
(The man is a male model who was hired for the gig. Amy is actually a huge Christian contemporary rock star and her regular audience was, apparently, shocked that she’s crooning to a man who’s not her husband. They have no problem with her singing a song about a literal baby to a full-grown man with stubble.)
Now that I’m a full-grown man with a daughter of my own, I see how this would be a fun song to sing to a baby, and I’m sad I never thought of singing it to my own child when she was small. Amy and I have that shared experience of being very happy to have a lovely little baby to cuddle. That’s the great thing about pop music, and art in general. People can connect across space and time through shared emotions.
Which is perhaps why so many pop songs default to the experience of effervescent love. And why we hear pop songs as romantic love songs, even when they’re not. No matter what the author was thinking about, our minds drift back to the emotions we know best.
(By the way, if you want to feel so old that you immediately crumble to dust, then click this link. It has photos from Amy Grant’s daughter’s wedding. Yes, the baby from ‘Baby, Baby’ is 31 and married.)
Elsewhere in the charts
I really wanted to write about “Baby’s Coming Back” by Jellyfish, which briefly flashed across the lower depths of the Top 100. Sadly, it has completely vanished from the charts. I’ll have to wait another 16 years and then I can write about McFly’s chart-topping cover version.
Color Me Badd slide right into the top ten with ‘I Wanna Sex U Up’, a song I cannot wait to discuss in more detail.
I’d like to talk about the album charts a bit more but Eurthymics’ Greatest Hits has been number one for literally months.