Bops Only: It's Valentine's Day and Love Isn't Dead

Bops Only: It's Valentine's Day and Love Isn't Dead

For this week's edition of Bops Only, we're taking a look at love on the day of capitalistic romance! How do we make sense of love in a time when hatred and oppression gains more traction daily? Who do we look to for light and healing when darkness feels closer than ever? How about just a plain old good time?

I know these are big platitudes, so... here's another: If you're in any way a "hopeless romantic" like yours truly, love is something the world needs now more than ever. And marginalized communities navigating daily traumas of systemic oppression arguably require more than those who don't.

This rings true for New York artist Kia LaBeija, whose work in performance and visual art primarily centers people of color, as well as queer and trans communities. Her intimate self-portraits (as seen in critically acclaimed series like "24") explore a nuanced relationship to self.

"I think the majority of us believe we are not worthy of love," LaBeija tells PAPER. "We are scared that somehow we will be unable to give it, and therefore incapable of receiving it — that someone will find out who we truly are: an imposter. They will expose us to ourselves. I feel this on a daily bases. This constant tug of war with the idea that somehow you must be deserving of such happiness, and that the opponent of love is great loneliness."

She continues, “But the fact is this: I know love. I experience it everyday. The more you nurture it, the bigger it grows. Love is iridescent. It is worthy of us."

Below, a range of 15 love songs from late last year to now (including some out today!). All selected capture love's iridescence — from casual NSA fun to undying devotion, with some words from the artists who create them.

Kim Petras turns in a stunning vocal as usual for this club-ready breakup cut, which finds the singer cutting off her friends that remind her of an ex. Some of us may not get flowers for Valentine's Day, but at least Petras stands in solidarity with all the lonely hearts who find their way to the dance floor.

Sega Bodega's debut album Salvador is out now, and the London musician is "Raising Hell" about it. This track, featuring warbled vocals and menacing beats, is a brutally honest song that establishes boundaries between friends (maybe?): "I will never love you/ I will never fuck you."

Brooke Candy's naughty Sexorcism opener "Nymph" praises the youthful sex fiend in all of us amid taut beats and vocal distortions. But that untamed sexuality and the person it belongs to need love and appreciation, too. As Candy says, "Love is a positive affirmation, compassion, forgiveness and the ability to see beyond the physical. Love is the vision of a safe future."

Tinashe'sSongs For You standout "Save Room For Us" gets a (very gay, very fun) club remix today. We love to see it. Basically, the song's intimate roots have expanded, so that "us" isn't just a closed-door affair for two, but... whoever the proverbial room can hold space for.

On "The Feeling," rising pop star VINCINT is trying to be okay on his own, but he can't let go of a former flame. It's a familiar, yet complex feeling — the kind that twists your stomach into knots of anxiety. VINCINT powers through the discomfort with soaring vocals, but even he acknowledges that though love can be complicated, "having a partner who understands makes the complicated easy, and the simple joyous."

The thesis of Yola's triumphant "It Ain't Easier," is crystal clear: maintaining love for self and others is hard work, but its benefits far outweigh any struggle to attain it. Hear the emotion in Yola's voice over a stirring gospel-tinged arrangement to know how just real and true that is for her. "Sometimes people you meet make it so damn easy to love them and to dote on them, you wonder what the fuck is wrong with everyone else," Yola says. "I've met some utterly joyful people who it is way too easy to love — that make me feel that I don't have to diminish myself or alter the way I communicate dramatically. I don't fear I'm too little or too much. The upside is the simple sensation of acceptance and truly being understood. As a minority, that can have extra value. Recognizing love helps guide my choices in work and in life and has helped me both flourish past anything I could've achieved without this knowledge — that's a big deal."

In "Rings a Bell," Allie X is deliriously under the spell of a lover, to the point that it gives her a type of deja vu. Has she been here before? Love's cyclical nature is certainly disorienting. But Allie's lived long enough to know that infatuation can't help one love themselves better. "I was never able to do this when I was purely infatuated," she says. "If anything, I became someone I didn't really even know myself. Maybe that was part of the appeal."

Chicago-bred artist Tink is a Hopeless Romantic who is ready for action on "Cum Get It." Booming beats and her velvety vocals give this sultry track its wings.

This Cardigans cover by Whoa Dakota, which revitalizes the original with airy synthesizers built atop a lush groove, will have you swooning.

New York quintet Phony Ppl team with Megan Thee Stallion for a soulful track about the joys of being blissfully commitment-free.

Newcomer WENS wants to be the "Beauty Queen" to an unattainable lover. Sad it won't work out, she's left to pick up the pieces, her smoky vocals carrying her title to her next great love affair.

IV Jay's "Love Song," backed by spare hip-hop beats and bolstered by her confident delivery, is all about waiting it out. "I'll know it when I find it," she sings of the elusive love she's after. And she will.

Snoh Aalegra teams with Pharrell for a revamp of her lovestruck single "Whoa," and he settles right into the blissful atmosphere she's created — a match made in heaven.

Joey LaBeija's "dial up affection" is an ode to instant love, whether it's an online quickie or an old-fashioned booty call. Harsh industrial beats that sound like a twisted version of TLC's Fanmail outtakes take this song about loneliness and disconnect far into the future.

Tame Impala's constantly morphing brand of psychedelic rock smooths out on The Slow Rush, the band's new album out now. To that end, "Breathe Deeper" is an ecstatic, well-produced exhale, as Kevin Parker assures, "If you need someone to tell you that you're special, I can."

We'll be back with a regular Bops Only next week. Until then, stream the PAPER V-Day playlist below. Enjoy, lovers!

Photography: Thom Kerr