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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Behind the ultra-80s pop of "Love Is a Battlefield" is a powerful message on the reality of romance

Why does it feel like so few songs even remotely touch on the theme of working through relationships?

The rules I've set for myself in this Senior Year Soundtrack project are simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

As you may recall, the big catch is that I can't repeat any performers. I added that stipulation to make sure I would branch out in my listening, so that I would force myself to write about various genres, eras, and acts. As someone who enjoys all sorts of music, I tend to find that sort of style-hopping fun.

The issue is that I also often get into short phases and moods where I really want to zone in on a specific sound: one artist, one era, one musical feeling. When those feelings last for a couple days, it takes greater creativity and willpower to channel those feelings into looking at something new.

Right now, for example, I'm still in the throes of my new-Coldplay-album phase. I used those feelings yesterday, when Music of the Spheres was released, to fuel my article on "People of the Pride." Today, when I finally stopped listening to and thinking about the record, I lacked inspiration to write about another song... until I realized what could be gained from connecting the feelings I got from one of the album's songs to a track from another musical era. Combining the 80s feeling from the opening half of Music of the Spheres and the narrative of fighting for love, I landed on Pat Benatar's enduring 1983 hit "Love Is a Battlefield."

(Before I go further, I quickly want to mention how influential this music video is. While it wasn't the first to feature dialogue, it was the first to do so that gained mass recognition, including frequent MTV plays. It's fair to say that it's one of the most impactful music videos of all time as a result.)

"Love Is a Battlefield" is a track that's always stuck with me despite it sounding so much like 80s pop at large. I think three aspects of the song make it stand out in my mind.

Firstly, there's the ever-present bass riff, played by Roger Capps. While I tend to be able to pick out and identify bass lines when I hear them — a skill that both amazes and annoys my roommate thanks to the music blasting from the bar below us — it's rare for me to remember a song first and foremost by its bass line... but that's how I remember "Love Is a Battlefield," even more than the vocal melody that states its title. Capps' line isn't complex or anything; he plays the root note of chords throughout the song, and that's no different in the chorus. I think it comes down to its place in the mix and its syncopation. The bass is above even the guitar in the mix, with only the vocals being more prominent. It's also got a lot of high end in its sound, which makes it carry even more. When it comes to its rhythm, the bass is fairly syncopated, with off-beat attacks that stand in contrast to Pat Benatar steadily singing on the beat throughout the track. I also love how the bass intertwines with Neil Giraldo's guitar, which fills the gaps when Capps isn't playing with similar syncopation.

Secondly is Benatar's vocal delivery, which ranges from calm speaking in the song's opening to a full-bodied, shout-like declaration of "We are strong!" in the chorus. In a song with lyrics as frequently repeated as they are in "Love Is a Battlefield," intrigue from the vocal line needs to come from its non-lyrical aspects. This intrigue is introduced right when Benatar begins her part in the track, in which she echoes a recording of the chorus by speaking the same lines. The introduction stands as the most unique part of the song, and it always feels surreal to me that it works as well as it does. There's something about speaking the lyrics that had just been sung that give them greater weight. Maybe it's because we're hearing them being repeated, or maybe it's because in hearing them being spoken rather than sung, we can really zone in on their meaning. More likely than not, it's a combination of those two ideas.

The aforementioned greater lyrical weight ties into the third and final aspect of "Love Is a Battlefield" that sticks with me: the message its lyrics carry. Western popular music seems to have a lyrical binary when it comes to love and relationships — either it's in full swing and love is great, or there's a falling out and the romance is ending or already over. From its title alone as well as its lyrics, "Love Is a Battlefield" falls in the middle of that supposed binary. Love is a battlefield because it isn't simple or easy. People are complex beings, and two of them caring about each other will inevitably lead to some sort of conflict. Benatar embraces that because, well, she has no choice but to do so as a human. She also sings "We are young," focusing on the collective nature of these innately human feelings, as well as "Heartache to heartache / We stand." The two latter lines hit the song's message as head-on as the title does: even in the best of relationships, there will be difficulties through which partners will have to work, and they'll both feel those tribulations as extra weight upon them. However, they may find comfort in understanding that their lover is feeling similarly.

"Love Is a Battlefield" may not be a lyrically deep song, but the message it yields is one that hits hard and is often overlooked in music and other artistic media. Hardships in love don't necessarily mean fracturing and breaking up; they can often be the products of a healthy relationship in the wake of particular stressors. The battlefield of love is a place where partners can bond as they fight against the various things which trouble them, and if they succeed, their love will only continue to grow.


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