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Torch Song

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"You said you loved me
Or were you just being kind?
Or am I losing my mind?"
Follies, "Losing My Mind"

A torch song is a sad or sentimental ballad about lost or unrequited love: the singer is still "holding a torch" for someone who (they think) doesn't or can't love them back.

The genre is most closely associated with the Great American Songbook era of the 1920s to 1950s, as well as modern country and pop music. It's a common variety of song in musicals.

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Scholar John Moore states that the first torch song was the 1921 pop song "Mon Homme", which became a hit in the US in its translated version, "My Man", which was used in the Zeigfield Follies. note  Tin Pan Alley songwriters created a formula for torch songs, which became popular in underground speakeasy bars and cabaret or vaudeville shows. In Philip Furia's book about Tin Pan Alley, he states that torch songs are "white offshoots of the blues." note 

The Chanteuse is often seen performing one of these. A performer who specializes in these songs is called a "torch singer". The prototypical female torch singer is in a slinky cocktail dress, singing heartbreaking ballads about romantic longing in a smoky nightclub. Of course, there are also male crooners who do torch songs, such as Fred Astaire.

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Piers Ford, from The Art of The Torch Singer blog points out that “[Torch singers have] the ability to tell a story in song, with emotional conviction... [and] hold a room in the palm of their hands.”


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The song Sharon Apple sings to try and seduce Isamu (who she's in love with, despite being an insane AI) at the climax of Macross Plus is actually called "Torch Song" on the soundtrack. The lyrics are in a made-up language (a recurring element in Yoko Kanno's music), but a translation has been provided and it's quite possible it's meant to be an actual (albeit metaphorical) torch song.

    Film 
  • A Star Is Born Judy Garland's Esther shows off her musical chops on "The Man That Got Away".
  • From the 5th The Thin Man movie, Song of the Thin Man. The song "You're Not So Easy to Forget" not only fulfills this trope and is sung by The Chanteuse but also serves as a plot point.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): Lampshaded by Claudia in the fifth episode when she lets Lestat know that she's aware of his dirty secret, which is he's bedding a singer (viewers and Louis himself can easily guess that it's Antoinette).
    Claudia: White girl, down in Algiers, sings torch songs with a flat, no-nothing ass.

    Music 
  • In "Someone Like You" by Adele, the singer wishes to find a new boyfriend with what she liked, and asks her last boyfriend not to forget her.
  • The Amazing Devil has a song called "New York Torch Song" though the style may not fit as well as the title.
  • The 'Love Series' by Confession Executive Committee has "Right Now, I'm in Love -triangle story-" and "Triangle Jealousy", in which the male singer Kotaro laments how his love interest and childhood friend Hina doesn't notice his feelings while she's busy with her own crush on another boy.
  • "White Flag" by Dido is about how the narrator is still in love with their ex even though the relationship is over and there is no hope of reconciliation.
  • "Mover Awayer" by Hobo Johnson is about how Hobo's girlfriend moved away and left him, but he still loves her and wishes he hadn't pushed her away.
  • Much of Lana Del Rey's repertoire consists of these. Notable examples include "Dark Paradise", "Blue Jeans", "Summertime Sadness", and "Young and Beautiful".
  • "Walk Away Renee" by The Left Banke, which was based on a woman dating one of the band's members.
  • Lewis Capaldi has a few of these, including "Headspace", "Bruises", and "Someone You Loved"
  • Lonestar's "Everything's Changed," in which the singer's Old Flame returns to their hometown and he points out all the things that have changed: their old date spots have been replaced by new buildings or just closed completely, the street they grew up on is unrecognizable, and the train she took out of town no longer stops there anymore. He then tells her "everything's changed, except for the way I feel about you."
  • "Drops In The Lake" by Lord Huron. The singer talks about doubting they'll ever fall in love again, after no longer being with the one they love.
  • "Anna" by The Menzingers is about how the narrator's girlfriend is never around and he misses her but will wait for her.
  • "So Sick" by Ne-Yo is about the narrator having trouble getting over feelings for a partner who walked out on them.

    Stand Up Comedy 

    Theatre 
  • "Perpetually Almost" from Finale is a rare male example of this, when Alex sings about his love for Tyler, who is in a relationship with Dylan.
  • "Hopelessly Devoted to You" from Grease is Sandy's Anguished Declaration of Love to Danny (who isn't there), and is followed shortly thereafter by her makeover to something Hotter and Sexier to recapture his attention.
  • "Satisfied" from Hamilton: Angelica sings about how she's in love with Alexander, who is in love with her sister Eliza. She could pursue him if she wanted to, but as the first born to a wealthy man with no sonsnote , she is not allowed to marry below her station, plus she would hate to hurt her sister (who's more free to court a "commoner"), so she figures letting him be with Eliza is the next-best thing since Alexander would still be in her life that way.
  • "On My Own" from Les Misérables is Eponine singing about how she's in love with Marius, while he's in love with Cosette and only views her as a friend.
  • "I'm Not That Girl" is sung twice in Wicked, once when Elphaba has a Love Realization with Fiyero, and then Glinda sings it when Fiyero leaves to be with Elphaba.
  • "With Every Breath I Take" from City of Angels is sung by an in-universe example of The Chanteuse.
  • “I Get A Kick Out of You” is an unusually upbeat example from Anything Goes.

    Western Animation 
  • "Paris Is A Lonely Town" in Gay Purr-ee is a disillusioned Mewsette pining for a lost lover and the Paris she thought she was getting when she moved there.
  • “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2 Jessie reminisces about her time with her original owner, Emily explaining how she loved her until eventually she outgrew her and abandons her to charity, showing that Emily no longer loves her.
  • "It's Over, Isn't It?" from Steven Universe contains Pearl singing about how she loved Rose Quartz, who was in love with Greg Universe, and how she should move on, but can't.
  • In Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, Acacia's song Malaguena is definetly one.
  • Taken literally: In a singalong host segment of The Beatles. Paul asks Ringo to bring out something for a torch song. Ringo comes out dressed as the Statue of Liberty. He lights his paper mache torch and gets...well, torched.
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