Because love songs were considered dangerous and marginal, creators and singers of love songs have consistently come from marginal groups. In particular, Gioia says, women have often been the originators of love song traditions, which have then been codified and transmitted by men. Sappho is now thought of as a poet, but she was in fact a “singer-songwriter” whose work was accompanied by a lyre. Most of Sappho’s lyrics have been lost, which Gioia suggests may have been in part a result of intentional erasure by those uncomfortable with her portrayal of personal emotion. Among with many other examples, Gioia points also to the Medieval Islamic zajal, in which men often took the voice, or lyrical position of women—a quirk that the author connects to textual evidence of a pre-existing, largely unrecorded tradition of women singers.

Love songs were linked to other marginalized groups as well. Singing and music-making has long been a part of the job for many prostitutes and sex workers: The English folk song “Greensleeves” is supposed to have “gained popularity as a melody used to solicit clients,” Gioia writes, “and the title possibly alludes to the grass stains on the attire of women who had sex with customers outdoors.” Slaves (female and male) have also been great singers of love songs, whether in ancient Roman times, in medieval Egypt, or in the American South. Gioia goes so far as to suggest that the courtly love tradition of the lover enslaved, or subservient, to his feelings of affection has its roots in the association of love songs with servitude. “[L]overs humbly serve the beloved in our romantic music because the originators of these kinds of song were literally slaves and servants.”