Here’s the thing about first dance songs—it can be pretty hard to find that “perfect” tune to start your reception off right. Turns out there are a lot of songs that sound romantic—great title, slow tempo, beautiful singing, swelling violins, etc.—but if you really, really listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize that it’s totally not appropriate for a wedding. A lot of songs you might think are ideal first dance songs are actually about breakups, cheating, even death. Bottom line, be sure to actually listen to any contenders before picking the winner.
And please, please, please do not choose any of these first dance songs.
“Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor
Sure, the title of this classic might make you think it’s appropriate for a wedding, but it’s far from it. This song is actually about a really devastating breakup. Depressing lyrics include “It’s been so lonely without you here/Like a bird without a song.” First dance songs should feature lyrics that are generally more upbeat and romantic and these are the opposite.
Instead try: “Dreams Are More Precious” by Enya
“My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion
We don’t care how many times you saw Titanic, but any song about a loved one perishing in a ship crash has no place at a wedding. Seriously, this song should not be played at any point during your big day – not during the processional, not during the reception, never. Your guests should focus on you and your partner’s happy love story, not the image of Leo barely hanging on to that piece of wood.
Instead try: “The Power of Love” by Celine Dion
“Keep on Loving You” by REO Speedwagon
Even if you listen to the chorus of this song, “And I’m gonna keep on lovin’ you/Cause it’s the only thing I want to do,” you might think it’s an ideal first dance song. But listen closely to the opening lines: “You played dead, but you never bled/Instead you laid still in the grass all coiled up and hissin’” This power ballad is really all about a woman cheating on her husband—certainly a less than ideal way to kick off your reception.
Instead try: “Open Arms” by Journey
“If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul
“So for my personal point of view/Get an ugly girl to marry you” should be reason enough to avoid this song at all costs. Even if you’re planning on playing it as a joke it’s still quite insulting, and some people will probably take offense. Just stay far, far away from this song at your wedding.
Instead try: “Grow Old with You” by Adam Sandler
“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Originally performed by Dolly Parton, the Whitney Houston version of this song gained popularity in the 1990s because of the uber-romantic film The Bodyguard. The tune does have quite a few romantic lyrics, but it’s actually the ultimate breakup song. Listen closely and you’ll hear lyrics like, “We both know I’m not what you…need.” So yeah, maybe best to skip this one as your first dance song.
Instead try: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston (hey, it worked for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle!)
“Marry Me” by Thomas Rhett
With a title like “Marry Me,” this country tune has to be wedding-appropriate, right? Wrong. This song actually tells quite a sad story of lost love. “Yeah, she wanna get married/But she don’t wanna marry me.” Lyrics like that don’t really have a place at a wedding reception.
Instead try: “Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett
“How Do I Live” by LeAnn Rimes
A woman begging her partner not to leave her is not an ideal way to start your wedding reception. Sure, “You are my world, my heart, my soul” is a sweet lyric, but the song’s message is one of an imminent breakup or loss, not a happy ending. This song was popular at weddings in the 90s, but it’s really kind of a downer.
Instead try: “You’re Still the One” by Shania Twain
“I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men
There’s a line between songs that are romantic and songs that are just too romantic. It’s best to avoid tunes with graphic lyrics that might cause Great Aunt Sophie to blush. Instead, choose a song with lyrics that are a little less, er, intimate.
Instead try: “All My Life” by K-Ci & JoJo
“Need You Now” by Lady A
If you really listen to the lyrics of this country tune, you’ll soon realize that it’s kind of about a drunken late-night phone call—probably not the best theme for your first dance.
Instead try: “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding
“Stay with Me” by Sam Smith
We’ve actually seen this song on a few lists of the best first dance songs, but we’re not quite sure why. While Sam Smith’s vocals are absolutely amazing and the music feels super-romantic, the lyrics are definitely not wedding appropriate with talks of a one-night stand. Trust us, you don’t want the words “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see” anywhere near your wedding reception.
Instead try: “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran