21 Of The Best Pop Ballads Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant

Do you prefer songs that have an emotional story behind them? If so, then you’ll love balladic songs, and with so many artists out there, there is no shortage of these musical pieces that can tug at your hearts.

A ballad can be sad, but some are surprisingly uplifting. We found some of the top ballads from the pop genre throughout time. So whether you’re going through an emotional process like grieving or experiencing love for the first time, there’s a ballad for you.

Keep reading as we take a look at 21 of the best pop ballads of all time and what has made them earn the accolades and love of fans around the world.

1. “All Of Me” By John Legend

One of the greatest pop ballads currently is John Legend‘s “All of Me.” The fact that it’s dedicated to his wife, Chrissy Teigen, makes it even more heartfelt.

The song speaks of the narrator loving his significant other because she is his “end and [his] beginning.” No matter their imperfections, he gives her all of himself the same way she gives all of herself to him.

This song primarily features piano, lending to it a very intimate and personal note. It’s a very emotional track and immediately recognizable.

It topped Billboard Hot 100 in 2014, and on YouTube, the music video currently has 2.2 billion views and counting. “All of You” has also earned Legend several awards, including a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Related: What makes a song a ballad?

2. “When I Was Your Man” By Bruno Mars

Losing somebody, especially one you love, is something many ballads are about, and the 2012 “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars is exactly that. The slow and steady piano instrumentals supporting Mars’s crooning vocals make this song a heart-tugger, and one some guys might relate to.

“When I Was Your Man” sings of the narrator’s regret after he let the love of his life slip through his fingers. He misses her and wishes he had done more to keep her, like a dance with her, bring her flowers, and spend more time with her.

The emotional ballad was one of Mars’s great hits, landing at the top of the Hot 100 in the US and in charts all over the world. Like with many of the singer’s works, it earned him a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Even after a decade after its release, “When I Was Your Man” is still getting lots of streams, over 1.5 billion on Spotify alone, and on YouTube, its video has over 1.2 billion views.

3. “Lose You To Love Me” By Selena Gomez

For a song less than four years old, “Lose You to Love Me,” released by Selena Gomez in 2019, has quickly become another top pop ballad. Like many other songs, it features simple instrumentals, with just a piano and strings.

It debuted at #1 on the Digital Songs chart and sold 36,000 copies within the first week. Gomez’s vocals showcase the emotion of moving on to something better and even finding yourself after heartbreak.

Anyone who’s been in a bad relationship can relate to the message. Fans certainly resonated with it as the song soon topped Billboard‘s Hot 100 list. It also gained Gomez two awards from the 2021 ASCAP Pop Music Awards.

4. “Stuck With U” By Ariana Grande And Justin Bieber

Our next song is one that has been played through the airwaves since 2020. A soft pop ballad with great instrumentation, the triplet feel of “Stuck with U” makes it a good choice for a slow dance.

Ariana Grande starts the song by letting us know she’s no easy girl, yet the guy she’s with has been treating her really well and hasn’t let her down, so she decides to stay.

Justin Bieber joins in midway through the song and echoes her sentiments, wanting to stay with her forever as well. Together, the pop singers provide great harmony to the song.

The Hot 100 chart topper was released during the COVID pandemic lockdowns, and the music video features clips of various people at home with their loved ones. It won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Music Video from Home, among other accolades.

5. “Apologize” By Timbaland Ft. OneRepublic

Heartbreak and regret are common themes in ballads, and “Apologize” by OneRepublic sings of both. Written by Ryan Tedder, the song, featuring Timbaland, was released as a single in 2007, though it is also in OneRepublic’s album Shock Value earlier that year.

In this ballad, the narrator describes how he was towing to the girl he loved, but she let him down and left him. Now, it appears that she regrets leaving and wants to make amends, but he states that “it’s too late to apologize.”

One can’t blame the guy for not wanting to take the chance with her again, and we should all learn not to take for granted something that could be the best thing in our life.

“Apologize” was an international hit. It topped charts in several countries, including some of the US charts, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and many more, letting us know how much the song resonated among fans.

6. “Perfect” By Ed Sheeran

What better ballad to sing about than the perfection of your loved one and your relationship with them? Ed Sheeran certainly tells us in his 2017 song “Perfect.”

From his album ÷ (pronounced Divide), “Perfect” starts with a soft repeating guitar riff, and Sheeran describes how he found the perfect person to love.

As the song goes on, it builds a little with the addition of strings provided by Sheeran’s brother, Matthew, and the singer continues to tell listeners how he feels undeserved of this perfect love but is thankful for it nonetheless.

“Perfect” landed the top spot of Billboard‘s Hot 100 that year and in many other charts across the globe, though this isn’t very surprising since Sheeran has been landing many of his songs on that chart since he started his career in 2004.

7. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” By Fergie

One of Fergie‘s biggest hits as a solo artist is “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The pop ballad about letting go and swallowing the tears despite the pain is from the album The Dutchess, released in 2007.

It starts slow as the narrator explains to her beloved that she has to let go of him to find herself. This builds up to the chorus of her stating that her decision to leave has nothing to do with him. Hurting inside, she tries not to cry because, as the title says, “Big girls don’t cry.”

An instant hit of the 2000s, the song took the world by storm, gaining the top spot on charts in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the UK, the US, and many more countries. The track also received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

8. “My Heart Will Go On” By Celine Dion

Written for the 1997 movie Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On” is one of the most recognizable pop ballads of all time, especially with Celine Dion‘s amazing vocals telling the story of endless love.

As you can surmise from the title, the narrator sings of how no distance or time can change how she feels about her beloved. For her, her “heart will go on,” loving him for a lifetime or until they’re gone.

The legendary singer has always been able to release top hits, and “My Heart Will Go On” is one of them. The song topped the charts of over 25 countries and won 11 awards, among many more accolades. If an epic ballad is what you’re looking for, this one is surely it.

9. “I Will Always Love You” By Whitney Houston

Who didn’t get goosebumps listening to Whitney Houston‘s voice in “I Will Always Love You”? The pop ballad for the film Bodyguard in which the singer also stars, transcends time with its beautiful message.

Starting with an a capella, Whitney slowly builds up the song to showcase the emotion of loving someone forever. The finale, with its change of key and the singer’s soaring line, captures the heart and encompasses listeners in the love the song conveys.

“I Will Always Love You” was originally performed by Dolly Parton, which was also a country hit. When Whitney’s rendition won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, it was Parton who presented to Whitney the award.

10. “If I Were A Boy” By Beyoncé

The pop ballads of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Beyoncé have elements of R&B, and “If I Were a Boy” is a perfect example. As the name suggests, she sings about what relationships would be like if she were a boy instead of a girl.

For the narrator, if she were a boy, she would treat her girl the way she would want to be treated as a female. She’d understand her, listen to her, and “be a better man.”

The song is a bit more upbeat than some of the ballads on this list and feels empowering. Any woman who wished she was treated better by her man may relate to the message and lyrics of the song.

Like many of her songs, Beyoncé hit it big with “If I Were a Boy,” which landed on #3 on the Hot 100 and topped several charts around the world, including the UK, Australia, and Netherlands.

11. “Someone Like You” By Adele

Many fans will recognize Adele’s “Someone Like You” just from the piano opening. The gentle ballad is from the English singer-songwriter’s 2011 album 21.

The song details how the narrator has come to terms with how her past love has moved on. He has settled down, found a girl, and is now married, while for her, “it isn’t over.”

Listeners can feel her pain and determination in the line “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you,” as though she, too, has decided it’s time for her to move on. And so she wishes the best for him.

Like many songs on this list, “Someone Like You” was a chart-topper in many countries, including the UK and US. It also gained Adele several awards, including a Best Pop Solo Performance Grammy.

12. “See You Again” By Wiz Khalifa Ft. Charlie Puth

Who would have thought that pop-rap can be a great ballad? If you’re not sure, listen to “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa. Featuring Charlie Puth, the song was created for the Furious 7 movie soundtrack.

The song reminisces the narrator’s journey with a friend. They’ve come a long way and have been through a lot. Throughout the song; you can tell their friendship is strong. It also implies that the friend is not around with the line “I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”

The music video features clips of the late actor Paul Walker, who starred as Brian O’Conner in the film, and this song commemorates his passing, which makes it even more poignant.

“See You Again” became a worldwide hit, reaching the top spot in charts of countries all over, not just Billboard‘s Hot 100. It was also the recipient of the Hollywood Song Award at the Hollywood Film Awards and was nominated for three Grammys.

13. “Wrecking Ball” By Miley Cyrus

From the 2013 album Bangerz, “Wrecking Ball” is pop singer Miley Cyrus’s ballad about the highs of falling in love and the crash of a broken heart.

The song sounds a bit perky initially before getting into the more emotional chorus that describes the narrator’s relationship, which is likened to a wrecking ball. It came in hard and fast but left in its wake turmoil, and now the relationship is falling apart.

Winner of the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year, “Wrecking Ball” has over 1.1 billion YouTube views. On Spotify, users have streamed the track more than 700 million times.

14. “Careless Whisper” By George Michael

From contemporary pop ballads, let’s travel back in time to the oldies that made the world fall in love with their songs. One is George Michael‘s “Careless Whisper,” which was released in 1984 in his album Make It Big.

The very recognizable sax intro of the song serves to lull listeners and pull them into the song before Michael croons about his guilt for going after another girl while still being with the one he’s currently dancing with.

The now multi-Platinum hit was a chart-topper when it debuted. Not only did it land at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but it also topped the charts of almost 25 other countries.

15. “Take My Breath Away” By Berlin

Anybody who has seen the film Top Gun might be familiar with this synthpop ballad by the new wave band Berlin. Released in 1986, it perfectly captures how one might feel when looking at their beloved.

The slow tempo is the perfect background music to get you in the mood to hold your partner close to your heart and just dance in each other’s arms. Then maybe at the end, you can tell them how they also take your breath away.

Not only was the song an international hit, it also won several awards, including Best Original Song from both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards.

16. “(They Long To Be) Close To You” By The Carpenters

Our next song was originally performed by Richard Chamberlain in 1963, but the Carpenters‘ version of “(They Long to Be) Close to You” in 1970 is the most well-known and critically successful.

The song details the wonder of the narrator why birds appear, stars fall down, angels get together, and girls follow whenever the man she loves appears. She concludes that it’s because, like her, “they long to be close to [him].”

The catchy ballad hit the top rank of charts in six countries, including US and Australia. It also earned the Carpenters their first Grammy (for Best Contemporary Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus) the following year

17. “Can’t Smile Without You” By Barry Manilow

Singer-songwriter Barry Manilow released many pop ballads during the peak of his career, and “Can’t Smile Without You” is one of them. From his 1978 album Even Now, the song took the first, second, and third spot on the Adult Contemporary, Cash Box Top 100, and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

The soft whistling at the beginning of the song slowly builds up in intensity. The lyrics tell us how the narrator feels without his beloved. He can’t smile, laugh, sing, or do much of anything, because only if she is, there can he be happy.

This timeless classic is a favorite of fans, especially those who resonate with the message. It has also been covered by artists like the Carpenters and Engelbert Humperdinck.

18. “Unchained Melody” By The Righteous Brothers

Originally recorded by Todd Duncan in 1955, “Unchained Melody” is another ballad that has been covered by numerous artists over the years. The most well-known version is by the Righteous Brothers in 1965.

The first release landed the song at #4 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, but it made a comeback in 1990 after being featured in the romantic thriller movie Ghost and earned the brothers a Grammy nod.

The lyrics to the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is beautiful and express the narrator’s need for their darling’s love. With a slow tempo, it’s the perfect song to dance to in your partner’s arms and maybe tell him or her how much you need their love.

19. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” By The Righteous Brothers

Next up is another pop ballad by the Righteous Brothers; however, where “Unchained Melody” is about wanting love, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” is, as you might have guessed, about losing it.

Similar to their song above, this one also starts off slow, building the background of what the narrator is thinking. He’s expressing the things his beloved is doing that’s signaling to him their relationship is on rocky ground.

Released in 1964, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” is longer than most songs recorded during the 1960s, at three minutes and forty-five seconds. The producer, Phil Spector, was worried it wouldn’t get radio airplay because of this; however, the song landed first on the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles charts.

20. “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” By Paul Anka

Most people probably know the gentle orchestra and vocal doo-wop intro of “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” This well-known pop ballad has lasted decades. It was recorded in 1958 and released a year later.

In the song, Paul Anka‘s smooth voice croons lovers into his arms. The gentle tempo and the soothing doo-wop in the background help lull listeners to do what he says and “put your head on [his] shoulder.”

The song was a hit for the Canadian singer as it took the second spot on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Through the years, many international music artists, like Enrique Guzmán and Robby Rosa, have recorded their own versions.

21. “Love Me Tender” By Elvis Presley

What better iconic ballad to end this list than one from Elvis Presley? Released in 1956, “Love Me Tender” is a sweet and gentle request of the narrator to be loved by his darling because he loves her too.

Like many of Presley’s songs, “Love Me Tender” was a smash hit, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s so famous the number of artists who covered the song is over a hundred. The song has also been featured in numerous films, like Die Hard 2 and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.

Summing Up Our List Of Great Pop Ballads

As you have read, there are a number of amazing pop ballads in existence. Some are of heartache; others are of friendships, and even more about love. Whatever the theme, each of them is a great story and messages imparted to listeners.

Whether you’re particular to the older ballads or more contemporary ones, there is something for everyone on this list. We hope you’ve enjoyed being with us on our journey of discovering pop ballads that have lasted—and will continue to last—many years.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.