- Courtney Michelle Harrison
July 09, 1964 (age 56)
- James Moreland (m. 1989; annulled 1989) Kurt Cobain (m. 1992; died 1994)
Courtney Michelle Love (née Harrison; born July 9, 1964) is an American singer, songwriter and actress. A figure in the punk and grunge scenes of the 1990s, Love's career has spanned four decades. She rose to prominence as the lead vocalist of the alternative rock band Hole, which she formed in 1989. Love has drawn public attention for her uninhibited live performances and confrontational lyrics, as well as her highly publicized personal life following her marriage to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
Born to countercultural parents in San Francisco, Love had an itinerant childhood, but was primarily raised in Portland, Oregon, where she played in a series of short-lived bands and was active in the local punk scene. After being interned in a juvenile hall, she spent a year abroad living in Dublin and Liverpool before returning to the United States and being cast in the Alex Cox films Sid and Nancy (1986) and Straight to Hell (1987). She formed Hole in Los Angeles, receiving attention from underground rock press for the group's 1991 debut album, produced by Kim Gordon. Hole's second release, Live Through This (1994), was met with critical accolades and multi-platinum sales. In 1995, Love returned to acting, earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance as Althea Leasure in Miloš Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), which established her as a mainstream actress. The following year, Hole's third album, Celebrity Skin (1998), was nominated for three Grammy Awards.
Love continued to work as an actress into the early 2000s, appearing in big-budget pictures such as Man on the Moon (1999) and Trapped (2002), before releasing her first solo album, America's Sweetheart, in 2004. The next years were marked by publicity surrounding Love's legal troubles and drug addiction, which resulted in a mandatory lockdown rehabilitation sentence in 2005 while she was writing a second solo album. That project became Nobody's Daughter, released in 2010 as a Hole album but without the former Hole lineup. Between 2014 and 2015, Love released two solo singles and returned to acting in the network series Sons of Anarchy and Empire.
Love has also been active as a writer; she co-created and co-wrote three volumes of a manga, Princess Ai, between 2004 and 2006, and wrote a memoir, Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love (2006).
1964–1981: Childhood and education
Courtney Michelle Harrison was born on July 9, 1964, at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, California, the first child of psychotherapist Linda Carroll (née Risi) and Hank Harrison, a publisher and road manager for the Grateful Dead. Love's godfather is the founding Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. Her mother, who was adopted at birth and raised by a prominent Italian-Catholic family in San Francisco, was later revealed to be the biological daughter of novelist Paula Fox; Love's maternal great-grandmother was screenwriter Elsie Fox. According to Love, she was named after Courtney Farrell, the protagonist of Pamela Moore's 1956 novel Chocolates for Breakfast. She is of Cuban, English, German, Irish, and Welsh descent.
Love spent her early years in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco until her parents' 1969 divorce, spurred by her mother's allegations that her father had fed Courtney LSD when she was a toddler. Though he denied the claim, full custody of Love was awarded to her mother. In 1970, Carroll relocated with Love to the rural community of Marcola, Oregon where they lived along the Mohawk River while she completed her psychology degree at the University of Oregon. There, Love was adopted by her then-stepfather, Frank Rodriguez. He and her mother had two daughters and a son who died in infancy of a heart defect when Love was ten; they also adopted a boy. Love attended a Montessori school in Eugene, where she struggled academically and had trouble making friends. At age nine, a psychologist noted that she exhibited signs of autism.
In 1972, Love's mother divorced Rodriguez, remarried, and moved the family to Nelson, New Zealand. There, she enrolled Love at Nelson College for Girls, from which she was soon expelled. In 1973, she was sent back to live in the United States, where she was raised in Portland, Oregon by her former stepfather and other family friends. During this time, her mother gave birth to two of Love's other half-brothers. At age fourteen, she was arrested for shoplifting a T-shirt from a Woolworth's, and was sent to Hillcrest Correctional Facility, a juvenile hall in Salem, Oregon. She was subsequently placed in foster care until she became legally emancipated at age 16. She supported herself by working illegally as a topless dancer at Mary's Club in downtown Portland adopting the last name "Love" to conceal her identity; she later adopted "Love" as her surname. She also worked various odd jobs, including picking berries at a farm in Troutdale, Oregon, and as a disc jockey at a gay disco. During this time, she enrolled at Portland State University, studying English and philosophy. Love has said that she "didn't have a lot of social skills," and that she learned them while frequenting gay clubs and spending time with drag queens.
In 1981, she was granted a small trust fund that had been left by her adoptive grandparents, which she used to travel to Dublin, Ireland, where her biological father was living. While there, she enrolled in courses at Trinity College, studying theology for two semesters. She would later receive honorary patronage from Trinity's University Philosophical Society in 2010. After leaving Trinity, Love relocated to Liverpool, where she became acquainted with musician Julian Cope and his band, The Teardrop Explodes, and briefly lived in his house. "They kind of took me in", she recalled. "I was sort of a mascot; I would get them coffee or tea during rehearsal." In Cope's autobiography Head-On, Love is referred to as "the adolescent." After spending a year abroad, Love returned to Portland: "I thought that [going to the United Kingdom] was my peak life experience," she said in 2011. "—that nothing else [would] happen to me again." In 1983, she took short-lived jobs working as an erotic dancer in Japan and later Taiwan, but was deported after the club was shut down by the government.
1982–1987: Early music projects and film
Love began several music projects in the 1980s, first forming Sugar Babylon (later Sugar Babydoll)[b] in Portland with her friends Ursula Wehr and Robin Barbur. In 1982, Love attended a Faith No More concert in San Francisco and convinced the members to let her join as a singer. The group recorded material with Love as a vocalist, but she was subsequently kicked out of the band. According to the Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum, who remained Love's friend in the years after, the band wanted a "male energy."
She later formed the Pagan Babies with friend Kat Bjelland, whom she met at the Satyricon club in Portland in 1984. As Love later reflected, "The best thing that ever happened to me in a way, was Kat." Love asked Bjelland to start a band with her as a guitarist, and the two moved to San Francisco in June 1985, where they recruited bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Janis Tanaka. According to Bjelland, "[Courtney] didn't play an instrument at the time" aside from keyboards, so Bjelland would transcribe Love's musical ideas on guitar for her. The group played several house shows and recorded one 4-track demo before disbanding in late 1985. After Pagan Babies, Love moved to Minneapolis, where Bjelland had formed the group Babes in Toyland, and briefly worked as a concert promoter before returning to California. Drummer Lori Barbero and bassist Maureen Herman recalled Courtney's departure 'She lived in my house for a little while. And then we did a concert at the Orpheum. It was in 1988. It was called O-88 with Butthole Surfers, Cows & Bastards, Run Westy Run, and Babes in Toyland. And I guess Maureen took Courtney to the airport after she stole all the money'. 'She stayed and stayed, and then the next day she wanted me to take her to the airport. And so I drove her to the airport. She had just had some weird fight with the guy at the desk, and then she left. She said, “I’m going to go to L.A. and I’m going to get my face done and I’m going to be famous.' - 'And then she did'
Deciding to shift her focus to acting, Love enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute and studied film under experimental director George Kuchar. Love featured in one of his short films, titled Club Vatican. In 1985 she submitted an audition tape for the role of Nancy Spungen in the Sid Vicious biopic Sid and Nancy (1986), and was given a minor supporting role by director Alex Cox. After filming Sid and Nancy in New York City, she worked at a peep show in Times Square and squatted at the ABC No Rio social center and Pyramid Club in the East Village. The same year, Cox cast her in a leading role in his film Straight to Hell (1987), a spaghetti western starring Joe Strummer and Grace Jones filmed in Spain in 1986. The film caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who featured Love in an episode of Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes. She also had a part in the 1988 Ramones music video for "I Wanna Be Sedated," appearing as a bride among dozens of party guests.
In 1988, Love aborted her acting career and left New York, returning to the West Coast, citing the "celebutante" fame she'd attained as the central reason. She returned to stripping in the small town of McMinnville, Oregon, where she was recognized by customers at the bar. This prompted Love to go into isolation, so she relocated to Anchorage, Alaska, where she lived for three months to "gather her thoughts," supporting herself by working at a strip club frequented by local fishermen. "I decided to move to Alaska because I needed to get my shit together and learn how to work", she said in retrospect. "So I went on this sort of vision quest. I got rid of all my earthly possessions. I had my bad little strip clothes and some big sweaters, and I moved into a trailer with a bunch of other strippers."
1988–1991: Beginnings of Hole
At the end of 1988, Love taught herself to play guitar and relocated to Los Angeles,[ where she placed an ad in a local music zine: "I want to start a band. My influences are Big Black, Sonic Youth, and Fleetwood Mac." Love recruited lead guitarist Eric Erlandson; Lisa Roberts, her neighbor, as bassist; and drummer Caroline Rue, whom she met at a Gwar concert. Love named the band Hole after a line from Euripides' Medea ("There is a hole that pierces right through me") as well as a conversation she had had with her mother, in which she told her that she couldn't live her life "with a hole running through her." Just prior to forming Hole, Love married James Moreland (vocalist of The Leaving Trains) in Las Vegas, a marriage she later said was "a joke," ending in an annulment filed by Love several months later. After forming Hole, she and bandmate Eric Erlandson had a romantic relationship that lasted over a year.
Love continued to work at strip clubs in Hollywood (including Jumbo's Clown Room and the Seventh Veil) in the band's formative stages, saving money to purchase backline equipment and a touring van, and rehearsed at a studio in Hollywood that was loaned to her by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hole played their first show in November 1989 at Raji's, a rock club in central Hollywood. The band's debut single, "Retard Girl", was issued in April 1990 through the Long Beach indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry, and was given airtime by Rodney Bingenheimer's show on local rock station KROQ. That fall, the band appeared on the cover of Flipside, a Los Angeles-based punk fanzine. In early 1991, the band released their second single, "Dicknail", through Sub Pop Records.
With no wave, noise rock and grindcore bands being major influences on Love, Hole's first studio album, Pretty on the Inside, captured a particularly abrasive sound and contained disturbing, graphic lyrics, described by Q magazine as "confrontational [and] genuinely uninhibited." The record was released in September 1991 on Caroline Records, produced by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth with assistant production from Gumball's Don Fleming; Love and Gordon had initially met when Hole opened for Sonic Youth during their promotional tour for Goo at the Whisky a Go Go in November 1990. In early 1991, Love sent Gordon a personal letter asking her to produce the record for the band, to which she agreed.
Though Love would later say it was "unlistenable" and "[un]melodic," the album received generally positive critical reception from indie and punk rock critics and was labeled one of the twenty best albums of the year by Spin magazine. It also gained a following in the United Kingdom, charting at 59 on the UK Albums Chart, and its lead single, "Teenage Whore", entered the country's indie chart at number one. The underlying feminist slant of some of the album's songs led many to mistakenly tag the band as being part of the riot grrrl movement, a movement that Love did not associate with. The band toured in support of the record, headlining with Mudhoney in Europe; in the United States, they opened for the Smashing Pumpkins, and performed at CBGB in New York City.
During this tour, Love briefly dated Billy Corgan of the rock band The Smashing Pumpkins before formally dating Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. It is uncertain when they first met, and there are varying accounts of how they came to know one another.[c] Journalist Michael Azerrad states that the two met in 1989 at the Satyricon nightclub in Portland, Oregon, though Cobain biographer Charles Cross has claimed the date was actually February 12, 1990, and that Cobain playfully wrestled Love to the floor after she commented to him in passing that he looked like Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. According to Love, she first met him at a Dharma Bums show in Portland, while Love's bandmate Eric Erlandson stated that both he and Love were formally introduced to Cobain in a parking lot after a Butthole Surfers L7 concert at the Hollywood Palladium on May 17, 1991. Sometime in late 1991, Love and Cobain became re-acquainted through Jennifer Finch, one of Love's longtime friends and former bandmates. and were officially a couple by the close of 1991.
1992–1995: Live Through This and breakthrough
Shortly after completing the tour for Pretty on the Inside, Love married Cobain on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 24, 1992. She wore a satin and lace dress once owned by actress Frances Farmer, and Cobain wore plaid pajamas. During Love's pregnancy, Hole recorded a cover of "Over the Edge" for a Wipers tribute album, and recorded their fourth single, "Beautiful Son", which was released in April 1993. On August 18 of that year, the couple's only child, a daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was born in Los Angeles. The couple subsequently relocated to Carnation, Washington and then to Seattle.
Love's first major media exposure came in a September 1992 profile of herself and Cobain for Vanity Fair by journalist Lynn Hirschberg, entitled "Strange Love." After being asked to participate in a cover story for the magazine, Love was urged by her manager to accept the request. In the year prior, Love and Cobain had developed a heroin addiction, and the profile painted the couple in an unflattering light and suggested that Love had been addicted to heroin during her pregnancy. The article ultimately resulted in the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services investigating, and custody of Love and Cobain's newborn daughter, Frances, was temporarily awarded to Love's sister, Jaimee. Love claimed she was misquoted by Hirschberg, and asserted that she had immediately quit using heroin during her first trimester after she discovered she was pregnant. Love would later claim that the publication of the article had serious implications for her marriage as well as Cobain's mental state, suggesting it was a factor in his suicide.
On September 8, 1993, Love and Cobain made their only public performance together at the Rock Against Rape benefit in Hollywood, performing two acoustic duets of "Pennyroyal Tea" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." Love also performed electric versions of two new Hole songs, "Doll Parts" and "Miss World," both written for the band's upcoming second album. In October 1993, Hole recorded their second album, Live Through This, in Atlanta. The album featured a new lineup with bassist Kristen Pfaff and drummer Patty Schemel. Live Through This was released on Geffen's subsidiary label DGC in April 1994, four days after Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in their Seattle home while Love was in rehab in Los Angeles. In the following months, Love was rarely seen in public, holing up in her Seattle home with friends and family members. After the cremation of Cobain's remains, Love divided portions of his ashes, keeping some in a teddy bear and some in an urn. In June 1994, she traveled to the Namgyal Buddhist Monastery in Ithaca, New York, where she had his ashes ceremonially blessed by Buddhist monks, and a portion were mixed into clay which was made into memorial sculptures. On June 16, 1994, Hole's bassist Kristen Pfaff died of a heroin overdose in Seattle. For the band's impending tour, Love recruited Canadian bassist Melissa Auf der Maur.
Live Through This was a commercial and critical success, hitting platinum RIAA certification in April 1995 and receiving numerous critical accolades. The success of the record combined with Cobain's suicide resulted in a high level of publicity for Love, and she was featured on Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People in 1995. Simultaneously, her erratic onstage behavior and various legal troubles during Hole's 1994–1995 world tour compounded the media coverage of her.
Hole's performance on August 26, 1994 at the Reading Festival— Love's first public performance following Cobain's death—was described by MTV as "by turns macabre, frightening and inspirational." John Peel wrote in The Guardian that Love's disheveled appearance "would have drawn whistles of astonishment in Bedlam", and that her performance "verged on the heroic ... Love steered her band through a set which dared you to pity either her recent history or that of the band ... the band teetered on the edge of chaos, generating a tension which I cannot remember having felt before from any stage." The band performed a series of riotous concerts over the following year, with Love frequently appearing hysterical onstage, flashing crowds, stage diving, and getting into fights with audience members. One journalist reported that at the band's show in Boston in December 1994, "Love interrupted the music and talked about her deceased husband Kurt Cobain, and also broke out into Tourette syndrome-like rants. The music was great, but the raving was vulgar and offensive, and prompted some of the audience to shout back at her."
The tour was also marked by a series of legal troubles for Love: In January 1995, she was arrested in Melbourne for disrupting a Qantas Airways flight after getting into an argument with a stewardess. On July 4, 1995, at the Lollapalooza Festival in George, Washington, Love threw a lit cigarette at musician Kathleen Hanna before punching her in the face, alleging that Hanna had made a joke about her daughter. She pleaded guilty to an assault charge and was sentenced to anger management classes. In November 1995, two male teenagers attempted to sue Love for allegedly punching them during a Hole concert they attended in Orlando, Florida in March 1995. The judge ultimately dismissed the case on grounds that the teens "weren't exposed to any greater amount of violence than could reasonably be expected at an alternative rock concert." Love would later say that she retained little memory of 1994–1995, blaming the fact that she had been using large quantities of heroin and Rohypnol at the time.
1996–2002: Acting success and Celebrity Skin
After Hole's world tour concluded in 1996, Love made a return to acting, first in small roles in the Jean-Michel Basquiat biopic Basquiat and the drama Feeling Minnesota (1996), before landing the co-starring role of Larry Flynt's wife Althea in Miloš Forman's critically acclaimed 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt. In order to appear in the film, Love went through rehabilitation and quit using heroin at the insistence of Forman; she was ordered to take multiple urine tests under the supervision of Columbia Pictures while filming the movie, and passed all of them. Despite Columbia Pictures' initial reluctance to hire Love due to her troubled past, she received critical acclaim for her performance in the film after its release in December 1996, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress. Critic Roger Ebert called her work in the film "quite a performance; Love proves she is not a rock star pretending to act, but a true actress." She won several other awards from various film critic associations for the film. During this time, Love maintained what the media noted as a more decorous public image, and she appeared in ad campaigns for Versace and in a Vogue Italia spread. Following the release of The People vs. Larry Flynt, she dated her co-star Edward Norton, with whom she remained until 1999.
In late 1997, Hole released a compilation album and extended play, both of which featured previously-recorded material. Love subsequently attracted media attention in May 1998 after punching journalist Belissa Cohen in the face at a party; the suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. In September 1998, Hole released their third studio album, Celebrity Skin, which featured a stark power pop sound that contrasted with the group's earlier punk influences. Love divulged her ambition of making an album where "art meets commerce ... there are no compromises made, it has commercial appeal, and it sticks to [our] original vision." She said she was influenced by Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, and My Bloody Valentine when writing the album. Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan co-wrote several songs on the album. Celebrity Skin was well received by critics; Rolling Stone called it "accessible, fiery and intimate—often at the same time ... a basic guitar record that's anything but basic". Celebrity Skin went multi-platinum, and topped "Best of Year" lists at Spin and The Village Voice. The album garnered the band their only No. 1 hit single on the Modern Rock Tracks chart with the title track "Celebrity Skin". The band promoted the album through MTV performances and at the 1998 Billboard Music Awards, and were subsequently nominated for three Grammy Awards at the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony.
Hole toured with Marilyn Manson on the Beautiful Monsters Tour in 1999, but dropped out of the tour nine dates in after a dispute over production costs between Love and Manson, in addition to the fact that Hole was forced to open for Manson under an agreement with Interscope Records. Hole resumed touring with Imperial Teen. Love would later make claims that an additional reason the band left the tour was due to Manson and Korn's (whom they also toured with in Australia) sexualized treatment of teenage female audience members. Love told interviewers at 99X.FM in Atlanta: "What I really don't like—there are certain girls that like us, or like me, who are really messed up... and they do not need to be—they're very young—and they do not need to be taken and raped, or filmed having enema contests... going out into the audience and picking up fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls who obviously cut themselves, and then having to see them in the morning... it's just uncool."
Before the release and promotion of Celebrity Skin, Love and Fender designed a low-priced Squier brand guitar, called Vista Venus. The instrument featured a shape inspired by Mercury, a little-known independent guitar manufacturer, Stratocaster, and Rickenbacker's solid body guitars and had a single-coil and a humbucker pickup, and was available in 6-string and 12-string versions. In an early 1999 interview, Love said about the Venus: "I wanted a guitar that sounded really warm and pop, but which required just one box to go dirty ... And something that could also be your first band guitar. I didn't want it all teched out. I wanted it real simple, with just one pickup switch." In 1999, Love was awarded an Orville H. Gibson award for Best Female Rock Guitarist.[ During this time, she also starred opposite Jim Carrey as his longtime partner Lynne Margulies in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon (1999), which was followed with a role as William S. Burroughs's wife Joan Vollmer in Beat (2000) alongside Kiefer Sutherland. Love was subsequently cast as the lead in John Carpenter's sci-fi horror film Ghosts of Mars, but backed out of the role after injuring her foot. The part instead went to Natasha Henstridge. The following year, she starred in several additional films, including in Julie Johnson (2001) as Lili Taylor's lesbian lover, for which she won an Outstanding Actress award at L.A.'s Outfest, and in the thriller Trapped (2002), alongside Kevin Bacon and Charlize Theron.
In the interim, Hole had become dormant, and in March 2001, Love began a "punk rock femme supergroup" called Bastard, enlisting Schemel, Veruca Salt co-frontwoman Louise Post, and bassist Gina Crosley. Post recalled of the group: "[Love] was like, 'Listen, you guys: I've been in my Malibu, manicure, movie star world for two years, alright? I wanna make a record. And let's leave all that grunge shit behind us, eh? We were being so improvisational, and singing together, and with a trust developing between us. It was the shit." The group recorded a demo tape, but by September 2001, Post and Crosley had left the band, with Post citing "unhealthy and unprofessional working conditions." In May 2002, Hole formally announced their breakup amid continuing litigation with Universal Music Group over their record contract.
Love has been candid about her diverse musical influences, the earliest being Patti Smith, The Runaways, and The Pretenders, artists she discovered while in juvenile hall at age fifteen. As a child, her first exposure to music was records that her parents retrieved each month through Columbia Record Club. The first record Love owned was Leonard Cohen's Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), which she obtained from her mother: "He was so lyric-conscious and morbid, and I was a pretty morbid kid," she recalled. As a teenager, she named Flipper, Kate Bush, Soft Cell, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Lou Reed, and Dead Kennedys among her favorite artists. She has also spoken of her appreciation for new wave and post-punk bands she became acquainted with while living as a teenager in the United Kingdom, such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Television, Bauhaus, and Joy Division.
While in Dublin at age fifteen, Love attended a Virgin Prunes concert, an event she credited as being a pivotal influence: "I had never seen so much sex, snarl, poetry, evil, restraint, grace, filth, raw power and the very essence of rock and roll," she recalled. "[I had seen] U2 [who] gave me lashes of love and inspiration, and a few nights later the Virgin Prunes fucked–me–up." Decades later, in 2009, Love introduced the band's frontman Gavin Friday at a Carnegie Hall event, and performed a song with him.
Love's diverse genre interests were illustrated in a 1991 interview with Flipside, in which she stated: "There's a part of me that wants to have a grindcore band and another that wants to have a Raspberries-type pop band." Discussing the abrasive sound of Hole's debut album, she said she felt she had to "catch up with all my hip peers who'd gone all indie on me, and who made fun of me for liking R.E.M. and The Smiths." She has also embraced the influence of experimental artists and punk rock groups, including Sonic Youth, Swans, Big Black, Diamanda Galás, the Germs, and The Stooges. While writing Celebrity Skin, she drew influence from Neil Young and My Bloody Valentine. She has also cited her contemporary PJ Harvey as an influence, saying: "The one rock star that makes me know I'm shit is Polly Harvey. I'm nothing next to the purity that she experiences." In 2014, she named "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by The Verve as one of her favorite songs.
Literature and poetry have often been a major influence on her songwriting; Love said she had "always wanted to be a poet, but there was no money in it." She has named the works of T.S. Eliot and Charles Baudelaire as influential, and referenced works by Dante Rossetti, William Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, and Anne Sexton in her lyrics.
Musical style and lyrics
Musically, Love's work with Hole and her solo efforts have been characterized as alternative rock; Hole's early material, however, was described by critics as being stylistically closer to grindcore and aggressive punk rock. Spin's October 1991 review of Hole's first album noted Love's layering of harsh and abrasive riffs buried more sophisticated musical arrangements. In 1998, she stated that Hole had "always been a pop band. We always had a subtext of pop. I always talked about it, if you go back ... what'll sound like some weird Sonic Youth tuning back then to you was sounding like the Raspberries to me, in my demented pop framework."
Love's lyrical content is composed from a female's point of view, and her lyrics have been described as "literate and mordant" and noted by scholars for "articulating a third-wave feminist consciousness." Simon Reynolds, in reviewing Hole's debut album, noted: "Ms. Love's songs explore the full spectrum of female emotions, from vulnerability to rage. The songs are fueled by adolescent traumas, feelings of disgust about the body, passionate friendships with women and the desire to escape domesticity. Her lyrical style could be described as emotional nudism." Journalist and critic Kim France, in critiquing Love's lyrics, referred to her as a "dark genius" and likened her work to that of Anne Sexton.
Love has remarked that lyrics have always been the most important component of songwriting for her: "The important thing for me... is it has to look good on the page. I mean, you can love Led Zeppelin and not love their lyrics... but I made a big effort in my career to have what’s on the page mean something." A great deal of her songwriting has been diaristic in nature. Common themes present in Love's songs during her early career included body image, rape, suicide, conformity, elitism, pregnancy, prostitution, and death. In a 1991 interview with Everett True, she said: "I try to place [beautiful imagery] next to fucked up imagery, because that's how I view things ... I sometimes feel that no one's taken the time to write about certain things in rock, that there's a certain female point of view that's never been given space."
Critics have noted that Love's later musical work is more lyrically introspective. Celebrity Skin and America's Sweetheart are lyrically centered on celebrity life, Hollywood, and drug addiction, while continuing Love's interest in vanity and body image. Nobody's Daughter was lyrically reflective of Love's past relationships and her struggle for sobriety, with the majority of its lyrics written while she was in rehab in 2006.