When I was in high school, everyone looked forward to turning 16. For my classmates and me, being 16 meant taking those first few steps through adulthood’s door – new freedoms waited for us.
We could get our driver’s license, apply for part-time jobs, and daydream about the scary excitement of college in our futures. Countless books, movies, TV shows (anyone else binged MTV’s My Super Sweet 16?), and of course songs center around this iconic and special time in our lives.
Here’s my list of best songs about turning 16, each celebrating what makes this magic number so sweet!
1. Only Sixteen – Craig Douglas
Sit back and sip on a chocolate malt while Craig Douglas’s soft croon sings out from the
jukebox of your favorite soda shop. First performed by American singer-songwriter Sam Brooke, Craig Douglas gives his cover a unique spin.
His nostalgic bop rocketed to the top of the UK’s music charts in 1959. What I like about this song is how well it captures the trials and tribulations of love at this age.
Emotions run hot and high when you’re 16, and I can relate to Douglas’ memory of giving his heart away to another person too fast!
2. Sweet Sixteen – Destiny’s Child
Up for a 90s throwback? The vocal and instrumentation on this are as smooth and sweet as syrup, cut with a melancholy undercurrent.
Sweet Sixteen was featured on Destiny’s Child’s album The Writing’s on the Wall. While many of the singles charted at the top of the billboards, Sweet Sixteen did not reach that level of popularity but is still as deserving.
My favorite part of this song is the honesty in the lyrics. Though your identity as an adult starts taking shape at this age, it doesn’t mean you’re one yet––and in many ways, you’re still a child.
Though as said in the lyrics, you’re often “moving way too fast”, especially with relationships. You may not have the correct judgment on who is and isn’t right for you.
3. Sixteen – Ellie Goulding
If nothing else, 16 is a vulnerable age to be. Ellie Goulding has a strong understanding of this in her contemporary pop single.
There is a sense of respect for the nostalgia, recklessness, and confusion that can arise when you’re 16. Goulding’s affection for her teenage self comes through strongly, as her lyrics touch on all these themes.
The bittersweetness of being 16 is captured so well in the music; while sounding upbeat, there’s still a hint of sadness in how it’s written. Nostalgia always carries wistfulness, and Sixteen is no exception.
4. Sweet Sixteen – Hilary Duff
Embrace the invisibility unique to how a teen experiences it with Hillary Duff’s bubblegum-colored ode! I love the optimism in her lyrics, how confident she is about her life, and how it can only soar upward and forward.
When you’re 16, the sky can feel like the only limit, with “only blue ones” above. I was so excited about the future, and so were my classmates.
We were untouchable––or so we thought. For many of us, there was nothing in our way, thanks to the faith we had in ourselves.
5. Sweet 16 – Green Day
Green Day’s ode to the “what if’s?” you ponder at age 16 is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Hilary Duff’––musically, anyway! The grittiness of it provides an edge to what is a sweet dedication to young and developing love.
Singer-songwriter Billie Joel Armstrong’s evolving relationship with his wife Adrienne Armstrong, whom he met at age 16, is the song’s subject. Armstrong still holds onto the excitement and zest of his 16-year-old’ self’s feelings––very sweet indeed!
Relationships are never static. As we grow and change, our relationships grow and change alongside us.
Whether it’s from a platonic or romantic perspective, I’m sure that many have different thoughts and feelings now on the people we knew at 16 than we do now!
6. You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine) – Ringo Starr
Time for another oldie (but for many a goodie!), and this time from Ringo Starr. Starr is most-known for being the drummer of the band The Beatles, but he also wrote music for the band and his own solo career.
You’re Sixteen is actually a cover of a song first written and performed by rockabilly musician Johnny Burnette. Ringo Starr released his rendition in 1973, the song then soaring to new heights of popularity.
7. Sweet Little Sixteen – John Lennon
Another Beatle makes his rounds on this list! John’s Lennon ballad to our favorite magic number is rougher around the edges than his bandmate Ringo’s, but just as upbeat.
The song’s subject matter centers around another large aspect of being 16: a fascination with pop culture symbols. For many 16-year-olds, music is a way to explore different facets of their identities which are frequently in flux.
Music gives voice to the mess of confusion and questions that comes with being 16. This was the case for me at least, and so many of my peers too!
8. Sixteen Candles – The Crests
Ask someone to name a song about turning 16, and chances are they will pick this classic. A favorite for birthday dedications, the rich vocalization of this song will never go out of style.
Originally released in 1958, Sixteen Candles has remained a sweet staple since. Listen to it, and you’ll understand why: the song’s warmth wraps around you like a favorite blanket.
Listening to this as an adult, I can’t help but be reminded of the love I had from friends and family at that age, and I cherish it. If there’s a song to get sentimental over, it’s this one!
9. Sixteen Blue – The Replacements
The songs I’ve written about so far have had an optimistic outlook on being 16, but saying that it’s the only aspect would be dishonest. This is the niche The Replacements fills: a raw look at the vulnerabilities of the teen years.
The realness of the lyrics can bring a sense of hurt. As you leave the security of childhood and enter adulthood that is often anything but, you can feel as though you’re stuck swirling in a powerful storm.
I was caught in the middle of this storm at 16, one made of rapid changes and hormones and intense angst. Sixteen Blue sings of this experience in a sympathetic way, understanding a teenager’s internal struggle.
10. Only Sixteen – Sam Brooke
Let’s finish this list off back at our favorite soda shop again, and this time we’re bumping the original rendition of Only Sixteen by Sam Brooke.
The standout part of this song is the playful twang of the bass line that the music centers around. It’s a fun way of capturing the naivete present at this age, something that we look back and laugh at as adults.
Being 16 can mean so many different things, and for a good reason. It’s impossible to sum up the experience from a single perspective or song; knowing this makes experiencing a wide range of songs all the more special!
Alexandra loves playing the piano and guitar. She has always been a music lover, but it wasn’t until she was in high school that she realized how much she loved to play. It allowed her to express herself without having to be verbally expressive, which is something she found very empowering.