Is "Sing" Really Something to Sing About?

Will I ever get tired of pointing out the fallacies about love and relationships in modern pop music? Probably not. Our ideas of love are integral to our understanding of who we are as human beings, as individuals, couples, families, and communities. In that light, cultivating a proper understanding of love is one of the most important evangelical missions of the 21st century, as emphasized by Pope Saint John Paul II in his extensive work on the "theology of the body". (Isn't it nice to be able to officially call him "saint"? I couldn't resist the opportunity.) This is why I was disappointed with Ed Sheeran's newest single "Sing" (2014), from his upcoming album x, especially after the beautiful honesty and simplicity of his song "Lego House". On a musical level, I was sadly surprised to hear Sheeran abandon his folk-pop sound for the more R&B music stylings of Justin Timberlake. Rather than developing and embracing his signature sound, Sheeran has opted to make himself a musical carbon copy of artists who have already defined and diluted over a decade's worth of pop music. This seems to me to be a musical step backwards, but I don't know anything about music so my opinion is probably moot. What is more troublesome to me is the parallel descent in lyrical content that seems to accompany the musical backsliding. Rather than continuing to explore the depth and intricacy of loving relationships, Sheeran chooses to rehash the same club drivel as everyone else; the only twist is that he's honest about the dancing: "All the guys in here don't really want to dance".

The poet's romantic notions stumble all over the place as he relates his attempts to convince a woman he has met in a club to "love" him. In this case, the word "love" can pretty much be defined as "engage in sexual intercourse with". Opportunities for intellectual, emotional, or personal intimacy are almost non-existent, and the emphasis is on the narcissistic attitude of the poet's sexual desire. The two meet in the back of a club (or maybe a homegrown rave; for simplicity's sake, I'm going to just say "club") where the woman is sitting and drinking tequila from a water bottle. The poet, perhaps humorously, states that he knew she was "the one" because of her generosity in sharing the tequila with him after only just learning his name. Sharing tequila may be the basis for many sexual liaisons, but I doubt it's the secret formula for discovering long-lasting relationships built on mutual respect. The poet then decides to shirk all of his responsibilities (he is supposed to remain sober enough to drive himself home) in order to sit with this woman and wait for her to begin feeding his sexual desire, which happens in due course: "One thing led to another / And now she's kissing my mouth". Of course, the "one thing" that led to "another" was not scintillating conversation, the discovery of likeness in another human being, a frank discussion of life goals and dreams, an invitation to develop the relationship further in different contexts with a mind to futurity and permanence. No, the "one thing" that led to "another" was alcohol. The song's lyrics could read: "We got drunk enough that, if I just sat and waited, your lack of inhibition would eventually give me sexual satisfaction." That would be honest lyric-writing, and be just as distasteful as this entire situation actually is.

Did the lyrics have to go this way? Does the thumping bass-line need to be overwrought with sexy, heavy breathing and falsetto "oohs" and "ahs"? Did this song need to be about sex? It had actually given itself the opportunity to be about something deeper. The poet finds the woman sitting alone in the back of the club, hiding with her tequila, avoiding the dancing that would be expected of her in such an environment. The poet could have asked her why she has removed herself from the spotlight, why she chooses to sit alone. He could have engaged her in a conversation in which they might have discovered something deep about each other and developed a friendship based on like-minded attitudes that may have even inspired a romance. Instead, the poet sits with her either in awkward silence or spouting meaningless one-liners: "I don't really know what I'm supposed to say / But I can just figure it out and hope and pray". Hope and pray for what? That he'll somehow hit on the magic conjunction of syllables that will grant him access to her body? The poet says that "we got nothing to say and nothing to know". How can this be possible? Wouldn't the true lover be hungry to know everything about the beloved? Would he not cherish every word she speaks and desire to tell her everything about himself, what he thinks and feels and dreams about? Instead, the poet reveals his only intentions when he says: "I don't wanna know / If you're getting ahead of the program / I just want you to be mine, lady / To hold your body close". He has no desire to know what she thinks or feels; he doesn't even want to know if she is on board with his plan for the evening or not. She, as a thinking, feeling individual, does not matter to him at all. All he desires is her body.

There is nothing more going on in the poet's mind than the fulfillment of sexual desire, a desire he knows is extremely limited in scope: "This love is a blaze / I saw flames from the side of the stage / And the fire brigade comes in a couple of days". The "love" of sexual desire that the poet experiences will be quenched in a short amount of time, in "a couple of days" at most. His desire for this particular woman will be extinguished, regardless of whether he has sex with her or not. Rather than attempt to squelch his selfish desire to use this woman as a tool for his transitory pleasure and allow time to drown the flames of his sexual drive, he purposely distances himself from her person, keeping her at arm's length spiritually while encouraging her to get closer physically. He demands her to prove her "love" by getting "involved" with him, but the poet doesn't desire her love or personal involvement with him at all. He desires her to feel the rush of sexual desire and to allow their bodies to be intimately "involved" with each other for a brief space of time that night. This is what he is asking her for, this is what he is demanding of her ("If you love me, come on, get involved"), and he co-opts the words of love and relationship in order to do so. It's no wonder so many of us are jaded about the idea of "love". With this kind of rhetoric being employed in order to use other human beings as instruments of sexual stimulation, any idea of romance is bound to become tainted.

This is not a particularly modern or North American endemic, of course. It is part of the fallen human condition that we subject ourselves to our passions and often work toward selfish fulfillment at the expense of others. It is a part of our condition that we have to make a conscious effort to struggle against in order to live a truly fulfilling and fully human life. The abuse of love will always be a part of our human experience in the world, but it is important that we are aware of it and constantly push back against that urge in ourselves and in others. Ironically, the poet himself  gives perhaps the best advice possible to the object of his desire: "Take another step into the no-man's land". Although I'm sure this isn't what he meant, stepping into a land free from the negative influence of this man in particular, or even just putting oneself into a frame of mind free from the selfish priorities of either side, is exactly the kind of movement that would put an end to the foolishness being perpetuated in this song.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!

No comments:

Post a Comment