Interpreting Love Songs

Some love songs can be quite revealing about the person who wrote it and the nature of the relationship in question. For example, consider the following lyrics from Take That’s ‘Back For Good’:

“Whatever I said, whatever I did
I didn’t mean it”
“Whenever I’m wrong
Just tell me the song and I’ll sing it
You’ll be right and understood”

First of all we must assume that the song writer has expressed his thoughts sincerely – i.e. he wasn’t lying. When our intention is to communicate sincerely, we never use language to express precisely that which we do not mean, and so we further assume that he means what he says. Songwriters may choose different words to ‘fit’ the melody, but they don’t change the language they use to the extent that it no longer expresses what they mean, or at least some close approximation of what they mean. The writer might think differently now of course, but this song, and these lyrics in particular, are likely a sincere expression of the thoughts of the writer at the time of writing. I will examine the language used by the writer and interpret the meaning.

The first line indicates that he does not know what he said or did to upset his partner. This indicates a strong lack of self-awareness as it would be highly unlikely not to have any inclination of why the person he knows so intimately has taken so drastic an action. What I also find peculiar is that he’s not asking to find out what it was he did or said that upset his partner so much so that she felt compelled to end their relationship. He could have wrote: What did I say? What did I do? Sometimes what hasn’t been written is just as revealing as what has.

A lack of curiosity makes solving the problem much harder, because without this information he can’t know how to avoid causing or triggering the same compulsion in his partner again in the future. He knows it was something he said or did, and so it’s not just a lack of curiosity about his partner’s experience of him, but also about himself.

If you aren’t interested in what has upset someone you claim to love or care about, especially when you know it was caused or triggered by something you did, then you aren’t interested in helping them or improving their experience of you; which makes your claim of loving them mistaken, at best, dishonest, at worst.

Having not even bothered to find out what it was he said or did to upset his partner so, he then claims to be certain that he didn’t mean it. However, he cannot be certain that he didn’t mean what he said or did, when he doesn’t even know whatit was he said or did. Again, at best this is a mistake, at worst it is dishonest.

Generally, then, we can see that he is not interested in improving his partner’s experience of him by improving or changing his own behaviour, but only wants to convince his former partner of his innocence and his benevolence towards her so that he may have her back as quickly as possible.

He then goes on to promise that he’ll say or do whatever she tells him to say or do – and that he’ll ‘understand’ her. However, he’s already demonstrated that he’s not interested in and/or capable of acquiring new knowledge about her experience of their relationship or about himself, and so it’s highly unlikely that he will fulfil this promise. At best this is a woefully misguided promise borne of a complete lack of self-awareness, at worst a fraud borne of a selfish desire to get her ‘back for good’ by saying or doing whatever it takes – at whatever the cost to her.

It is possible, of course, that the female protagonist in this love story left the song writer without giving any explanation as to why, and that is why he does not know what he said or did. However, I think this is unlikely as people don’t tend to be reticent about why they are ending a non-abusive relationship. Indeed, I would argue that most people are actually eager to offer explanations as to why they are ending a relationship because they desire to ease the others person’s suffering if possible, and to not have them believe that they are cruel and uncaring. The only instance where someone may not give an explanation is when one isn’t necessary, i.e. when the other person has ‘cheated’ on them. Given that the writer of our song expresses that he doesn’t know the reason why his partner left, we can assume it wasn’t infidelity because otherwise it would be obvious.

Try it yourself. Listen to the lyrics of some love songs or break-up songs and see what the language chosen by the writer reveals about them or the nature of the relationship in question.

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