After a solid month of Bieber chart domination, we finally have a brand new UK No 1 and the first new No. 1 of 2016. Shame it’s bloody awful.
What’s it about? Well, Shawn Mendes’ girlfriend has broken up with him and he’s not dealing with it well. You see, life is difficult and Mendes’ girlfriend was the rock that let him deal with it. But, in his words, “now I’m without your kisses / I’ll be needing stitches”. He’s now dreading the upcoming period where he gets over her and is somewhat pessimistic about the future.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem too bad. Once again, we have a male protagonist who’s insecure, lonely and wanting to communicate that fact, something which has become a welcome trend lately. It’s also nice to have a man who isn’t going to try to keep the relationship going despite his partner’s wishes; his girlfriend has put her foot down and he’s respecting her autonomy, whether it hurts him or not. These are all good things.
But there are five massive problems that make me detest this thing:
Problem 1: No-one producing the song cared about it at any point.
This will become more obvious the further we go.
Problem 2: “Kisses” and “stitches” don’t even rhyme.
This doesn’t seem that bad at first but it’s the song’s main hook and they couldn’t even be arsed to get that right. Even if rest of the lyrics were skintight (which they’re not), that line would be enough for me to consider this a failure almost immediately. They just didn’t care.
Problem 3: The story’s communicated to us entirely in cliches (all of which have already been used to much greater effect in other songs).
“Your words cut deeper than a knife.” “I need someone to breathe me back to life.” “Got a feeling that I’m going under.” “You watch me bleed until I don’t breathe.” “Like a moth drawn to a flame.” “Your bitter cold heart.” “I’m left seeing red on my own.”
This can barely be considered Mendes’ song: there’s no originality or depth on display at all. Of course, this shows just how deeply Shawn Mendes truly actually feels about his relationship: i.e. he barely feels anything about it at all. Why even write this song if you can’t be bothered to use more than the most basic sentiments? It wasn’t written for emotional release, it was the basis for a paycheck. They just didn’t care.
Problem 4: The cliches are combined in ways that don’t even make sense.
“You watch me bleed until I can’t breathe.” What do bleeding and breathing have to do with each other? If you bleed enough, your organs will stop functioning and that means you’ll be unable to breathe – yes – but that’s an awful lot of dominoes that the line’s skipped just so it doesn’t have to say “You watch me bleed until I die.” But what’s wrong with the line “You watch me bleed until I die”? It’s not like every other line is a cryptic conundrum waiting to be solved; it’s not like every other line isn’t depressingly banal and self-explanatory. And if you’re going to pick one line to not do the obvious in, why pick a random line halfway through a verse and why would you still not actually manage to write it well? Even when they’re trying to raise the bar, they’re trying to do it as lazily as possible. They just didn’t care.
“Just like a moth drawn to a flame / […] Your bitter heart cold to the touch.” So is she “a flame” or “cold to the touch”? First she’s hot, then she’s cold; she’s yes, then she’s no; she’s up, then she’s down; she’s an inconsistently sketched blank space who I have to assume was inspired by no-one and doesn’t actually exist at all. They just didn’t care. And while we’re on this lyric:
“Just like a moth drawn to a flame / Oh, you lured me in.” So the first line is describing the situation from Mendes’ perspective, while the second describes it from the girlfriend’s. Yet these two lines are linked together and structured so that it sounds like it’s talking exclusively about the girlfriend: she lured him in the same way that a moth is drawn to a flame, something which doesn’t make any bloody sense at all. All they needed to do was add something in the first line which directly tied it to Mendes: “I was a moth drawn to a flame / Oh, you lured me in”. Bam: lyric fixed. I changed two words. They just didn’t care.
Problem 5: The main character is an unlikable arse.
Part of this is the song’s lyrics, part of it is the song’s sound. Shawn Mendes’ nasal voice just makes him sound whiny, particularly given the neediness of the lyrics. I just can’t feel sympathy for him. He’s the one who’s pinned all of his personal defects on his partner; he’s the one who used her as a battering ram against the fact that existence is hard. While certainly the blame of the relationship’s failure doesn’t entirely rest on him, he also can’t be said to be entirely without blame: he wanted more than she was willing to give and neither were willing to compromise, making things fall apart. That’s pretty much every relationship breakup in a nutshell. But does the song show anywhere near that amount of balance? Of course not. “You watch me bleed ‘til I can’t breathe […] You lured me in [and have a] bitter heat cold to the touch”. He’s just externalising his grief now: “How dare you be so attractive that I unsustainably pinned my entire personality onto you! How dare you show up all my insecurities and leave me when they become too much! This is all your fault! The relationship was entirely about my needs! None of this is my fault! Me! Me! Me! Me!” Shut up, you twat. At least when Adele writes this type of song, she has the humility to admit that some of the blame has to be carried by her. When Taylor Swift writes this type of song, she has a sense of wit. This is just the vapid whinging of a hack without an ounce of self-awareness. It is hateable. They just didn’t care.
So it’s a song about an unlikable arse which doesn’t even have the dignity to put effort into his vindictive sneering. This song has many of the tropes of the Post-Club Age of Pop but these tropes have been used without care or attention. Stupid hacks who want to get rich on the barest of effort aren’t going to suddenly flee the pop world; as such, for every genuinely artistic song we get which is written with purpose and skill, we’re also going to get 50 songs which try to sound like it but fail. This is one of the 50: a song that gets most of the best trends currently creeping into pop but proceeds to suck at fulfilling any of them.
They just didn’t care, and that’s the worst crime of all.