Love Me Like You Do

A No. 1 Review[s] – “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur and “Shout Out to my Ex” by Little Mix

I haven’t updated this blog in a while: in between moving house, starting a PhD, working a job, dealing with Brexit and staring dumbfoundedly at Donald “Racist Paedo-Rapist” Trump, the blog has ended up taking a backseat. I’ve been determined to finish my No. 1 reviews though so here we are, a whole bunch of posts giving quick reviews of every 2016 UK No. 1 that I missed while they were in the charts:

Say You Won’t Let Go – James Arthur

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Bog-standard Post Club track where man makes himself look sensitive against a non-existent backdrop of mush. Literally nothing of interest contained in here at all.

Shout Out to My Ex – Little Mix

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Bog-standard Little Mix track in which they respond to male oppression by being so girly as to become untouchable. Of course, this is all that’s required to make the song one of my favourites of the year; it’s just that, from the point of view of this blog, it leaves very little to say other than it’s an repeat of “Love Me Like You“, which in turn was a repeat of “Black Magic“, only without the magic bits.

And… honestly, that’s it. I racked my brain for months for something worth saying about these songs which didn’t just repeat something I’ve already said; alas, there was nothing. 2016 was just horribly boring and uninspired, I cannot overstate that. By way of apology, my next post is a doozy: it barely mentions the song it’s supposed to (which is probably no surprise to my readers by this point) but what it does say, I think, is interesting. And besides, I need to start getting stuff out of the way because, right at the moment, Ed Sheeran needs tackling. Prepare yourselves: the blog’s about to get messy.

Pop Song Review – “Got You on My Mind” by Ellie Goulding

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk love. In particular, let’s talk about why I can’t really get into Ellie Goulding’s Got You On My Mind.

Ellie’s main problem in the song is that she loves someone but doesn’t know why: how can she be sure that her love is valid if she doesn’t even know why she feels as she does? My question about romance is the exact opposite: how can you be sure if your love is valid if you know why you feel it?

One of the main narratives about love is that there’s someone for everyone. This is one of the many things that we lonely people say to be able to continue in this world, the implication being that, even at your lowest, you’re not unlovable, you’re just not loved now (or more accurately: you are loved, it’s just that neither you – nor your lover – realise it yet). This is a narrative we use to take romance out of our hands and inherently ties love to the idea of fate: if it is certain that you will one day be loved, then life becomes just waiting for that day, thus saving you from having to do anything yourself while the world simply sorts itself around you. The idea that there’s someone for everyone is basically a massive ego trip, albeit one which makes you a largely insignificant force in your own existence.

These narratives are, of course, bullshit: the universe is random, life is pointless, and any meaning in the world is purely the creation of the beholder. So if the universe isn’t dictating our love lives, what is love and how do we fall into it? Well (and this is going to make me sound cynical), we fall in love largely due to evolution. During the earliest periods of our race, we found that it was easier to hunt as a pack as opposed to hunting on our own. We also found that people died and could be replaced through non-dead people doing sexy stuff. Then, by limiting the sexy stuff to two people each, we found that we could weed out the elements of humanity that we didn’t like by literally cutting the most unpleasant people in society off from the reproduction game. So love became very important to the sustainability to the human race: it was the most effective way we had of regulating the population. This is why love is such a fundamental part of our societies and who we are: because it’s literally the thing through which the human race is able to continue.

Combining these two, we also arrive at the main thing about love: it gives us a place in the world. Firstly, being in a reciprocated relationship increases love’s effectiveness as an ego trip: it gives you positive confirmation that you are loved, respected and likable. It also confirms that you’re human: you have your place in society, you will contribute to the species’ continued existence – in short, you are important.

The result is that we search for love everywhere, purely because we are also constantly speaking approval and evidence for our existence. And this means that, basically, human beings can find love anywhere and fall in love with anyone, usually for the tiniest of reasons. If you’re looking for love everywhere, eventually you will just start grasping at straws and occasionally your mind will get fixated on someone who usually wouldn’t be your type.

And that’s why Ellie Goulding’s lover is on her mind: because a) she’s scared that her existence is unimportant and b) a human being’s primary response to existentialism is to fall in love with whoever’s nearest at the time. As such, when she sings “My heart doesn’t understand why I’ve got you on my mind”, I (quite cynically) respond by going “Well, it’s basic psychology, innit?” and thus don’t exactly relate to the song in the way Goulding probably intended.

Indeed, the relationships I don’t understand are usually the ones that I follow the most. Anyone can appear in my life and be nice enough that I slightly fall in love with them. That’s the point when I have to ask myself whether I truly like them or if I just want to be loved by someone. There are always so many reasons that you love someone for which don’t involve the other person at all. As such, give me someone who I should have no reason to love and I might actually like them purely because I like them. And that seems to me to be a purer form of love: one where you love your partner and so get the evolutionary benefits instead of one where you’d love the evolutionary benefits and so have to find a partner.

So Ellie doesn’t know why she’s got her love on her mind. To which I react: “Good. Go for it.” It’ll probably crash in flames – most relationships do – but she’s a pop star; she’ll at least get a song out of it. It’s not like our lives are important enough to care about anyway: otherwise we wouldn’t need to be in love.

What are you waiting for?

TheWrittenTevs’ Top 5 Best No. 1’s of 2015

It’s time. My Top 5 UK No 1’s of 2015. I’ve run out of ways of introducing these lists. Let’s get to business.

No. 5 – “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

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2015 has been the year where Bieber rose from being universally derided to surprisingly likable. Completely accidentally, his rise has been pretty accurately captured in microcosm on this blog: burnt out on this summer’s tasteless dirge of completely incompetent trash, I savaged Bieber in my first review of his work before giving it more of a chance and finding that actually his current work’s alright. For the first time in his career, it seems like Bieber is an actual living thing; it’s amazing how much being basically human will make people like you.

It does also help that Sorry has a pretty nice beat and an above-par set of lyrics. I even grew to like the line “Because I’m missing more than your body” which originally sounded like a standard singer-trying-to-be-emotional-but-unable-to-get-past-sex sentiment when in reality the sentiment’s closer to singer-wants-to-be-able-to-get-past-sex-but-can’t.

Wait a minute – Bieber’s dissatisfied with making songs about hollow sex and wants to make more fulfilling material about genuine emotions? Holy crap,  he’s a Reconstructionist. That’s how much the pop world is changing under our feet right now. Damn.

Full Review

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No. 4 – “Not Letting Go” by Tinie Tempah feat. Jess Glynne

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Surprise!

I can’t stand Jess Glynne. If Bieber is representative of the best trends of 2015, Glynne represents the worst. Her lyrics are disconnected from any sense of real emotion, they barely manage to fit together, there is absolutely no variation between any of them, and she just doesn’t seem to care about anything she produces. Unsurprisingly then, Glynne is easily the worst element of this song: she comes in spewing a bunch of her own cliches, doesn’t care that they’re entirely disconnected from the verses, and largely serves to drag everything down.

Goddamn if I don’t love the verses though. Tinie Tempah raps about a girl he likes and he sounds like he means it: that is fucking rare at the moment. More than that, the person he describes has a personality: she likes records, she enjoys singing, she’s carefree and fun. She’s alive. We actually had a love song in 2015 which was about someone.

People keep telling me that I’m needlessly harsh on pop music. I’m not though; I just want it to be written with a bit of competence. If you’re writing a love song about someone, I want to know about them and what makes you love them. An ass does not a relationship make; an ass does not a girlfriend make. Tinie Tempah’s verses were the only ones in the charts this year which sounded like they were actually written about someone, and for that they got the No. 4 spot.

Full Review

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No. 3 – “What Do You Mean” by Justin Bieber

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I’m as surprised as you are that Justin’s appeared twice on this list. When I started writing my essay on this song, claiming that it was a well crafted exploration of loneliness in the postmodern age, I was being a bit facetious: I thought I was taking the piss. Once I finished the essay though, I was actually convinced I was right. More than that, I actually grew to like the song the more I wrote about it. That essay is now my favourite post this year. It just goes to show, you can convince yourself to like something through concerted effort. Thanks Bieber, I’ve learnt so much from you this year.

Full Review

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No. 2 – “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding

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I have spent a lot of time on this blog complaining about how most pop music is just vapid men oogling women because they’ve got attention spans even shorter than their overcompensated dicks. I’m still a straight man though and I have to admit: this song is sexy. Ellie Goulding’s delivery is sexy. The production is sexy. The lyrics are sexy. Pretty much every song on the charts nowadays is about sex, but this is the only song released this year which I’d consider sexy.

And the amazing thing is that this song is pretty much fanfic based on Fifty Shades of Grey, a deeply unpleasant book which tries to romanticise a man who is clearly a sociopath and borderline rapist. This song is aware of the problems with it’s source material though and is able to negate them while still staying true to the book. That is an astoundingly hard thing to manage. Every word has to have the exact right connotation to avoid sending the entire piece directly to Problemville: the control has to be immense. Yet Ellie Goulding pulls it off. The fact that she’s actually able to make the lyrics sexy too is just the icing on the cake. Out of all the No. 1s this year, Love Me Like You Do is the easily best written by far. It’s not quite my favourite though.

Full Review

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And finally, my favourite No. 1 of 2015:

No. 1 – “Black Magic” by Little Mix

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It’s a feminist magick trick designed to change “wanting sex” from being a predominately male thing to something that both genders can do (without shame and all!). That should be genuinely enough to justify it’s place on the list. How many songs can be summarised as a “feminist magick trick”? If the answer was more than one, we’d live in a much better world than we do now.

I’m not even really sure what to say about this: I just really like it. Much like I Really Like You, it’s joy is infectious; it just makes me happy to be alive. I love Little Mix’s Love Me Like You too, and their album Get Weird is pretty damn good. I just love that there’s a group aimed at teenage girls who are telling them that they can be as strange as they wish, as long as they’re happy. I love that they’re telling them that they can be weird and individual, yet still can have friends, love and sex; that they can still be accepted as functional members of society even if they decide to do their own thing. In a world featuring You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful and Nick Jonas’ Jealous, we have a band who are telling teenage girls to be proud of themselves and to live full, enriched lives which are defined entirely on their own terms. Little Mix are important. They’re a shining beacon in a world of shit. I love them.

I just hope that more people take their lead. At the very least, I definitely want more Little Mix in the charts as we head our way into the vagueness that is 2016.

Full Review

A No. 1 Review – “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding

This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Here’s the latest one:

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Uptown Funk’s gone down: after seven weeks at the top, we finally have a new UK No. 1. And it’s by Ellie Goulding. I love Ellie Goulding. More accurately, I love Ellie Goulding’s voice. She sings as if she’s breathless, like she’s lying on a pillow and is whispering coyly into your ear – her vocals are just really intimate and thus really engrossing. More than that, she just sounds like she has complete control over her voice. This, for me, is what separates her from the other heavily stylised voices in pop at the moment. Sam Smith, for example, just warbles over his songs like he’s broken a leg during recording, only serving to distract the listener from the song at hand (something which can be fatal for songs like Like I Can which rely on you having an emotional connection to them). Compared to some of her peers, Ellie Goulding is a very minimalist performer but she performs without sacrificing what makes her voice special and she always works in service of the song itself. Sam Smith makes singing with emotion just seem like such hard work; Ellie Goulding makes it look effortless. She’s just the better performer.

And it’s a good thing that she’s as good as she is, because Love Me Like You Do should be intolerable to me. The reason for this is basically because it’s the theme song to the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, Fifty Shades being a deeply worrying phenomenon which purports to show a romantic BDSM relationship but in actuality shows a deeply abusive one. The problem really lies with Christian Gray: the guy’s not a BDSM dominator, he’s just a controlling sociopath. He uses his riches to stalk the object of his desire; he threatens her if she ever decides to say no to him; he lets her know that he’ll basically just kidnap and rape her if she doesn’t want to be with him anyway: he’s a highly dangerous, law breaking arsehole*. And any love songs written related to Fifty Shades from the female perspective are going to be tricky to pull off because they’re fundamentally going to be sung about this horribly unlikable man in a way that will be almost impossible to manage unproblematically. So how does Love Me Like You Do – a Fifty Shades of Grey love song from the female perspective – try to manage it?

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It’s main attempt to remain palpable is to basically sand off all the corners of Christian Gray’s character and reduce him from a Chris Brown tribute to a much vaguer type of dick. As such, the type of love interest that Love Me Like You Do describes isn’t so much an arsehole as much as he is a ‘bad boy’. “You’re the light, you’re the night / You’re the color of my blood / You’re the cure, you’re the pain / You’re the only thing I wanna touch”, You’re so good for me but you’re so bad, You’re multifaceted and mysterious and deep, blah blah blah, etc. Lyrically, the song’s actually a surprisingly bog standard entry in the “Bad Boy with a Soft Side Love Song” genre, but, that said, I don’t think any other type of approach would have actually worked as well. It walks a good line between reflecting the character from Fifty Shades and creating someone who you can understand the attraction for. Against all odds, it actually works quite well.

There are some surprisingly clever subtle touches to the lyrics as well. “Love me like you do”, when taken in the context of Fifty Shades, is quite obviously a reference to BDSM – touch me like no-one else does, i.e. presumably with a leather strap, etc. The lyric also works when removed of the BDSM context though – “you touch me like no-one else does” is still a pretty romantic sentiment in it’s own right. The song thus works both as a soundtrack and on it’s own right. Indeed, the song works much better on it’s own right without the Fifty Shades baggage being added to it: Fifty Shades’ presence on the track only serves to introduce the potential subtext of abuse to proceedings but, once removed of that subtext, the song does basically lie upon a genuinely romantic sentiment. It’s Fifty Shades of Grey itself which is dragging the song down and not vice versa; Love Me Like You Do excels beyond it’s source material in pretty all ways it can.

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That said, I do actually really like the way that song treads the lines between the themes of submission and dominance. Ellie sings the lyrics “Yeah, I’ll let you set the pace / Cause I’m not thinking straight / My head spinning around I can’t see clear no more” but then immediately follows them with the line “What are you waiting for?”, a surprisingly forceful and direct question that demands an answer. “Yeah, I’ll do whatever you want. So fuck me, now.” Musically, I also love the contrast between the quiet orchestra music and the chorus’ pounding drums: light and heavy, good and bad, submissive and dominant – this song is just an exploration of polar opposites through and through. This song is entirely about unions and the breaking of boundaries from one thing to another – it reflects it’s source material, it works as it’s own piece of art; it is just extremely well put together all around.

Ultimately my opinion of Love Me Like You Do is that it’s very well considered and that everything in it has been written with intelligence and tact. It’s pretty much as good and romantic as it could’ve ever been given it’s limitations. Can I call myself a fan of it though? Not really, but that’s just because of its Fifty Shades connection which changes the song in ways it fights desperately against. It’s fight is a valiant one though and it punches above it’s weight in every way it can. It’s a good song; a very good one indeed.

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* And don’t tell me “But he gets better as the narrative goes on; Anastasia Steel manages to negotiate the relationship more the further into the books you get and eventually everything becomes workable” because, if anything, that makes things worse. It just falls into the common narrative of abusive relationships where the abused goes “Yes, so-and-so beats me and is horrible but they’re actually really sweet and if only I could bring out that side of them more, everything would be perfect”. No, if someone is abusive to you, get out of the relationship. They are not a nice person. They are unlikely to change. Get out, anything else is just going to be dangerous. Don’t do it. God, the fact that this book seems to be seen as romantic terrifies me.