Dysfunctional love songs
By Christopher Stefanick
The lessons packed in the love songs that are getting the most radio play today all seem to have a similar theme: if it isn’t dysfunctional, it isn’t love.
Take the song “Grenade” for instance, wherein Bruno Mars sings a litany of pains he’d endure for his beloved, ranging from catching a grenade, to throwing his hand on a blade, to taking a bullet through his brain. His beloved is evil, it seems. According to the song she’d “smile in (his) face then rip the brakes out of (his) car.”
Her response to his “loving” rant is total indifference. He goes so far as to lament that if his body was on fire she’d watch him burn in flames. Yet, despite all this, at the end of the song he still sings, “I would die for you baby, but you won’t do the same.”
It seems that Bruno has so effectively broken the stereotype of the emotionless, standoffish male that he has become the psychotically needy girlfriend. Good boy, Bruno. Contemporary, feminized society has trained you well in the ways of “manhood.” The lesson of this song is clear: If it isn’t codependence it isn’t real love.
In a recent drive to work I turned the radio dial in a vain attempt to avoid “Grenade” only to find it on three other stations. Moving on…
In one of the most popular songs of 2010, “Breakeven,” singer Danny O’Donoghue laments after a hard breakup, “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathin.’” Everyone who has had their heart broken can relate with those words. But he goes on to sing, “What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?” Romantic words? Yes. Emotionally healthy words? No.
No offense Danny, but if the best part of you was her I can see why she dumped you. While a couple is called to unity, individuals still need to maintain autonomy for a relationship to be stable and lasting. If people lose themselves in one another, soon there is no self to give to the other. The lesson of “Breakeven”: If it isn’t enmeshment it isn’t love.
In the song “Animal” by Neon Trees, vocalist Tyler Glenn sings: “We’re sick like animals … I won’t be denied by … the animal inside of you. … Take a bite of my heart tonight.” Tyler, you and anyone who looks like you won’t be dating my daughter. The lesson of this song is echoed in countless others: If it isn’t promiscuous it isn’t passion.
And Miranda Cosgrove, a Nickelodeon (i.e., children’s TV channel) actress, in “Kissing You” sings to her boyfriend before an audience of millions of pre-teen girls, “When I’m kissing you it all starts making sense!” And answers to questions like, “Are you the one I should trust?” become “crystal clear… when I’m kissin’ you.”
The lesson of this song is that physical intimacy is the way to discern if a given relationship is the right one. I hate to break the news to you, Miranda, but that feeling you’re getting while kissing him is oxytocin. It’s a neuro-peptide released during physical intimacy that decreases your ability to reason and increases your ability to bond. It produces the polar opposite of clear thinking. Furthermore, when you’re engaging in heavy kissing with your boyfriend, Miranda, I can almost guarantee that he’s not thinking, “You’re the one I should trust.” It’s more likely that he’s thinking, “You’re the one I should do more with than kiss.”
I’m not even going to attempt to tackle what most rap songs say about relationships because their content, packed with sexual deviance and hedonism that border on violence is more fitting for a hard core porn magazine or a “Law and Order SVU” episode than the radio.
I don’t mean to sound like an emotionless Spock of a man. The songs I mentioned, with the exception of “Animal,” do have some redeeming themes, and they all have great melodies. But they dismantle the prerequisite for love in the minds of the desperate pre-teens who are listening: self possession. If a person is stable enough to stand on his own two feet without falling into enmeshment and codependence, then, and only then, can he give himself in love to another.
And if love is contained by modesty, chivalry and purity during dating and engagement, then, and only then, can it become an internal fire that nothing can put out. In the words of Pope John Paul II, the “fire of pleasure … burns quickly like a pile of withered grass.” But the flame of purity creates a fire that doesn’t consume its host.
Thanks in large part to misguided love songs, teens tend to mistake things like codependence, enmeshment and promiscuity for love. It’s funny how the things they come to look for in dating relationships are precisely the things that set them up for failed marriages.
Parents: Pay attention to what your teens are listening to and turn those songs on your car radio into teaching moments. You might get eyes rolled back at you in reply, but what that really means is: “Thanks for looking out for me, Mom and Dad.”
Christopher Stefanick is director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. To read more columns by Chris, click here. His personal website can be found at www.chris-stefanick.com.
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