Hollow, backhanded compliments are the most insincere form of flattery. But apparently nobody told Ed Sheeran or One Direction that. One Direction’s semi-recent single “Little Things” (written by Sheeran) is full to bursting with such bullcrap, pretending to accept the subject’s flaws, but instead just bringing them to her attention and reinforcing her insecurity.
Sadly, “Little Things” isn’t the only popular love song out there that fakes innocence in the name of being “charming.” There’s plenty of others, and the following five are all prime examples of what we’re talking about.
One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”
“Little Things” isn’t One Direction’s only crime in this regard. Their first single is absolutely rife with ugly chauvinism, but it’s dressed up to make it seem like an empowerment anthem. On the surface, the message is somewhat innocent: your insecurities make you beautiful, girl. Don’t be shy, you’re wonderful.
But there’s a reason for their line of logic. They think you’re hot enough to make a good trophy, but your insecurity means that you won’t be a threat to their collective Man Ego. It’s not about you, nameless teenage female. It’s about them, and it always has been. Just keep on being good submissive little wimmins, and you’ll get to keep your fantasy.
No. Just no.
Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
The things Taylor Swift represents and the actual content of Taylor Swift’s music seem constantly at odds with each other, like a Hydra attacking its own heads. Nowhere is this more blatant than in “You Belong With Me,” a song that’s supposedly about Swift’s good-girl cuteness seizing the day, but is in truth about a poor deluded girl whose catty jealousy of a perceived “mean girl” clouds her judgment and drives her to stalk the guy she’s crushing on.
She repeats over and over about how she’s the only one who really “gets” him. Perhaps that’s because she watches him while he sleeps, Edward Cullen style? Ewww. As for that girl? Why would anyone like that skank? She wears short skirts, for god’s sake! And… that’s it. Gee, Taylor, what a wonderful, cogent argument. Got anything that doesn’t involve slut-shaming?
Hinder, “Lips of an Angel”
You’d be shocked to discover how many people think this song is “sweet.” Because, well… have you listened to it? It’s explicitly about infidelity (“My girl’s in the next room/Sometimes I wish she was you”). Oh, but it gets worse: It’s not just the guy that’s cheating, the other woman is cheating on her boyfriend, too.
Oh, how romantic. A tangled web of lies spun by a pair of a—holes who can’t be bothered to break up with the people they’re seeing before they bone each other silly. What’s wrong with the current girlfriend and boyfriend? That’s never explained, not even in faux-evil terms like “You Belong With Me.” Yes, truly this is the height of love.
John Mayer, “Daughters”
This one’s more a “love song” in the sense that it’s a song about love, rather than a declaration of love. But it’s still icky. John Mayer is always a “douche-y frat boy,” type, but this song just makes his intentions even more obvious. The song is ostensibly about how important it is for parents (especially fathers) to be good to their children, but then you get to the line, “Girls become lovers who turn into mothers,” and it becomes quite clear what this is really all about.
This isn’t about raising your little girl well to make sure she becomes a decent person. This is about raising your little girl well so that John Mayer (or some other anonymous dudebro) can have sex with her. Whee, indoctrinating children into sexist ideals is fun and romantic! Also, implying that all girls want to be mothers? Nice, John. Real nice.
Lady Antebellum, “Just a Kiss”
It’s rare to find a song with a worldview as antiquated as the name of the band that performed it, but this one certainly fits the bill. The lyrical content basically amounts to “let’s not have sex!” Okay, but is there any reason why? Have the characters been burned in the past? Are they worried about STDs? Nope. It’s because they want to “do this right.”
Hear that, anyone who’s ever had sex? Lady Antebellum judges you for your sins. No, no, don’t thank them for telling you how to do things “properly.” You’re quite welcome. A bit hypocritical coming from a band whose breakthrough single was about drunken booty calls, don’t you think?
Which love songs do you think have subtly terrifying undertones? (We can think of a few R. Kelly hits). Tweet us @SpeakeasyMag and let us know if you agree with our picks!