Once, I banned talk of Justin Bieber from my classroom,— so, I cannot believe that I am going to say it — but I love Justin Bieber’s song “Love Yourself.” Why? Take a look at two truths and a lie from the song.
Truth #1: My parents and my friends might offer a good outside perspective on my relationships.
“My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone.”
“And when you told me that you hated my friends
The only problem was with you and not them.”
At least in my life, I’ve had some pretty unhealthy friendships and relationships. And when those relationships end, there are certain people I fall back onto— people I am closest too, who know me better than I know myself. More often than I’d like to admit, they not only offered support for me, but also had some sort of intuition that the relationship was not good for me at the time. If I had been willing to realize this — if I had been willing to listen to friends and family—I might have avoided quite a lot of heartache and quite a lot of mistakes.
Relationships and friendships are complicated, and it can be hard to see their value or their harm while we are in the middle of them. It’s hard to acknowledge it, but parents and friends can offer an outside perspective for us. Of course, ultimately we interact with people on our own terms, but we have to admit: if my friends and family don’t like someone in my life, it is worth asking, “Why not?”
Truth #2: If a relationship it is only about one person, if it only brings you down, or if it makes you less of who you are… then, it isn’t healthy.
“‘Cause if you like the way you look that much…”
“For all the times that you made me feel small…”
“And every time you told me my opinion was wrong
And tried to make me forget where I came from…”
The wisdom of JB shows through on this theme of the song: whatever the relationship was in his past, it wasn’t in his best interest. He forgot, perhaps, who he was and where he was from. The singer describes his ex-girlfriend as belittling him. He claims that she was only concerned about appearances.
Who hasn’t been in a relationship which was all about appearances — founding the relationship on simply the physical; or grounding it in the expectations and appearances; or aiming at impressing others? Sometimes you realize: the other person was simply selfish, or I’m selfish when I’m around this person.
It is easier to realize this after the fact, but I think that JB may be onto something: If this relationship isn’t healthy, then maybe it isn’t for me.
The Lie: Love has much more value than what JB seems to imply.
“Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself
And if you think that I’m still holdin’ on to somethin’
You should go and love yourself”
So even though I’ve lauded the wisdom of JB, there is definitely a bit of a lie in his song. The line in the chorus, “go and love yourself,” seems on first glance to be uplifting. If you think about it though, it isn’t. Rhetorically, the line sounds like a curse, and we can all imagine what word JB would put here in an unedited conversation. And this is where the lie is: love, even just the word, is not an expletive. It may seem like I am being overly critical in pointing out this trick of equivocation, but it is important to pay attention to the power in that type of statement.
Love is something to be treasured. By placing it in the same place as you would a different four-letter word, then you actually devalue it. Even though he claims “baby, I be movin’ on,” I don’t think the singer in the song understands yet what love truly is, and he is certainly not ready to treasure love, friendships, and relationships.
Ultimately: “And never felt so low when I was vulnerable. Was I a fool to let you break down my walls?”
JB’s song demonstrates truths and lies about our own friendships and relationships. I’m going to keep on listening to the song, watching the music video, and humming it (as it plays on loop in my head). Because even though the song has both truths and lies within it, it shows someone healing and coming to peace with a previous, broken relationship. And I’ve certainly been in the singer’s place, wrestling with the truths and lies we tell ourselves after relationships and friendships.
Cover Image 140719_9350 from Flickr User Disney | ABC Television Group, via Flickr Creative Commons, available here.