Last month, Taylor Swift dropped the first single of her forthcoming seventh studio album, another catchy pop gem to add to her extensive chart-topping successes. The new song, titled “ME!”, debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 and has comfortably lodged itself in the top ten after peaking at number two.
Is it catchy and popular? Of course. But the heavy individualism self-evident in the song title obscures the deeper truth behind the lyrics: the unique dignity of our personhood.
The song, like many T-Swift tracks, is all about relationships. It’s a duet that pairs Swift with Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie, who begin by singing back and forth to each other like a courting couple.
The song leads off with its main point: “I promise that you’ll never find another lover like me.” Two lovers are making the case for the unique greatness of their love.
Before making their cases, Swift and Urie acknowledge their imperfections. Swift admits, “I know that I went psycho on the phone / I never leave well enough alone / And trouble’s gonna follow where I go.” Urie confesses back to her, “I know I tend to make it about me / I know you never get just what you see / But I will never bore you, baby.”
Despite these imperfections, they make their pleas to one another that there is something uniquely wonderful and lovable about each of them. “I’m the only one of me / Baby that’s the fun of me.”
It’s tough not to hear these lyrics for a song titled “ME!” (all caps, with an exclamation point for good measure!) and not detect a heavy layer of narcissism born out of our cultural emphasis on individualism.
After all, we curate our social media profiles to highlight just how great we are, and we want others to see that. We preach tolerance as a principal societal value at least in part because we want to be entitled to think whatever we think, believe whatever we believe, and act however we act without others confronting us on it. “You do you. Let me do me.”
Where is the sense of community? Accountability? Teamwork? Swift even takes an old sports rallying cry for togetherness and flips it, “There ain’t no I in ‘team’ / But you know there is a ‘me’ / And you can’t spell ‘awesome’ without ‘me.’”
Swift’s new single might as well be the anthem of American society: it’s all about ME!
When you cast this message onto courtship, it also risks pitting people against one another in a competition for love and affection. Swift worries of her worthiness among other women, “There’s a lot of cool chicks out there.” Urie asserts himself against other men, “There’s a lot of lame guys out there.”
But being in a relationship doesn’t have to be about being better than others. A healthy relationship shouldn’t be about proving how great you are, but rather bringing out the best in one another. It’s about the two people in the relationship, imperfect in so many ways, committed to loving one another. Not better than others, but best for one another.
Buried behind the heavy individualistic overtones of Swift’s song is actually a fundamental truth about each of us, which is what Swift is ultimately reaching for. There is, of course, something unique about each one of us. There is something about each human person that is fundamentally individual. Part of each of us being one-of-a-kind individuals, though, is that there’s more to our uniqueness than we can ever understand. We can never fully know everything there is to know about ourselves, nor can we know everything there is to know about each other.
“I promise that you’ll never find another lover like me.” That’s true: no one person is like another. This reality doesn’t make some people better than others, or better lovers. Yet at its best, it speaks to our own unique personhood.
There is a unique “me” to every one of us. That “me” is shaped and influenced by everyone in our lives, most especially those with whom we are in relationship. It doesn’t make us better than others, it just makes us who we are. In healthy relationships, we don’t assert our individual uniqueness, we share ourselves in vulnerability, open to the ways we grow and change together with others.
In healthy relationships, it’s not about ME! It’s about US!
Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Eva Rinaldi.