What Is True Love?

It’s a question on many of our lips as we navigate the marketing campaigns, movies and relentless narratives of heteronormative patriarchy that tell us true love is something to be shared with one other person of the opposite gender for the rest of our lives. True love will involve a white wedding, 2.4 children and a mortgage. True love will look good in public and any problems will be hidden behind closed doors. True love will be shared on Facebook and Instagram whilst the passive aggression happens off camera. Fortunately, P!nk and Lily Allen aren’t buying into this bullsh*t.

Well, ok, I think both Lily Allen and P!nk are married with kids although they probably own their houses outright rather than have mortgages. However, there’s a lot of angst in this song as they complain about how irritating their partners are, how infuriating, how stupid and a whole load of other negative things (there are also quite a lot of domestic abuse references as well as some causal anal sexism, but that will be another post). And at least they’re honest. Love isn’t all roses, doves and honeymoons it can be annoying, smelly and sometimes quite disappointing. But I do like the idea of taking the rough with the smooth and committing to something bigger than  just two (or multiple) people, where 1 + 1 makes more than 2 (or 1 + 1 + 1 etc for those in polyamorous and/or open relationships). I think that’s something worth committing to and not that crass and crushing heteronormative, consumer capitalist version of “true love” created to make us buy more stuff and go to bed feeling guilty and alone. And I don’t think that better kind of true love (maybe just call it love to sound a little less presumptive) has to last forever either, what a sad benchmark for a relationship’s success if it only counts if it ended at death. It also doesn’t need to involve kids and a mortgage, dogs in a housing co-op are ace too. And it certainly isn’t just for straights. Queers welcome.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against people marrying, having 2.4 children and getting mortgages. It’s often a brilliant and inspiring (and very, very difficult) thing to do, hats off to you. But I do mind if that’s all you do, if you’ve just glanced at the ‘true love’ manual (aka watched a few Julia Roberts films and dressed your son in blue and daughter in pink) and taken it at face value. Worse still, not just read the manual but started to recite it as well, as you take for granted that society (and this includes politics, economics and culture) is often weighted in your favour (but only if you’re wealthy enough). I reckon the best thing you can do is acknowledge that space has been made for your type of love, enjoy it, and then set about helping create space so others can enjoy their types of love too. In brief, as with most posts on this blog, check your privilege and don’t be prejudiced. Then we can all have a go at mucking up true love (p.s. and yes, this post was basically an excuse to post that song, it’s just so catchy).

Little Mix: Holding Hands Is A Political Act

Little Mix are at it again – using catchy pop songs to relay important political messages and this time it’s all about holding hands.

For some holding hands is a simple act done on a regular basis. A guy and a gal just holding hands as they reveal their love to the world and walk to Sainsbury’s to get some snacks. Inside the shop he might put his hand around her waist and even tap her bum. Outside, snacks now bought and waiting in their bag-for-life, they might hug and briefly lock lips. Do you do this? Are you in an opposite-sex relationship where you both feel comfortable to express your affection in public? Well, if so, count your fricking blessings, because for many people holding hands, let alone snogging, could land them with a punch in the face, at the very least.

It’s different for same-sex couples. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both above the age of 21. That was only fifty years ago and it applied only to men. It was in 2000 that the age of consent for homosexual couples was reduced to 16 years, so only sixteen years ago that gay couples achieved parity with straights. And in the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 was sexual activity between more than two men no longer a criminal offence across the entirety of the UK – yup, fourteen years ago and a threesome+ would have been illegal. What this brief political history demonstrates is that the law can be absolutely ridiculous, focussed often not on upholding justice and equality but enforcing prejudice and discrimination. That’s nothing new but it’s worth repeating.

Of course, it’s one thing for laws to change, quite another for culture. And for this reason same-sex couples holding hands in public is still a political act. There’s still so much hostility and discrimination out there that it makes hand holding dangerous. And even if the passersby aren’t homophobes they may still offer a good stare just because it ‘fascinates’ them to see these exotic queer people demonstrating affection. Whereas, straight couples usually don’t get stared at or if they do it’s because they are swapping way too much saliva. So thank god for this song by the wonderful Little Mix, which speaks directly to this issue. The video below is for Secret Love Song Part 2 as Jason Derulo was involved in Part 1 and he (or his producers) ensured it was decidedly straighter than originally intended. So here’s the better more political version. Thanks for singing out Little Mix!

A One Night Stand With One Direction

A one night stand with One Direction might sound like a dream come true for some (or many) but the lyrics to their song Perfect provide a multitude of reasons why it would be better to stay at home. You have been warned, by the 1D lads themselves.

Celebrity’s a funny thing right – I mean, all the 1D boys have to do is sing quite well and look conventionally quite good and we’ll do the rest: we’ll ascribe them all sorts of qualities that they may or may not have (honour, loyalty, intelligence), we’ll venerate them and we might even let them get away with the metaphorical equivalent of murder. But the 1D guys are good enough to acknowledge this, they know that with platinum selling records and their faces plastered on billboards and posters they are basically the 21st century equivalent of gods. They know our culture worships celebrity, especially if those celebrities sing pop songs, that’s why they come with a warning.

Thus, Perfect – “I might never be your knight in shining armour, I might never be the one you take home to mother, and I might never be the one who brings you flowers” – OK, ditch the fairytale fantasies these guys aren’t going to faff around with chocolates and wine (seriously, why would they waste the cash when all they’ve got to do is wink and hundreds will rush to their beds). “And if you like midnight driving with the windows down [hmm, sounds a little dangerous], And if you like going places we can’t even pronounce [Worcestershire perhaps, or Billericay]…I might never be the hands you put your heart in [yup, no blood sacrifices or organ donations necessary, they’re not pagan gods after all] Or the arms that hold you any time you want them [they’re being explicit here – they don’t do affection]…And if you like cameras flashing every time we go out [WARNING – one night of bliss with 1D = being all over the internet forever, something their career thrives off but yours might not], and if you’re looking for someone to write your break-up songs about [probable dig at Taylor Swift here from Harry Styles – further warning, don’t be an independent, successful woman who plans on standing up for herself].” So they make it pretty clear what they don’t do – affection, respect and safe driving – but what do they do?

They do like causing trouble in hotel rooms and the video shows them needlessly chucking their luggage at elevators and kicking footballs around the hotel lobby – what about the other guests!? They do like a secret little rendezvous, although it won’t be so secret if the paparazzi have anything to do with it. And they can do some loving “from time to time”, emphasis on the infrequency. So, yeah, basically 1D are promising one awesome night of passion and maybe the occasional quickie afterwards. “Girl, I hope you’re sure, what you’re looking for, cause I’m not good at making promises” – so you have been warned from the horses’ mouths themselves – succumb to their coiffed  celebrity charm and you might end up on the front of a tabloid and mocked in a subsequent number 1 hit. But one thing you most certainly will not get is a second chance. Thanks guys but I’m afraid I’m a “Not Attending” for tonight.

How To Do Heartbreak With Regina Spektor

Have you ever been in love? Have you ever fallen for someone so hard that they’re all you can think about? You see their face in every flower, their eyes in stars above, and all sorts of other overblown romantic things. But then has this wonderful experience been marred by heartbreak? That horrible time after the affair when those loveable things they do – like leave the toilet seat up, leave the sponge in days old washing up water, make endless snarky comments at your expense whilst forgetting to praise you – just stop being loveable. Heart break can be tough especially when you’ve really loved someone but I think wonderful, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor has some great tips on getting over that ex-love of your life. Here’s How…

It’s clear Regina was deeply in love with whoever she’s no longer going out with: “How can I forget your love, How can I never see you again…How can I begin again, How can I try to love someone new?” Yup, I think smitten is an understatement. All she does is think about them to the point that she can’t imagine ever dating someone else. It’s a sad song with a haunting melody and whilst it’s clear a part of Spektor wants to meet this person again, perhaps with the intention of rekindling their affair, there’s also a part of her that wants to move on.

“Time can come and take away the pain but I just want my memories to remain.” Like the best of agony aunts she recognises that time really is the best healer and the more temporally distant we are from someone we’ve cared for the easier it is for our hearts to heal. And the second bit is really fascinating – she’s not saying she wants to forget, she’s saying she wants to keep the memories of her past lover. Now, this could be her desperate attempt to not let go – maybe she checks their facebook profile regularly when really she should have defriended them long ago, or maybe she listens to their songs online (assuming they’re a singer like Spektor). This is something so many of us do as we try to hold on to things that have passed and social media makes doing it way too easy. However, there is an alternative interpretation. Her not wanting to forget could be an acknowledgement that a love as powerful as theirs won’t simply just go away. Our memories of places, faces, smells and sounds are deeply interwoven with our feelings and emotions. Emotionally intense experiences, good or bad, are more memorable than that average burger you ate last week or that mediocre movie you saw a while ago. So maybe Spektor recognises that an experience as emotionally charged as true love is bound to leave a deep impression on her neural networks – maybe she’s not in denial because she can’t deny the potency of the experience.

“There’s not one moment I’d erase,” she sings, “You are a guest here now.” And this is the bit I really like and the bit that helps me live with my own heart breaks. Rather than try to force her ex-love from her mind, rather than live in denial and pretend this stuff never happened, Spektor lets them stay in her memory and her heart. Not necessarily in a desperate, clingy sort of way but in a way that acknowledges the huge role they played in her life. So, they’re a guest, not unwelcome but not given the best room either. And perhaps, slowly over time Spektor can move on…until the next guest turns up unannounced. Date, anyone?

Little Mix And The Truth About Love

The song Black Magic by Little Mix promises so much: how to make your fella notice you more, how to get him on side and how to make him stay. “All the girls on the block knocking at my door,” sing the band, “Wanna know what it is make the boys want more.” This all female pop quartet is offering the answer to true love – the Holy Grail of relationships. When it comes to finding Mr Right Little Mix know exactly what to do, they possess the secret to finding true love. It can’t get much better than that right? Well, it doesn’t, because Little Mix’s sneaky satire reveals that hopeless romantics are hopeless for a reason and the chorus tells us exactly why.

For those seeking love Little Mix offer a “secret potion” and “a spell that can’t be broken”. All you need is one drop and a single sip will ensure the drinker falls madly in love with you. And the name of this recipe, well, it’s called Black Magic.

That’s right, magic. It turns out that magic is the only way to produce true love. Of course, Little Mix, being the great 21st satirist’s that they are, know magic doesn’t exist which means that the logical conclusion of this song is that true love doesn’t exist either. It’s a bleak take on romance and relationships as Little Mix deny the very existence of that thing so many people crave and seek. All those adverts, posters and films about romance and love are rendered terrible lies now that Little Mix have exposed the truth – love makes about as much sense as reading tea leaves.

We live in dark times – climate change, a Conservative government, Mission Impossible 5 – and now Little Mix have added yet another cloud to the storm. Their nihilism jars with the catchy nature of the song but the bitter truth is there in the words – true love is nothing but a fantasy. To quote a fellow cultural commentator, “this is the moment when Little Mix looked into the void and the void looked back.”