It’s always deeply unsettling for an old man like me to consider seriously when teenagers sing “You just do to me/what you do,” which is what Selena Gomez does in her latest single, “Love You Like a Love Song.” But there it is. That’s what she sings. Fortunately, the song as a whole is mostly outwardly oriented, toward the object of her fascination, the person she loves like a love song. Or at least it seems that way.
The song begins in resignation. There is nothing new that can be said about love yet the singer must sing on if only so that the “melody” of her loved one “will play on and on.” “No one compares” to him; he “stands alone.” But even while he is the inspiration that generates the feeling, the song is mostly about what he does for her. “You’ve saved my life”; “I’ve been rescued”; “I’ve been set free”; “I am hypnotized”; the song keeps returning to singer’s feelings. On the whole, the song is less about him than it is about her emotions and what she wants to say about them to him. That explains why before every chorus she sings to him “I want you to know, baby,” and why in line of the chorus there are two “I” for every “you”: “I, I love you like a love song, baby.”
This is not a failure on the part of the song, nor is it an indictment of how self-absorbed our age is—though it is certainly that. A fantastically great song like The Cure’s Lovesong does something very similar to Selena Gomez’ song. Over and over we hear about the singer’s emotions and what the presence of his love one does for him. “You make me feel” is the overwhelming refrain of that song. What these two songs and countless others reveal is that we often lie to ourselves about love. Love is not about losing ourselves in other people, about becoming selfless in our obsession with someone else. If anything, love often makes us much more self-absorbed. We spend hours thinking about what we feel, how we feel, and how unlike any other or anyone else’s our feelings are. And, God forbid, if you think you are a creative person (I count myself in this group), you then spend all kinds of time trying to find the words to express to your loved one how they make you feel. That is, you spend even more time being wrapped up in your own emotions.
Selena Gomez thus reminds us how insufferable love makes people. How it makes them not care about anyone else but themselves and their own sentiments. If you want music that is really about other people, it’s best to turn to break up songs. You should start with Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”