Musical Talmud:  Grenade

Musical Talmud:  Grenade

In which I am overly critical.

Bruno Mars is a wonderful singer.  He has a really, really nice voice, even by the standards of professional musicians:  there’s an appealing throatiness to his delivery that sets him apart in my mind from your standard-issue male R&B vocalist.  He’s also a songwriter of no mean talent, being at least partially responsible for Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” and Flo-Rida’s “Right Round” in addition to his own blossoming career.  And although he’s too lethargic in this video for me to comment on his dancing abillity, he does fill out the fourth corner of the traditional pop star parallelogram pretty nicely, i.e. he’s easy on the eyes, making him one of the very, very few to successfully rock a post-millenial hi-top fade.

Oh, and if the lyrics to his chart-topping “Grenade” are any indication, he’s kind of an asshole.

The song’s general topic is rejected love — a fantastically durable pop-music topos that we could trace through Mars’ own “Fuck You” to Eamon’s “Fuck It,” to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” to Mary Wells’ “You Beat Me to the Punch,” to Dion and the Belmonts’ “Runaround Sue,” to Cole Porter’s “So In Love,” to Schumann & Heine’s “Ich Grolle Nicht,” and right on back to medieval troubadours like Raimbaut de Vacqueiras.  (That’s as far as my knowledge goes, but feel free to post your examples from Ovid in the comments.)  Now, most of these songs fall into two basic models.  There’s the straight-up torch song, which pretty much says “You’re so wonderful — I want to be with you so much — I wish you wanted to be with me too.”  Then there’s what I like to call the kiss-off song, which says something more like “You’re so horrible — I can’t believe I ever wanted to be with you — kindly die in a fire.”  The particular version of rejected love that Mars is peddling, though, is a combination of the two:  “You’re so horrible — so very horrible — but let’s date anyway, okay?”

That’s the basic sentiment, and it’s already vaguely repellent.  The specific details only make it worse, as we’ll see.

13 Comments on “Musical Talmud:  Grenade”

  1. Jonathan #

    I have to take issue with part of your analysis because you’re falling into a key trap of modern popular music (a social movement even).

    My problem is with this part:

    “Okay, here’s the thing: giving me all your love? Is not actually a trivial request. Love is one of the hardest things in the world to come by, and when you do achieve it, it’s not because someone “gives” it to you like it’s a lollipop or a Metrocard swipe. One doesn’t meet a random guy on the street and decide, “Oh, him I’ll love.” It happens or it doesn’t. Ascribing agency to it puts this nameless girl in a hopeless position: she’s a bitch because she didn’t give him her love, but that was never something she had any control over. You might as well call her a bitch for having brown hair, or liking Thai food. Once again, he’s setting the girl up to fail to meet his unrealistic expectations.”

    You’re falling into the whole “I’m in love” versus “I love” trap.

    It has become the social norm to attribute love to a feeling, which science has oh so kindly attributed to our interesting but not fully understood brain chemistry.

    Thus, our society listens to music, watches movies, and reads books about how people “fall in love.”

    That’s fine because people do fall in love.

    The problem comes in when you say the girl has no control over whether she gives her love. In fact, a person can choose to give love to another person.

    We may not be dealing with the hyper-romanticized love of music and film or the real feeling one has at the beginning of a relationship, but we are still dealing with the concept of love.

    Two people in a relationship will always (and I mean that literally) reach a point where they find faults in one another. The point when faults become evident is the first point at which the giving of love becomes a choice.

    Admittedly, at the scientific level, the chemical imbalance responsible for the feeling of love usually leads to the decision to ignore faults initially, but that chemical change is addressed by the body and after an indeterminate amount of time can no longer be held responsible for the aforementioned choice to overlook faults.

    I would argue that the point when the feeling is fading/ has faded becomes the point at which the relationship moves past the “in love” stage into the “love” phase.

    Past that point, each person must make the decision of whether to give, or not to give, their love. Our society’s divorce rate suggests that a very large percentage of couples choose not to pursue the option to give love.

    Instead, a subscription to the idea that one has no option in who and when one loves dominates and leads people to say, “I’m not in love with you anymore.”

    The alternative is to make the conscious effort to overlook faults in one’s partner, to forgive mistakes, to overlook extra weight, to gently point out extra weight if it will be a health issue, to be supportive in times of trouble or to make sacrifices for the other’s sake. In each of these cases, a person is choosing to give love.

    In a truly long term relationship, there will always be situations when each person has the chance to say they are no longer in love, when each can choose not to give love. That choice is what makes the difference between the seniors who smile and hold hands fifty years into their marriage, and those who are looking forward to falling in love a few months after their most recent divorce.

    The choice to give love is the defining element of strong relationships. It is only through the vulnerable act of giving love through sacrifice, compromise, and forgiveness that a true healthy relationship can build.

    It’s risky though.

    Full disclosure: I speak as an individual who has been married for just shy of seven years. My wife and I fight occasionally. Conflict in a relationship is normal and healthy. How the couple deals with fights is a large part of determining the health of the relationship.

    Caveat the first: A happy relationship requires both people to make the choice to love: it cannot be one-sided.

    Caveat the second: Although it is a choice, the decision to give love is not easy, nor is it necessarily secure. It is, however, a choice.

    Caveat the third: The other lyrics in the song suggest that Mars believes he is ready to give love, but his decision to lash out shows otherwise.


    • Jon Eric #

      Jonathan, you’re fulla crap. I started dating the woman who would become my wife back in the spring of 2005. We’ve had arguments since then, but whether or not to “give love,” which is to say, whether or not to love, was never a choice. With each conflict, with each flaw, with each problem that arose, the question wasn’t “Do I choose to continue to love her?”

      Rather, the question is, “Do I love her?” Or “Do I still love her?” There’s an answer, and as far as I can tell it doesn’t much have to do with anything I can control.


      • Jonathan #

        I would suggest that the act of forgiveness and acceptance in the context of conflict, flaws or problems is the act of giving love.

        Forgiveness is a choice. Acceptance is a choice. Sacrifice is a choice. Compromise is a choice. I probably wasn’t clear, but I define the decision to do these things as the act of giving love.

        Yes, you do these things for people other than your wife, but I suspect that you do them more for her. I’m willing to bet you have to do these things more for her than for anyone else simply based on proximity.

        Beyond that though, what happens if you ever come to the place where you ask yourself “Do I still love her?” and the answer is “I don’t know,” or even “No.”

        (Caveat: I’m not saying that this moment will definitely come in the relationship, and I’ll explain why in a moment.)

        At that point, you would have a choice: the choice of whether to walk away from the relationship or to ask yourself why you came to that answer. You would have the choice to ask yourself whether you can love her again. At that point, it would be the conscious decision to, or not to, love.

        However, I believe that the daily acts of giving love, as I’ve defined it above, help keep the internal certitude of that love alive. The “in love” portion of a relationship lasts longer if it is built on mutually giving love in the daily areas.

        My distinction between the chemically mandated infatuation “in love” portion of the early relationship and the long term “love” portion is based on those acts of love given.

        Every time you rub her feet, you are giving love. Every time she makes your favorite meal even though it requires extra effort, she is giving love. (My apologies if those come across as sexist answers. Maybe she rubs your feet and you cook for her. The point’s the same.)

        That self-sacrificing element is what I refer to as giving love, and my argument is that it is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship.

        Think about your own relationship, then think about other relationships around you.

        Do you see couples sniping at each other, being waspish, being petty over little things?
        Do you see couples where one partner never helps with the little things around the house?
        Do you see long term couples that are always around each other and happy to do so?
        Do you see couples where each person is constantly trying to make sure the other has as little to do as possible?

        Have you ever known beyond any doubt that a couple wouldn’t last and then seen that relationship fail? In this case, I believe that you were, consciously or unconsciously, picking up on the signs that the couple in question wasn’t giving love.

        Thus, the regular question can’t be, and won’t be, “Do I choose to continue to love her?” Phrased that way, the question will rarely, if ever, arise.

        The regular questions are different; all are choices, but not all are consciously made:
        “Will I forgive her for hurting me?”
        “Will I forgo this thing/idea/choice for her?”
        “Will I let past mistakes go?”
        “Am I willing to put her wants/needs on par with or ahead of my own?”
        “Will I choose to blind myself to unimportant flaws I see in this person?”

        If you’re honest, you’ll find that each of these is a question you’ve had to deal with in your relationship, some of them on a regular basis.

        If your wife is honest, she has had to ask the same questions.

        If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you are choosing to give love.

        In so choosing, you are continuing to build that love, so when the times come that you ask “Do I love her” or “Do I still love her”, the answer doesn’t feel like a choice.


      • Jonathan #

        Another double post, again sorry. This occurred to me 2 minutes after my other response.

        I think the point I’m trying to make is that love is both emotion based and action based.

        I put it to you that the question “Do I love” is a question of feelings, of emotions.

        The question “Do I choose to give love” is a question of actions. However, this question is usually buried in the questions one asks daily, for example, “Will I forgive this person for wronging me?” or “Will I buy her a random present because of what she means to me?”

        The act of giving love reinforces the feeling of love.

        Ergo, when one makes the decision to give love through one’s actions, one is expanding upon the emotional based concept of loving, within oneself and in the other person, although the latter is not guaranteed.

        An example of this may be seen in the concept of unrequited love, a place many of us have been (myself definitely included). Often, the more person A tries to prove his/her love (almost always through actions) to person B, the more person A feels that he/she loves that other person. The longer this goes on, the harder it is for person A to accept that person B does not return the love, simply based on the amount of love given.


        • stokes #

          I would say, Jonathan, that you have a good understanding of what it takes to have a successful relationship. And those do take work (and conscious effort-to-work), don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think that’s what the word love means, and I think you’re falling into a trap yourself, in that you seem to think that the heady glee of infatuation — what you call the “in love” stage of the relationship — is based entirely on brain chemistry, but the more durable, less exciting emotions that Jon Eric feels for Mrs. Jon Eric are somehow not based on brain chemistry. One emotion fades and is replaced by another emotion, but “real” love is still an emotion, and emotions aren’t voluntary. (Well… not much. Some psychologist reading this may want to correct me.) Take trust. Can I choose to trust someone? A person makes a promise to me, and I either believe them or I don’t. I can choose to act like I believe, for instance by putting myself into a position where I’ll be physically injured if they don’t come through. But the emotional experience of trust will either be there or it won’t, and that’s not a decision that I get to make. What’s the line from Touch of Evil? “A man can always get what he wants. But he can’t always want what he wants.”

          Your second comment here is on the money, though. People seem to be able to sort of *trick* ourselves into feeling a certain way about someone based on the way we’ve behaved towards them in the past. This means that it’s possible to increase your feelings of love towards someone slightly, or alternately to make yourself love them slightly less. Typically these things are self-reinforcing: I make myself act like I trust you by doing a thousand trust-falls, and provided you don’t drop me it gets easier every time until finally we’ve established something like actual trust. But the best we can do is make a faltering attempt to steer our emotions indirectly: the emotions themselves are really what’s at stake in the question of whether or not person A loves person B.

          If we take emotion out of it, it would be possible to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and morally disgusted by a person and still “love” them simply by forcing yourself to do nice things for them. And hey, maybe that’s a tenable position… I had a theological debate with a friend back in college where she claimed that the “Love thy neighbor as thyself” just meant that you had to, like, buy your neighbors muffins and smile at them. I don’t recognize my own experience of love in that description, though.


    • Marie #

      You could argue that there is a difference, but the song doesn’t mean that kind of love. “I would take a bullet to the brain for ya” is not a statement that you make after contemplation, and it’s not a choice that you’re not like to have to make in the western world at least. The whole chorus smacks of devotion, passion, and that’s the emotional part. It’s also the part that we can’t really control (otherwise it would include contemplation) and it’s also what Bruno asks of his lover. Not really a fair one, is it?


  2. Jonathan #

    Forgive the double post, but something else occurred to me.

    If one sees an album as a chronology of sorts, how does this song fit in with “Just the Way You Are”? Does it come before or after?

    If it comes after, it could be seen as a conciliating gesture after the woman in question has helped Mars understand that she does, in fact, love him (and one hopes he would feel like an idiot after “Grenade”).

    If it comes before, the lyrics imply Mars is still in the early “in love” stage of the relationship when that kind of imagery is common (although one cannot dismiss the idea that the relationship has been in progress for some time, in which case the lyrics become a kind of reassurance of the man’s continued affection for his partner’s appearance).

    There are a couple of lines that indicate there is a relationship of some sort (“I tell her everyday”), so the distant infatuation thing is unlikely (unless one chooses the creepy loner interpretation). In any case, the distance into the relationship determines the connection between the two songs.

    If the relationship is in its early stages, the man’s devotion may be seen as creepy or overwhelming to the woman. Alternatively, he may simply be giving his love too early for the woman to be comfortable with, thus leading to the hyperbolic assault launched in “Grenade.”

    If the relationship has been ongoing for an extended period, one assumes some sort of disaster must have occurred between the songs (adultery being the sin indicated by the “Grenade” video).

    The lyrical content may be seen as consistent between the songs if Mars has been fully devoted for an extended period only to be spurned. In that event, his anger may be justified, and his vitriol filled hyperbole of “Grenade” stays in keeping with his admiration filled hyperbole in “Just the Way You Are.”


  3. Marie #

    This is disturbing, and I don’t know if I’m associating it too mych with the Nice Guy(tm), but there seems to be something in modern romaniticism, and especially the one meant for men that is really unhealthy. And it doesn’t go away either – there’s a hit in my country currently where the singer declares that he took a bottle to the head, was chased by the cops, comatose and then when he saw the light in the love interest started “pretending” and made himself a soldier in her name. No indication whatsoever that she ever asked for any of this or even knew aobout it, but of course she’s the mean one.

    Why is it so damn appealing to make yourself an unwanted martyr like this? Obviiously someone has to identity with it, otherwise these sings would never have made the top ten. Something is just wrong with our self image today.


  4. Alex #

    A lot of interesting points here, but I’ll throw a couple of things out there. First, I don’t think it’s wrong to have that kind of irrational love for someone. Of course it can be overbearing and self-destructive, and I’ve seen people fall down that path. However, it can also be healthy. Two people can be irrationally in love together, and know every day that they would die for each other (not that the opportunity would present itself in everyday life), and that’s fine. Who are we to tell them they’re wrong to love that big and extremely? If they’re right for each other, and it makes sense to them, and it isn’t impeding their daily life, then more power to them. A very important part of being with someone is compatibility, and that includes such things as shared ideals, similar thought processes, levels of emotionality, etc. Do two people have to be exactly alike to be in love? Not at all. But if you’re the type of person who lets your emotions overwhelm you, then it’s only right to want to be with someone who loves that big in return. Of course, this doesn’t devalue the other important parts of being with someone, like responsibility, not being selfish, the little everyday things, and all the other aspects that define a strong relationship. No matter how in love two people are, in the long run, that will never be enough. A bit of a hard truth, but any realistic person knows it. The ideal then (not a universal ideal of course, but a possible one), is keeping that incredible level of love while also having the presence of mind to sacrifice for your lover and plan for the future, and forgive those little flaws that bother you. Anyone who thinks being in love means never having conflict is sorely mistaken, and yet, I see so many people who still mistakenly believe that love overcomes all problems and makes life into a fairytale existence. But, that’s not to say that being in love is miserable. Good love still means that 99% of the time, you’re happy. There’s just that 1% where a difference of opinion causes an argument, or a day you’re just feeling like shit, or one of you is late to something, or you’re still working out certain boundaries, or someone has been being a bit more selfish than is fair.

    To return to the topic of Bruno Mars, unfortunately, we only have his side, and it’s a very limited side. For all we know, this girl promised to him the exact same things he promised her. Or perhaps she was initially just as invested in the relationship, but was fickle or lost interest, but was too much of a pansy to do anything but reinforce his belief in her love. Conversely, perhaps he came on too strong, and she eventually became dissatisfied with him, but he refused to let go. Or maybe she realized that his love alone wouldn’t sustain the relationship, and broke it off because she was no longer satisfied and he wouldn’t listen. “But I love you” isn’t a good enough reason to be with someone if they fail you in other ways. Perhaps neither of them thought of the long-term and when problems started cropping up, they ignored them at first. It really can go both ways, which is why it’s hard to condemn the song. If she truly lied to him and then suddenly tore his heart apart, then he’s right to be angry. Honesty is super, super important, and lying to someone can have very hurtful consequences. But, if she never was what he claims she was, and he was just putting her up on a pedestal, then it’s his fault. He could be one of those guys who promises big and delivers on none of it. And of course, there’s the most realistic guess, which is that fault is never completely one-sided. They probably both made mistakes. In the end, sometimes two people can be very right for each other, but a few small decisions can make all the difference between being happy or falling apart.

    But aside from all of this, I like the way the song sounds, and believe me, I’ve liked songs that lyrically are far worse than this one.


  5. Gab #

    Compare this to Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie.”


  6. tammy #

    I understand and appreciate the effort put into this entry.. and sometimes I think that I feel as appalled as you would to Bruno Mars and I to Taylor swift (especially you belong with me).

    As much as we can overthink this song, I’d just like to throw out the idea, that the lyrics could be written on a whim/emotion/etc. Just as some people can’t help falling madly in love, he probably couldn’t help feeling wronged/hurt even if it was irrational or even if he knew it was mostly his fault. Call him a hypocrite if you will, but we’ve all been one at some point of time and I think we all know how that feels.

    As all songs that sell well, the tune and lyrics have to appeal to us, and I think most of us can identify with the burn of hurt. Plenty of us just want to complain and have people identify with us, and support us regardless of who’s really in the wrong. And we do talk truckloads of nonsense when hurt.

    I’m not saying your analysis was wrong, and that your opinions are unjustified ( I think a few points were spot on), but I’m just saying although I do not condone his lyrics, I understand why he writes them, and why they are so popular.

    What spooks me however, is that if one actually sings this over and over and hears it over and over again, even if you knew you screwed up the relationship , one day you might actually start believing the other party is the only hypocrite.

    Then the day we learn to pick ourselves up and take responsibility will never come, and another similar song, which WILL sell well, will be produced. (and maybe we’d have another analysis on overthinkingit?)

    Oh well.


  7. Akilah #

    then rip the breaks out my car

    I enjoyed this, but one thing: “breaks” should be “brakes.”

    I hate to be That Person; it just struck me as I read that section.


    • stokes OTI Staff #

      My bad. Oh wait, actually, you know what? It actually makes MORE sense this way. She wasn’t trying to kill him – she just ripped a cassette out of his tape deck. That seems way more in line with what’s going on in the rest of the song.


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