Sometimes a song offers an archetype or a role model for persons to emulate. I recently heard the phrase “motivational rock.” More commonly I think of such a song as “aspirational.”
“This One’s For the Girls”
As Wikipedia puts it, “The song’s lyrics are a salute to women of various ages (early teens, middle twenties and approaching middle age) dealing with the struggles of different phases of life—starting high school and facing new pressures, coping with uncertainty about a career, and reaching middle age—and tells them ‘You’re beautiful the way you are.’” It’s addressed to “girls” of all ages, “from one to ninety-nine.” (The varying usage of the term “girl” over the last fifty years is a whole separate subject.) The song is explicit about expressing an archetype, or an ideal, for women of any age: “we’re all the same inside.”
It’s interesting to see what characteristics are asserted of this common core identity. The refrain implies that women are characterized by wholehearted love—“who love without holdin’ back.” They’re sentimental: “who’ve wished upon a shooting star.” They’re idealists—or maybe just striving for some lofty goal: “who dream with everything they have.” And this willingness to put oneself on the line is courageous, because they’re also vulnerable: “who’ve ever had a broken heart.” Each verse portrays integrity and being true to oneself. All these characteristics are commended: “beautiful.”
There could be vigorous debate about any or all of these specific ideals. But the popularity of the song testifies to the notion that at least some listeners can identify with this vision of womanhood. More generally, “Girls” a member in good standing of the large family of female empowerment songs. Just as a sampling of recent hits, we could instance “Fight Song,” “The Road Less Traveled,” “Scars To Your Beautiful” . . . There’s no lack of inspiring characterizations for women.
The Missing Complement
It’s less clear what the corresponding archetype is for men or boys. We’ve been challenging traditional stereotypes of masculinity for several decades. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But we seem to be having trouble figuring out what should replace those stereotypes.
There are plenty of general-purpose motivational songs about—which makes sense, because most of what we are, we have in common as human beings. But what would a comparable song for guys look like—a “This One’s For the Boys”? We don’t see a whole lot of candidates stepping up for that position.
I’m thinking of good role models for boys. We have plenty of bad ones, to be sure. We can discard at once the overly violent, the nihilistic, or the tedious “bro-country” stereotype (to which “Girl in a Country Song” made an entertaining response). But what do we want young men to take as an ideal? Are they supposed to be really sensitive? Really tough? Down-to-earth? Geeky? It seems to me there’s a significant gap here, or at least a state of considerable confusion about masculine ideals.
This isn’t as trivial as it sounds. Sure, one song isn’t going to make the difference between a world of well-developed mature men and the reverse. But we do need the subtle guidance our stories and our songs provide as we grow. So I’ve been on the lookout for the kind of song that would say to men the kind of things “This One’s For the Girls” says to women.
Earlier this year I ran across the title song from Lonestar’s 2016 album “Never Enders,” written by Dean Sams, Richie McDonald, and Marv Green. I liked the full-speed-ahead energy of the music, but I loved the lyrics: one of those cases where you say to yourself, “yes, that’s just right, I’ve been wanting to hear someone say that!”
At first hearing, the song struck me as evoking an ideal that anyone could sign onto. And so it does. Just as men, not only women, could perfectly well aspire to the wholehearted love and “dream big” of McBride’s song; in the same way, both women and men could identify with Lonestar’s lyrics.
In fact, some of the same characteristics appear in both. In “Never Enders,” the unidentified “we” are, among other things, “crazy wild dreamers” and “long shot believers,” and we “wear our hearts out on our sleeves.”
But it also occurred to me that this song might be especially well keyed to guys. The song commends some traits that seem particularly suited for young men’s aspirations.
One major theme is faithfulness. The singers are, in the lovably idiosyncratic phrasing of the song, “make-a-promise keepers.” We “ain’t never gonna walk away.” “We are now, we are forever / We are in this thing together / We don’t give up or surrender.” Here traditional masculine qualities of steadiness and persistence are embodied in loyalty and standing by one’s partner—“for worse or better.” Since unfaithfulness or lack of commitment (to a relationship) is a traditional male shortfall, the song’s assertion seems all the more decisive—embodied in the very title.
What’s even more interesting is a notion of balance and growth. The first words are: “We’re lettin’ goers, we’re hold-on-ers”—someone who knows when to hold tight and when to allow space. Moreover, we’re “changers with the timers.” “We are the fire that keeps on burning / Always living, always learning.” The notion of lifelong learning is a somewhat surprising meme to hear, considering how often country music devotes itself to standing by traditions—but “always learning” is an excellent lodestar for someone who’s trying to become a real man.
The music video depicts the band itself cruising around, seeing sights that evoke a healthy sentiment—like a kid on a bike pretending to be an astronaut—and occasionally participating. If we focus on this, we could read the “we” very narrowly to mean the band members. But it’s clear the song is aiming for a wider applicability than this.
So on this Father’s Day, I recommend “Never Enders” as a song we can all join in on to help point ourselves in the right direction—especially, perhaps, us boys.