Why ‘You’re Beautiful’ doesn’t fucking suck, September 2016

@thenoahkinsey: On my bucket list, I want to sit James Blunt down and explain – line by line – why his song “You’re Beautiful” fucking sucks.

@JamesBlunt: And I’d like to sit you down and explain – dollar by dollar – why I don’t care.

James Blunt has become the king of the comeback on Twitter, as the example above from last year aptly demonstrates. But I would take issue both with @thenoahkinsey and @JamesBlunt, because You’re Beautiful isn’t successful just because it made a lot of money, it’s successful because it is a well written song.

What people who criticise the song object to I think is the fact that it is apparently ‘simple’, by which I think they mean that the emotion is laid out on a plate (told) rather than being dramatised (shown). Telling rather than showing is often the death knell of good writing. Greeting cards, for example, often tell rather than show emotion.

They make statements such as ‘You amaze me with your strength, kindness and beauty. I will always love you’ or ‘Happy anniversary to a wife more beautiful than any flower’. While they are clearly heartfelt, message such as those don’t have any emotional impact apart from the fact of knowing that someone feels that way about you (if you believe they do).

The way the phrase ‘you’re beautiful’ is used in Blunt’s song is different to the way it is used in getting cards. The song is not trying to convince the listener that the singer believes the girl is beautiful (which is what the greeting card is trying to do), but is part of story about a man who thinks a girl is beautiful and his reaction to it.

The story starts with the singer having one of those brief but intense mind-body connections that you can be particularly open to when a bit drunk or high. The singer’s initial reaction is optimistic, that he is sure he and the girl will get together. As the song develops he becomes more realistic (perhaps because less drunk), recognising that not only are they unlikely to be together, but in fact they are unlikely to ever see each other again.

So the ‘you’re beautiful’ of the chorus changes from an an initial, innocent response to become almost a lament by the end. Why I think people like the song and why they bought it is because it very effectively and economically captures one of those brief dream-like moments that feel like they have a lot of meaning and the sense of loss that they can lead to despite them being insubstantial. And when you think about it, that’s an awful lot of content to pack into 182 words.

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