It’s difficult to remember a time when there wasn’t at least one chart-topping song about “this girl I love is dating an asshole and she should be with me instead.” While these tunes can be incredibly catchy—I definitely bop to a few of them—the underlying lyrics and messages can sometimes be toxic.
For example, Shawn Mendes’ 2016 summer hit “Treat You Better” follows the story of a male narrator who does not agree with the relationship the woman he loves is in currently. The famous chorus, “I know I can treat you better than he can / and any girl like you deserves a gentleman”, essentially says “you should be with me because I’m a nice guy.”
And much-needed side note: Shawn sets up a conditional that only girls like her deserve a gentleman… I mean doesn’t everyone, no matter what, deserve to be respected in their relationship? He probably didn’t intend to say that—actually he most definitely did not—but it’s still something to think about.
Although this may be partly reading too much into the lyrics, there is no question that some interpretations of these narratives can be toxic—even if the singers didn’t intend for them to be. In many cases, these lyrics may be condescending and patronizing to women: They assume we cannot make good enough decisions by ourselves and need someone to, heaven forbid, “save us.” Just because a woman enjoys your company, doesn’t mean you’re entitled to be with her. Women and men are allowed to just be friends. (For more, read The Friendzone Doesn’t Exist — She Just Wasn’t Interested)
Shawn Mendes especially and other male artists with similar tracks often use this type of song to speak out against domestic violence. And it’s absolutely incredible they use their platforms in such positive ways! But in the same breath, it is important to recognize that there are different and damaging interpretations that may stem from these narratives.
Women aren’t the only ones who subconsciously absorb the notion that they aren’t capable of choosing partners. These narratives also contribute to the egos and entitlement complex of men who refer to themselves as “nice guys.” And that’s toxic.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are definitely genuinely nice guys, but they aren’t the ones constantly self-professing how unfair it is for “nice guys,” who always “finish last.” To actually be a nice guy, a man needs to respect the boundaries and personal choices of women. They must have a clear understanding they are not really entitled to anything for just being a decent human being. You don’t get a cookie for doing what you should be.
These songs can definitely stay on your playlists and you definitely can keep dancing to them. Some may find comfort in them and that is completely okay and valid. However, it is equally valid to open up discussion about the potentially harmful effects of the “nice guy” narrative.