In life, there seems to be no shortage of experiences confirming that most people will ultimately become mere bit players in your narrative, passing through briefly in the grand scheme of it all. However, in spite of this unfortunate testament to the ephemerality of human connections, there are a surprising lack of sonic homages to the phenomenon.
Sure, you have your more classic tracks expressing a distinctly twentieth century form of lament about loss (e.g. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by The Platters, “Don’t Turn Around” by Ace of Base, “Foolish Games” by Jewel, etc.), but where the twenty-first century is concerned, songs about love lost are a bit more, well, ghosting-oriented.
Blame it on technology, or the increased lifespan of the average being, but, whatever the reason, the primary cause of mournful regret in love “these days” is a result of a gradual waning in affection–a falling off. While Gotye and Kimbra brought us “Somebody That I Used to Know” in 2011 (rendered memorably by Jeffrey Tambor as Maura on Transparent in 2014), it still expressed a decidedly old school sensibility in terms of not being so damned nonchalant and resigned about losing someone you love. Though Gotye specifically addresses, “You can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness/Like resignation to the end, always the end,” it is not the same level of forbearance for a relationship demise that punctuates so many couples of today–usually straight ones (whatever that means).
A paltry five years later, apathy in romance has augmented quite remarkably (no one was saying “ghost” in 2011, if memory serves). Even in the comparison of music videos for each song, there is less passivity apparent in “Somebody That I Used to Know,” with Gotye being artfully painted into a wall, seemingly immobilized, while Kimbra is allowed the luxury of talking at him, ardently stating her case for dropping Gotye like a hot potato. Conversely, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” is a study in twenty-first century dispassion. Sure Charlie and the object of his desire (played by Mirella Cardoso because Selena Gomez’s schedule wouldn’t permit her to appear in the video) are visibly sad that they’re separated by geography. But in the end, they’re sort of just like, “Meh, guess I’ll let this go. It’s not convenient.” On a separate note, a better version of the plot of this video is Like Crazy–also, incidentally, released in 2011; maybe this was the last year for emotion.
And then, of course, there is the fact that Puth’s primary sorrow stems from having wasted a part of the time pertinent to his youth on a person he’s no longer with by singing, “We don’t talk anymore/Like we used to do/We don’t love anymore/What was all of it for?” This notion that putting an investment into another person has to yield something after a period is another testament to how few people actually want to be with someone for reasons other than avoiding long-term aloneness. There is more fervor and feeling in Gotye screaming, “But you didn’t have to cut me off/Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing/And I don’t even need your love/But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough.” It’s revealing of someone who has experienced genuine pain over the loss of the one they loved as opposed to Puth’s incarnation of the tale, which expresses a wounding of pride more than anything else. The pussiness of modern men is further iterated when Puth admits, “Every now and then I think you might want me to/Come show up at your door/But I’m just too afraid that I’ll be wrong.” Just show up at the fucking door, stalker-style in Love Actually, if you’re that goddamn into it. My god, is there no gumption left?
In another five years, maybe “We Don’t Talk Anymore” will be replaced by an even more aloof song called something like, “That Was Last Night, Now I Met Someone on the Subway.”