By: Gabriela Yareliz
Today, we are looking at the last sad ballad (the last songs we will look at are happier– Happy Gwen). If our previous post was on “Early Winter,” we’ll call this one the late winter ballad. After the demise of her 13-year marriage to Gavin Rossdale due to his apparently multiple infidelities, two flopped singles (though one of the flops “Baby Don’t Lie” is an upbeat song about dealing with a liar in a relationship, highly recommend), we have her divorce anthem, “Used to Love You,” from her This Is What the Truth Feels Like album. Today, we sit with Gwen and ask all of the questions we all ask ourselves when something ends badly (namely, why did I fall for this person and how).
Some critics have said this is her best song since “Don’t Speak.” It’s the mature, 20-years-later version. (Source) There is no apparent story being acted out in the music video. The video is Stefani sitting in front of a black screen with a white top on, staring into the camera with eyes so pregnant with emotion you can swim in them. The story can be found in her facial expressions as she processes the song, going from anger, fury to sadness, and her voice’s inflection gives us her signature raw vulnerability.
Even after all those gripping ballads we have dissected, we have a Stefani who can’t believe this breakup actually happened. She held on for a long time. Sometimes in relationships, we coast in our dysfunction with a strange sense of “normalcy” but fail to realize that this is not sustainable. She sings, “I must be dreaming, you’re gone.” As he is pulling out of the driveway, she tells us she is thinking, “You can keep all the memories; I thought I was the best thing that ever happened to you. I thought you loved me the most.”
Stefani was most likely the best thing that happened to that man; she is right. What makes the heart grimace is when she sings, “I thought you loved me the most.” The most implies there were others in some sort of ranking. It means she wasn’t the only one, but the top one; and in the end, she realized she wasn’t even that.
The chorus hits us, and it’s words that articulate how anyone who has been let down in love has felt, at some point:
I don’t know why I cry
But I think it’s cause I remembered for the first time
Since I hated you
That I used to love you
Here we have two extremes, love and hate, all directed toward one person. It’s a weird thing when a relationship ends, and it ends badly. And this is not a Tony-Kanal-Don’t-Speak badly. See, Kanal and Stefani remained friends and had respect between them. Here, we have the rupture of a relationship where one party has been shown the ultimate disrespect, which is when a partner betrays the other. There is a deep pain and a realization that something has been irretrievably broken.
This song’s chorus repeats throughout, but the last verse essentially says that the relationship lacked boundaries, and she was pushed too far. Then, what follows is Stefani singing, “I guess nobody taught you, nobody taught you how to love.” This, my friends, is a pretty compassionate thing to say to someone who blows your life and dreams up in smoke.
Essentially, it’s the most mature way to see the people who f-up everything and everyone in their paths due to their own selfishness or narcissism. These people lack the fundamental understanding of what it is to love. They destroy because they aren’t capable of better in their current state. This doesn’t excuse anything (and in the end, they end up losing), but as a good friend of mine says, sometimes we expect people with no wings to fly.
There’s no point in dwelling and drowning in our mistakes. But Stefani leads us into an important introspection; A reminder that it’s important to see why things fail and why we chose who we chose. This is important to reflect on because if we do it, we are less likely to pick another wingless creature to fly beside us. That’s right, my friend, you were born to fly.
Cast off what’s weighing you down and who is weighing you down. Cry if you have to. Feel the anger, but then, let that person back out of the driveway, with all of the memories.
In the end, Stefani sings that she isn’t sure why she is crying. When a relationship ends badly, the Band-Aids used to hold the relationship together have been ripped off. The taut energy is gone, and you are left knowing it was the other person’s ultimate loss, despite the grief you feel, yourself.
To answer our previous question (in this series) about whether love can be past tense– Stefani shows us here that yes, there are people we used to love, but we’ll be all right because we are the best thing that happened to them.
To anyone who fell in love with a wingless creature who didn’t deserve you– this one goes out to you: