John Legend Song Tells Me “You’re Beautiful”…Thanks I Guess?

by Isabel Staccuneddu

I write this article from a loving place.  John Legend is my mom’s favorite artist, and I’ve been conditioned to enjoy his smooth R&B style.  I’m not a diehard fan, but I definitely agree that he and his music are cool.

However, liking a celebrity doesn’t mean it’s my job to defend problematic behavior.  Personally, I think it means the opposite.  Since I respect this person, I want them to do better.  And, honestly, I think John Legend can do better than “You & I”. 

I want to start by mentioning the positives of the video, though, since out of all the “Save Women! Tell Them They’re Beautiful” trope-using media out there, “You & I” is by no means the worst offender. 

Legend seems like a pretty chill guy, having publicly stated, “we are better off when women are empowered –- it leads to a better society”.  His new video supports this by featuring a diverse cast of women of many races that includes cancer survivors, Laverne Cox, differently-abled women, queer women, and women doing things women do (boxing, preparing for a job interview, painting…you know, having interests and leading a life).

Honestly, I love the video. Watching the boxer revel in her broken nose riled up the rugby player in me. Seeing the expectant mother cradle her stomach left me teary thinking about the day I might become a parent. The best part of this four minutes isn’t the song, but the honest depictions of all types of women. 

I have mixed feelings about people fighting sexism by clinging to how women being strong, playing sports, and succeeding in stereotypically “masculine” endeavors is the end all be all of feminism. Yes, women should never doubt themselves if they want to pick up a (rugby) ball (you should totally try it), but what’s wrong with sensitive women?  Women who enjoy “feminine” activities?  Women who encompass all of these traits and more?  The Legend video avoids this pitfall, I think, by showing women as people.  There are athletes, mothers, painters, women crying, women smiling, women kissing men, women kissing women, just people living their lives.

Now, the song. What is it that compels cute guys to tell women that they’re beautiful? Is all that Axe straight boys use going right to their heads?

Look, John. I never asked you if I was beautiful. Yet, you’re intent on explaining to me just how I enchant you.  I “stop the room when we walk in/Spotlight’s on everybody’s staring” and that makes you feel good.  You have a cute lady on your arm, and who doesn’t love a cute lady?  Especially since I “Tell all of these boys they’re wasting their time/Stop standing in line, ’cause [I’m] all [his].” Would I not be so beautiful to you if there weren’t a line of other men trying to compete against you for me, like I’m a prize to be won? 

Why is my value based on how men perceive me? I’m supposed to feel special because you chose me to be your girl?  “Out of all of the girls/You’re my one and only girl” gives the idea that women compete for your attention, John, and the one woman you pick to be yours should be honored.  You could’ve had any girl in the world, but you chose ME. Wow. That doesn’t sound so much like empowering women…it sounds more like reducing them down to objects.

While we’re at it, why is it so difficult for men to understand that women don’t live their lives trying to impress? Just like the women in your video, Mr. Legend, the women of the world have interests. Yes, some of those interests include make-up and dresses! “You fix your make up, just so/Guess you don’t know, that you’re beautiful/Try on every dress that you own/You were fine in my eyes a half hour ago.” Thanks, I guess, but I’m just trying to find an outfit to match my nails.

I don’t condemn John Legend for using a lazy trope to write a tear-jerking hot single for his new album. I really don’t. If you don’t believe me, just check my YouTube history.  I have listened to this song an illegal amount of times. I just wish that feminist-minded men would think critically about the themes and ideas they’re putting out into the world through the media. If the Legend crew had put as much effort into the song as the video, perhaps this would have been a glowing review rather than a disappointed one.

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