Certain pop songs are so breezily immaterial that to hear them once is to have heard them 100 times — the kind that will always be echoing tinnily through the KMart of your imagination, at once seemingly harmless and authorlessly eternal, just a notch above muzak. For me, the ultimate example of this phenomenon is Faith Hill's 2000 country-pop single "The Way You Love Me," which rose to No. 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, spent weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Country charts, and was even popular enough to garner its own HitClip. While you might therefore imagine that it has at least some iota of merit, I'm here to tell you that it is, in fact, the ultimate simulacrum of a pop song; a three minute long Jedi mind trick; a tear in the fabric of spacetime into which our brains are forced to generate some semblance of understanding lest we slip irrevocably into madness. Why the Illuminati-sayers aren't already all over this, I cannot possibly imagine.
Really, though — I'm convinced that "The Way You Love Me" is at least some kind of Josie and the Pussycats-style corporate hoax, if not a harbinger of utter existential ruin. Here, let me Virgil you through this despair pit; to crib from the great William Carlos Williams, hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through the very bleakest of hells.
First off, let's just quickly agree that this song is not exactly a lyrical masterpiece. Few pop hits are these days (see: in Lady Gaga's "Telephone," when she just randomly tacks the syllable "ay" onto the end of a line to make it rhyme), but even among the modern fluff, Hill's track reaches some noteworthy levels of ridiculous. My personal favorite moment comes in the second verse, when her songwriters realize that classic pop structure dictates she say something else now, so they have her offer us the following:
It's not right, it's not fair,
What you're missing over there
But over where, though, Faith? The love you share with this man is here, now, in front of you — what's going on in this fantasy distance you've suddenly brought to our attention? This verse is, in both content and function, a classic "made ya look" to distract from the fact that this song was clearly written in less than five minutes. It's the equivalent of when background actors mouth "peanutbutter watermelon" to look like they're talking, nothing more than verbal packing peanuts. And we let it become a hit anyway.
To make matters worse, the music video is only more incoherent, showcasing the singer in a collection of prototypical Halloween costumes — Sexy nurse! Sexy waitress! Sexy dog owner! Sexy most-90s-backdrop-ever! — and then cutting between them with absolutely no discernible motivation whatsoever. She often doesn't even appear to be a part of these various vignettes, too busy flashing a Vaseline grin and swaying to her own cheery tune — even while, say, her stove catches on fire.
(The single most exciting moment is when you wonder briefly whether Faith Hill was the nurse on the cover of Blink-182's Enema of the State , then you realize she totally wasn't and go back to being gently baffled. There is also a white dude breakdancing, because, 2000.)
I mean, is the idea that her beau will love her no matter what she does? That Faith Hill is an international superspy — or maybe a model at an unrealistically multifaceted photoshoot? Perhaps just very flighty in her career choice? Or, as I suspect, did the director take one listen to "The Way You Love Me" and gawp blankly at a wall for 10 minutes, before knocking an entire costume rack onto the set and systematically ripping out all of his hair?
Because in truth, the inscrutable visuals only serve to reinforce the hollowness of the song itself: Faith Hill is every woman as she is no woman as no woman is more than a fraction of an archetype. Wikipedia describes these characters as "mom," "heiress" — but this is only proof of how quickly we're willing to conflate signifier with signified, adrift in a realm of symbols. Even her nametag is constantly changing — "Love," "Joy," "Faith" — identity all an illusion, big capitalized concepts reduced to bite-size.
At this point, it's also worth noting that according to the song, Faith Hill does not, in fact, actually love this man. She loves the way he loves her. Already, from minute one, we're working off an abstraction, an inverse, self-centered shadow of a relationship — which she seems to celebrate, genuinely if jadedly, because she knows it's the best she can hope for. Maybe it's just more shoddy lyricism, but regardless of writerly intention (or lack thereof), the effect remains the same — as conveyed perhaps best by the strangely tragic first lines:
If I could grant you one wish,
I wish you could see the way you kiss
Just as everyone probably sees colors differently, or you may very well be nothing more than a brain in a vat, Faith reminds her lover that he can never actually know what she feels. Even when he's close to her as can be, his tongue literally inside her face, they're still irrevocably distant, locked inside the cages of their own perception. Barbie blonde and audibly autotuned, she mourns our inability to ever truly empathize, even with the ones we love, before smiling blithely and making out with a chihuahua. Because what's really the difference, right?
We are cursed, Faith shows us, hands outstretched before a very literal void, clawing desperately at the air, as we realize at once that we will never really know ourselves and that we can only know ourselves — that even as we would seem to get closer to one another, we are always fundamentally separate, exchanging nonsense phrases across an unbridgeable gap, specters ever emptily pretending. And thus, with a last tenuous grasp on sanity, as our kitchens explode in flames and our X-ray machines turn to video screens, we let loose our collective forsaken cry:
Ooh, I love the way you love me.