If you haven’t yet listened to Lizzo’s “Jerome” from her magnum opus(sy) Cuz I Love You, do yourself a favor and listen to it here. And if you haven’t heard Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” or even if you have, here’s a version where the song plays as though the listener is in the loft of a cabin while it’s raining.
I’m not in any film studies classes this year, so indulge me as I dive in and analyze these two songs. Jolene, as the singer describes, has “beauty beyond compare … ivory skin and eyes of emerald green.” Now, this line of thinking sounds familiar to literally anyone who’s ever had a crush before. Who hasn’t laid in bed just thinking about every single detail of their crush’s face for hours? Dolly Parton has, that’s for sure.
But this isn’t just a simple love song. No, this song is a request to Jolene: “Please don’t take my man.” The singer, clearly insecure in her relationship, sees Jolene as a threat. That’s a pretty classic country genre as well — if not for the fact that the singer doesn’t describe her man at all. Dolly goes on for a full stanza about Jolene’s beauty, but does not assign a single adjective to her man at all: no goodness, no handsomeness, no abs, nothing. Conclusion: Dolly isn’t jealous of Jolene — she’s attracted to her.
Let me tell you, I’ve been in that situation before — being in a relationship with a man out of heteronormative compulsivity and marking my attraction to other women as simple jealousy. I knew I was not exactly straight, but I didn’t want to acknowledge that out of shame and fear. So I forced myself to pretend to like a boy, dated him and shoved all my attraction to women deep down.
You might be wondering, wait, but what about Lizzo? What does she have to do with Dolly Parton?
Well, beyond the two of them being actual icons, I like to think of Lizzo’s “Jerome” as the sequel to Dolly’s “Jolene.” “Jerome” depicts the moment the singer finally addresses her man.
Lizzo sings about the reasons she’s breaking up with Jerome in a conversational way, as if anticipating Jerome’s responses to her reasoning. Singing “Boy, thank me later, looks good on paper/ But love isn’t easy, so I’ll do the hardest part,” she acknowledges that this breakup might seem sudden or make Jerome feel like it requires an explanation from her. But she doesn’t lose sight of her true values: She’s worth more than what she’s getting from this relationship.
After the singer has gone through her cursory “oh shit, I’m queer” epiphany, she begins to realize that all is not right in her relationship. She’s not just breaking up with this man because she feels attraction to women; pansexual and bisexual people exist. No, she’s breaking up with him because she’s settled for less from this man in her rush to comply with heteronormativity. She sings, “Poor little baby/ Who told you that you stood a chance with this royalty?” Her queer awakening has made her realize that she deserves the best in all aspects of her life, whomever her partner may be.
I remember one of my few crushes on a man: In middle school, I’d decided that I would just pick a boy to crush on. The bar was so low that my only criteria when I picked was that the guy had nice eyes. Literally nothing else but that. Pretty expectedly, that crush/middle school almost-relationship lasted until the next time I saw a beautiful woman. I realized that the guy just didn’t make me happy, and I stopped trying to force my mind to make him fit my ideal expectations.
The singer ends on a note that underlines her entire journey, from “Jolene” to “Jerome.” “The fact is I’m leaving/ So just let me have this.” She’s doing Jerome a favor and explaining to him why she’s leaving, but at the end of it all, it doesn’t matter the reason. If she’s leaving because she’s realized she only likes women, power to her. If she’s leaving because Jerome isn’t pulling his weight, power to her. No matter what, she’s leaving because she’s unhappy and knows that she deserves better. That’s a powerful and valid reason, and a valuable lesson to learn: If you’re unhappy, you are always allowed to leave the situation.
My first college relationship was of the long-distance-first-year-of-college kind, that dragged on and on because I felt like I didn’t have a strong enough reason to leave. She wasn’t an asshole and neither was I. Nor had I suddenly realized that I only liked men. We just grew up — and grew apart.
We both let the relationship drag on out of fear of being alone, hyperconsideration of one another’s impending heartbreak and crushing societal conditioning to never say ‘no.’ Because of this, we both missed out on the first two semesters of learning how to be independent.
If you are unhappy and stay in a relationship knowing that, then there is absolutely no reason to do so, because it just drains all your energy trying to keep up a facade. And if you’re only staying because you feel like you don’t have a strong enough reason to leave, fuck that.
“No” is a full sentence.