Just to mix things up a little, I’m doing a “mini-series” of recent releases by three of British music’s brightest stars over the next few days. By chance, I heard all three records close together on a long car journey recently, and it struck me they all had a very different perspective on love.
Love is the basis for probably 95%+ of all popular music…with most of the rest being about drugs, as near as I can figure…
So songs about love are not that unusual. But three songs by popular artists coming out at more or less the same time exploring love…the problems in finding it and the problems in keeping it…in three quite different ways happens much less often.
First up is James Arthur. He won the UK’s X-Factor competition a few years ago and has had a bit of an up-and-down life both before and after his X-Factor win.
But he’s still pressing ahead, which I rather admire. When it might be easier to give up, but you keep going anyway, that’s the hallmark of some steely inner determination people might not even see in themselves.
James Arthur has a singing style all of his own. I don’t mean this in any sense as a criticism, but he does what I’d call ‘tortured angst’ better than just about anyone I can think of. He connects effortlessly with emotionally-charged songs and uses his experiences and imagination to bring a level of authenticity in his performance that few can match.
Like a lot of performers, he’s much quieter and self-effacing off-stage than on it. As near as I can tell, without knowing him personally, James Arthur seems to be someone who is genuinely trying to do the right thing the best way he knows how, even if those intentions don’t always work out as he might have hoped.
I’ve always got a lot of time for hard workers who keep going no matter what life throws at them, or indeed what they throw at themselves.
James Arthur’s new song is called “Empty Space” and it’s about how you feel inside after you’ve lost someone special. You’ll probably pick up right away that this subject is perfect for James Arthur’s ‘tortured angst’ vocal style.
“Empty Space” starts off with James Arthur trying to convince himself he’s well and truly over the relationship…you’re probably ahead of me here, but he isn’t remotely over it, instead he’s adopted a state of defiant optimism about how well he’s been able to move on…
I don’t see you
You’re not in every window I look through
And I don’t miss you
You’re not in every single thing I do
I don’t think we’re meant to be
And you are not the missing piece
That defiant optimism only lasts a verse or so, though…
I won’t hear it
Whenever anybody says your name
And I won’t feel it
Even when I’m bursting into flames
I don’t regret the day I left
I don’t believe that I was blessed
I’m probably lying to myself again
Breakups are hard. Staying together when things aren’t working out is no picnic either. Maybe it’s just life that’s hard…no matter what you try there will be challenges along the way to throw you off-course.
I’m also intrigued by the title of “Empty Space”.
When someone you love leaves you, they leave a gap somewhere inside you that represents what they meant in your life and how much you miss them.
Even if you’re the one doing the leaving, as was the case for James Arthur in “Empty Space”, if you felt any level of emotional connection with another human being, you’ll always find it hard to fill the void they left in your life.
Very few people are such dreadful individuals that there’s nothing to miss after you’ve gone your separate ways.
For some people, the emotional void lasts about as long as it takes them to meet someone else. Then, with a click of the fingers, they move on.
When you’re of a more sentimental disposition, it can last a lot longer.
I still desperately miss someone I haven’t seen for years and will almost certainly never see again. Our relationship was incredibly close but entirely platonic.
When something triggers my memories of her…usually a song that catches my emotions by surprise…I know there’s a void inside me, left there by the best friend I ever had, when she went overseas to get married many years ago. Thanks to James Arthur’s song, I now know to call that an “Empty Space”.
I’ve long since learned how to keep my own ‘tortured angst’ buried deep below the surface. But it’s easily triggered, so I know from personal experience that “Empty Space” describes perfectly what it feels like to miss someone you can’t just delete from your life like an old email you don’t need any more…
I’m alone in my head
Looking for love in a stranger’s bed
But I don’t think I’ll find it
’Cause only you could fill this empty space
I wanna tell all of my friends
But I don’t think they would understand
It’s something I’ve decided
‘Cause only you could fill this empty space
Coming to the realisation that there’s only one person who could fill an empty space inside you is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing when you can do something about it. Maybe the pain you feel is a prompt to change something inside yourself…maybe the person you left is prepared to give you another chance and it works out this time around.
In the long run, your relationship is stronger because you remember the pain you felt when it nearly slipped through your grasp. Your memory of those times sets off a twinge inside when you know you’re taking your partner for granted, or upsetting them in some way. You don’t want to go there again, so that’s your prompt to dial it back a little.
Sometimes, though, the moment is passed and it’s never coming back.
It’s not as simple as picking up the phone, saying sorry and starting again where you left off as if nothing ever happened.
If I was a betting man, I’d guess that the experience James Arthur relays in “Empty Space” is more in the second category than the first. Offhand, this doesn’t sound like a man who is expecting a mumbled apology and a bunch of flowers to put things back the way they were.
And that’s the sort of song James Arthur really knows how to deliver. Prepare yourself for the emotional roller-coaster that is James Arthur’s tale of loss and heartbreak…it’s “Empty Space…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here…https://open.spotify.com/track/1uru26I2JKd2mQZt0MDCUe
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.