This is part of a weekly seven-part series by a-devil-in-your-smile analyzing the lyrics of Louis Tomlinson.
One striking thing about Louis’ lyrical gift is how easily he shifts from the poetic to the prosaic (plain language), and that he executes both so well. In either style, he seems to know exactly what he’s trying to say, and finds exactly the right words to say it.
In “Miss You,” Louis shows just how much he can do with simple, prosaic words. There’s nothing fancy or poetic about these lyrics, and yet they could not be more on point:
Is it my imagination?
Is it something that I’m taking?
All the smiles that I’m faking
Everything is great
Everything is fucking great
Going out every weekend
I’ve been checking my phone all evening
Such a good time, I believe it this time
And it couldn’t get better they say
The words “seem” so certain—and yet, we do not believe it, and we know he does not truly believe it, either. Everything is not great. He doesn’t believe he’s having a good time. He’s faking those smiles, and checking his phone constantly for the messages that, presumably, never come.
It is, in a way, both desperate and darkly sarcastic. Underneath, he knows what he won’t admit to himself, and the listener does too.
And then, finally, he admits it:
Should be laughing, but there’s something wrong
And it hits me when the lights go on
Shit, maybe I miss you
But who cares, right?
And all of these thoughts and the feelings
Cheers to that if you don’t need them
When I feel it coming up I just throw it all away
Get another two shots ‘cause it doesn’t matter anyway
Well, apparently, he does:
Just like that and I’m sober
I’m asking myself, “Is it over?”
Maybe I was lying when I told you
“Everything is great
Everything is fucking great”
Back and forth we go. Denying the truth because we’re unable to face the consequences of it. Telling ourselves it doesn’t matter when we know, deep down, it matters a lot.
The song shifts dramatically between openness/honesty/vulnerability, and his attempts to mask all those things by drinking, partying, and lying to himself. But it doesn’t work, of course. We repeatedly and inescapably come back to the same realization each time: “Shit, maybe I miss you.”
Maybe he doesn’t want to admit it to himself because then he’d have to face the terrifying possibility that he might not be able to fix it.
Now I’m asking my friends, how to say “I’m sorry”
They say “Lad, give it time, there’s no need to worry”
And we can’t even be on the phone now
And I can’t even be with you alone now
Oh how, shit changes
We were in love, now we’re strangers
This could so easily have been just a regular old sappy break-up song, but it’s not. The way it’s framed, the song is actually about lying to yourself. It’s about telling yourself something that you know, deep down, you don’t really believe, and finally, letting yourself face it in all its frightening rawness.
And it’s exactly this tone that makes the song stand out, and Louis’ choice to frame it this way reflects his gift. It’s not just about saying, “I miss you.” It’s not even about figuring that out. It’s about the process of admitting to himself what he already knows. Which is extremely relatable.
Rather than using the vivid imagery of his poetry, in his prose, Louis builds his emotional picture with small details that resonate: asking friends for advice, trying to figure out how to apologize, struggling through awkward phone calls and time alone. The simple things that are now hopelessly uncomfortable. The feeling of being strangers. There’s nothing “fancy” or metaphorical about these lines, and yet, they hit home.
This song is an interesting mix of joy, rage, and longing. It’s upbeat, but with a darker edge to it too, as the singer tries to drink his feelings away, but still finds them inescapable. His sarcasm is directed at himself, and it (intentionally) does not mask the longing he truly feels.
Just regular plain words, and look how much Louis can say with them.
You can read the other parts of this series here.