This is part of a weekly seven-part series by a-devil-in-your-smile analyzing the lyrics of Louis Tomlinson.
One of the many notable things about Louis’ song-writing style is his elegant song structure. Multiple verses all feed a chorus that delivers the central theme—which is usually both the conclusion of the story and the emotional core of the song.
The “stories” he tells are emotional journeys rather than literal stories, and are usually told in some degree of metaphor. The song is the journey of coming to an emotional realization. “This is how I came to figure this thing out.”
From “End of the Day”:
I told her that I loved her, was not sure if she heard
The roof was pretty windy and she didn’t say a word
Party dying downstairs, had nothing left to do
Just me, her, and the moon
I said you’re on fire babe
Then down came the lightning on me
Love can be frightening for sure
Said the night was over, I said it’s forever
Twenty minutes later, wound up in the hospital
The priest thinks it’s the devil
My mum thinks it’s the flu
But girl, it’s only you
The verses convey the story, the “problem”: The singer declares his love, but his partner may be unsure. That’s pretty frightening. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Rejection wounds.
So how do you deal with the frightening reality that to love is to be vulnerable? Like always in his music, Louis refuses to let fear drive him away from love.
All I know at the end of the day
Is you want what you want and you say what you say
And you’ll follow your heart even though it’ll break sometimes
All I know at the end of the day
Is you love who you love, there ain’t no other way
If there’s something I’ve learnt from a million mistakes
You’re the one that I want at the end of the day
The chorus conveys the emotional realization this journey has led him to: “Even though sometimes things are hard, and it’s frightening to need you so much (especially when you might reject me), I know you’re the one I want, and that’s what matters.” The verses—the story, the problems—feed into the chorus, the central realization of the song: “Love can be frightening, vulnerable, and even painful sometimes. But I’ve learned, through a million mistakes, that it’s worth it.”
And it’s exactly this kind of nuance and complexity that makes Louis’ writing stand out. The song doesn’t say, “Love is great, love fixes everything.” It’s about facing those things we hide from ourselves, like vulnerability and fear of rejection, and not letting those things prevent us from following our hearts.
Once again, Louis masters the tone perfectly. He’s neither drowning in his fear nor blaming his partner for being uncertain. He is not demanding that his partner do or change anything. His focus is on his own emotional world: “how do I deal with the vulnerability of being in love?” And he chooses to face it, head on, even when it’s scary. Because he has learned that it’s worth it.
My mother told me I should go and get some therapy
I asked the doctor
“Can you find out what is wrong with me?
I don’t know why I wanna be with every girl I meet
I can’t control it, yeah, I know it’s taking over me
I’m going crazy, can’t contain it
So tell me just what I should do?”
She said, “Hey, it’s alright. Does it make you feel alive?
Don’t look back, live your life, even if it’s only for tonight”
She said, “Hey, it’s alright if it makes you feel alive”
Went to a party just after the doctor talked to me
I met a girl, I took her right up to the balcony
I whispered something in her ear that I just can’t repeat
She said, “OK”
But she was worried what her friends will think
She’s going crazy, can’t contain it
She asked me, “What should I do, oh?”
I said, “Hey, it’s alright….
We got to live before we get older
Do what we like, we got nothing to lose
Shake off the weight of the world from your shoulders
Oh, we got nothing to prove
I said, "Hey, it’s alright…
The meaning of this song is somewhat confused at first. On the surface, it initially appears to be about a horny teen boy, but the rest of the song doesn’t hold that up. Horny straight teen boys don’t usually need to consult therapists about their attraction to girls. They don’t worry something is wrong with them.
So what is the song about? The central message of the song is, of course, in the chorus: “It’s alright if it makes you feel alive.” This seems to imply a journey towards self-acceptance, and so the verses should convey the story and problems that lead to that realization.
Knowing this, we can look at the verses in a different light. If you replace “she/girl” with “he/boy” (or the singer with a woman), everything falls into place. It’s alright, live your life, don’t worry about what your friends think, shake off the weight of the world from your shoulders. You’ve got nothing to prove. It’s alright if it makes you feel alive.
This is the kind of meaning that would never be conveyed in a less sophisticated song, but here, the song’s internal structure makes it clear. This is the story that supports the emotional core of the song.
Make a little conversation
So long I’ve been waiting
To let go of myself and feel alive
So many nights I thought it over
Told myself I kind of liked her
But there was something missing in her eyes
So hot that I couldn’t take it
Want to wake up and see your face
And remember how good it was being here last night
Still high with a little feeling
I see the smile as it starts to creep in
It was there, I saw it in your eyes
The verses tell a story of longing and confusion as the singer reflects on what he thinks he should want, and how that’s different from what he actually does want.
He starts out feeling pretty numb. He wants it to work, perhaps because he wants to be normal, but he also wants to feel alive, and there’s just no spark there.
And then, we switch from “her” to “you.” And with you, it’s so hot, he can’t take it. Lack of spark is definitely not the problem here. It’s so good, he’s a little high from it. That spark missing in “her” eyes—it’s definitely there in “yours.” And there’s hope that maybe, his partner feels the same way.
But it’s not instant. There’s a journey to get there, and the realization is, of course, in the chorus:
I was stumbling, looking in the dark, oh
With an empty heart
But you say you feel the same
Could we ever be enough?
Baby we could be enough
And it’s alright
Calling out for somebody to hold tonight
When you’re lost, I’ll find the way
I’ll be your light
You’ll never feel like you’re alone
I’ll make this feel like home
The repeated refrains in this song are “Baby we could be enough” and “I’ll make this feel like home.” He and his partner are both lost, stumbling in the dark, both wanting something more, but also afraid it won’t be enough.
“We’re enough,” he tells his partner. “All we need is each other. It’s okay to need me, I’ll always be there for you. I’ll make this feel like home.”
It will be real—a proper relationship, everything a true romantic partnership should be. The song is about his love for his partner, but in a way, it’s also about self-love. Because in order to have his partner, they both have to accept themselves first.
The tone of this song is perfect: genuinely sweet and romantic without being frivolous. That’s a hard trick to pull off, but Louis does it beautifully.
You can read the other parts of this series here.