*Loving, losing, lamenting, longing. *
Those four l-words sum up the melancholy acoustic ballad that former One Direction member Niall Horan strums in "This Town," the 23-year-old's first solo single since his famous boy band went on permanent hiatus.
The track isn't that far removed from the similarly self-aware One Direction hit "Story of My Life." Still, this one takes a more mournful tack as a forlorn young man unpacks his regrets about the things he never said to a woman he once loved … a woman who's now moved out and moved on with someone new.
Waking Up Alone
Horan wastes no time setting the stage for this angst-filled breakup drama. "Waking up to kiss you and nobody's there," we hear him pine in the song's opening line, "The smell of your perfume still stuck in the air." Those lines strongly suggest that this couple was living together, a theme I'll return to a bit later.
Meanwhile, his ex is getting on with the next chapter of her romantic life: "I saw that you moved on with someone new/In the pub that we met he's got his arms around you/It's so hard."
And him? Instead of healing or closure, there's only aching, ongoing regret paired with reminiscing about a relationship that stretches all the way back to this couple's childhood. "And I want to tell you everything," Horan sings. "The words I never got to say the first time around." Then he recalls their shared history. "And I remember everything/From when we were the children playing in this fairground."
So not only is this a breakup song, it's a breakup song about a guy and girl who've known each other since they were just kids.
Horan knows that he needs to just let her go ("And I know that it's wrong/That I can't move on"), but he just can't bring himself to do so ("But there's something about you/ … Everything comes back to you").
An Unintentional Cautionary Tale
Perhaps Horan (or the character whose perspective he's singing from here) can't move on so easily or quickly because the relational rupture he's experienced is actually bigger than he fully understands.
Let me explain.
It wasn't that long ago, really, that two unmarried people "shacking up" would have been considered something scandalous, something immoral. "Living in sin," it was once called.
Alas, the concept of sin in general has fallen on hard times in mainstream culture. No one is living in sin anymore … they're just living together. Indeed, a study done by the Barna group earlier this year found that 65% of all those surveyed thought living together before marriage was a "good idea."
But what happens when two cohabiting folks decide to call it quits? The result is more than just a breakup. It's closer, relationally speaking, to a divorce—even if those involved in the relationship never took it that seriously in the first place.
I don't think Niall Horan is trying to give us a morality tale here. He's just singing about his broken heart. But in the process, he accidentally illustrates exactly why his heart is so badly battered to begin with: because the cohabitation he hints at in the song's opening line is actually a much bigger deal than many in our mainstream culture realize.