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Meaning of ‘If I Can’t Have You’ by ‘Shawn Mendes’

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Released: 2019

“If I Can’t Have You” by Shawn Mendes is a high-energy pop anthem that dives headfirst into the whirlpool of longing and obsession. At its heart, this song is about being so consumed by someone that nothing else in life seems to matter or make sense without them. Mendes lays it all out with a kind of raw honesty that’s as catchy as it is relatable.

The opening lines, “I can’t write one song that’s not about you / Can’t drink without thinking about you”, set the stage by showing how the narrator’s life is completely wrapped around this other person. It’s not just about writing songs; it’s about how every aspect of his day-to-day existence is influenced by his feelings for them. When he says that everything means nothing if he can’t have this person, it’s a bold declaration of all-or-nothing love, highlighting an intensity that’s both passionate and a tad heartbreaking.

Mendes then paints a picture of his surroundings in Toronto, yet no matter the beauty or the view, nothing compares to being with the object of his affection. The phrase, “But I might as well be in a hotel room”, drives home the point that without that special someone, the grandeur of life’s moments feels empty. He’s going through the motions, reading texts from the one he loves, but it’s a poor substitute for the real thing. This line cleverly captures the essence of longing and the attempt to bridge distance through whatever means available, albeit unsatisfactorily.

The chorus hammers home the central theme with its repetitive structure, emphasizing how deeply entrenched these feelings are. The mention of “Can’t drink without thinking about you” is a classical expression of trying to escape thoughts of someone through distractions, but failing miserably because they’re just that omnipresent in your mind.

In a moment of self-reflection and vulnerability, Mendes expresses a desire for completeness, not just a part of the person he loves but “all the strings attached”. It’s an admission of wanting a full, committed relationship with all its complexities, rather than a superficial connection. The honesty in acknowledging that he hates to admit his feelings speaks volumes about the struggle between pride and desire.

The bridge, “I’m trying to move on, forget you, but I hold on”, is particularly compelling as it captures the human experience of dealing with lingering feelings. It’s a testament to the difficult process of letting go, even when one knows it might be for the best. This struggle between the head and the heart is a common theme in many pop songs, but Mendes delivers it with a fresh sincerity.

Ultimately, “If I Can’t Have You” by Shawn Mendes is more than just a pop song; it’s an anthem for the lovesick, a melodious confession of the depth of one’s feelings, and the lengths to which we’ll go to hold onto the hope of love. Mendes doesn’t just sing a song; he tells a story of unyielding desire and emotional turmoil that resonates with anyone who’s ever found themselves caught in the thrall of an all-consuming love.

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