What does unconditional love look like when it's severely tested? "Locked Away," the first solo hit by two brothers from St. Thomas who are collectively known as R. City (a team that's had a hand in writing or producing hits for Miley Cyrus, Usher, Akon, Sean Kingston, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj) tackles that hypothetical question.
Theron "Uptown AP" Thomas and Timothy "A.I." Thomas smudge and smear stylistic boundaries between pop and R&B, rap and reggae on this heartfelt ballad. Theron says of the duo's island-influenced vibe, "It’s our own genre. We call it Caribbean hip-hop."
But there's nothing smudged or smeared about the subject they address here with the help of Maroon 5's Adam Levine. Namely, whether a woman will stay committed to the man who loves her, through thick and thin, no matter what.
For Better, For Worse
The subject of marriage never explicitly comes up in the lyrics of "Locked Away. Still, the song has a "for better, for worse" feel to it as the Brothers Thomas, joined by Levine, brainstorm situations that could test someone's commitment to stay true for the long haul.
"If I got locked away," Levine begins in the chorus, referring to a judge and jury throwing away the key, "And we lost it all today/Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?" That if-then pondering gets a more day-to-day treatment with a recitation of the kinds of things we all struggle with: "If I showed you my flaws/If I couldn't be strong/Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?/ … If I couldn't buy you fancy things in life/Shawty, would it be alright?/ … If I did not have nothing else to give but love/Would that even be enough?/Girl, me need to know/ … Baby, tell me, would you die for me?/Would you spend your whole life with me?"
So pushing into metaphorical territory the nagging thought of what one might have done to fear getting locked away for life, the questions this song asks are good ones. (Unlike the inclusion of a rhythmic background exclamation that sounds quite a lot like "d--mit, d--mit, d--mit.") The focus here isn't on fleeting twitterpation or how one person's good looks make another person's heart flutter with excitement, as is often the case in pop songs. Instead, R. City and Adam Levine are pondering a more profound question: Do you love me enough to go the distance, no matter what?
That's the kind of bedrock question a marriage can and should be built upon, even as you hope and pray that the darker, worst case prison scenarios envisioned here never actually come to pass.
Powerful Portraits of Commitment
The video fleshes out the song's premise via four dramatic, poignant vignettes that get at the idea of unconditional love from different perspectives. I'll give you the quick downsides first, then move on to the stories being told: Brief interludes include some sensual "bump-'n'-grind" dancing at a club, and a woman's top is tight and revealing.
One couple is fighting over how to pay the bills, and we see the guy stick what looks like a brown-bagged pistol in the back of his pants on the way out to door to find a violent solution to their problems. He apparently thinks better of such a rash action that certainly could have landed him in prison, and he and his love later embrace amid tears.
Another vignette involves a soldier leaving for what's presumably a lengthy tour of duty away from his wife and daughter (who we see praying sweetly for her daddy). The little girl pretends to be asleep, and the soldier leaves without saying good-bye, only to think better of it, returning to receive a proper (and again tear-filled) send-off from his wife and daughter.
A third story isn't a romantic one at all. Instead, a father watches as his young-adult daughter is arrested in front of their house. Anguished expressions on both of their faces tell the story of a strained and difficult relationship … one that concludes here with yet another tear-stained embrace.
The final portrait of longsuffering love shows us a man riding a bus, carrying a duffle bag. When he reaches his destination, he opens a door to an apartment to find a woman and a little girl waiting there for him. We don't know what's separated them, but it's not too big a leap to think that he might have indeed been "locked away" while his faithful partner waited for his return.
The song's lyrics plead and ask questions about future commitment. Its video shows us what the good results of living that commitment out actually look like. Commitment in action, you might say, even when life's inevitable trials test our vows and intent to stay true.