Sometimes when you listen to a famous musician sing, you’re left wondering whether the lyrics to a new song are authentically autobiographical, fantastically fictional or somewhere in between.
Not this time, though.
Former No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani told Los Angeles radio station KIIS FM, “The song was not written that long ago. Like, I want to say maybe a month and a half ago, which is crazy. I had been writing, writing because my life blew up. Everybody knows that my life blew up last February.”
She’s talking about processing her feelings toward her ex-husband, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, to whom Gwen was married for 13 years before discovering he had been having a three-year-affair with the family’s nanny.
Stefani’s passionate lyrics express the feelings of a wife who thought everything about her marriage was great—only to find out that it was anything but. “Used to Love You” vents the 46-year-old singer’s deep grief that things have not turned out for her as she’d expected.
“Never thought this would happen,” she begins simply. “Gotta let this sink in: You’re gone.” Stefani’s simple, sad realization here corresponds with what psychologists say is the first stage of grief: denial.
But she doesn’t stay there long, swiftly transitioning into the second stage: anger. “You go, I’ll stay,” she commands. “You can keep all the memories/I thought I was the best thing that ever happened to you.” Anger, grief and tears of loss then mingle in the song’s chorus. “I don’t know why I cry/But I think it’s ’cause I remembered for the first time/Since I hated you/that I used to love you.”
Stefani further ponders how her ex could have made the choices that he did. “You thought there were no boundaries/ … I guess nobody taught you/Nobody taught you how to love.”
Even in an entertainment culture that often casually disregards traditional mores, Stefani rightly recognizes that marriage means something. Namely, that a spouse’s vow of faithfulness matters, and that you can’t break that vow without suffering severe consequences. She suggests that perhaps Rossdale thought he could get away with it. Then she powerfully, poignantly, rebukes such a naive and narcissistic assumption.
In the painful process, she illustrates the beautiful sanctity of matrimony … by way of the horrible relational rending that happens when its sacredness is violated.
The video for “Used to Love You” is an exercise in less-is-more minimalism, with the camera gazing intently, unblinkingly, at Stefani’s face as she nonverbally expresses a wide range of emotions. Most of the time she’s not even singing as she tries to hold back tears, using her face to illustrate just how raw and wounded she is. But there are hints of a properly proud defiance, too, when she stares straight at the camera while we hear the words, “Now look what you lost.”
Stefani mouths the words to just two lines: “Nobody taught you how to love” and “I used to love you.” Those sad sentiments distill the soul-shattering essence of Gwen Stefani’s completely understandable—and inversely inspirational—lament.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.