When I hear “country music,” I think of relationships and feel-good tunes.
Morgan Wallen’s song, “One Thing at a Time” (from his 2023 album by the same name) checks both of these boxes. At a cursory listen, it’d be easy to allow the song’s “good vibes” to shut off my critical thinking.
But when I consider the song’s problematic themes, I realize the content isn’t as “feel-good” as the melody.
It’s important to find positive methods of coping with a breakup …
… Unfortunately, Morgan Wallen offers no such solutions in “One Thing at a Time.” In the song, the speaker responds to a recent breakup. Evidently, his former partner had suggested he kick his substance abuse problems. Unfortunately, the speaker can’t follow through with this helpful advice. He states that he can either quit the substances or get over his ex, but not both. “I’m only quitting one thing at a time,” declares the speaker.
Obviously, there are discussions of substances in the song, and Wallen continually sings about cigarettes and alcohol. In a particularly disturbing moment, Wallen sings, “If you ain’t gonna kiss me/then I’ll take some whisky, some Grizzly/Nicotine, amphetamines too/You want me to stop some of that/or you want me to stop loving you?”
While the lyrics are a bit tongue-in-cheek (and meant to be cathartic), his message is ultimately hopeless and unhelpful.
Songs like “One Thing at a Time” are tricky when it comes to content. The lack of sexual themes and profanity allows them to slip into playlists for high school dances and grocery stores. But the problem (at least in the case of “One Thing at a Time”) comes from the song’s worldview.
Wallen clearly communicates that breakups are difficult (and that’s true). But his claim that substances are the only way to cope with the problem offers a hopeless solution. And undiscerning minds might internalize and apply his assertions.
Sarah Rasmussen is the Plugged In intern for Summer 2023.