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Top 40 Philosophy: Tove Lo, “Habits (Stay High)”

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, Music, and Top 40 Philosophy

After taking a two-post break from the Billboard Hot 100 chart, we’re back with this week’s #4 song, “Habits (Stay High)” by Tove Lo. Both the video and the song itself contain what we now call “mature content,” but neither is precisely NSFW. I actually think the video is a pretty powerful indictment of the habits it portrays.

The song belongs broadly to the “Love Song” genre, to the “Breakup” sub-genre thereof, and to the “And I’m Miserable about It” sub-sub-genre. However, the video reminds me most strongly of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” which not only is a great song, but has an unusually deep video. (Notice where Party Cudi and Tormented Cudi end up at the end of the video.)

The song, then, is less about love than happiness. Ms. Lo believes her happiness derives from another person, and because she has been deprived of that person, she has also been deprived of happiness. In despair, she devotes herself full time to trying to fill up and cover over her emptiness and misery.

And it is clear from the video that what she is doing is not working. Superficial socialization, casual sexual activity, and alcohol and drug abuse simply don’t work. They are stopgaps, not solutions — placebos, not cures.

So, is Ms. Lo’s problem that she was unwise to think another person could bring her happiness? Does depending on another person simply make us too vulnerable? That is what Neoplatonists like St. Augustine and Boethius would say. If we want true happiness, we must devote ourselves to something that will not fail us (either by changing into something else or by being taken away from us).

Aristotelians, however, would say that Ms. Lo’s real problem is that she has developed the wrong habits. Her habits are vices, not virtues, and only the virtuous person can be truly happy. It is not her devotion to another person, but her being herself a bad person, that makes her miserable.

Fortunately for Ms. Lo, however, she is not actually vicious (i.e., her character is not one of vice, pure and simple). She is tormented about her habits, while if she were actually vicious, she would enjoy them without regret. There is still hope for her, and hope is essential to happiness (unless Camus is right that one can be happy even without hope).

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