Very bizarre fan video:
Someday, I will make a list of happy sounding songs that are actually very, very dark. “You Can Make Him Like You” will be near the top of that list. I think simply perusing the lyrics will lead you to that conclusion, but there’s a surprising amount of commentary out there that suggests people believe this is an “empowering” song.
My take on the lyric is largely influenced by one specific verse (and bolstered, then, by the rest of the lyric):
You don’t have to go to the right kind of schools,
Let your boyfriend come from the right kind of school
You can wear his old sweatshirt
You can cover yourself like a bruise
The female character to whom Finn is singing this song isn’t with her boyfriend because she loves him (or even necessarily likes him). She’s with him because he serves as a living GPS system (so she doesn’t need to know the way home), a drug procurement system (so she doesn’t have to deal with the dealers) and a substitute social life (so she has a scene she can be part of). She can go from boyfriend to boyfriend (and make them like her) so she doesn’t have to sleep alone and so she has a social life. It sounds like she’s actually crushingly lonely and has a self-esteem so low that she thinks of herself as a bruise – presumably the kind of bruise you get from drugs that you then have to hide.
I don’t hear scorn for the lady to whom this song is addressed, just sorrow. I definitely don’t hear empowerment. In a stretch, I suppose you could argue that the “can” in “you can make him like you” suggests that she has a choice about what she does, but it sounds to me like no matter what choice she makes, she’s not currently able to make any real human connections.
The music is upbeat and happy – there’s even a great glockenspiel sounding moment in the track that sounds like its taken right out of a Bruce Springsteen song. I found myself singing along happily with the song before I really grasped what was happening lyrically. Nice stealth work there, Mr. Finn.