Cynicism is a growing phenomenon in music. True love songs are hard to come by these days. Deriving its name from Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Yellow Diamonds is a series of lyric breakdowns in which VIBE Senior Music Editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love found in a hopeless mainstream.
There are effective and ineffective ways to write about what someone means to you. Believe it or not, Instagram captions are a great example of this. We’ve all seen them before, those well-intentioned yet ill-conceived birthday posts in which some dude attempts to praise his queen by seemingly referencing all the reasons she should dump him but won’t. Such soliloquies are often more about the people writing them than receiving them. But when authors get them right, they crystallize the purity of their love with documents that’ll last as long as the internet. A similar binary exists in today’s R&B. A singer who executes this stream-of-consciousness style of songwriting with great sensitivity is Arin Ray.
I’ve compared the straightforward sincerity of certain love songs to social media caption-writing in the past. This wasn’t done disparagingly then, and it remains a compliment now. In my breakdown of Majid Jordan’s “Sweet,” I wrote, “Instagram love is beautiful. Loving out loud, in general, is beautiful. A love that drives you to defy inhibitions and dare to embarrass yourself is perhaps the most profound connection a social creature could experience.”
While it’s just as rare for songwriters as it is for caption-writers to pull this sort of simping off smoothly, another example of loving out loud gone right is Arin Ray’s “Lovely.” The track is among the seven standouts VIBE highlighted from the Cincinnati native’s sophomore album, Hello Poison, on Friday (June 3).
Much like Majid Jordan’s “Sweet,” Ray’s “Lovely” offers a simply written, softly sung list of affirmations that amount to a single adjective. Throughout, the former X Factor contestant rattles off all the things both your partner and mine would love to read about themselves under a photo celebrating some sort of milestone.
All forms of Instagram love are represented in this record. There are lines in “Lovely” fit for captions celebrating anniversaries, graduations, and smaller moments that are more like excuses to gush for gushing’s sake. And it all starts with the very first verse.
When I see her, she don’t sweat, she don’t start nothin’
She got her needs, I take the lead, she get me charged up
She ain’t famous but when I see her, still I’m starstruck
She made me boss up
I done bossed up (Mm, ayy, yeah)
From what I see, it seems I could get lost here
It ain’t a thing, I’m on your team, you ain’t alone here
Reality, diamonds and rings, we make ’em all stare (Uh)
Just wait ’til tomorrow (Uh)
We will set the bar (Yeah)
Emphasizing the endearing simplicity of “Lovely” is the song’s production. The opening guitar licks sound vaguely reminiscent of the melody from “Frère Jacques,” a French nursery rhyme. Likewise, Arin Ray delivers his lyrics in a cadence that sounds equally elementary. Together, these traits make “Lovely” feel like the most approachable song on Hello Poison.
Much like social media itself, there’s a little something for everyone throughout the entirety of this tune. But as Ray sings of feeling “starstruck” in the presence of his non-famous lady friend, the Instagram love represented in this verse sounds like one a person might share with a rising influencer.
All the power couple buzz words are present and accounted for here. The 26-year-old crooner describes a partner in every sense of the term; a person who inspires him to “boss up,” someone he’s eager to assure, “It ain’t a thing, I’m on your team, you ain’t alone here.”
Ending the verse with allusions to a reality filled with “diamonds and rings” that are meant to “set the bar,” these lyrics exemplify maybe the most crucial element of an influencer’s brand of Instagram love: establishing unrealistic expectations for the rest of us.
Ain’t a cost, baby, I’ve paid my dues (Dues)
They were false always, girl, you know I’m true (True)
We got somethin’ so special, it’s new (New)
I choose you, you, you-you, you-you (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Show you right, baby, I’m here (I’m here)
Uh, do you right, baby, it’s clear now (Clear now)
She got the eyes, oh, I’m invested, oh, yeah (Oh, yeah)
If she a princess, make her a queen, yeah
Verse two ups the ante on the song’s sweetness. These lyrics would seem to match the spirit of a different caption on a different day about maybe even a different person. While verse one finds Ray praising his partner for what she brings to the table, his writing in verse two conveys a more modest appreciation for the love that’s entered his life. In my estimation, this sort of Instagram love feels most reflective of a girlfriend reveal.
As Ray wholeheartedly sings, “We got somethin’ so special, it’s new/ I choose you, you-you, you-you,” I’m reminded of some of the dating philosophies that have circulated Black internet spaces over the past decade or so. From “stay low and build” to the notion of “sneaky links,” most of these philosophies seem concerned with preserving the sanctity of the talking stage and keeping people out of your business until you’re ready to “shock the ‘gram.”
There’s lots of that relationship guru energy throughout this verse, which ends with a line one might expect to read in a post from a loud and proud monogamist: “If she a princess, make her a queen.”
We ain’t got time to waste
Tell me a time and place
You can be miles away
I’ll be there right away
You could be my escape
Just say the word, baby, I’ll come where you are
Gotta love who you are, babe
Say you love me, I’ll show you lovely
I pray to God that she admit that she for me
I show you lovely, it ain’t above me
I can’t resist, I can admit that she the one for me
There’s admittedly something a little flippant about comparing the writing of a love song to that of an Instagram caption, even when done in celebration of what both can accomplish in their best forms. I don’t imagine that similarity is something Arin Ray or any other songwriter purposely strives for in the studio. But an inevitable consequence of music’s tendency to reflect the times is certain songs adopting the parlance of popular culture—and there is no culture more popular than the way people share their lives on the internet. To that extent, “Lovely” is one of the few positive examples of how this has affected the way R&B songs are written.
Similar to most heartfelt Instagram captions, the platitudes Ray recites in the song’s pre-chorus don’t need to be original to be meaningful. A promise to come running no matter the distance is something both R&B listeners and people who date romantics have heard thousands of times before. As he sings, “I can’t resist, I can admit that she the one for me,” the singer doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel in the subsequent primary chorus either.
But what’s special about this type of song, digital displays of affection, and even the relationship writing I do in this column is none of these things have to feel particularly inventive. They just have to provide a space to cherish love and the people we experience it with. I hope Yellow Diamonds achieves this as adeptly as “Lovely.”