I was first introduced to Hobo Johnson in the late summer of 2018, the very beginning of my freshman year, when my new friend Caleb pulled up the music video for the song “Peach Scone.” I was instantly drawn to the unique delivery and structure of the song as well as the ensembles rather quirky and disheveled appearance. The song itself tells the story of a “little writer boy,” who finds himself falling for a girl, even though that girl is already in a committed relationship with someone else.
It seems that it is this song that has sparked such intense backlash against Johnson, with the most common criticism being that it perpetuates a ‘nice-guy’ sort of narrative centered around the idea of the ‘friend zone.’ But the backlash has gone even further with many people saying that Johnson has a history of being emotionally abusive towards his ex, eventually resulting in a restraining order being placed against him. These past few days, I have done my research on the subject matter and I have not found any reliable sources to confirm the allegations, only a few unclear posts on the site Reddit.
Now, I am absolutely the last person on earth that would say the concept of the ‘friend zone’ or ‘nice guy’ culture in general is not totally damaging and a reflection of a far deeper issue of toxic masculinity, which is so prevalent in our society. I am here to argue that not every male artist’s expression of unrequited love is equal to being a ‘nice guy’ or complaining about being in the ‘friend zone,’ and to equate the two is also totally damaging.
To do this effectively let’s establish some definition for these two terms. According to Dictionary.com, the ‘friend zone’ is what happens when Person A wants to take a relationship to the next level, romantically, but Person B wants to remain just friends. This concept on its own is not necessarily problematic, but it becomes a little insidious when Person A, in turn, devalues the friendship that they have with Person B. Perhaps, Person A feels like they are entitled to something more from Person B, and Person A becomes bitter when they are denied that something more. This phenomenon is directly tied to the term nice guy. The definition provided by Urban Dictionary reads as such: “Nice Guy: Not to be confused with a nice guy (that is, a male that is nice)- When used as a noun instead of an adjective, Nice Guy refers to people (men or women) who believe basic social expectations are currency for sex.”
With this in mind, let us examine the lyrics of “Peach Scone,” with the question in mind “is this Person A (the narrator) devaluing the friendship that they share with Person B, or further, devaluing the relationship that Person B shares with Person C (the boyfriend)?”
Starting with the preamble of the song:
Young man, there’s a there’s a young man, he writes stories/
He’s a writer, a little writer boy/
He falls in love with a girl, girl already has a boyfriend/
She kinda loves him back, but not really/
They’re just really good friends, and that’s fine/
He understands, it’s rational
Right off the bat, we understand that Person A is in a place that could be referred to as the ‘friend zone,’ however, we also see this narrator declaring that it’s okay and it’s rational.
In the chorus, the Person A declares that he “loves the thought of being with (Person B),” but it could also be the thought of “not being so alone.” Here, it is evident that yes, there is a bitterness that there is not a possibility of a romantic relationship developing, but what separates this from ‘nice guy’ mentality is that Person A is not faulting Person B for not allowing such a thing to happen. Instead, Person A is recognizing that they do have these feelings, but also recognizing that the root of these emotions may actually be a larger emotional problem, which Person A needs to tackle internally.
Throughout the rest of the song, we see Person A wrestling with these emotions, but also not allowing them to corrupt the friendship that he has with Person B, which acts as evidence that he does in fact value the friendship that he shares with her. Especially with such lyrics as:
“We should go and get a friggin’ cup of coffee/
And I’ll act friendly and I won’t pull any stunts/
But I’m a little stunt puller from birth/
So I don’t know what to tell you/
If I try to confess my love for/
“But what were you talking about?/
Oh yeah, your boyfriend made you mad the other day?/
What was he saying? Oh, what do I think? Hmm/
He was being mean at that part, point?/
But I’m sure he’s gonna turn around at some point, as well”
Both of these are examples of Person A deliberately not letting his romantic feelings come through to ruin the friendship that he has with Person B, even when the opportunity clearly presents itself. And finally the lyric which, I believe, could work to defend the entire song which comes out in the last verse when Person A says:
“ If you find someone who loves you for who you are/
Keep loving ’em, man/
‘Cause that shit happens like, once in a lifetime, y’know?/
And who am I to get in the way of someone living their lifetime y’know?”
It is my belief that if this song were to truly fall into the trap of ‘nice guy’ culture, then the narrator would deliberately place guilt on Person B or Person C, and talk more about their faults, and put the responsibility on them for his own dispair. But that is not what this song is about. This is simply a song about unrequited love. And I really do not think it is fair to discourage any artist from producing work that conveys their despair on such a subject matter because, to be frank, these emotions are natural and often times unavoidable.
Furthermore, I cannot think of a much better way to cope with such emotions than the creation of art, because then you are not just working through your own emotions, but you also come out with a product which can help others work through their own similar emotions.
But then, perhaps I am biased because I really enjoy this particular song. So I decided that maybe I should listen to the rest of Hobo Johson’s discography to see if I could find any more evidence of the ‘friend zone’ or ‘nice guy’ motifs. It seems that most of his work is centered around his past relationship and subsequent break up with his ex-girlfriend, Ashley, though it seems that he focuses mainly on his own flaws, which could be interpreted as him trying to make people feel sorry for him, though I tend to interpret it more as his honest retelling of events from his own perspective.
However, I did find one song on his 2017 album The Rise of Hobo Johnson, titled “Mario & Link,” which I do, unfortunately, think does have a tone which I would describe as ‘nice guy-esc.’ The opening lines of this particular song go:
“This song is dedicated to Mario and Link/
due to their undying perseverance which I’m not sure I should do the same of/
Mario’s never getting some and Link’s never getting some/
So why would princesses love me?”
This song does seem to perpetuate the notion that Mario and Link, the Nintendo Heros, should be entitled to sex from their respective princesses, but they never get it. It is clear in this song that Hobo Johnson does sees himself in that same boat. While I do find this song to be rather upsetting, I do not think it is grounds to tear apart everything else Hobo Johnson has made.
To sum up my point, there is an issue in this society with ‘nice guy’ culture and the concept of the ‘friend zone’ that is tied to the issue of toxic masculinity that needs to be addressed. On the other hand, I also think that jumping to accuse any male artist who creates work on the topics of unrequited love, or sorrow of continuing this pattern, when such accusations are unfounded is also a problem that needs to be addressed because in doing so, we are basically saying that their expression of emotion is whiny or invalid.
When we tell men that their expression of emotion is invalid, we are feeding into the cycle that makes the issue of toxic masculinity in our society so unruly.