“You’re good enough… You’re smart enough… And God damn it, people like you They like you, they really like you”
Loving yourself is a strange vehicle. It seems pretty weird to be able to think, “I love myself” without either feeling oddly cocky or succumbing to the grips of self-deprecation. In this way, loving yourself is very much a seesaw: some days, it’s as if we are standing tall against the wind, a Gulliver among ant-people, a cyclops among action figures. On other days, we’re merely a straw wrapper to that powerful gust, just another ant within the colony, no more than a white colored pencil against printer paper.
The constant ebb and flow within the waves of emotion, between crumbling confidence and brimming exuberance, can easily turn into a pulsing tidal wave that threatens an Atlantic asphyxiation. While both odd and difficult to balance, this delicate seesaw between loving yourself and belittling yourself is one that can be aided through one thing: affirmation.
Affirmation and self-worth are two themes that are ever-present in the music of Detroit hip-hop artist Quelle Chris. On his album “Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often,” he created an abstract finger painting of his constant battle between rising self-confidence and falling feelings of worthlessness. The album amplifies and transfigures these feelings into a hodge-podge of hilarious, vulnerable and very poignant conclusions on his own self-worth. The result is oddball art filled with extremely relatable feelings of doubting yourself one second, then loving yourself the very next.
On the album’s first song (following the album’s intro), “Buddies,” Quelle Chris’s first words were “I fuck with myself / I fucks with myself / Might bring myself some flowers, I’m in love with myself.” This ridiculous self-love continues when he later on states: “I might just, jump back and kiss myself / I might just, jump back and kiss myself.” While at first, this comes across as hilariously strange, the album soon reveals itself to be a roller coaster of mood swings that shift between supremely confident songs, such as “Buddies,” and glumly doubtful, such as the very next song, titled “Popeye.”
On “Popeye,” Quelle Chris admitted to many self-destructive habits in cleverly cartoonish fashion when he raps, “I open up my eyes and spin in 3-6-0 degrees / And see ‘Spy vs. Spy’ within me, plottin’ how to end it / Popeye, kickin’ the can but never eats the spinach / It seems I never reach the goal but always meet the finish.” Here, he is accepting that he is the cause of his own problems; he has all the materials he needs to succeed, or as he puts it, he’s got Popeye’s can of spinach to eat whenever he wants to instantly balloon his muscles and vanquish his problems. Yet he consistently resorts to furthering his problems through self-sabotage, merely kicking the can and not eating the spinach.
Through all of the self-loathing and self-loving, Quelle never forgets to include heaping amounts of self-affirmation to remind the ever-changing personas he’s unleashed to keep their chin up, no matter what the current state of affairs may be.
Another character who is constantly affirming both himself and his friends’ self-worth through thick and thin is Vince Vaughn’s character Trent in the 1996 film “Swingers.”
While “Swingers” is now over 20 years old, its message and importance are as striking as ever. Although much of the movie is hilarious, and almost all of Vince Vaughn’s parts as Trent inevitably evoke laughter, what makes “Swingers” the vital comedy it’s become is Trent’s relentless optimism in the face of building depression and incessant wallowing stemming from his friend Mike, played by Jon Favreau.
After moving to Los Angeles to chase his dreams of becoming a successful actor and comedian, Mike Peters finds himself in the midst of a six-month rout caused by a breakup with his girlfriend back home in New York. During these six months, Mike is as down and out as one can get. Whether it’s struggling to go a single day without talking about her, feeling intense amounts of self-pity or wondering how he’ll ever move on, Mike is borderline pathetic as he faces a sort of existential crisis concerning his own value. Yet, through the darkest days in this looming cloud of self-hatred, Vince Vaughn’s Trent is there to drag Mike into the sun and return some inklings of the confidence that’s now become foreign to him.
The movie begins with Trent asking Mike if he wants to go out and hit some parties. He immediately turns him down because of his desire to wallow alone. Trent senses this, and immediately decides a Las Vegas trip is in order to shake Mike out of his rut. Once they hit Vegas, things aren’t looking great; they have minimal cash to put on the line, their casino of choice (Caesar’s because everybody there will “probably fall all over themselves for a couple of high-class guys like you and me” is dead, seeing as it’s a Tuesday night and there are bigger and better Vegas casinos by 1996. And, they have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to gambling. But, Trent doesn’t let any of this get them down; he persistently tells Mike that he’s “money,” insists that there will be plenty of “beautiful babies” that “want to party,” and even gets a waitress’ attention to tell her this about Mike: “Excuse me darling, I want you to remember this face here. This is the guy behind the guy behind the guy.” And after she merely says, “Okay,” and quickly scurries off, Trent insists, “She smiled. Mike, I’m telling you, girls love that stuff.”
Despite the multitude of quandaries that Mike seems to be facing, Trent insists on hyping him up, no matter the situation. Not only is Trent a very smooth operator and one of the most charming talkers to ever exist, he’s also a walking affirmation to Mike despite his sullen attitude. As he famously tells Mike, “Baby, you are so money, and you don’t even know it.”
While Vince Vaughn presents an endless barrage of happy-go-lucky confidence boosters to get his friend Mike out of his slump, Quelle Chris seems to work on a more existential level – as he ponders the reason for his being and ends up simply being content that he’s able to do just that – be.
In the closer of “Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often,” “It’s Great to Be,” Quelle Chris exudes what feels like the culmination of his entire life’s rising-and-falling ego in a beautiful ode to living. Quelle comes to the simple, yet moving, conclusion that through all the highs and lows, it’s simply great to be. It’s great that his heart continued beating on “Popeye.” It’s great that he learned to love hate and learned to hate love, no matter how morbid this may sound, on “Learn to Love Hate.” And it’s great that he unconditionally loved himself on “Buddies.” At the end of the day, he’s happy that he’s been granted the simple privilege of existence, one that we as humans too often take for granted. As he puts it in such blunt and moving fashion, “Cuz being you is great to be / And loving you is great to be / And me and you is great to be / It’s great to be.”
Through all the hyperbole, all the humor and cynicism and sarcasm, Quelle Chris stripped everything down to the one simple statement that wraps up his wild ride of self-worth in four words: “It’s great to be.”
On the surface, Quelle Chris and Vince Vaughn’s Trent seem like they would have very little in common. Quelle Chris is an underground rapper from Detroit who’s made a name for himself in creating concept-dense, thought-provoking abstract hip-hop that’s as far out there as it is intricate. Meanwhile, Trent is a fun-loving guy who loves many wildly exuberant things, including the swing revival of 1990s Los Angeles, 2 a.m. breakfast food after a long night out and “beautiful babies that love to party.” They seem to be worlds apart; two separate entities that would never be mentioned in the same sentence. Yet, what brings them together is their love of life. They both encapsulate what it means to have a burning passion for living each and every day to its fullest and embracing the ensuing emotions, whether they be positive or negative.
Life is a beautifully ornate experience for each and every person – and one that comes with a never-ceasing carousel of shifting emotions, scenes and spaces to occupy – yet is an experience that can become overwhelming if you let it get the best of you. What Trent and Quelle Chris instilled in me is both a zest for every day of this fragile existence and the confidence to love myself despite the building shadow of apathy and despondency threatening to darken my light at every turn. After all, Trent didn’t shrivel up in self-despair following the ending scene of “Swingers” when he believes a girl that’s pointing and smiling at a baby was trying to flirt with him. Rather, he threw her “the great vibe, the funny vibe” and continued on his conversation with Mike.
As Quelle Chris says to himself on “Daily Affirmations”: “You’re good enough / You’re smart enough / And God damn it, people like you / They like you, they really like you.”