It’s no secret that Louis is a fan of using creative imagery in his songwriting, making people look deeper at the comparisons and lyrical intricacies of his songs. Only the Brave is one in particular that is filled with religious imagery and alludes to a distaste of many themes of religion and heteronormativity.
In the opening line of the ballad, he’s already jumping straight to the point: begging for mercy and pleading to burn history. Historically, religion, specifically christianity, has not been a friend to the queer community. Homosexuality has been criminalized in Europe for decades, beginning with the Buggery Act of 1533, which outlawed sodomy in any capacity and made it a punishable by death offense. Between then and 2003, multiple laws and acts were incited against homosexuality. In 1988, conservative government enacted Section 28 of the Local Government Act, banning local authorities from promoting homosexuality and banning funding towards any LGBTQ+ cause. In 2003, it was repealed.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have always felt like they’ve been given a set of rules by either government or peers, constantly being reminded of how it’s inherently wrong to be queer. A forbidden secret is how it feels to many closeted individuals. This ties along with the fact that men have been told that it’s “weak” or “not masculine” to cry, hence why he feels like a fool for showing emotion over how hard it is to process it. It’s hard to separate your feelings about your own sexuality when everybody around you has shamed queer people for merely existing.
To me, this feels like it’s alluding to the many articles and stories of how historically, life hasn’t been kind or ended well for queer individuals, and how there’re very few instances of queer people having a simple, easy, and happy life. Stories of hardships solely based on their queerness; epidemics swept under the rug ( like the AIDS crisis ) that cost millions of individuals their lives. There’re always queer tragedies being shown to us, and significantly less queer joy, and it feels like the happy ones are faded out by the influx of tragic ones.
As a well-known artist, it’s not hard for most influential individuals to find somebody to date. Thousands of people want them, and realistically they could date almost anybody they wanted, if it fit into the heterosexual narrative that many are forced to conform to. He’s never cared for love, not as a concept, but the kind of love that he was told is acceptable.
This feels like it’s alluding to a common ideology within christianity that queer individuals go to hell. A largely known tradition of christianity is praying for sinners in hopes that god will speak to them and help change them. He’s essentially saying that no amount of prayer will help, as he’s too far “gone,” or too deep into living a queer life, to pray it away. A “church of burnt romances” could also simply allude to a queer relationship or romance, as some queer individuals struggle with deeply-rooted internalized homophobia, the thought that they’re queer will eventually lead them to hell.
Queer individuals often have to figure out their relationship with sexuality on their own. Not everyone has a safe support system to turn to, and more times than not, navigating their queer identity is a personal project. It isn’t easy, though, and it takes a lot of courage and bravery to do such a thing. Many queer individuals could tell you the various hardships of coming to terms with their queer identity. Society has made it a battlefield for queer individuals to navigate their own sexuality, which is why I think he puts so much emphasis in this song about it only being for the brave.
Again, this feels like a reference to all the queer individuals who have died due to homophobia, whether that be the AIDS crisis, brutality for being queer, or other reasons why queer people have historically been taken out.
This feels like acceptance; realizing that you’re queer and coming to terms that after everything you went through, you’re queer and there’s no saying goodbye to that part of your identity whether you like it or not.
Another ode to praying; Some christians have claimed that kneeling while praying is a sign of respect to god, due to its ancient origins of kneeling to any higher power as a sign of respect, submission, and honor.
“And they’ll say I told you so.”
There’re many harmful stereotypes that have been associated with queerness; men being effeminate and women being masculine are just a few. People will sometimes see those traits in individuals and begin to speculate whether the individual is queer or not. Regardless of if they’re true or not, you can never tell if someone if queer based off of outdated stereotypes. But, when stereotypes happen to be true, sometimes people will claim that they knew already.
Many queer people claim that they’ve known there was always something different about them from a young age. Often times, it’ll be dismissed as something that they’ll grow out of, or just a phase, but the majority of the time it’s not.
Again, this feels like reminiscing on how isolating and lonesome being queer can be. Shadow dances are typically done by showing only a dancer’s shadow on a screen, no distinguishing features aside from their frame visible. The audience can sew the dancer and their movements, but no other intricacies of the individual. Much like being closeted, where everyone can see you, the way you walk and act and live out daily life, but unable to see the details of who you are.
Queerness is a lifelong journey with no due dates or set timelines. Some people don’t realize that they’re queer until later in life, others have known from early childhood, and many others realized it somewhere in between.
The song then closes out with “It’s a solo song, and it’s only for the brave.” again, reminding the listeners that love, and everything that goes along with it, is only for the brave.