Lizzy McAlpine and Questioning Our Worth

Kate Meyrick

When I was in my early twenties, I barely knew myself. The world tells us so many things about life and love; people tell us who we should or could be. My journal entries are filled with pages of questions: “Are there good things waiting for me? Should I pursue this dream? Will this person love me if I open up to them?" I remembered this time in my life while diving into Lizzy McAlpine’s new album, Older — a catalog of journal entries dedicated to a time in Lizzy’s life that profoundly impacted her maturing identity.

In McAlpine’s sophomore album, five seconds flat, she created an imaginary world to explore the arc of a grand fictional romance, full of creeping dread but hopeful glances to the future. It was experimental, dramatic, and colorful. But in Older, she has toned down her sound remarkably. Here and there are bursts of brightness (the outro on “Elevator” is particularly fantastic, encompassing that feeling of the first stages of falling in love), but this is a somber, haunting, and devastatingly sparse album. Acoustic guitars are accented at times with brassy horns, shaky synths, and light strings. Her voice is the center of our attention; it is evident that she isn’t using autotune or vocal features to enhance her tone. With a theme to match this new sound, Lizzy is exploring a deeply painful and dysfunctional relationship that was achingly real.

As the listener learns the evolution of this relationship, we can “read” Lizzy’s journal as she questions herself and her ex-partner. Unsure even from the start of the relationship, she wonders if being “picked” was a good thing on “Movie Star”: “Who am I to you? Who am I to myself? What are you changing about me?” In the middle of the breakdown of the relationship, encapsulated in “Drunk, Running,” she asks her partner if she enabled his toxic personality: “What if it was all my fault? What if I drove you to it? I was only honest sometimes, and I think you knew it.” At the end of it, after naming the ways he hurt her, she points the mirror to herself in “Better Than This” and asks “What if I'm not a good person? You always say that I am, but you don't really know me at all now. I think that I'm not who you think I am.” In her songs, her partner never responds. We as her listeners are left wondering if Lizzy found the answers.

Lizzy is exploring a deeply painful and dysfunctional relationship that was achingly real.

Between these lines of questioning, I started to hear Lizzy’s own beliefs about herself come through: a belief that she isn’t worthy of love and good things, that she is scared of “the end” of things, so she ends things quickly to avoid the pain. “I don’t know what to do anymore . . . but someday I'll be kinder to myself,” she promises in the closing line of the album, on “Vortex.” But as someone who knows how easy it is to brush away pain to address it at a later date, I found myself wishing she could know her inherent belovedness now, even while the pain is fresh. I went to the poetry of Scripture, particularly passages that wrestle with a loss of identity and unanswered questions. What does God say about us when we start to question our worth?

Psalm 139 is especially poignant when we consider some of the self-doubt that Lizzy is experiencing. The psalmist starts their poem by realizing no matter where they go, God’s presence abides: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” And what’s more, God knows what it is we want to say and ask: “You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.”

For the psalmist, this is a comfort. This “searching and knowing” does not drive God away; in fact, the psalmist is convinced that God holds us while we work through our nights of darkness and questions. Why would God do this? The psalmist believes it’s because God created and loves us: “For you created my inmost being . . . I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Because of this, we are worthy of love, regardless of what we believe about ourselves or what others might believe about us.

As Lizzy hurls questions that are met with silence, God says he will be with us, even when our questions go unanswered. When Lizzy sings of wanting to let go and say no to her partner’s emotional abuse, God promises he will hold and keep us, so that we may be restored and healed. Lizzy believes she doesn’t deserve love because of her inability to be honest and good, but God says that we are worthy of love, regardless of what we have done.

In the wake of heartbreak, our vision of God as a true and constant lover can be clouded. And we will certainly have moments in our lives that impact us in ways that make us question our worth and our identity as the Beloved of God. In those dark moments, I believe it's vital to be reminded that our God is timeless and that his promises remain the same: you are worthy of love, and he will be with you, always.

Topics: Music