All of Me

Using statistics from YouTube as a guide, John Legend’s song All of Me at around 1.2 billion views has been a runaway success. [1]

 It has been ranked fifty-third among YouTube’s most watched clips. The world, it would appear, has an insatiable appetite for songs about romantic love.

Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you

This poetry, with its curvy human imagery, depicts a man’s attraction to a woman into which Legend includes some of his own wedding video, indicating the direction of his thought.

The word “all,” repeated twenty-eight times in these lyrics, is key to the songwriters’[2] focus on totality; total commitment and total mutuality. They repeat “Cause all of me loves all of you” (with variants) several times, describing devotion in plain terms. Idealistic, and verging on the sentimental, Legend’s pretty melody turns the poetry into an anthem of love. I would say much of the song’s success is based on his artful combination of words, melody, and meaning.

Further reasons for popularity may be found, however, in this song's underlying realism—that curves come with certain edges and imperfections. This is surely acknowledgement that our real experiences of love sometimes include failure, sadness, and pain.

Even when you’re crying you’re beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I’m around through every move
You’re my downfall, you’re my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues

A rather good pun on “rhythm and blues” reminds me that peaks and troughs really are a part of life. Legend seems here to encapsulate a range of meanings: finding “rhythm and blues” in life’s vicissitudes, in the function of lament, and (in the particular context of male-female relationships) the “monthly blues.”

Going deeper, the song may encourage Christian reflection over the complex interplay of heart and mind, the worship of God, and the mysteries of I and Thou.[3]

Got my head spinning, no kidding, I can’t pin you down
What’s going on in that beautiful mind
I’m on your magical mystery ride

As Westerners, living overly in our heads, we might try to define love, and fix, or else relinquish our relationships. The alternative is to plunge into passion’s wild complexities, all the while aware that passion can lend itself to anger as much as it does to love.

My head’s under water
But I’m breathing fine
You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind

Through this disorientation, I believe John Legend critiques Western culture’s elevation of the mind over heart, as he gives voice to more illogical aspects of love; the metaphor of breathing under water, for example, illustrates a momentary suspension of reason. Such poetic non-sense also describes the euphoria of a person in love, as much as it speaks of the subject being somehow out of their depth. It opens us to the other paradoxes in the song: drawing in and kicking out, curves and edges, losing and winning, perfect imperfections, all being indicative of a mind untethered from its heart.

Any actual correlation between the Bible’s Song of Songs and All of Me, aside their high celebration of human love would be tenuous at best. Christian debate regarding the Song of Songs over the centuries has been whether its love is primarily erotic, or allegorical.[4] Any awkwardness on our part over Legend’s treatment of love therefore, would seem to place us in good company.[5]

I give you all, all of me and you give me all, all of you.

This total giving is in many ways, ideal, but is this not the sort of giving required in worship? Songs are one aspect among many, of worship, however, if modern worship songs are to nudge us towards loving relationship with God (considered normal in Christian life) then they must at some point address divine intimacy. All of Me is especially provocative with its palpable intimacy, for while Legend risks worshipping the human form, he may nevertheless provide metaphors for worship, the language around which, is often difficult for us. Legend’s materiality points beyond, rather than to itself, by which means he may unintentionally point us to God’s love after the manner of early Genesis, the Song of Songs, and the Prophet Hosea.[6]

Gerard Manley-Hopkins speaks more evenly and eloquently of such materiality saying:

For Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces. [7]

To accompany Legend at his piano is to be drawn into the wonder of a perfect loving relationship, and so his “perfect imperfections” arouse in us ideas we might not previously have imagined: that perfection may be buried under the imperfect, or that beauty may transcend our tears. Suddenly we are safe despite our vulnerabilities. Perhaps God sings like this over his people, such as in the bitter-sweet words of Hosea? How might God celebrate our curves and edges, I wonder? And does God in fact see perfection, albeit covered by our many imperfections?

That mystery of knowing God and of being known is reflected in the “I and Thou” relationship between human beings, and between themselves and God. I catch myself pondering the amazing concept of Trinitarian indwelling, of the Three-in-One, while their dance continues, just out of sight as it were. My own dance moves, in comparison, seem more like wrestling with God all night for his blessing!

Finally, the phrase “all of me” expresses the giving, in worship of ourselves completely, to the God revealed in Judeo-Christian Scriptures as self-giving, who also reassures us we don’t need to be perfect for him to love us. Consequently, through life’s “rhythm and blues,” we discover a God of inestimable and transforming love.

Songs which encourage us to draw near to God ought to engage both heart and mind. So, whether we approach All of Me as an ode, a romantic hymn, or search it for gems of praise, we open ourselves to encounter God’s passion – of which the first waltz by bride and groom on their wedding dance floor, might just be, a great sign-post.

Peter Jelleyman graduated from Laidlaw College in 2012 with a Bachelor of Theology. He currently works as a broadcast technician for Rhema Media in Auckland, enjoys poetry and music, and is particularly interested in what musicians are saying and how they are saying it. Peter blogs in his spare time and relishes any occasion in which can explore the sonic world of musical synthesizers.

[1] The official video has been viewed in excess of 1.29 billion times since being posted on 2 Oct 2013 ( A rough calculation would place this in the region of 786,000 views per day!

[2] Note the full lyrics and the song-writing credit to John Legend and Toby Gad at

[3] A classic in the philosophy of inter-personal relationship—Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1996)

[4] See Allen C. Myers, “Song of Solomon,” in The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI., 1987)

[5] A contemporary encounter with the enigmatic Song of Songs through the eyes of French poet Hélène Cixous is explored in Yael Cameron Klangwisan, Jouissance: A Cixousian Encounter with the Song of Songs (Sheffield Phoenix Press: UK, 2015)

[6] Although John Legend does not directly reference Scripture, he beckons us towards the thoughts and feelings of real human beings (their nuanced actions, promises, and sighing.) Attending to those living “curves and edges” in Bible narrative (as well as poetry and prophecy) we meet the Word behind its words, in for instance: the “brooding”/“hovering” heartbeat of (Gen 1:2 - Message/TNIV), a father’s shredded heart (Gen 22:2), Jacob’s ardent love (Gen 29:20), Joseph’s emotional family reconciliation (Gen 45:1-2), a lover’s coaxing in (Hos 2:14), and the pining and raw desire of (Song 2:6, 3:1-5). Otherwise, we remain at the dissection table searching for anatomically-correct definitions of love.

[7] Gerard Manley Hopkins. “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics: 1985), 51.