I recently revisited Spongebob Squarepants the Musical (playing through September 16 at the Palace Theater) and I had almost forgotten just how much I thoroughly enjoy that show. I’d like to take a look at one song from this musical In particular: the show-stopping, standing ovation-inducing “I’m Not a Loser,” performed by Tony nominee Gavin Lee. As a self-proclaimed grammar snob, I’ve been wanting to break down all of the negatives going on in this song, so I can decipher whether or not the song is empowering or self-loathing.
“I'm not a loser
I don’t secretly hate myself
I'm not singing this to no one
It's not the case that no one cares
I'm not a failure
I don't not have talent
When others see me they can't see
The nobody that isn't there
Hold on, that's a triple negative. You can't not see nobody. Because I'm not nobody! Which can't not be seen. Let me start over”
In this first part of the song, we see Squidward telling himself that he isn’t a loser and other positive affirmations. It starts to get a bit messy with the “I don’t not have talent” line. A double negative implies that neither negative is there (much how like if you multiply 2 negative numbers, you get a positive number-sorry for the math analogy!),so in all actuality he’s saying he does have talent. But then we get to “when others see me they can’t see the nobody that isn’t there.” Despite what the lyrics say, that line is not actually a grammatical triple negative, it just doesn't make logical sense. He already says others can see him, but they can’t see the nobody that isn’t there. Grammatically speaking, if they can see him, and can’t see a nobody, then that means he is not a nobody.But then he contradicts himself in the VERY NEXT LINE by saying “you can’t not see nobody” which translates to you can see a nobody. “Because I'm not nobody!” Not being a nobody implies that he is a somebody, Which can't not be seen. Which can be seen. So after all that, nobodies and somebodies can be seen. No wonder he wants to start over!
My life's not empty
They don't not like me at all
I don't not leave the house
'Cause I don't not prefer to stay at home
I don't stink
I'm not a waste
I'm not all alone in thinking
That I am not all alone
Okay so this is just as conflicting as the first part, but not as confusing. “They don’t not like me at all” really means they do like him, simple enough. “I don't not leave the house
'Cause I don't not prefer to stay at home.” He leaves the house because he... doesn’t want to leave the house? What?! Everything else in this verse is fine and actually pretty uplifting if you think about it. Until Squidward speaks again:
Maybe I am a loser
You're not delirious with despair
And you're not calling true things false
This is weird
You're not hallucinating this sea anemone
Chorus line at all
You're not a loser
You don't secretly hate yourself
You're not singing this to no one
It's not the case that no one cares
So this is basically the first verse all over again, except it’s now the sea anemones (who were NOT hallucinated- they’re real) are reassuring Squidward that he is in fact not a loser. The fact that the sea anemones are real reinforces the fact that Squidward-nobody or not-can be seen, given the pep talk sprinkled with extra Dance Break they provide to our tentacled friend. The rest of this song repeats this section three times, so there is no need to rehash this part of the analysis.
Now that we have gone far too deep into “I’m Not a Loser,” what exactly is this song about? On stage, and listening to the song on the cast recording, it feels like a self-deprecating anthem that eventually turns into a song of self-acceptance. That concept, though relatable, is not grammatically accurate. Based on what I have discussed, the song is one of self-acceptance all the way through. After Squidward is called a loser, he immediately snaps and reminds himself (with the help of some friendly well-choreographed sea anemones) that he is, in fact, not a loser.
What do you guys think? Did you also spend too much time thinking about this song grammatically? No, that's just me? Cool. I’d still love to know your thoughts! Thanks to Genius.com for providing the lyrics for this analysis. You can purchase tickets for the remainder of Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical here. And check out the show-stopping number “I’m Not a Loser” (performed at the 2018 Tony Awards) below.
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(Photo credit Joan Marcus)