I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "The One" by The Chainsmokers mean?

What does "The One" by The Chainsmokers mean?

"The One" Lyrics Meaning

The Chainsmokers have released a new song! "The One" is slower and more purposefully emotional than most of the hits The Chainsmokers has been dropping recently. That slowness isn't what we expect from The Chainsmokers, so I'm curious to see whether listeners will take to it or not. Of course, it does sound like The Chainsmokers are diversifying their repertoire with "The One," which could be a sign that they're growing as artists.

Lyrics Meaning: Don't Be the First One to Give Up

The Chainsmokers' new song "The One" is told from the perspective of a man who knows a relationship needs to end, but he doesn't want to be "the one" to do the breaking up. He's sad to see it go and wishes that things had worked out better. Unfortunately, letting the woman know this turns out to be harder than he expected. The meaning of "The One" by The Chainsmokers focuses on this disintegrating relationship.

Verse 1

You know, I'm sorry
I won't make it to your party
Got caught up in my own selfishness
It won't let me be a part of this
And I know I've started
Drifting off every second
I can't wait to leave as soon as I arrive
I count the seconds

The Chainsmokers' narrator tells this woman they're sorry and they won't be able to attend her party. They're dating and in a somewhat committed relationship, but it's not working out, and The Chainsmokers' narrator tells her the reason he's not coming is because he's "caught up in my own selfishness / It won't let me be a part of this." He doesn't want to feel bad when he sees her and when he goes to the party, so he's going to stay away.

Whether they're hanging out alone or with others, he's begun "[d]rifting off every second" because he's been thinking about how little he enjoys the relationship. He's seemed distant and knows that she's noticed him doing so. But that doesn't keep him from counting "the seconds" until he can leave.


Down and down we go
We'll torch this place we know
Before one of us takes a chance
And breaks this. I won't be the one
No, I won't be the one

In the chorus of "The One," The Chainsmokers tell us the relationship's going "[d]own and down," even dramatically claiming that as they carry on, they'll "torch this place we know" if they don't "[take] a chance / And [break] this." One of them has to be willing to end it, or they'll continue to live in misery and to hurt each other, unsure of what the long-term consequences might be. 

All The Chainsmokers' narrator knows is that he doesn't want to be "The One" to end it. He's afraid to commit to that action. Maybe breaking up is a mistake. Maybe it'll hurt. Maybe he'll lose something. Maybe she'll be angry. He finishes the chorus "No, I won't be the one."

Verse 2


I know it's pathetic
Fuck it. Yeah, I said it
Tried to tell it like it is
There's a chance that I'll regret it, so
Let's go; let's end this
I delete before I send it
And we can play pretend
Like we haven't reached the end yet

In the second verse of "The One," we hear The Chainsmokers' narrator examining himself. He sings, "I know it's pathetic," but claims that he was just trying "to tell it like it is." He's being honest even though he knows it means he's demanding she do the difficult work of ending the relationship. Of course, he knows that "[t]here's a chance that I'll regret it," so he doesn't want to give up. This would be a terrible mistake to make if it is one. 

He tells us that he begins to type to her the words "Let's go. Let's end this," but he sings, "I delete before I send it." Instead of following through, he gives up and tells her, "And we can play pretend / Like we haven't reached the end yet." The relationship had seemed so good before that he can't let go. 

Also, I thought the second line interesting. The Chainsmokers sings, "Fuck it. Yeah, I said it." Perhaps this is a double entrendre in reference to the F-word itself. Normally The Chainsmokers doesn't usually swear, so maybe this is an omen of things to expect on the album.

Deeper Meaning of "The One" by The Chainsmokers: Love Lost and "The One"

The most interesting part of this song, to me, is the title. We often use the phrase "The One" to refer to someone who we think we're going to spend the rest of our lives with, but The Chainsmokers purposefully subvert that phrase to mean something different in "The One." The meaning of this change seems to be a desire to highlight the brutal ugliness of this impending breakup. Instead of having found "the one" who he would spend his life with, The Chainsmokers' narrator has only found out that he doesn't want to be "the one" to end this relationship. 

It's a dark irony, and it brings to mind actual conversations I've had about the concept of "The One." Many romantics believe that they'll one day find "the one" person who will complete them and make them whole, the person who will magically make them fall in love. After that life will be perfect. And there will never be anything to worry about again.

The Chainsmokers seems to be referring to that modern myth here. Perhaps that narrator thought he found "the one," but he now realizes he was wrong, which causes us to wonder if perhaps we ever will find "the one" and whether we'd even know it if we did. After all, the narrator thought his girlfriend was the one, but he was wrong. All it takes is one error to disprove an idea, so can we fully trust this idea?

That's the question The Chainsmokers seems to ask here, and it's a question worth asking ourselves as we consider how we view our own ideas about romance.

Original video: lyrics:

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