Jens Lekman is a ball of anxiety: he overthinks, he stutters, he mumbles, and he occasionally stalks celebrities. Somehow, he does this all in the midst of outrageously catchy pop songs. With his painfully sharp lyrics — "Most shy people I know are extremely boring / Either that or they are miserable from all the shit they've been storing" — it's no surprise that he’s become the patron saint to a generation of over-thinkers.
Secretly Canadian recently released I Know What Love Isn't, Lekman's most self-assured album yet. As someone with a host of social anxieties, I started wondering if he was slowly overcoming his own. It seemed fitting, since so many of his songs have assuaged my own phobias. In fact, his discography could serve as a DSM for introverts.
Below, I go through some of his most nerve-addled songs to find the corresponding social phobias — and the turns of phrase that, at least in the moment, make it all okay.
Condition: Ambiguphobia (Fear of Being Misunderstood)
Song: “Maple Leaves”
This fear seems universal, but when it becomes a phobia, it can make every conversation a matter of life or death. Lekman turns misunderstandings into something more pleasant than their intended meanings. As a girl attempts to break up with him, he mistakes “make believe” for “maple leaves” and “fall” for “the season” or “Mark E. Smith.” It’s a nice escape from the matter at hand and proof that not all misunderstandings need to be fatal.
Condition: Theophobia (Fear of Religious People)
Song: “Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa”
This song features a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who “ask for an excuse not to accept eternal life.” Confronting such a question is terrifying enough without strangers banging on your door “offering eternal suffering.” Priests, rabbis, shamans: their clothing alone is enough to inspire nightmares. But Lekman’s baritone and an army of marimbas come to the rescue just before it all gets too dark. After all, “the Jehovah, in their pullovers are no Casanovas, like you and I.”
Condition: Glossophobia (Fear of Speaking)
Song: “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig”
Shyness doesn’t always mean silence. Sometimes it means awkward anecdotes, like Lekman’s rant about a kid with a pet pig because “his mom had once been attacked by a dog, so a pig was the closest thing he could get.” It’s a cute story until he adds, “this has of course nothing to do with anything.” To glossophobes, speaking can just be an endless barrage of word vomit, but Lekman makes it a thing of beauty.
Condition: Anthrophobia (Fear of Society)
Song: “Black Cab”
An anthem for anyone who’s ever “killed the party again." The “dread” he’s referring to? I’m guessing it’s the act of attending parties and spending the entire time trying to decide how and when to leave. It’s a tricky move, and we over-thinkers have it down to an art. Unfortunately, even pros fail, and Lekman knows that when it happens, you simply have to jump in a cab and “turn the music up and keep your mouth shut.”
Condition: Chorophobia (Fear of Dancing)
Song: “A Sweet Summer Night on Hammer Hill”
The first time I ever danced in public was at the now-closed SoHo nightclub Don Hill’s, drunk off of one-and-a-half vodka sodas and fresh from a gut-wrenching break up. The song that did it was “A Sweet Summer Night on Hammer Hill.” Alcohol, depression, and upbeat Swedish indie pop: it seemed like an easy remedy to a lifelong phobia. The song isn’t about chorophobia, but from the moment the sax hits, it’s hard not to throw your anxiety to the wind. Or deny yourself the joy of handclaps.