I just want to note that I've had "Love's In Bloom" and "BBBFF" stuck in my head all day, and it's freaking me out. Both songs are almost obscenely cheesy and vapid lyrically and they don't do that much that's interesting musically either; but something about their contextual meaning just makes them into things of transcendent beauty.
Part of what has me all tied up in knots is how the whole focus of ACW is "love"—a theme that's new to Pony but by no means any kind of new ground for animated properties in general. Disney movie after Disney movie revolved around love stories between the hero and heroine, to the point where an idealized golden-age "Disney" is basically the recognized archetype for that kind of story nowadays. Pony has studiously avoided romance for two whole years, and now in the S2 finale they finally bust out a "love" story whose central pair of characters is as straightforwardly, uncomplicatedly "in love" as any pair of predestined lovers from any piece of pre-modern-irony-age entertainment. It's classic prince-and-princess fairy-tale stuff, eschewing all the wisecracking, sarcastic, Shrek-era shenanigans we've come to expect these days, and because of that it has the feel of a throwback to a much simpler time.
The lyrics underscore just how little subversion they've indulged in: "A beautiful bride, a handsome groom; a bond that can never be undone". Geez, how insightful, right? It reads like a jingle from a doll ad. (I am aware of the irony of this statement.) How long has it been since a big showpiece like this touted the pair's beauty/handsomeness as their defining characteristics? How shallow have we trained ourselves to believe such statements to be?
Yet somehow that works for this show. We've often talked about "neo-sincerity" being at the heart of the show, but it's been hard to pinpoint a firm example to stick in front of people; here at last we have a really clear one. It may not be subverting anything or making an overt statement rejecting gender politics of the past century or anything, and for some reason we're just lapping it up.
I guess it's just because this show makes it work so well. It knows how deeply it has to mine the details of the universe before we'll buy such broad, innocent-eyed statements about it. Just think about what it would have been like if they'd shown ACW early in Season 1. It wouldn't have made any sense. Not only would we be having to wrestle with a story about "love" between two characters we've never seen before (as we are now), we'd have to be weighing their unexpected appearance against the portrayals of these six other main characters who we don't know very well either. It seems to me that that's the mistake a lot of shows (like previous-gen Pony as one example, or a lot of one-shot movies) have tended to make: they'll present a "love" story that centers on characters we simply don't care about. We don't buy that they "love" each other, no matter how many times the dialogue or the song lyrics assert it. It just turns into a stream of platitudes. It just makes us roll our eyes.
But in the case of FiM, we've had two years' worth of steadily deepening character portraits leading up to this "love" story, with the result that even though the romance doesn't even involve any of the Mane 6, we're happy to buy into it because we know the universe so well by now that we can appreciate what "love" in this context actually entails. It's not just something a couple of characters recite to each other and expect us to follow along by singing the song on the soundtrack. It's something that's so pure and uncomplicated that it deliberately contrasts with the complexities of the friendships the Mane 6 have spent the past two years illustrating for us. By now we know their friendships to be so multifaceted it's almost eerie. They're uneven. They're unpredictable. They're even not always all that healthy (see Rainbow Dash and Rarity, both of whom run roughshod over Fluttershy; or Pinkie, whom the others can hardly bring themselves to take seriously for more than half an episode at a time). But that's what makes them real. We intuitively understand how natural and organic their relationships are and how much they embody exactly the opposite of a hollow platitude-fest about "two peas in a pod, we did everything together".
Which in a weird way is what makes Shining Armor and Cadance work. We would never have taken them seriously if they didn't appear against a backdrop that proved the writers know how to create believable characters and relationships. This way we know the purity of their love (and of Twilight's and SA's harmonious childhood) is something we can take at face value and really be impressed at how powerful such feelings can be in this universe—because the writers really mean it. They've demonstrated their chops, and now when they say a couple of characters share a love strong enough that it can physically blow an army of changelings out to beyond EMP range, we sit up and notice in a way we never would have if this had been some show that just sauntered in and said "Yo, kay, so here's this princess and the captain of the royal guard, and they're getting married, and they love each other so much it magically saves the kingdom from invasion." By the same token, we're a lot more likely to accept a lovenuke resolution from two characters who are obviously very much in love when it comes in the same dang episode as that argument Twilight sees through the door crack between SA and FakeCadance. The argument paints the backdrop of complex interactions and emotions that make heartfelt purity into something we can really get behind and cherish and respect. As we said a few months ago in that thread where we engaged with that guy writing a blog response to the WSJ article, it isn't that the characters are flawed that makes us love them; it's that they have the capacity to be flawed. This show has taken the time to establish the stakes that make romantic love into a significant thing, and therefore it takes on a lot more stature than we otherwise would have afforded it. Twilight singing about how handsome and beautiful her brother and her new sister-in-law are, coming after forty minutes of her hating everything about the Cadance she thinks she knows and being resentful of her brother's newly redirected affections, is so warm and open-hearted it makes my eyes water.
I guess what I'm saying is that the sentiments at the heart of ACW (and especially in its songs) are so cheesy we could easily choose not to take them seriously; we might well dismiss them as pap. But because the writers have put in the insane amount of effort prior to now to flesh out the depth of the interpersonal relationships among the cast and show that they do understand the implications of the grandiose and primary-colored statements they're making, they've earned the right to make them and present them without any irony at all.