Greatness is such a tricky thing to chase. Most, if not all, of us want it, but only a few can actually achieve it. Those that do go on to have legacies that will surpass their lifetimes. Those that don’t will be largely forgotten, wasting away in the annals of time and space like the insignificant dots we were all once meant to be.
And then there are those who are seemingly on the cusp of greatness, those who came so close, but ultimately don’t get to join the winners’ circle for one reason or another. These are the ones you’d describe as “So-and-so is great, right?” “Yeah, but…”
It’s that “Yeah, but…” argument which ultimately separates the greats from those who fail to make the list, even by just a hair. Call it an excuse or an inherent flaw. The “Yeah, but…” is the one thing that got in the way of someone or something achieving true greatness. Here are some examples.
How I Met Your Mother
HIMYM was supposed to be our generation’s version of Friends. The characters and their arc were generally relatable. We all had that one lothario friend who’s never been in the dumps. We’ve all gone through a seemingly normal day, only to receive news that a loved one suddenly passed away, effectively turning your world upside down. We’ve all been through several relationships with someone we thought was the one, only to get our heart broken every single time—or worse, left at the altar—okay, maybe not that last part.
Sure, the show jumped the shark some time within the last couple of seasons, especially when Robin became such a bitch towards Patrice for no apparent reason. But it had the chance to bookend what was a spectacular nine-year run, until the ending.
Yes, HIMYM makes the “Yeah, but…” list thanks to Carter Bays and Craig Thomas insisting come hell or high water that Tracy (the Mother) still dies at the end as they originally planned… nine years before the finale. Never mind that fans have long come to terms with Ted and Robin never truly being meant for each other. Never mind that Ted Mosby had grown so much since his relationship with Robin in the earlier seasons, that he’d realized he’d become so much better without her bringing him down. Never mind that Tracy had become such an adorable and endearing character that it broke our hearts that SHE COULDN’T EVEN DIE ONSCREEN.
Was HIMYM was a really good show? Yeah, but the finale was such a selfish act on the creators’ part.
The Walking Dead
We talked about this when the latest season premiered, and this time it really seems to seal the deal. The Walking Dead became popular for being gritty, visceral, and somehow emotionally arresting, but the showrunners seem to have figured that out and begun to abuse the fans’ emotional investment. It’s one thing to draw out anticipation, but when your audience finally figures out that there’s a carrot on a stick being held out in front of them, you know you’ve jumped the shark.
This breaks our hearts. A lot.
Kanye will always have a place in our souls as one of the GOATs of hip-hop and music (fight us) but even we have to acknowledge that there are so many Yeah, Buts when it comes to his career that he deserves a much more nuanced writeup after everything’s said and done.
There’s the general insanity that fuels his ego, his constant need for attention and validation (and subsequent shrugging off of validation, regardless of what he does), and his ill-advised move to speak his mind and cape for Donald Trump, among others. Granted, his mom’s untimely passing affected his mental well-being for the worse, and we shouldn’t really hold that against him, but there are still things he does that affect his legacy. Like Yeezus.
Like most people on this list, though, there’s still time for ‘Ye to turn things around and eliminate the Yeah, But from the summary of his career. He’s still relatively young.
I’m going to expect a lot of hate from Directioners in 3, 2, 1…
Let’s get one thing straight. One Direction is the best boy band to have come out of the 2010s, full stop.
They won just about every major award there was to be won on pretty much every stage but the Grammys. They sold millions and millions of albums and concert tickets worldwide, got millions and millions of girls, women, and even some boys, to memorize every track, and made millions and millions of dollars in the process. With their youth and dynamic presence both on stage and on social media, 1D was poised to rule the charts for the next decade.
And then Zayn Malik abruptly left the group—a few days before they were scheduled to perform in Manila, mind you. 1D soldiered on and put out one more album before taking a “hiatus,” which we all know is a soft way of saying, “we’re done here.”
Now, only Liam Payne and Harry Styles have yet to release solo singles, but you know that shit’s in the works. While he isn’t being a father to a child he didn’t even expect, Louis is proving to everyone why he’s the weakest member of One Direction vocally. Niall’s killing it as Ed Sheeran Lite. And Zayn Malik became ZAYN.
They could have had the success and longevity of the Backstreet Boys, but ultimately became a more successful British version of *NSYNC instead.
Was One Direction one hell of a boyband? Yeah, but they peaked really high and then ended the gimmick too fast, too soon, much like Justin, JC, and company.
Ronda was supposed to be the greatest transcendental star in MMA. Over a four-year stretch, she went undefeated and quickly went on to become the face of UFC and the most recognizable MMA fighter in the world, let alone inspiring women everywhere by being successful in a sport largely dominated by men.
This led to her getting multiple endorsement deals, film appearances, and other mainstream side gigs, the type of which her male counterparts could only dream of. She was undefeated and on the top of the food chain, and then Holly Holm knocked her out.
She went on a sabbatical for a year, and then came back, only to have the ref stop her fight against Amanda Nunes after the latter bludgeoned her in 48 seconds. Now, she’s regarded as a has-been, who ESPN analysts claim to be damaged goods at this point. No one knows if she’s ever stepping in the Octagon again, or if WWE’s even going to look at her again for a WrestleMania appearance even for just the name value.
Is Ronda Rousey an MMA legend? Yeah, but she got caught off-guard in one fight, never really recovered, and then got knocked on her ass on the way to being irrelevant.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were the world’s It couple for the better part of a decade. They were A-listers who weren’t trashy about their fame. They donated to social causes. They even adopted non-white children into their family. Through it all, they seemed ever so supportive towards one another and gave us hope that true love could exist in Tinseltown after all.
And then they filed for divorce. And then the rumors about Brad supposedly cheating on Angie with Marion Cotillard came out. And then Marion vehemently denied these rumors. And the legal stuff about the child custody and spousal support all viciously reminded us that these relationships end, even in Hollywood. For what it was, it was a great run, one we all wanted for ourselves until the divorce.
Was Brangelina one of the greatest power couples in entertainment? Yeah, but we didn’t know there was a lot of trouble in paradise and that their marriage would actually only last two years.
In 2008, Derrick Rose got drafted first overall by his hometown Chicago Bulls, bringing hope to a city and a team that hadn’t sniffed greatness since Michael Jordan left ten years prior. Three years later, he was the youngest MVP in NBA history at the age of 21, leading the Bulls to a league-best 62-20 record.
By the next year, he was lying on the floor, his left ACL torn—and with it, the Bulls’ chances of advancing in the Playoffs. He’d spent the next four years having a start-and-stop recovery period. When he did play, he frustrated fans, team officials, and himself by being a far cry of what he seemed predestined to be.
Today, he plays for the New York Knicks, one of the most dysfunctional franchises in all of basketball. He’s had a deplorable year, from his unexplained absence at a Knicks game against the New Orleans Pelicans, to the civil rape charge he faced last year.
Is Derrick Rose going to be remembered forever in the NBA? Yeah, but it’s because he went from being the face of the next generation of NBA stars, to one of its more complex personalities, and for all of the wrong reasons.
I was originally going to highlight just Twitter, but I realized I might as well lump everything together here because fuck it.
The original concept behind media like Facebook and Twitter was awesome and easy to get behind. They make it much easier to stay connected with the people you love and care about, regardless of actual physical distance. In a vacuum, that’s great.
In the years since, we’ve seen social media devolve into a cesspool of trolls, accounts for contests, sponsored posts, curated feeds, political mudslinging, and everything in between. It doesn’t help that we young’uns are so tethered to them that taking a day or two to detach from social media feels worse than quitting smoking cold turkey. It only takes one asshole to spoil the batch, and unfortunately for us all, there was one asshole too many.
Has social media been a beneficial addition to our lives? Yeah, but with it being impossible to live with and without social media, it’s become more of a necessary evil in our lives at this point. Hell, it’s a legitimate source of livelihood right now!
Here’s the thing about the “Yeah, but…” argument. Sure, it proves that there was one inherent flaw that got in the way of achieving true greatness. But don’t let that take away whatever accomplishments one achieved throughout the journey. “Yeah, but…” is such a cynical point of view that ultimately tarnishes one’s legacy.
So celebrate greatness, and celebrate those that came close, but came up short. Being great isn’t easy, and it really isn’t in anyone’s favor statistically. But we shouldn’t let that stop us from fucking trying, even if at the end of the day, all we get is a participation trophy and a mention on a listicle like this.
Photo from Hastac
Co-written by Stan Sy