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Does it mean "change of attitude", or does it mean "submit" or even "surrender / giving up the defense"?

I could not find reference to "change of attitude" in dictionary but did find a few references online.

Is this something that is not commonly said? Maybe a bit archaic?

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    It might be clearer if you look up the opposite – unbending: If someone is unbending, they often make fixed judgments and decisions that they are unwilling to change. Apr 15 at 11:10
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    It would help if you indicate what song it is (Beauty and the Beast is the name of both film and song), and quote the stanza. But note that the song is written in a stylized way with a very strict structure (5 or 6 syllables per line), so the language is compressed and not natural modern English (but then it's set in pre-modern France).
    – Stuart F
    Apr 15 at 11:36
  • @StuartF there is rhyme too. It appears to be the eponymous song in Disney's version of Beauty and the Beast. Apr 15 at 11:42
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    The lyricist was dying of HIV/AIDS at the time… So although compromise was a buzz word back then, what would supposedly allow us to live happily ever after, I think we'd read more into that today: really empathizing, changing perspective, truly evolving vs. just tolerating; something more along those lines. Apr 15 at 13:46
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    Someone's gotta say it: Bends rhymes with friends, it's main purpose. How do we know that? "Bends unexpected-LEE" rhymes with "true as it can be" only by forcing the stress onto LEE. So rhyme was a priority to the lyricist. Apr 16 at 3:51

2 Answers 2

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There's a quite extensive Wikipedia article on this offering popular interpretations.

Featuring the line "Barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,"[101] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune believes that the ballad "makes the case for all lovers to look past their partners' faults and into their hearts,"[85] while Cole wrote, "Ashman goes for the truth ... we don't know we're in love until we spend time with someone and unforced adjustments make the pieces fall into place".[92] The Emperor's Old Groove: Decolonizing Disney's Magic Kingdom author Brenda Ayres cited the song as an "[indicator] that a reciprocal power relationship has developed between Belle and the Beast ... confirm[ing] 'his transformation, her legitimacy, and their powerful unity".[102]

Most translations (French, German) seem to focus on the fact that they change without pressure or overtly trying to.

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This can be taken to mean that whereas the situation is rather tense and could shift easily towards outright enmity, a sudden gesture of sympathy from one of the parties shows some hope that the several parties (here two) could get along well.

(HiNative) It is supposed to mean that they were not friends in the slightest and were very stubborn about it. But then when somebody "bends" in this case, it means they were willing to finally try and be friends with the other. It is basically saying that eventually someone was willing to initiate a friendship which developed into more romantic feelings in this case.

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    Re "barely even friends", I understand that to imply that they are friends - though "barely" - recently, weakly, or both.
    – Iiridayn
    Apr 15 at 20:48
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    “Barely even friends” seems entirely natural and clear to me, in context. It’s like saying “He’s training as a pilot, and he’d barely even driven a car before!” Compared to falling in love — the main focus of the verse — being friends is seen as a relatively low bar.
    – PLL
    Apr 15 at 21:29
  • I will keep avoiding the combination "barely even" in my usage, but in view of the solely negative interest raised by this note I will remove it.
    – LPH
    Apr 15 at 21:52

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