MODERN RANTS: MISOGYNY IN POPULAR SONGS

Teenage record party, 1950s-60s (7)

Last summer, my go-to playlist was less “traditional playlist”, and more “The Weeknd’s singles on an endless loop”. There was something about his wickedly angelic voice that made me tremble in awe every time I heard it, something strangely beautiful in his honeyed words that made me want to sing along while oblivious to the sentences on my tongue. Maybe it was his voice that made me lovesick for… oh, what was he singing about, again? A night of partying, a biblical one-night stand? Oh… wait a minute. He was singing about date-rape.

And I, a so-called crusader for the equal treatment of all women, didn’t know what to do.

 —

“I only call you when it’s half past five

The only time that I’ll be by your side

I only love it when you touch me, not feel me

When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me

When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me, yeah

I only fuck you when it’s half past five

The only time I’d ever call you mine

I only love it when you touch me, not feel me

When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me

When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me, babe”

The Hills, The Weeknd

It doesn’t matter what songs you listen to by The Weeknd. His discography is saturated in objectification, rape, and the repeated treatment of women as property and prey. And yet, this is the pop music industry, and The Weeknd, although prolific and vile, is not unique. He is merely another snakelike head on the hydra; another messenger of the same tired, venomous story. The narrative is unending.

Every (cis, heteronormative) man in the music industry knows the magic formula, in how to make predation sound like passion, beauty, and maybe – just maybe – even love. And, likewise, almost every (cis, heteronormative) man in the music industry sells this magic formula in their music, letting unsuspecting listeners like me fall in momentary lust with songs about my own desecration. The dehumanization of the woman’s body is the failproof recipe for viral pop.

Why, then, is viral pop so helplessly listenable?

“Baby I’m preying on you tonight /Hunt you down eat you alive

Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

Maybe you think that you can hide / I can smell your scent for miles

Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

So what you trying to do to me / It’s like we can’t stop, we’re enemies

But we get along when I’m inside you, eh

You’re like a drug that’s killing me / I cut you out entirely

But I get so high when I’m inside you

Yeah you can start over you can run free / You can find other fish in the sea

You can pretend it’s meant to be / But you can’t stay away from me

I can still hear you making that sound

Taking me down rolling on the ground

You can pretend that it was me

But no, oh!”

Animals, Maroon 5

To be a woman in a love affair with commercial music is to be a woman at a constant war not with the faultful industry, but with herself. The woman asks, with each listen:

— Am I willing to withstand the violent bruises against my entire view of humanity in exchange for a few short minutes of sticky-sweet verses?

— If I like the production, rhythm, and beat of these songs, does that make me a bad person?

— Has the machine beaten me, if I like this song?

In that vicious cycle, the woman is left fighting her own body over that body of the creature who has tried to take hers away. And, when the song is sweet enough, she might very well opt to not fight at all.   

—   

“She may contain the urge to run away

But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks

Cetirizine your fever’s grip me again

Never kisses, all do you ever send are full stops, la, la, la

[…]

She bruises, coughs, she splutters pistol shots

But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks

She’s morphine, queen of my vaccine

My love, my love, love, love, la, la, la”

Breezeblocks, Alt-J

The lady-feeding pop hydra has many faces.  

Is there any modern crossover-popstar as universally beloved as Drake? Drake, womanity’s heroic sadboy prince, a vision from Toronto come to sweep us off our lightly-calloused feet? Last summer, he spoonfed our ravenous womanity ‘Hotline Bling’ bite-by-bite until it was the only meal we knew how to hunger for. We adored ‘Hotline Bling’. The internet – a melting pot of activism, escapism, and empowerment – a technical body that I see with a woman’s face – adopted the single artwork as some type of flag, some universal sign of “cool”. ‘Hotline Bling’ was the internet’s anthem – and it was, it is, and it always will be a song disturbingly haunted by Drake’s assumed unrelenting possession of women. Drake’s world, although cloaked in sensitivity and charm, is a world in which women have no independence. You used to be his, and now you are not.

He wants you for himself again.

Oh, but the song is so catchy! The voice is so smooth!

Help.  

“Wonder if you’re rollin’ up a backwoods for someone else

Doing things I taught you, gettin’ nasty for someone else

You don’t need no one else

You don’t need nobody else, no

Why you never alone

Why you always touching road

Used to always stay at home, be a good girl

You was in a zone, yeah

You should just be yourself

Right now, you’re someone else.”

Hotline Bling, Drake

To boycott misogyny in the music industry is to boycott the industry, itself. The higher powers behind the beats, behind the lyrics, are the same powers that ensnared Ke$ha in an abusive partnership with supervillain Dr. Luke and his cronies at Sony Music. They are the same powers that physically starved preteen JoJo in an attempt to make her more marketable. Our beloved radio isn’t a democracy, but the repercussions of the patriarchal oligarchy of the music industry, itself. This oligarchy, like any political system, is governed by a set of laws: sex sells. Power sells. Control sells. Submission sells.

The assertion that misogyny is limited primarily to rap/hip hop culture is thinly-veiled racism. Misogyny in music isn’t limited to a single genre. It is the industry, itself. Calling out misogyny in some rap and hip hop is valid, but without recognizing the equal – if not worse – misogyny in popular songs of all genres, the feminism itself is prejudiced and grossly intolerable.    

“It’s down to me / The difference in the clothes she wears

Down to me, the change has come / She’s under my thumb

Ain’t it the truth babe? / Under my thumb

The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day / Under my thumb

A girl who has just changed her ways / It’s down to me, yes it is

The way she does just what she’s told

Down to me, the change has come

She’s under my thumb / Under my thumb

A siamese cat of a girl / Under my thumb

She’s the sweetest, hmmm, pet in the world.”

Under My Thumb, The Rolling Stones

Here I am, a self-professed feminist, but also a wildly-passionate music fan. These ideas, when looked at critically, appear to be almost entirely mutually exclusive. I shout into an endless void about the toxicity of male entitlement. And yet, why do I continue listening to love songs in which the heroine is only referred to as “bitch”? Why am I head-over-heels in love with music itself, a wicked industry inherently against the equal treatment of all women?

To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know why I still find myself hesitantly listening to The Weeknd (although not the rape song – never the rape song). I don’t know why I still see Drake through the fuzzy lens of syrupy teenage idolization. I don’t know a lot of things, and I accept that. But, in a world that feeds off my womanly self-hate, I’m not going to hate myself for it. I’m not going to hate myself for the natural human reaction of feeling pleasure from a catchy chorus.  

—  

“Don’t trust a hoe.

Never trust a hoe.

Won’t trust a hoe,

‘Cause a hoe won’t trust me.

Shush girl, shut your lips.

Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.”

Don’t Trust Me, 3Oh!3

I have the power to think critically about what I am listening to, and whom I am listening to, while I listen. In our commercial society, I can vote with my dollars, opting to stream, rather than purchase, music that makes me, as a woman, feel less than human. I am not obligated to pay to listen to a threat against my own body.

Misogynistic (see: basically all radio-repeat) songs – songs about sex, power, control, and submission – empower me. They empower me to be a better feminist, to work even harder to fight the patriarchal culture infecting womanity’s already-hurting eyes and ears. They teach me the life lessons that I might not discover on the battlefield, from the lens of the oppressor.

It’s an education, and it’s not an easy one. I’m not going to hate myself for liking the occasional misogynistic song (a catchy song is popular for a reason, alright?), just as the misogynistic song wants me to hate myself. I’m going to learn from these songs, and take their lessons into the real world – a world beyond the radio. Although music may shape our world, it is not the world itself.

Womanity is stronger.  

Be aware of what you’re listening to. Recognize the privilege of cis, heteronormative male musicians. Call out any song or artist that makes you feel uncomfortable, using whatever medium you find most practical (in conversation, on Twitter, in a 2011-style Facebook status). Call out the industry that packages these songs in glittery synth and sells them to you, your family, and your neighbors like harmless Girl Scout cookies.

It’s natural and okay to have a problematic fave (or two), especially in a world that is flexing every single loose dollar to sell you your own body. In our twisted society, to completely boycott misogyny in song is to listen to no music at all. Let your problematic faves inspire you to think critically about their words, and translate that inspiration into real-world action.

Click here for a list of resources on how to take that action.

“Every breath you take and every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you

Every single day and every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you

Oh, can’t you see you belong to me

How my poor heart aches with every step you take.”

Every Breath You Take, The Police

 

— Megan

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Header photo from pinterest, which linked its source here

If anybody knows the photographer, please drop us a line so that we can give proper credit! 

 

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