Music plays an important role in many people’s lives, especially in adolescents. There’s a broad range of music that can satisfy everyone’s tastes. For example, those who like listening to sad love songs may be fans of country music, while others may enjoy classical music, salsa, rock, contemporary, and countless more. On the other hand, some of the most common genres of music listened to today are known as hip hop, and rap.
The reason music can be so important to people is because it can be seen as an art or even a form of therapy. Certain songs have the power to put us in a good mood when we’re down or vice versa. There are different types of song we listen to depending on our attitude on a particular day. Most of us have an iTunes playlist with thousands of our favorite tunes which we listen to any chance we get. A study published in 2008 by Public Health Reports stated that adolescents listen to music for about 2.4 hours per day. This number could have fairly increased since most us of walk around with headphones and are able to download music straight to our phones. Without realizing it though, many of the songs we love listening to have lyrics that describe women in derogatory which we fail to see due to the “catchiness” of the song.
I never really put much thought into lyrics of rap songs or hip hop songs because I’m also one of those people who gets too caught up in the beat of the songs and neglect to focus on what the singers are actually saying. This past summer, that all changed when my friend Charlotte and I were listening to music on our way to the mall. On one of the stations, “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke started playing and I immediately turned the volume up since it was one of my favorite songs. It was a popular song during the summer as it placed number 1 on the Billboard’s Top 100 and remained popular months later. Though most people I know like it, Charlotte made a comment about how the lyrics to this song really degraded women and asked if I had watched the music video. I didn’t want to believe that a song so catchy and fun portrayed women in a negative way so I simply ignored her comment and changed the station.
When I finally got around to watching the video and reading the lyrics, I understood why Charlotte didn’t like the song. To my surprise, my jaw dropped while I read lyrics like “Yeah, I had a bitch but she ain’t as bad as you” and “let me be the one you back that ass to.” I could honestly say I don’t even remember hearing those lines while I listened to the song without the lyrics right in front of me. Additionally, there is an explicit version of the music video where the three women in the video are nude while Robin Thicke, T.I, and Pharrell Williams are suited up enjoying the girls being all over them.
This portrayal of women in pop-culture has been a serious topic for decades when television channels like MTV and BET were airing popular songs and music videos that shared this image of women to the public. These were becoming widely common among the youth which is why both channels still continue to have many viewers. Sexism in music videos is, “dramatically presented in Jhally’s (1995) video “Dreamworld’s II, the Dreamworld being MTV’S focus on male, adolescent’s dreamworld of scantily-clad women fulfilling any number of sexual fantasies” (Gender Role in Youth Culture). In 1995, many music videos came out portraying women in conventional ways with stereotypical gender roles such as being “obedient” and submissive to men and their desires while placing a great emphasis on their physical appearance. During that time, “from the total 123 videos, 39 (31.7%) videos present women according to a traditional gender role”(Gender Role in Youth Culture). This image of the conventional women appears in different ways in music videos. In some, women are just used as props. These types of music videos, “include women only insofar as they act as physical and sexual ornamentation” (Gender Role in Youth Culture). Videos that are a prime example of this depiction of women include Ice Cube’s Bop Gun, Don’t Cry and Estragned by Gun’s and Roses, and many more.
Though those videos may have not caused much public controversy at the time, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” did get many people talking. According to an article posted in the Huffington Post, many critics have said the song is, “not just disparaging to women, but could be seen as rape-y” (“Blurred Lines” Is A ‘Feminist Movement: Lyrics Got ‘Misconstrued’). Thicke’s comment on the issue when being interviewed at GQ headquarters did not make matters any better when he said, “What a pleasure it is to degrade women, I’ve never gotten to do that before.” Though this comment followed with a laugh, there is nothing amusing about the degradation of women, nonetheless making fun of such a serious matter. Regardless of all this, the song still managed to have three VMA nominations, maintain its number one position on the Billboard charts for three weeks, and was used in a commercial advertising a new product for Beats by dre.
In general, most music videos for songs containing condescending lyrics are typically at a beach with girls in bikinis everywhere or at a club where girls are dressed in short dresses and miniskirts dancing provocatively usually to get men’s attention. I’ve watched a few like those in the past, but I’d look at them with a different perspective. I’d wonder silly things like what the auditions are like when the only thing the women featured in those videos have to do is essentially just walk around half naked. I’d also think about things like where the videos were shot, especially those at beautiful beach locations. The last thing on my mind was the messages these videos were giving off to the public about women and how those images affect the minds of adolescents who watch them and see such a negative portrayal of women
An interesting study which was published by Public Health Reports focused on the sexual content in genres of music like hip hop, R&B, and rap. The results of this study showed, “that different types of sexual content vary significantly by genre and suggests that those exposed to specific musical genres may be at increased risk for the sequel of early intercourse…because previous research has demonstrated an association between degrading sexual content and early sexual intercourse.” These results were interesting to me because these degrading songs not only disrespect women, but also spark this idea of sexual intercourse earlier than it should be.
For decades, pop-culture has revolved around this image of women as sexual objects and has remained popular because the public enjoys this type of music. Though many of us love and listen to these types of songs on repeat, they have content that is very offending towards women. However, artists and song editors do a good job at masking those lyrics with rhythms that are too catchy to want to click the “next” button on your radio or phone and “Blurred Lines” is one of those. The catchy tunes of this song in particular steers us away from thinking twice about the lyrics and instead putting us in a lively mood. Because of this, we lose the true message behind the songs. This happened in my case when the tune of “Blurred Lines” always put me in a lively mood, preventing me from hearing the actual words being used until my friend Charlotte pointed it out.
An example of another song I recently heard that is disrespectful to women is “Better with the light off” by New Boyz, ft. Christ Brown. At the beginning of the song, he describes how the girl he’s dating is beautiful and says she’s a “dime.” Later in the chorus, he says, “shorty I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but you look better with the lights off.” How ironic is that? One moment he’s singing about a beautiful girl he’s with and the next he’s singing about how she looks better in the dark.
“Blurred Lines” was the song that opened my eyes to women being degraded in pop-culture. I realize now that it was never something I put much thought into. Meanwhile, artists have continuously been gaining fame through songs and music videos that revolve around the perception of women as erotic and sexual beings that are there to fulfill men’s desires. This is an inaccurate representation of women because it only focuses on their physical appearances and sexuality. We fail to recognize the extent to which artists use disrespectful words to describe women in their songs. It’s important to think twice when listening to the number one songs on the Billboard Charts or the ones people are raving about which constantly play on the radio. The catchiness of the tunes can get the best of us but looking past that and taking time to decipher the lyrics can bring awareness to the issue. It’s not okay to simply sing along and promote lyrics that are hurting and demeaning women. It is important to recognize the issue and say something about it, just like my friend Charlotte did.
Alexander, Susan. “THE GENDER ROLE PARADOX IN YOUTH CULTURE: AN ANALYSIS OF WOMEN IN MUSIC VIDEOS.” 13 (1999): 46-64. JSTOR. Michigan Sociological Association. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
Boardman, Madeline. “Blurred Lines Is A ‘Feminist Movement: Lyrics Got “Misconstrued””Huffington Post. N.p., 31 July 2013. Web