Misogyny in Music

Things are not looking good for Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, who are being forced to pay 7.2 million dollars to Marvin Gaye’s estate for copying the soul singer’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up” on their extremely successful 2013 single “Blurred Lines.” However, lurking under the lawsuit and copyright violations is a more important and deep-seated issue that needs to be discussed: misogyny. Robin Thicke’s hit song frivolously talks about date rape, using words like “domesticate” and “liberate” in order to make a pop record out of such a serious and tragic issue that thousands of women face each year. Alongside other artists like Pitbull, Nelly, and a whole slew of other hip-hop and pop stars, “Blurred Lines” represents a status quo in the Western world, where feminism is undermined and women are only as important as their physical beauty and the size of their buttocks.

Pop songs that promote misogyny are unique in that they have to be simplistic and straightforward enough to understand yet stuffed with euphemisms and innuendos in order to not make an overly explicit song. Pitbull and Ke$ha’s hit record “Timber,” for example, uses the name of the track as a metaphor for sleeping with someone after having a fun night partying. It does not mention the amount of drinks, drugs, or sex they will have that night, but alludes to it with lines such as “Let’s make a night you won’t remember.” By creating songs that are both pleasing to the ear and not too sexually explicit, Pitbull and Ke$ha can implant certain ideologies and beliefs about male-female relationships and partying into the listener’s psyche without the listener even being aware, an extremely dangerous way of spreading ideas and beliefs that can harm others.

The female figures associated with the music industry are also meant to further promote the image of a woman that is depicted in today’s music. Ke$ha created an image of a glittery party girl who loves to dance, drink and have fun. Female hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj, Kanye West’s wife Kim Kardashian, and singer Beyoncé are all known for their large backsides and curvy figure. Entertainers that preceded Minaj, like Lil’ Kim and Madonna, also displayed the same level of overt sexuality and playfulness that is still prevalent in popular culture today. However, even though they endorse a certain type of physique for a woman, many are also vocal and financial supporters of feminism alongside their more conservative contemporaries such as Taylor Swift and Adele, proving that there is more substance in their lyrics than meets the eye.

Often, we consider pop stars to be idiotic and generic, with little or no intellectual weight to their lyrics. However, we often forget that many of these women are examples of strong females who worked for their success, and the lifestyle and physique that they display is only one aspect of their multi-dimensional personalities. Artists such as Lady Gaga, Lana del Rey and Ke$ha have stated in interviews that they support a woman’s right to independence, even if that means partying and having fun. What these musicians endorse is a newer form of feminism: one that allows women absolute freedom to be who they want to be regardless of how society feels about it. The truly important factor then is whether the listener understands the lyrics as promoting women’s independence or subtlety encouraging abuse against women. Personally, I side with the former, believing that female artists would not make a misogynistic song simply to turn around and voice their support  for feminism.

However, I am only one of the millions of Americans that listen to pop music on a daily basis, and someone else’s interpretation of the music could be completely different but just as valid as my own, proving once more the hidden power of music. There are not many who are willing to take the time to analyze a song’s meaning, and that is why popular music can be so dangerous. The messages in these songs are important because they have a large impact in the formation of society, shaping a person’s ideologies and feelings towards a certain subject. When hip-hop artists describe women as “bitches” and “hoes,” they give negative connotations to the female gender, and subtlety change how others perceive women as well. Similarly, when LMFAO says “They need an excuse to suck our cocks,” they paint women as beings who are notable only for giving fellatio. These portrayals of women as sexual deviants go directly against the reality that they are making strides in Western society, and the fact that these songs were written by men only proves that many males consider women to be of lesser value than themselves. Politicians like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Bachmann are at the forefront of modern United States politics; TV personalities like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres are two of the most famous figures in American television history, both supporting the women’s rights movement. Yet, even with these figures, and countless others as examples of successful and intelligent females, full-time working women still make only 77% of a man’s yearly salary and a woman is beaten every seven seconds in the United States, a clear example of how our false, negative feelings towards females are harming American women every single day.

It would be too simplistic to blame all misogyny on popular music and culture, but does play a big role in gender relations. We often forget that female derogatory terms can also be applied to women in our own lives, and that generalizing entire subgroups of people leads to ignorance, fear and hatred. Isn’t that why people prohibit children from listening to explicit music or watching sexually and violently graphic movies? Just because we get older does not mean that the music affects us differently; it only makes us more aware of the falsehoods that we are passively accepting through the songs. If we truly want to begin to change how our culture considers women, we should regulate or at least analyze a song’s meaning. It can be difficult (Today I listened to a Dr. Dre song called “Lyrical Gangbang”), and I by no means have all the solutions, but if we at least critically examine the themes in the music, we can control the music instead of allowing it to control us, bringing us one step closer towards gender equality in both popular culture and society.


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