Oh, I know we both are young,
And must wait til school is through, I’ll wait for you
Oh, I tell my impatient heart,
There is nothing I can do, I’ll wait for you
I’ll wait for You – Frankie Avalon, 1958
So slide over here, And give me a moment,
Your moves are so raw, I’ve got to let you know
I’ve got to let you know, You’re one of my kind.
Need you Tonight’ – INXS, 1987
My homeboys tried to warn me,
But that butt you got makes me so horny
I like ’em round, and big…I just can’t help myself,
I’m actin’ like an animal, Now here’s my scandal,
I wanna get you home, And ugh, double-up, ugh, ugh!
Baby Got Back – Sir Mix A Lot, 1992
I was fucking parts of your pussy,
I never fucked before, I was in there like,
Oh shit I never been here before,
I’ve never even seen this part of Pussy Town before”
Blame Game – Kanye West, 2010
All the sheets are soaked…
When you scream I need to pull your body closer,
Girl, you better not change your mind…no is not an option…
Are you ready, I’m a take what’s mine.
Biggest Fan – Chris Brown, 2012
Sexualisation is everywhere, and it is no surprise to any of us that music lyrics are one of the main sources. It both intrigues and repulses me how greatly lyrics have changed over the decades in regard to the attitudes they reflect.I remember a particular time last year when I had to spend a week filling in for someone at work, and I discovered they had a small radio beside their desk. My first reaction was a huge ‘WOOHOO!’ But then I discovered it was permanently tuned to AM ‘classic radio’ stations…Ergh. During the week however, I began to notice that there was something very distinct and refreshing about this music. Just like mainstream music today, the songs from 60 years ago were heavily focused on relationships; however the way in which men approached the topic of women was another experience altogether.
Graphic visualisations of sex acts, disrespectful descriptions of women, hate speech… all were noticeably absent. For a whole week I didn’t hear a single song that focused on a woman’s sexual persona. Instead, I heard love songs which held women up as sources of beauty, awe, and strength. From the heartache of unrequited love, to the overwhelming joy of having someone love you back, women were a man’s muse – a source of wonder to write and sing about. I think of songs like ‘I wanna walk you home’ by Fats Domino, ‘Through the Years’ by Kenny Rogers, and Van Morrison’s ‘Have I told you lately’.
The music also made you think; discussing the essence of women through metaphors and stories.
The moon may be high
But I can’t see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you
You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you
Only have eyes for You – The Flamingo’s
Mona lisa, Mona lisa, men have named you
You’re so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only ’cause you’re lonely they have blamed you?
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?
Mona Lisa – Nat King Cole, 1950
Now I’m not saying that we need to go back to the slow love ballads of the 50’s, but I do think there is something which can be learnt from such music, especially when you consider the sort of toxic lyrics that have been pumped out into society over the past decade. These attitudes have formed what has become a landfill of septic waste over our music scene, and song writing has skyrocketed towards a tendency to characterise women not by their individuality, but instead a stereotyped persona of hyper-sexuality. Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that the worst of this music tends to come from the hip hop scene.
The rise of women as a sexual muse
Wellll the A is for Ashley she always ask for me
To take it out her pussy put it right in her ass
And the B is for Brittany she bright in the class
And she be hatin on Ashley, ’cause she tight in the ass
The C is for Christina, want me to big screen her
The way she dick kiss should be a misdemeanor,
So have you seen her, I been searchin’ but cant find her?
These are my bitches, my Alpha Bitches.
Alphabet Bitches – Lil Wayne, 2006
A study by Hall, West and Hill (2011) analysed the lyrics of songs from Billboards ‘Hottest 100’ list every decade from 1959 to 2009, and found that the prevalence of degrading, sexualised lyrics did not develop gradually but rather skyrocketed in the late 1990’s. They also found that the prevalence of sexualised lyrics was higher overall in 2009.
In an article by ‘Spark a Movement’, the writers discuss how the above study found “non-white artists produced degrading, sexualized lyrics almost 3 times as often as White artists in 1999 and 2009, and furthermore, male artists were more than twice as likely as female artists to perform lyrics with sexualization” (1).
While I am not in any way discounting the existence of sexualised music prior to 1999, I can honestly say that as a teenager I wasn’t exposed to anywhere near as much sexual content as today’s youth. I also believe there was a big difference in both the quantity and descriptive-quality of songs prior to the late 90’s.
Even those songs that did speak about sex or sexual topics managed to do so in a way that was somewhat more discreet or covert, and still contained qualities of sensitivity or respect – such as ‘Come said the Boy’ by Mondo Rock and ‘Roxanne’ by The Police.
Today however, much of the music we listen to seems to consist of very little substance. There are still love ballads, but so much of the music scene (in particular hip hop/rap) now focuses on painting a vivid picture of women based on an empty sexual caricature. Gone is the subtlety of sex, now replaced by graphic sexual descriptions. Once risqué lyrics such as ‘Come said the boy, let’s go down on the sand, Let’s do what we wanna do, let me be a man for you’, now look tame in comparison to those such the following:
‘I make them hoṗ my pill with their eyes closed, Make them suck the dick with a blindfold, they can chose me, I don’t know them, Uh bitch, I’m yo daddy nigga, shut up!” – Kanye West
Lyrics have not only developed in terms of sexual content, but also the prevalence of sexually violent depictions. When I listen to hip hop I often feel like I am listening to an audio description of a porn scene.
Shawna: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, Give it to me now, give it to me now, Give it to me now
Ludacris: That’s the way you like to fuck . . .Rip the pants and rip the shirt, ruff sex make it hurt. In the garden all in the dirt”
What’s Your Fantasy – Ludacris, 2000
And if you think coming across these sexually graphic songs is a rare occurrence, it’s not. There are now entire radio stations dedicated to playing ‘all sex-music’. A particular radio station in California even went so far as to rename itself ‘Porn Radio’, describing the station as ‘all sex radio, all the time’, and frequently adding pre-recorded ‘groans and moans’ to more conservative tracks (2).
The rise of female self-exploitation
In 2013 we can no longer lay the blame solely on male artists, as the tsunami of sexualised content in the music industry has well and truly spilled over into the female-artist scene; often with the same highly sexualised messages we are used to hearing in male rap/hip hop songs.
“But what about artists like Salt N Pepa?,” I hear you ask. “Sexy lyrics by female artists are nothing new”.
Well, actually there is quite a big difference. And I think it has much to do with the purpose of a song’s message.
Whilst artist like Salt N Pepa are well-known for their sexy lyrics, their songs have also served to open a dialogue where women could feel comfortable to talk about sexual health issues, as well as what they wanted from a man both emotionally and sexually. For example, songs such as ‘Let’s Talk about Sex’ discuss the good and bad points of a sexual relationship, sex work, and the presumption that being desired sexually by men doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness.
There ain’t a man alive that she couldn’t get next to
She had it all in the bag so she should have been glad
But she was mad and sad and feelin’ bad
Thinkin’ about the things that she never had
No love, just sex, followed next with a check…
Let’s Talk about Sex – Salt N Pepa
Other songs such as ‘What a mighty good man’ discuss the beauty of having a strong, respectful and passionate man in your life who is also your lover; whilst their brutally honest ‘I’ve got AIDS’ opened up a much-needed dialogue about sexual health. As advocates for AIDS awareness, Salt N Pepa gave a spot on their album for young people fighting AIDS to voice their experiences.
“They’re just young people schoolin’ other young people,” they explained.
Listening to popular hip hop, pop and RnB fem-artists in today’s generation however, I honestly struggle to find anything of substance. The songs seem to exist only as bragging rights, a supposed ‘testament’ of how insanely sexual, experimental or ‘open-minded’ the person who is singing (or being talked about) happens to be.
Blindfold, feather bed, tickle me, slippery,
G-spot, nasty pose in a video
Love machine, by myself, climax, hot wax,
S&M, on the floor, I like it hardcore
Dirty Talk – Wynter Gordon, 2011
I’m flyer than a robin I’m flyer than a eagle
Ya dun a make it nothinq and when I pop my pussy
I pop it on his suzki I pop it so crazy cooky
I’m back in them dazi dookies
I be shakin it for daddy he want more more more
Got that bently go that cadie and there all four door
If I pull him by the collar boy he gonna holla
I be shakin it for daddy he want more more more
Shake it For Daddy – Nicki Minaj 2010
Call me old-fashioned, but why the need to tell the world how ‘fly’ you are just coz you can ‘pop yo pussy?’ How does having sex, feeling sexual, or having killer sex moves empower you? Seriously, tell me how a sex-drive makes you a better person than the next? These things women and men are bragging about mean nothing on a broader social scale.
More to the point, am I the only one who feels these lyrics are boring? I can barely even understand what is being said, let alone salvage some sort of empowering message from them. Sure, I remember a time where I used to sing along to certain sexualised lyrics as a teenager – if the song had a good beat I could discount what was being said right? But what did buying all these albums do for me on a higher level? Nothing really.
All those messages about turning guys on with my ‘lady lumps’, and droppin it ‘like it’s hot’ all played a part in telling me what it meant to be ‘sexy’. They definitely influenced the way I acted and the way I wanted to be seen. At the end of the day, the older we get the more we become in-tune with what we are listening to. As an adult I can listen to mainstream music and recognise that a song might be fun to dance to, but the lyrics aren’t to be taken onboard. For teenagers however, it’s not that black and white. How can you expect a child, an adolescent whose brain is still developing, to know that these messages being marketed to them are strategically manipulated, toxic thoughts?
I think that’s part of the problem – teenagers are so influential, and the music industry know they can saturate their minds with negative attitudes as long as they throw in a punchy bass drop and a hearty dose of repetition to ensure the song gets stuck in their head. Don’t believe me? Just read the lyrics of one of the biggest female artists in the world.
I wa-wa-want, what you wa-wa-want
Give it to me baby, like boom, boom, boom
What I wa-wa-want, Is what you wa-wa-want
Na, na, Ah, ah
Come here rude boy, boy, Can you get it up
Come here rude boy, boy, Is you big enough
Take it, take it, Baby, baby
Take it, take it, Love me Love me
Rude Boy – Rihanna, 2010
Na na na na Come on Come on Come on
I like it Like it
Come on Come on Come on
I like it Like it (Repeat X 4)
S&M – Rihanna, 2010
Meaningless, monotonous lyrics set to a good beat, shouting a shallow message. All that screams to me is ‘Sell-out’.
This shift in women declaring themselves as sexually dominant has become coined as the new ‘Do-Me’ feminism. In the book ‘Prude’, author Carol Liebau (3) discusses how feminism has moved beyond its original motives of securing equal political/social rights for women, to instead embrace a notion that promiscuity equals sexual liberation.
“Girls have learned to ape boys’ sexual aggressiveness, it’s been as a result of cultural pressures rather than biological…
“In a do-me feminist’s perfect world, young women would be more like young men.”
This new wave of feminism presumes that women should be behaving like men – that is, pursuing sex without the need for emotional fulfillment; even embracing the term ‘slut’. It reminds me of artists like Lil Kim and Missy Elliot, who supposedly turned the tables on men by bragging about their sexual conquests. Try as they may however, this sort of bragging (whether it comes from a man or woman) fails to empower anyone as a listener. Seriously, what does it empower you to do? Anyone can be sexually experimental in their relationships, and singing about it doesn’t necessarily make it any truer. If you have to use sex to make your music more marketable, you’re missing the point.
It also disturbs me that so many of the popular female artists crapping on about their sex-skills are marketed specifically to young girls. Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Lady GaGa…all these artists are featured in teen magazines, popular teen CD compilations such as ‘So Fresh,’ and other recommended tween sites. A search of ‘CD’s for tweens/teens’ returned many results featuring artists such as Justin Bieber (whose album features Nicki Minaj singing about Justin’s ‘Wiener’) and Katy Perry (featuring lyrics such as ‘Come on baby let me see what you hiding underneath/ I wanna see your peacock cock cock’, and ‘Sex on the beach/ We don’t mind sand in our stilettoes’). Many of you may also recall the two little girls ‘Sophia Grace and Rosie’ who regularly appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show dancing and singing to Nicki Minaj ‘Super Bass’ (the pair have also had several meet-up’s with their ‘hero’ Minaj). While I highly doubt the two girls have any idea what they are singing about, it is a very clear indicator of how little girls and boys grow up listening subliminally to lyrical content they shouldn’t be aware of, and shouldn’t be trying to emulate.
The effect of music lyrics on adolescents
“One of the biggest challenges we face is getting more women to understand that this music is harmful. It’s harmful for young people in particular to consume and internalize these kinds of messages every day, especially when there are no counter messages and no filter.” Guy-Sheftall (4)
Music plays a huge role in the lives of teenagers, particularly girls. In ‘Prude’, Liebau discusses how teen girls actively spend 15% more on music purchases than boys – equating to over 78% of girls purchasing every 3 months (5). They also readily admit that music influences the way they act and talk. This equates to millions of girls who are consuming music actively and passionately on a regular basis. Imagine what sort of messages they are taking in?
Despite the growing desensitisation toward sexual imagery, there are still many adolescents who find these graphic lyrics uncomfortable –and I can’t blame them. I remember being 19 and dating this guy who was a bit of a bogan. He used to pump Xzibit, Dre and all the typical hip hop shit from his stereo system. There was this one Xzibit song he used to play that I absolutely hated. I remember the first time I heard it play…
“Choke me, spank me, pull my hair! Choke me, spank me, pull my hair!”
Over and over it played, this fake porn-star mimic voice coming through the speakers, followed by Xzibit coming in with: “I don’t want to love, you, I just want to fuck, you. You should bring your friends, through, I’ll fuck you and them, too”
My friend and I were disgusted, but at the time I was too timid to call this guy out on what he was listening to (and more to the point, playing right in front of us). I shifted around uncomfortably in my seat, until finally I mumbled something about turning the song off. He didn’t understand what our ‘problem’ was. Whenever he played the song after this, we usually tried to turn it off or make a joke about it. But it was really uncomfortable.
In a 2003 study by Anderson and Carnagey (6), the authors explain that one of the many reasons why lyrical content affects adolescent’s cognitive patterns so strongly is because music requires the person to use their imagination more vividly than if they were watching a video. Unlike video content, music does not ‘fill in the gaps’ visually – and this is where the listener’s imagination comes to play.
Research from the ‘Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (7) between 1987 to 2012 has also shown negative effects of sexualised lyrics on listeners. The study discovered that :
- 57% of the videos featured a woman portrayed exclusively as a decorative sexual object. In the 182 videos analyzed by Seidman (1992), 37% of women wore revealing clothing, compared with 4.2% of men.
- 70 % of popular music contains degrading sexual content
- In 2002 a study of popular videos on Black Entertainment Television found sexual content in 84% of music videos
- The portrayal of women as sexual objects is highly damaging to the development of adolescents.
“In the current environment, teen girls are encouraged to look sexy, yet they know little about what it means to be sexual, to have sexual desires, and to make rational and responsible decisions about pleasure and risk within intimate relationships that acknowledge their own desires” – Tolman (2002. In APA Report)
Furthermore, research has also confirmed the negative consequences resulting from exposure to highly sexualised content. Various studies have shown:
- African-American women aged fourteen to eighteen “who watched the most rap videos were nearly twice as likely to have had sex with numerous partners”.
- Adolescents who listened to misogynistic/violent lyrics and music videos displayed greater aggression towards women, and a higher acceptance of violence towards women – particularly in dating relationships (8&9).
Taking into consideration that 90% of girls feel pressured to have sex before they are ready, the influence of sexually aggressive lyrics on young people is even more disturbing. Dr Michael Rich, the spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign explained, “I see an acceptance amongst teenagers – both girls and boys, of the kind of sexual objectification celebrated in this kind of music. There is this notion that it’s okay to be used for sex and that there is not any emotional commitment necessary” (10).
The damaging effect of music lyrics on women is also discussed online by The State Hornet’s Elizabeth Ramirez. Referencing misogynistic lyrics from Pitbull, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg and Kurupt (such as the song ‘Ain’t no Fun If the Homies Can’t Have None’) she writes:
“These type of lyrics can influence society into thinking a woman is something to be played with. They give the notion that a woman would not care if she was passed along from one man to the next. It gives the green light to whoever is listening to the lyrics to do the same” (11).
Ramirez also confronts the assertion by many that certain words such as ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ are not necessarily derogatory. Referencing Pitbull’s song ‘Hey Baby (Drop to the Floor)’ and Kanye West’s ‘My Perfect Bitch’ (supposedly about his girlfriend Kim Kardashian), Ramirez suggests that both songs are equally demeaning to women – irrespective of whether ‘bitch’ is used as a term of humiliation or endearment – because both songs focus on a woman as an object, rather than an intelligent human-being.
“Pitbull’s song highlights a specific part of a woman’s body, the butt, and how it should be “pumped.” Now, West defines the word b—- as a term of endearment while others define the word as a negative term towards a woman. Both assertions degrade a woman because they take a specific part of a woman’s body or a term and make them sound disrespectful.”
I find it incomprehensible that some of the men rapping the most disgusting lyrics, are themselves fathers of daughters. How would they feel if a man spoke these same words over their little girl? I was heartened to see that Jay Z finally understood this concept, when he vowed never again to use misogynistic lyrics following the birth of his daughter. In a poem he writes:
“Before I got in the game, made a change, and got rich/ I didn’t think hard about using the word bitch/ I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it/ Now with my daughter in this world I curse those that give it” (12).
That’s all very well and good, but how sad that it took so long for him to come to this realisation – all the while being married to Beyonce Knowles, a woman who sings about being an ‘Independent woman’ and girls ‘running the world’. I often wonder how a woman who believes in the independence of women can be married to someone who makes his money rapping in videos that visually and verbally disrespect women. An example of this is the video ‘Monster’ by Kanye West, which features women hanging by their necks (imagery very similar to that of lynching – a practice once used for black slaves), Jay Z rapping next to a deceased naked woman on a couch, and Kanye in bed with two dead women, eating from a table between another dead woman’s legs).
Authors note 12/09/13 – I have since seen that Jay Z is still using the term ‘bitch’ in his most recent album
I know that the world continues to change, and just as we have the ‘Kanye haters’ of today there were once the Elvis haters of the 50’s, but where do we draw the line? What IS the line anymore? When rape, murder, racism, homophobia and hate speech can be set to a musical soundtrack and released to the world with no restrictions (bar a tiny ‘explicit’ warning in the corner of the album cover), I believe we have major problems.
Research has clearly shown a strong relationship between exposure to sexualised music and an increase in teenage sexual promiscuity, acceptance of violence and an increase in negative attitudes towards women.
The music industry needs a giant overhaul. We need a real regulation system. We need to stop saying ‘This has a good beat – fuck the lyrics’, or ‘It’s just a story – it doesn’t reflect reality’. We need to give youth something of substance.
We need to get real.
Jas Swilks – 2013
End note: If you have any positive thoughts for small ways in which we can begin to tackle the monstrous issue of hate speech in the music industry please feel free to share them.
- Hall, C., West, J., & Hill,S. (2011). In The Spark Summit, Retrieved from: http://www.sparksummit.com/2011/10/17/research-blog-sexualization-in-song-lyrics-has-skyrocketed-in-the-past-decade/.
- Liebau, C. (2007). Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls. Hachette Book Group: NY. P119
- Liebau, C. (2007). Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls. Hachette Book Group: NY. P183, 187.
- Sheftall, G. In Williams, D. (2007). Rally Against Misogynistic Lyrics. Retrieved from: http://www.superconsciousness.com/topics/society/rally-against-misogynistic-lyrics
- Liebau, C. (2007). Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls. Hachette Book Group: NY. P114
- Anderson,C. & Carnagey,N. (2003). Exposure to Violent Media: The effects of Songs With Violent Lyrics on Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 84 (5). Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-845960.pdf
- Zurbriggen, E., Collins, R., Lamb, S., Roberts, TA., Tolman, D., Ward, D., & Blake, J. (2007). American Psychological Association: Report of the APAP Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. P3,6.
- Liebau, C. (2007). Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls. Hachette Book Group: NY. P126.
- Fischer,P. & Greitemeyer, T. (2006). In: The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006). retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/124/5/1488.full#ref-4
- Rich, M. In Liebau, C. (2007). Prude: How the
Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls. Hachette Book Group: NY. P30
- Ramirez, E. (2012). The State Hornet: Degrading Songs Hurt Women. Retrieved from: http://www.statehornet.com/opinion/degrading-songs-hurt-women/article_55b6b104-1270-11e2-a3d4-0019bb30f31a.html
- Yahoo News Network. (2012). Jay Z Vows to Drop Misogynistic Lyrics Following Birth of Daughter. Retrieved from: http://uk.omg.yahoo.com/news/jay-z-vows-drop-misogynistic-lyrics-following-birth-105341439.html