Older generations remember when they would hear artists like the Beatles singing to us about “wanting to hold [our] hand,” or Elvis Presley telling ladies with their tender smiles that “he can’t help falling in love” (and parents at that time thought that was worrisome). Now, we turn on the radio and get to hear Lil Wayne telling us that “he wants to f*** every girl in the world”, or Eminem rapping that he “wants a girl who will do whatever the f*** [he says],” and that “everyday she be givin’ it up.”
I’m proud to live in a place where we don’t have much censorship, but are these artists taking their poetic expression too far? It seems we are days away from music being just porn set to a beat.
How Degrading Music is Harmful to Adolescents
A lot of us hear the music, and although we realize there is something off about it, most of us shrug it off as just being what people are listening to these days and dance along anyways. By dancing to it, are we condoning it? It’s just music and it’s harmless, right? According to a study by RAND corporation called “Exposure to Degrading Versus Non-degrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth,” teens who listened to degrading music were more likely to have casual sex, and at a younger age, then those teens that listened to non-degrading music. There have also been studies linking negative body image, binge drinking, and smoking marijuana to the type of music and music videos teens are exposed to.
The effects on young girls are the most devastating. They fight harder for the attention of the men, to live up to the expectations that are placed on them. From this various disorders ensue, body issues build up as they see females barely clothed on screen, dancing in their favorite music videos while men throw money at them and pour booze on their chests. These teens are impressionable, and they model their behavior after the artists they look up to.
What about the young men? According to the RAND study, “these types of portrayals objectify and degrade women in ways that are obvious, but do the same to men by depicting them as sex-driven studs whose individual desires are subsumed in their gender role.” Sometimes it is overlooked, but this music has its effects on adolescent males, too. They are showing men as insatiable, that treating woman this way is not only condoned but admirable, what women really want and what men strive to be.
Not only do men degrade women sexually, but they seem to want to show their dominance as well.
In one song by Big L, he says that a “girl asked me for a ring so I put one around her whole eye.” In another song by Glassjaw, we hear “I only beat when I’m drunk, you’re only pretty when you’re crying.”
… But What is Degrading?
There are certain female artists that need to be called out as well. It’s bad enough that we let men degrade us, but what self-respecting female out there should be playing it up? A lot of us get angry that men would dare refer to us as “bitches and hoes,” but when a Nicki Minaj or Ke$ha song comes on we turn it up claiming that “this is my song.” Are artists like them, Lil’ Kim, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and the Pussycat Dolls examples of women self-degradation for the sake of selling music, or are they empowering females? On one hand, we could say by dressing the way they do and singing about promiscuity is their way of showing their equality. Yes, men can call us their hoes and their bitches, so in response we will call ourselves hoes, ourselves bitches, and because we are doing it, it proves that what you say doesn’t affect us; we are in control. Our culture has shifted, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies or how we choose to present them. However, by doing that, are they just reinforcing beliefs that we are nothing but sex objects, trophies on a man’s shelf to be put on display?
Nicki Minaj sings about being the baddest bitch, that her “haters are her motivators.” Rihanna’s lyrics have evolved, a lot of them having to do with sex; her songs “What’s My Name” and “Rude Boy” can be considered offensive, yet are prime examples of a female being the authoritative during sex. Lady Gaga is seen as a source of empowerment, embracing her sexuality, her individuality, claiming that we should love ourselves because “we are born this way.”
Ke$ha and her mantra of not giving a damn sings about getting blackout drunk, but when it comes to sex, her lyrics show that she is in control, not the man. In her song “Blah Blah Blah,” she sings “I don’t really care where you live at, just turn around boy and let me hit that. Don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat, just show me where your **** at.” I’m not sure whether to commend females on their blatant sexuality, or cringe and wonder why they let themselves be portrayed as toys.
So is it okay for men to talk about shaking our booties if female artists are doing it, too? Are they doing it to prove to men that, yes, you can do this, but we can do it too?
Some say that another cultural shift is happening slowly: We have Bruno Mars telling us that he loves us “just the way [we] are”; Beyonce is asking and answering the question, “who runs the world? Girls.” No one can predict where our music is heading, whether we will digress or progress, or which of those directions would be good or bad. Some of the music may be demeaning, but it is our choice whether or not we listen to it, and whether or not we choose to let it define us.