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No longer need musicians depend on spinning records backward to relay subversive messages to listeners, innocent or otherwise. Beyonce’s Grammy’s performance of “Drunk in Love” was expected to modify lyrics that glorified domestic abuse, according to the Huffington Post. The lyrics in question are carried out by Jay-Z, Beyonce’s husband, during the rap portion of the song. Given that they are married and that Tina Turner, the woman whose violent marriage is specifically cited and made light of is still alive, it seemed the respectful thing to adjust the few verses for the live performance. The change that actually occurred was Beyonce singing those lyrics herself along with her husband.
What a striking choice of action, especially considering how the admired celebrity has been publicizing herself as an assertive feminist these past few months. The feminist movement helped coin the term “domestic abuse” in the 1970s to kickstart legislation to effectively protect women for the first time. That doesn’t mesh with Beyonce’s performance, yet it didn’t hurt her popularity: that night, her Instagram followers increased by 150,000.
This song’s reference, albeit a relatively obscure one for many today, is part of a more widespread phenomenon. “Blurred Lines” was the single most downloaded song of 2013. The Guardian reported Robin Thicke to have said that critics misconstrue his lyrics, but “the kids get it.” Also, he very much respects women because he married one. His lyrics consist of being sure of how a woman may seem uninterested in or unwilling to her pursuer, but she must be. Hence the blurred lines, except that kids get it.
Six and a half million downloads, plus 30 million YouTube views, show that Thicke passing himself off as a feminist without actually being a feminist is in no way subtle.
The public, however, has deemed it acceptable, and also catchy. A few months after Miley Cyrus performed “Blurred Lines” with Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards, she claimed herself to be “one of the biggest feminists in the world,” as an example of how a woman has the freedom to do “whateva she wants.” Make no mistake, the woman trapped in “Blurred Lines” does not have the freedom to choose who she wants, she is chosen and she has to consent.
Would Beyonce and Jay-Z feel a same sense of confidence had Tina Turner been sitting in the front row that night? Would Thicke feel it appropriate for the one he wrote the song for, HIS actress wife, to be naked in his music video, and nearly so on stage with him?
That answer might very well be yes. In November, Lady Gaga’s Video Music Awards performance of “Do What U Want” came next, in which she dueted with R. Kelly, found not guilty of 14 counts of child pornography and the subject of unproven allegations of sexual assaults 10 years ago. She sings to him repeatedly, “Do what you want, what you want with my body.” He sings back, “Do what I want, do what I want with your body.”
Taking a taunting stance against such a serious issue doesn’t help improve his reputation. Instead, it places R. Kelly in a more questionable position. While she does stand for many social and political causes, Gaga denies identifying herself as a feminist because of how the term suggests excluding men, when everyone should be treated fairly. Is it right for Gaga to share the stage, and thus her massive success and brand, with a man with this sort of reputation?
These are some of our latest hits, displayed under the banner of art at hugely popular shows dedicated to commemorating achievements of creativity. But all of these takes on “artistry” unfortunately the singular lowest level of humanity. This art engages listeners to compromise our most basic belief of respect by being nonthreatening. Here are men and women condoning harm against systematically and historically vulnerable women and children. They are insulting the rest of us by successfully defending what should be indefensible.
Having mainstream appeal, fabulous wealth and a passionate fan base covers all manners of sin. Like the women of these songs, few are actually giving consent to this message in real life, where it is far from hypothetical. Let’s not be confused, there is no difference between the overwhelming allowance of this behavior in art as we are in our society, despite our claims to know better. It is as if listeners are choosing to ignore their moral compass so they can enjoy their music.
How does that sound?