When lyrics ruin the song

17 04 2009

Sometimes, you’re listening to a song you kind of like, maybe even singing along. And while you used to just enjoy the catchy beat or some other quality of the song, this time, you pay some attention to what the lyrics actually say. Sometimes, the lyrics don’t strike you as unusual or worrisome. But sometimes, they do.*

That was my experience listening to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.”** It must have been the tenth time I’d heard it on my car radio, so I decided to listen to the lyrics so I could sing along to the catchy tune. What I heard really scared me, since this song is immensely popular:

I’ve had a little bit too much (much)
All of the people start to rush (start to rush by)
A dizzy twisted dance
Can’t find my drink, oh man
Where are my keys? I lost my phone

What’s going on on the floor?
I love this record baby, but I can’t see straight anymore
Keep it cool; what’s the name of this club?
I can’t remember but it’s all right, all right

Just dance …

The song’s narrator is at a club, and she’s so drunk that she can’t find her keys or phone, and she’s experiencing memory loss and visual impairment. So, she can’t get back into her apartment (and if “keys” refers to car keys, then perhaps it’s a good thing she can’t find them), she can’t call a friend to pick her up or help her out, and she’s so drunk that she might actually pass out. And people are dancing and singing along to this song?

A later lyric is “How’d I turn my shirt inside out?” Well, for you folks playing the home game, think over the mechanics for a minute. Did you think about it? If you answered, “You have to take your shirt off first,” then you win ten points. So, we have a woman who is what is known scientifically as “shit-faced,” who has lost her keys and her phone, and has at some point removed her shirt. Sexual assault risk is shooting up exponentially.***

Who typically perpetrates sexual assault? Men. And lo and behold, there’s a guy featured in this song. Colby O’Donis sings:

When I come through on the dance floor, checking out that catalogue
Can’t believe my eyes, so many women without a flaw
And I ain’t gonna’ give it up, steady tryna pick it up like a call
I’m gonna hit it, I’m gonna hit it and flex and do it until tomorrow, yeah
Shorty, I can see that you got so much energy
The way you twirling up them hips round and round
There’s no reason at all why you can’t leave here with me
In the meantime stay, let me watch you break it down

Is the guy singing about getting smashed, losing personal belongings, and experiencing severe memory loss? Nope. He’s singing about checking out the ladies, trying to pick them up, “hit[ting] it,” and bringing someone home. So, when you take the female voice, who is incapacitated by alcohol, and the male voice, who wants to bring (presumably) her (or a similar woman) home to have sex with, you might find yourself with some sexual assault on your hands.

Oh, and if you’re thinking, “Well, the video might be a little bit less suggestive with regards to unbelievably drunk and overly sexualized women,” you’d lose those ten points you earned earlier for figuring out that you have to take your shirt off first before you could turn it inside out.

I really, really wish that this song weren’t so ridiculously offensive and dangerous. It’s an incredibly fun song to listen to, lyrics 100% aside. I know that I’m going to get my favorite reaction: “You’re just overreacting because you’re a feminist, and you nit-pick and look for problems where there aren’t any!” But I really do wish that this song had lyrics that didn’t get my sexual-assault-senses tingling. Why would I WANT a popular dance song to be so dangerous?

There are plenty of songs on the radio, both on oldies stations and “newies” stations, that might contain sexist and sexually violent material. There are also plenty of songs that reinforce traditional ideas about sex and gender. Hopefully, examining song lyrics will get us all thinking: What can make music sexist? What can make music feminist?

* For the record, I also get bothered by Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Someone,” since I love it, but I don’t believe in the kind of love he sings about. Of course, it’s not so much a feminist issue as an issue with me being weird.

** I found several variations of the lyrics, so I’m not claiming complete accuracy. However, the lyrics that I find problematic, offensive, and sexist don’t vary significantly from lyric site to lyric site.

*** Of course, however much the female narrator increases her risk of sexual assault, any assault perpetrated would not be her fault.


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4 responses

18 04 2009
Mato

Firstly, I absolutely agree with your comment that no matter what the fictional girl does, sexual assault can in no way be her fault, this still often used traditional excuse is utterly and terribly wrong.

But I would still consider a consensual ending to this story. People often go out and get drunk intentionally, just to get laid. It might be because they’re shy, because they want to lower their standards, it doesn’t matter. They are aware of the fact that after they drink, their judgement will be poor and they might do stupid things, but at the same time they still decide to do it, because they are excited about the possible outcome.

I agree – one person will in this case probably slightly abuse the situation, but very rarely would the other person consider it a sexual assault. They got drunk, because they wanted to be out of control, they wanted to feel the lack of shame and inhibition, however immoral that may be to someone.

Oh and slightly tongue in cheek – for the kind of blog you’re writing here, it surprises me how uncarefully you stated men are typical sexual abusers.

19 04 2009
feminist1

@Mato: Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, most sexual offenders are male, although women can definitely commit acts of sexual violence. According to the NIJ, Special Report Findings from the Violence Against Women Survey from 2006, 99% of female and 85% of male survivors were raped by a male. It may be difficult to pinpoint these statistics exactly, because many sexual assaults go unreported or the survivor does not even acknowledge the experience as rape or assault. And while most rapists appear to be male, most males are of course not rapists.

19 04 2009
feministfeera

@ Mato, I appreciate your comment a lot.

As feminist1 has pointed out, perpetrators of sexual violence are overwhelmingly male, and victims of sexual violence are overwhelming female (or children). That’s why the blog entry says that men are typically the perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s actually true; it wasn’t a careless error (although many people do make the careless error of saying or assuming that ONLY men can perpetrate sexual violence, and that ONLY women can be victims).

I would not consider a consensual end to this story, however, and that is because of the level of intoxication that the narrator of the song is experiencing. A person cannot legally consent to sexual activity if they are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. If your vision is swimming, you can’t remember where you even are, and you also don’t remember taking off your shirt (or having someone else remove it), then (with very few people being exceptions) you are in no state to consent to sexual activity.

It’s true, however, that many victims/survivors of sexual assault might not consider their experiences to be assault. The normalization of violence, the pervasive myths about consent, the use of alcohol, and the silencing of victims all serve to prevent many victims from realizing what has happened to them. Many victims/survivors are assaulted while incapacitated by drugs or alcohol and either don’t remember the assault or are ashamed of it, but don’t understand that it was nonconsensual.

I think that what’s important here is to remember that there is no such thing as “implied consent” (that is, we cannot assume that because this narrator is getting shit-faced up the wazoo that she is doing so in order to lower her inhibitions and make her feel better about having sex), and that consent, once given, can be taken away. If this woman is incapacitated by alcohol, as she appears to be, then even if she might have told her friends, “I want to have sex with someone tonight!” before she got drunk, she now cannot continue to give that consent. She needs to always have the option to revoke consent and end a sexual encounter, and if she’s incapacitated, she can’t do it.

What’s also important, though, is to recognize how myths and misinformation can skew our ideas about what is consensual and what is not. That’s also why it’s important to talk about these issues and to analyze them; otherwise, there’s no way we can ever question our assumptions about sexual assault, alcohol, and consent.

29 04 2009
Aileen Wuornos

My sexual assault senses weren’t tingling in this song. I didn’t get that message. To me it just sounded like an average night getting blotto – binge drinking culture of course is an entirely different issue (imho why the fuck would you drink if you didn’t want to get pissed?) but that’s just my opinion.

On that note – I know what you mean about loving songs but hating lyrics. I love GG Allin’s music but after I’d seen various documentaries on him I just fucking wanted to stab him in the gut. Thank fuck that ass is dead.

I just tend to follow my dad’s philosophy – a great, well constructed song, is a great, well constructed song, regardless of the intent and most of the time regardless of what they say.

I just hope this makes sense 🙂

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