It’s fairly old news that certain genres of music are full of lyrics that are quite openly and obviously misogynistic, demeaning and violent towards women. I like to think that I’m pretty switched onto this and sensor my music accordingly. I went to a Maroon 5 concert a couple of years ago and was the one person sat down with my arms crossed whilst Robin Thicke supported them with his gem of a song ‘Blurred Lines’. I avoid artists like Eminem, Snoop Dog, Rhianna and the plethora of artists that we all know are less than on point when it comes to gender and sexual ethics.
But whilst I’ve been sat up on my high horse, listening to my power ballads, love songs and sugary pop music, I haven’t been able to shake the niggling thought that this type of music might not be much better. Sure, no one is calling anyone a you-know-what or explicitly celebrating sexual assault, but there is a fine line between romantic and creepy. And the danger is that some alarming attitudes and beliefs hidden in these romantic/lovey dovey/sugary lyrics are just that – hidden. We find ourselves singing along, letting our attitudes be shaped by them without even noticing. They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, luring you in with their sweet, fluffy exterior before they bite.
Here are a few examples:
At first glance, this song could be seen as a wildly romantic statement of commitment However the entire song’s lyrics (sampled below), are uncomfortably reminiscent of threats/experiences that our clients endure at the hands of their perpetrators.
Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I’ll be watching you / Every single day / Every word you say / Every game you play / Every night you stay / I’ll be watching you / Oh can’t you see / You belong to me
I happily sang along with this song after dutifully rejecting Robin Thicke. But upon closer inspection this song seems to be an instruction manual of how to take advantage of vulnerable 18 year-old girls. He drives for miles and miles to wind up at her door– how sweet –because ‘I’ve had you so many times, but somehow I want more’. Oh, not so sweet. And if she’s not up for it, he’ll just wait on her corner, even in the pouring rain, presumably until she relents. Also, the advice to all men out there is to look out for girls with a ‘broken smile and ask her if she wants to stay a while’.
Confession: I actually know this song from the Glee sound track, where it was sung by a 16 year old guy, sweetly vowing to stand by the girl he’d got pregnant. But the song promotes an entirely possessive view point. The woman in question is having HIS baby, as a way of proving her love to Him. Pregnancy is a common tool for an abuser. To have a pregnant victim can mean that their perceived dependency, obligation and loss of self. This lyric is dangerous as it fuels the notion that impregnating women is a man’s stamp of ownership and a way of proving loyalty.
This is seen as one of the greatest love songs of all time. But it’s actually about a woman having an affair as a married man. The man strings poor Whitney along, promising her more than he is ever going to deliver, just so that he can have his cake and eat it too. But even more dangerous is that this experience is romanticised by Whitney, making it seem ok to a) have an affair with someone else’s spouse and b) settle for the tid-bits of a mans affection as and when he wants to give it.
Even squeaky clean S Club 7, whose primary market was school children have some lyrical skeletons in their closet. In this song, Bradley ‘raps’ ‘Hey girl, it’s just a matter of time, before you come on home and I get what’s mine / Damn it girl, why can’t you see, it’s not over for you and me’. The girl in question is clearly stupid, one day she will see the light, realise that she literally belongs to Bradley, that the choice isn’t hers to make and will return him, giving him what is rightfully his.
The lyrics of the chorus could lead you to believe that this is a simply lovely song about adoption: Greet me with the eyes of a child / I will be your father figure/ Put your tiny hand in mine / I will be your preacher teacher…I’m gonna love you till the end of time.
But confusion comes when George also invites them to be bold, warm and naked with him, to be his lover. This song is either a blantant piece of evidence of child abuse (although ironically he’s ‘had enough of crime’), or an attempt to significantly un-balance the power dynamic in the relationship. The subject is painted as inexperienced, vulnerable to his influence and in need of his protection.
This one hit the charts in 2013 and with it’s catchy melody was a popular choice on the radio. But the lyrics of the chorus are particularly alarming: ‘Daddy I’ve fallen for a monster / Somehow he’s scaring me to death / He’s big and he’s bad / I love him like mad / Momma, he’s the best I ever had / Daddy I’ve fallen for a monster / He got a black heart.
The song doesn’t even seem to suggest that any of this is a bad thing, or a reason to get out of the relationship asap. Instead it glamourizes and normalises the behaviour of a monster, who is scaring his partner to death. Great.
I don’t want to be a party pooper. I don’t want you to stop enjoying the music you enjoy and limiting yourself to instrumental music and nursery rhymes. I’m sure you could argue that you that many of these lyrics weren’t intended in the way I have interpreted them. You’re probably right. But I just want to encourage us to start thinking about the lyrics we are unconsciously singing, to once in a while look at them through the lens of unhealthy relationships and gender inequality and consider whether there is a wolf hiding underneath the sheepskin. We need to question the things we are singing/listening to and the way it then makes us view, think and feel about relationships. Because actually I don’t want someone watching every move, step and breath that I take and I certainly don’t want someone with a black heart who scares me to death!
If you’ve discovered some wolves in sheeps clothing, then let us know in the comments!
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