Music, Rant

Song Messages That Need to Stop

Have you ever noticed how songs seem to always be about the same things? There are exceptions, of course–there’s only one Thrift Shop or Red Solo Cup–but for the most part, songs are written along the same basic lines. I do not have a problem with this. Generally, what popular music lacks in creativity it makes up in catchiness, so ultimately I’m fine with it.

There are, however, a few song themes that I am quite sick of, thank you very much. I am sick of them not because they are over-used (though they usually are), but because they send a really terrible message. Every time I hear a song’s lyrics trending in one of these directions, I find myself rolling my eyes and hitting the “skip” button on Pandora, which is sad, because a number of them are actually really good songs! They just suffer from terrible social commentary syndrome. So here we are: three song messages that need to stop.

1. Your Low Self-Esteem is Attractive!

You’re insecure.
Don’t know what for. …
Now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe
You don’t know-oh, oh.
You don’t know you’re beautiful.
That’s what makes you beautiful.

You read correctly, folks: true beauty cannot be seen in the mirror–only an outside observer can see your true value. One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful is the most obvious example of this type of song, but it is by no means alone. Just in the past couple years, we’ve also had Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars (“I know, I know / when I compliment her, she won’t believe me.”) and Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself) by Ne-Yo (“Girl, let me love you / and I will love you / until you love yourself.”), and before that were a number of other tunes, including Sammy Kershaw’s She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful (“She don’t know she’s beautiful. / No, she ain’t that kind.”). These are the songs wherein the narrator (almost universally a man) highlights just how very attractive the object of his affections (almost universally a woman) is, due at least partially to her low self-esteem. The One Direction lyrics even say so specifically: “You don’t know you’re beautiful; that’s what makes you beautiful.” These songs are actively praising girls for not thinking highly of themselves.

Some people will argue that these lines are meant to highlight modesty and humbleness rather than actual low self-esteem, but that argument doesn’t hold much water with me. Many of these lyrics are actually condemning the idea that a woman might consider herself attractive, with lyrics like “No, she ain’t that kind.” Excuse me, Mr. Kershaw, but what kind? When did loving your body and owning your own confidence go out of style? And why are love songs written to women always so focused on what she looks like, anyway? Seriously, find me a love song written by a man to a woman that doesn’t make mention of her beauty. I just want one song that praises intelligence or confidence or generosity that doesn’t bring it all back around to but look at her face, daaaang girl. Just one. Is that too much to ask? (No, really, if you can find one I want it–this is a frustrating gap in my music library.)

Alternatives:

  • Come and Get It by Selena Gomez – “I’m not too shy to show I love you / I got no regrets.” – Narrators who know what they want and go for it are my favorite kinds of narrators. Confidence is sexy, people. Check it.
  • Unpretty by TLC – “Never insecure until I met you. / Now I’m bein’ stupid. / I used to be so cute to me; / just a little bit skinny. / … / Maybe I’ll get rid of you, / and then I’ll get back to me.” – Talk about deconstructing a social ideal. This song lambastes this whole theme better than I ever could.
  • Love Song by Sarah Bareilles – “You and your twisted words. / Your help just hurts. / You are not what I thought you were.” – A brilliant critique of love songs in general, especially the idea that someone with low self-esteem can be saved from themselves through a romantic connection. King of Anything is similarly great (“You sound so innocent, / all full of good intent; / you swear you know best. / But you expect me to / jump up on board with you / and ride off into your delusional sunset.”)

2. You Made My Man Cheat, You Bitch!

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.
I’m begging of you–please don’t take my man.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.
Please don’t take him just because you can. …
He talks about you in his sleep.
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene.

Why are there so many songs putting the blame for affairs on the mistress alone? And why are they all so aggressive about it? Alright, so Dolly Parton’s Jolene isn’t actually that aggressive, but many of its successors are. Songs addressed to the mistresses of cheating husbands and boyfriends seem to completely ignore the man’s complicity in the situation in favor of directly attacking the other woman:

Put the Gun Down – ZZ Ward: “She stole my man, took him from me; / She’s got crimson eyes, and a screamin’ body.”
Don’t Mess With My Love – M2M: “He is everything to me, / And you know we’re meant to be. / He’s my baby. / Don’t mess with my love.” 
The Boy Is Mine – Brandy & Monica: “I think it’s time we got this straight. / … / There is no way you could mistake him for your man. / Are you insane?”
Bite the Dust – Pussycat Dolls: “My hands going to do the talking today. / She’s got a plan to have my man. / She’s going to have to deal with me.”
You Ain’t Woman Enough – Loretta Lynn: “It’ll be over my dead body, so get out while you can. / ‘Cause you ain’t woman enough to take my man.” 
Woman to Woman – Shirley Brown: “Woman to woman, now should I dare step aside / And let her take what’s rightfully mine?”
Crazy Possessive – Kaci Battaglia: “Call my man again and I’m a fuck you up.”
READER CONTRIBUTION: Better Than Revenge – Taylor Swift: “Soon she’s gonna find / Stealing other people’s toys / On the playground won’t / Make you many friends.”

Hey, ladies, two things:

1) When your man cheats, it is nobody’s fault but his. I know women are encouraged to compete with other women, but that’s actually really stupid and counterproductive. The blame lies with him. If you are also friends with the “other woman,” then you probably have a bone to pick with her, too, but let’s not forget who did the cheating.

2) BOYFRIENDS AND HUSBANDS ARE NOT PROPERTY, any more than girlfriends and wives are. You are not “claiming what’s mine.” You are objectifying a person who has every right to make his own decisions about who he is with. If he makes choices you don’t like, you can walk away, but he is allowed to make those choices. You don’t own him. Just so we’re clear.

Alternatives:

  • Two Black Cadillacs by Carrie Underwood – “Turns out he’d been lying to both of them for oh so long. / They decided then he’d never get away with doing this to them. / Two black Cadillacs waiting for the right time.” – If you must write a song about cheating in which somebody gets fucked up, let’s make sure the blame is firmly on the cheater, shall we? I like this one in particular because the two women don’t turn on each other. Instead, they collude. Incidentally, Carrie Underwood’s Before He Cheats is also pretty great, if you insist on maintaining the violence element.
  • I Never Loved You Anyway by The Corrs – “I’m happy; it’s over. / I’m only sorry that I didn’t make the move before you. / And when you go I will remember / To send a thank you note to that girl.” – Personally, I am much more inclined toward The Corrs’ response to cheating: taking it as a sign that the dude wasn’t worth much anyway. They even take a shot at his new relationship, threatening to tell the new girl all his faults. Seems like a much more reasonable, albeit back-handed, reaction to me.

3. My Sex Drive is More Important Than Your Consent! i.e. The Rapey Love Song

The neighbors might think… – Baby, it’s bad out there.
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there. …
I simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside.
The answer is no – Ooh darling, it’s cold outside.

It is downright alarming how many love songs are actually thinly veiled attempts to pressure a girl into having sex, regardless of her opinion on the subject. Baby, It’s Cold Outside is probably the most insidious of them, considering the sheer number of times it gets played around the holiday season despite its overt reference to drugging the female singer’s drink, but other examples abound. There’s Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines (“I hate these blurred lines. / I know you want it. … / But you’re a good girl.” – hey, Thicke, there is nothing “blurred” about CONSENT), the crooning Ben Harper ballad Steal My Kisses (“…you wouldn’t even come around to see me, / And since you’re headin’ up to Carolina, / You know I’m gonna be right there behind you.” – hello, Ben Harper, you creepy stalker), Clay Aiken’s seemingly innocent Invisible (“If I was invincible, / I’d make you mine tonight.” – and you need to be invincible for that exactly why??), and even beloved classics like Grease’s Summer Nights (“Tell me more, tell me more. / Did she put up a fight?” – …wait, what?). But perhaps the creepiest instance, in my opinion, is Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come On, Eileen, in which the narrator first obsesses over his “dirty” thoughts, and then spends literally the entire bridge repeating “Come on, Eileen, come on, Eileen, come on…”. If that’s not peer pressure to have sex then I don’t know what is.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing sexual desire. Really. I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with in these songs is the indication that the girl in question doesn’t seem to be into it. She’s putting up a fight, or “being a good girl,” or running away to Carolina to escape the singer. Why can’t we get some love songs that take into consideration the girl’s sexual desires, hmmm? How about some “I wanna have sex, how about you?” up in here? Or at least a passing reference to consent.

Alternatives:

  • Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby by Salt’N’Pepa – “Let’s talk about all the good things / And the bad things that may be. / Let’s talk about sex.” – Let’s talk about it, indeed. Frank conversations about sex are not nearly common enough. More of this, please.
  • Promiscuous by Nelly Fertado ft. Timbaland – “Promiscuous boy, / Let’s get to the point. / Cause we’re on a roll. / Are you ready?” – You guys, this song is great. It has all the hallmarks of a club song–heavy beat, catchy tune, fun to dance to–but instead of just being about how hot all the ladiezzzz are, it features a dialogue between the two narrators about their pending sexual relationship. A dialogue! Like an actual conversation about their expectations regarding all the banging they’re going to do later! What. MORE OF THIS PLEASE???
  • 2 Become 1 by the Spice Girls – “Be a little bit wiser, baby. / Put it on, put it on. / ‘Cause tonight is the night when two become one.” – While we’re talking about songs in anticipation of sex, I can’t resist including this one, if only to point out that the Spice Girls managed to work a condom into a love song. THEY ARE LITERALLY SINGING ABOUT USING A CONDOM. Safe sex is the best sex, kids.

There you go. Some songs I’m tired of hearing. Do you know any more that fit these categories? What songs are you tired of hearing?

Repetitively yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Come over here if you want to get raped / by a creepy Timberlake.” –Blurred Lines parody (another great parody, and my personal favorite one, is this gender swapped one – NSFW)

P.S. The Blog Pact has two new members, Emily and Sarah! Now there are nine of us, so we are calling it the Fellowship of the Blog Pact and making a lot of LOTR jokes among ourselves. If you like, head over and welcome our intrepid new blogging adventurers. I’m sure they’d appreciate a howdy.

6 thoughts on “Song Messages That Need to Stop”

  1. Personally, I’m over the “I’m being freakishly possessive, but I’m a cute nerd and maybe it’s ironic, so it’s cool.”

    And insert some more relevant recent example here culled from all the pop music I don’t listen to…

  2. Category three has form.

    But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;

    Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me /Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

    WHEN. THOU. YIELD’ST.

  3. I had never noticed how great Promiscuous was but now I’m so in love with it, thanks for pointing that out! These tropes all disgust me too; great post.

    1. You’re welcome! Always happy to promote sex-positive music. :D Sad that there’s so little of it in a culture that’s obsessed with sex in general. Sighhhhh.

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