Words like violence

A couple of things have got me thinking about misogyny in music recently. The first was this excellent Grantland article about Eminem. The jist of the article is that it was easier to justify Eminem’s seemingly misogynistic lyrics when he first appeared on the scene (“He doesn’t really mean it”, “It’s just a character”, “it’s only said for shock value” etc. etc.). However the fact that, fifteen years later, he is still rapping about NFL player Ray Rice’s brutal assault on his wife, and raping Iggy Azalea is either rather sinister or deeply, deeply pathetic.

The second was listening to The Bug’s excellent recent album ‘Angels and Devils’. A vague concept album of sorts, the first half ‘Angels’ consists mainly of slower, dreamier instrumental electronica, the second half ‘Devils’ is loud, fast and features various angry rappers, rapping angrily. It was whilst listening to this second half that I started to wonder if it was strange for a 34 year old father to be listening to a song called ‘Fuck a Bitch’, and more importantly whether becoming the father of a daughter had made me less comfortable with, and less forgiving of lyrics that seem, at first listen at least, misogynistic.

Whilst I never would have approved of misogynistic lyrics of course, when I was younger I found it easier to ignore and/or justify them. I listened to more hip-hop then (and the offshoot of techno named ghetto-tech, which features very silly but undeniably sexist lyrics). Of course this is not just a problem of hip-hop, and there is a certain prejudice that exists against that genre. If Nick Cave writes a song about murdering a woman, everyone assumes he’s writing in character, if a rapper does the same, they’re not quite so sure.

Every performer is to some extent a character of course, but in music (and other artforms where the performer interacts directly with the audience, such as stand up comedy) it is much harder to separate the person from the ‘character’. A writer of a novel or film who creates a misogynistic character, is not necessarily assumed to be misogynistic themselves but that divide is not so apparent for a musician.

So, I don’t necessarily have a problem with ‘offensive’ lyrics, even if they initially appear to be misogynistic or otherwise abhorrent, and I certainly would never advocate censorship (no matter how much I may personally dislike a piece of music I would never want it banned). However, I do find such music harder to listen to nowadays. As I get older I become more painfully politically correct, deconstructing everything I read and hear, a track like ‘Fuck a Bitch’, although excellent, becomes harder to enjoy (although the ‘bitch’ in question is not actually a woman it turns out). This process was starting to happen anyway, long before my daughter was born, but having a daughter has definitely accelerated it . She, unfortunately,  will probably have enough sexism to experience in her life, without being introduced to more through music. I have no doubt though, that by the time she’s a teenager she will be searching for music that will shock or offend her parents in one way or another.


3 thoughts on “Words like violence

  1. I agree with you; the older I get, the less comfortable I am listening to music that expresses and opinion or sentiment that I find seriously offensive. I recently had a similar experience to yours listening to Joe Tex’s ‘I Gotcha’, a song I’ve always liked for its dirty groove and in-your-face attitude, but listening to the lyrics, it’s nakedly a song about not taking no for an answer. The singer is pursuing the girl, who seems to have changed her mind (‘You saw me and ran / In another direction / I’ll teach you to play / With my affection’) and he’s feeling both vengeful and horny, a toxic combination. I still have to admire the song for its ability to communicate that particular mood to me, but I can’t just listen to it anymore and shrug off its implications like I could in my 20s — I’ve actually become a better listener, because now I hear it more clearly and have to take it seriously. (Like a lot of people, I first heard it on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack, but having only seen the movie once, I forget the context of the scene it was in.) If anything, Joe Tex is even more disturbing than Eminem because Eminem knows he’s being outrageous and offensive, and you can hear the defensive edge in his delivery, whereas Joe Tex’s manner on the song is ebullient and leering, with an edge of vengefulness — he’s just revelling in the fact that he’s got the girl in the song at his mercy.

    1. Yes, that’s exactly the kind of song I’m talking about. Interestingly, i hadn’t really noticed the content of the song previously, despite having seen Reservoir Dogs in my teens and twenties many times. Wonder if I would have noticed if I watched it again now?

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