A great deal of modern music, particularly in the mainstream, centres around the topic of sex. Even if it’s not explicit, you don’t have to dig too deep to notice the theme of sex is absolutely everywhere. Whilst this is completely fine and healthy (after all, sex sells), this inevitably raises issues around consent and rape culture.
A trigger warning – rape culture, and discussion of associated lyrics.
The outraged reaction to Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ is well and truly over now, after countless of articles have proved its damaging effects and the song has been banned in several venues. But the lack of mainstream songs that promote healthy, consensual sex is a problem that unfortunately remains. Some may argue that songs shouldn’t be read into too deeply, but these subliminal – or not so subliminal – messages in songs do have an impact. Mainstream music is influenced by societal norms but also has the power to challenge these same values. Of course, we don’t usually think about this when we’re in Jesters singing along to a catchy song. But for many people these lyrics can be triggering, and if we do disregard and even sing along to problematic lyrics, we’re condoning the ideologies embedded in them and therefore perpetuating the problem.
Now let’s get on to some examples of songs with some serious consent issues. Jason Derulo’s track ‘Talk Dirty To Me’, which is controversial for its promotion of cultural hegemony and sexism, also decides that communicating about sex just isn’t that hot. Derulo claims that he knows ‘what the girl them want’, despite any language barriers and the chorus line ‘Been around the world, don’t speak the language / But your booty don’t need explaining’ strongly implies that these women don’t get a say in what they want. Objectification aside, the song doesn’t advocate healthy communication which is crucial for enthusiastic consent.
Another culprit is Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Tonight (I’m F***** You)’ or its accompanying clean edit ‘Tonight (I’m Lovin You)’, which admittedly is less predatory after the name change. But the original lyric ‘tonight I’m f****** you’ repeated countless of times is particularly sexually aggressive, and doesn’t leave much room for protest. The crux of the problem is that sex isn’t being proposed in this song, it’s being demanded. And then we have Maroon 5’s ‘Animals’ featuring the line ‘Baby, I’m preying on you tonight’, in which ‘hunting’ women is excused by the fact he’s just an ‘animal’ who can’t control himself. His ‘prey’ is clearly not keen to be tracked down by her stalker; ‘Maybe you think that you can hide / I can smell your scent from miles’.
Even the popular Christmas anthem ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, that features in the adorable family film ‘Elf’, is actually just plain terrifying. The back and forth of ‘ I’ve got to get home’ and manipulative replies such as ‘What’s the sense in hurting my pride?’ and ‘How can you do this thing to me?’ is truly awful. And the icing on the creepy Christmas cake is the ominous question left hanging; ‘Say, what’s in this drink?’. So not only does the man in the song refuse to let the woman leave but he also seems to spike her drink. Definitely not cool.
But there is a bright side…
Despite the overwhelming amount of problematic songs, there are those that do promote consent. The Katy Perry classic ‘Teenage Dream’, ‘Let’s go all the way tonight / No regrets, just love’, is pretty harmless in its suggestion of sex in which no one ends up regretting anything. And Beyonce’s ‘Drunk In Love’ featuring Jay Z, despite its very troubling reference towards the end, is essentially a graphic song about consensual sex between two adults. In general, duets about sex tend to be pretty good for consent, as both parties get to express their desires in the song.
And in a fairly surprising turn of events Jason Derulo’s new song ‘Want You To Want Me’ also promotes consent through the chorus line ‘Girl, you’re the one I want to want me / And if you want me, girl, you got me’. Not only is sex being proposed not demanded, but the song actually focuses on the thrill of mutual desire. The imaginary woman in the scenario even gets a voice (kinda) in order to give verbal consent; ‘And you whisper in my ear, “Baby, I’m yours”.’ Not perfect, but progress nonetheless. Another healthy example is The 1975’s single ‘Sex’, which came out last year. Aside from being uplifting, catchy and addictive, it also features lyrics such as ‘she said use your hands and my spare time’, showing that the other party is an active participant in the sex. And the repeated line ‘you said no’ demonstrates that she has a voice in order to withdraw her consent.
So despite was Nickleback says, sex is always a question and it’s time that songs about sex portray this. Sex is one of the most exciting and timeless song topics, and I’m definitely not pushing for censorship or less explicit songs. But we need to be aware of how mainstream music may be influencing our ideologies, and refuse to turn a blind eye to songs that are just plain creepy.