Ke$ha’s Critique of Misogyny in Music

16 Apr

Let me begin by saying that I am really, really excited to be posting about Ke$ha.  But before I get to her, some preliminaries are in order.  I don’t think it is too controversial for me to say that rap music is, and has been, very misogynistic.  From “Bitches Ain’t Shit” on Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic album The Chronic to “Area Codes” by Ludacris and the late Nate Dogg (“I got hoes in different area codes”) to just about every Eminem song (e.g. “I’ll put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand”), rap music is a genre rife with objectification of women.

Two recent songs have stuck out in particular for me.  The first, again by Eminem, is “Love The Way You Lie.”  The song, which features Rihanna (herself a recent victim of domestic violence), maintains a mainly positive message, with Eminem acknowledging and apologizing for a past emotionally and physically abusive relationship.  All is well until the last couplet: “If she ever tries to —-ing leave again, I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.”

The other song is “Runaway” by Kanye West, a song which (although it’s admittedly quite early) will probably garner a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.  Again the song appears to have somewhat of a positive message, with Kanye acknowledging his flaws and past transgressions (“You’ve been putting up with my sh– for way too long…run away from me”).  However, the second verse of the song, by guest Pusha T, returns to misogyny and objectification.  To paraphrase (and clean up), the verse basically says: “I admit that I cheated on you, but I know you won’t leave because all the things I buy you will make you forget about it.  Women just want us to buy stuff for them, but they should know that every bag, blouse, and bracelet we buy for them comes with a price tag; namely, infidelity and general lack of respect.”

My first concern, which I hope to address in my upcoming interview with Diane Rosenfeld, is the effect these lyrics (along with TV and film portrayals) have on shaping social conceptions of gender roles and domestic violence.

My second concern, and more Ke$ha, after the jump!

In this post, though, I want to go in a different direction; namely, in the direction of Ke$ha.  In many of her songs, and particularly in “Blah Blah Blah,” Ke$ha turns the tables on men — objectifying them as sexual objects:

-“I don’t really care where you live at, just turn around boy and let me hit that.”

- “Don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat, just show me where your d–k’s at.”

Ke$ha explains: “It’s really funny that men are getting their panties in such a twist over my album. I’m just saying the stuff they say to women — I’m saying it back. And I’m doing it with a smirk on my face. It’s just silly, just fun — there’s no need to get upset over it.  This track is meant sarcastically. It’s me throwing it back.”

My question is similar to the one posed in class about whether women should go out of their way to learn to play golf so that they fit in with the boys’ club, or instead should reject that very boys’ club as illegitimate.  Similarly, does Ke$ha’s objectification of men have a positive impact in the overall social environment by endorsing female sexual power and autonomy, or does it just further add to a reprehensible practice that should be rejected rather than adopted?

2 Responses to “Ke$ha’s Critique of Misogyny in Music”

  1. DAS April 4, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    I worry less about lyrics than the state of the music industry. Less polished, more produced artists are becoming more and more popular. I don’t know whether Ke$ha has some ability because the tracks hide her voice. Well, wait a second, I think these two issues feed into each other!

    • Michael Lieberman April 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

      While I don’t completely disagree with your premise, I don’t quite see how this is a problem. Although relationships and marketing play a role in determining what songs get airplay, the listeners ultimately decide what they do and don’t like – and just because what the masses of people like doesn’t coincide with your subjective valuation of music quality doesn’t make those songs inherently less worthy of popularity.

      Additionally, the digital age of music has allowed more discerning music fans unprecedented access to non-mainstream music. The ability to type in a band’s name and immediately listen to their songs, to be introduced to new bands on Pandora, and to be able to browse various sites for new bands has led to a proliferation of bands in the mid-level category. The core of the concert industry is now in theaters rather than ampitheatres/arenas, which I think is a direct result of this accessibility – people are listening to more bands, spreading out the total dollars they will spend on concerts across many more bands than before. So while I will grant you that the pop music on today’s radio isn’t musically complex or original, those who seek those qualities can find them much more easily than in any past era – and those that don’t care about those things can continue to listen to the radio.

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