Ever have an event happen in your life that caused you to view the world differently?
I have. And it’s forever changed the way I view pop culture.
Turn on the radio for half an hour and pay attention, if you can, to the lyrics (sometimes it’s hard: “Starbucks lovers” vs “Long list of ex lovers,” anyone?). Really listen to what they say.
I never realized just how much acceptance of harassment, stalking, and predatory behavior is laced throughout these songs, though it’s easy to miss if you’re paying more attention to the catchiness. I know I do, but separating the ear-worming tune from the words themselves is something I’ve been more deliberate about lately. The result is kind of terrifying.
Read these lyrics and tell me if you think I’m crazy:
Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals
Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals
(Maroon 5, ‘Animals’)
Everybody wanna steal my girl
Everybody wanna take my heart away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one cause she belongs to me
(One Direction, ‘Steal My Girl’)
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you
(Sting, ‘Every Breath You Take’)
Hike up your skirt a little more
and show your world to me
In a boys dream, in a boys dream
Oh I watch you there
through the window
And I stare at you
You wear nothing but you
wear it so well
(Dave Matthews Band, ‘Crash Into Me’)
These songs are treated as romance songs: swoon-worthy and awe-inducing. Robin Thicke’s rape anthem ‘Blurred Lines’ was even played at my wedding. These themes are nothing new, obviously, though it is tempting to blame the likes of Twilight and a certain BDSM novel that must not be named for making these themes ‘in’ again. The above song lyrics make for a very applicable soundtrack.
It’s a frightening thing to realize how much of my iPod contains songs like these, and how I internalized these messages as a rape survivor. While I’m not one to blame pop culture for others’ bad choices, it does make sense as to why it’s easy to justify the actions in the lyrics and consider that maybe you’re the one with the problem. Maybe you’re the one who’s too sensitive, who takes things a little too personally.
Even after I ended my abusive relationship and thought I “knew better,” I still directed blame toward myself when a popular, charismatic man cornered me at a picnic during my year at seminary, demanding to know why I wouldn’t go out with him. The fact that I had a boyfriend made no difference. For weeks after, I told no one except my roommate. When I grew increasingly uncomfortable seeing this person at campus parties, I started speaking up more. The response? “He probably didn’t mean it like that.”
So then how did he mean it? How does Maroon 5 mean it? And Dave Matthews, Sting, and how many others?
If the songs that romanticize these actions weren’t so catchy, would we still defend them so ardently?