If predatory lyrics weren’t so catchy, would we still listen?


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?


6 thoughts on “If predatory lyrics weren’t so catchy, would we still listen?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. So many songs bother me; I can’t keep count anymore. There is an awesome feminist anthem remake of “Blurred Lines” that you might enjoy. If you YouTube search “Defined Lines” (I think that’s what it’s called) or “feminist Blurred Lines parody,” you’ll find it. It’s masterful. Then you can still enjoy the catchy tune without being disgusted.

    It does play with some role reversal that isn’t too pleasant in the video, but it’s simply to make a point of how ridiculous women are made to act during music videos.


  2. Whoever volunteers a “he didn’t mean it like that” type of comment deserves a punch in the face. So don’t be shy! If they get mad, you can always say that you didn’t mean it like that…
    I agree about the songs – it’s appalling. It’s why I listen to classical music. But do these songs see ME off my feet? Not even if I were drunk and operating on 5 % of brain capacity. I guess it depends on the person.


    • Ha! I’ll try to remember that next time (but hopefully there won’t ever be a next time…)

      I started listening to lesser know, independent artists (the old-fashioned kind who write their own music and perform live with nothing but a voice and a piano) and I’ve gradually lost interest in 90% of whatever’s on the radio, but some of those songs really are catchy…and I’ll be humming along before I can realize what I’m actually humming to.


  3. Somewhat related but it blows my mind how popular “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People was about a year ago. The song is indeed catchy and I was even enjoying it….until I really paid attention to the lyrics. It’s about a school shooting massacre. It made me sick to listen to after that. The song is upbeat and the kind of thing my toddler would sing along to. Could the artist not find better subject material?


  4. Beth

    Yeah those lyrics are somewhat creepy , so I agree with you on this …. not that I’d have a problem with romantic songs or poetry per se, but in the correct context and in an appropriate manner (c.f. the song of Solomon/morena, a classical Sephardic love song written in ladino. I’m more of meatloaf fan or even the proclaimers , if you’ve heard of them: “I would walk five hundred miles and I would walk five hundred more…”).


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