Written by Laura Collins
In light of recent events, I would like to lead the charge against the casual attitude that the music industry has nurtured regarding sexual violence and rape. After being bombarded with social media outrage over the Stanford rape, I turned to my own music library out of curiosity. I wanted to know – how guilty am I for playing a role in this culture that reduces ethics to exploitation? I was shocked to find more songs that supported the rapist than did the victim (the singular song I found for the victim was “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten). Had the Stanford swimmer only gotten a record deal BEFORE his “20 minutes of action” he might have been invited to appear at awards shows or sing on TV, prospering in riches by now.
The first song that stuck out to me was the first song that ever prompted me to use the word “rapey” as an adjective – Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” The song has taken heat (without damage to its success) for promoting rape culture with lyrics like “do it like it hurt, like it hurt. What, you don’t like work?” and “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two”… all while emphasizing the “blurred lines” when it comes to sex, repeating to the girl, “I know you want it.” Do men in the real world actually talk like this? I sure hope not, but until this point it’s been perfectly fine to sing it. I don’t know a single woman who would want this guy near her or a single man who would allow his daughter to be spoken to like that. Nonetheless, it spent 12 weeks at the #1 spot, rallied over 451 million views on Youtube, and brought Robin Thicke three Grammy Nominations for Best Pop Vocal Album, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams).
T.I., by the way, assaulted a female sheriff in 2003 while on probation: one of many arrests and convictions on his criminal record that glitter his music career with drugs, weapons, and violence. In this instance, he was let off with 225 hours of community service. It’s too bad the Stanford rapist wasn’t T.I.
Another guilt-imposing hit from my library was Lady Gaga’s “Do What U Want With My Body.” She sold 2.3 million copies of its album ARTPOP world-wide and took it on a world tour that revenued $83 million. Now, I don’t support rape or sexual violence, but I sent a very different message when I bought that album. I was also at that concert and I DVRed Lady Gaga’s performance with R-Kelly on SNL.
Yes, the same R-Kelly that was accused of multiple sex crimes, with photo proof of a young girl wrapped in a towel in a duffel bag, with child pornography tapes of him engaging in sexual acts and urinating on that same minor. He was later found not guilty and shortly reclaimed his bearings in the music industry. Again, had the Stanford rapist been as famous as R-Kelly, he’d be back on his track to success, regardless of witnesses or evidence of his crime. Even more, he’d probably be invited to collaborate on a “rapey” song which he’d get to perform on TV a few times.
Chris Brown, though similarly not someone who we idolize for his moral compass, boasts 27 songs that have charted on the Billboard Hot 100 since his arrest in 2009 for beating his then-girlfriend Rihanna. He went on to receive 11 Grammy Nominations, one of which he won in 2012. The very next year his album Fortune was nominated for a Grammy with lyrics like “Girl you better not change your mind. No is not an option, Ima take what’s mine.” Maybe the Stanford rapist listened to that album before going out that night.
For me, the most horrific thing about all of this is that this information isn’t new or secret. I remember seeing these crimes in the news, singing along to these songs on the radio, and seeing candid interviews of these people portrayed as artists. Strangely enough, when a regular Joe (or Brock) commits the exact same crime artists sing about, we shame and judge and criminalize them. We throw the book at them, while we throw our money at the artists who sing about it.
Through the music we promote, we are perpetuating a society where it’s not a big deal… where our music exists in one realm of moral absence that we, on a personal level, do not identify with. While I do not support the Stanford rapist or any of these artists on an ethical level, I will admit to knowing every word to many of these songs – unconsciously showing support. I know for a fact that I’ve put money in each of these artists’ pockets and have, subsequently, escorted these hits to success.
We need to stop inviting these messages into our playlists. We must hold pop culture to the same standards to which we hold ourselves, our students, and our children. We’ve had these conversations with our daughters. Hopefully, we’ve had them with our sons. Now it’s time to have them with our musicians and radio stations too.
I invite you to boycott songs that fall askew to your values. I invite you to get mad when those songs come on the radio. I invite you to delete them from your libraries. I invite you to write to your local radio stations. I invite you to make some noise and bring an end to the casualness of rape in the music industry.
And if this goes well, maybe we can start to tackle the casual attitude towards drugs in music too.
Laura Collins is a Cuban-American princess and a proud Auburn graduate, but mostly she’s a crazy-cool first grade teacher. A self-professed mass media/pop culture know-it-all, she spends much of her time screen-shotting life – When she’s not devouring all the breakfast tacos that is. If she ever goes missing, you can probably find her at Target. For more from Laura, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.