May 13, 2014

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3 Songs: “Evil Little Ditty” Edition

WIN_20140513_113648I’m writing this 3 Songs post at my parents’ house, where I’m visiting for a few days because they got a brand new kitten named Solomon and he’s the cutest thing on the goddamn planet. He is a big ball of fearless, funny energy, and as I write this he’s currently exploring the basement furniture and attacking all the shoes he can find. Every so often he gets lost and sorta screech-chirp-cries until I go find him.

But I digress. If you want more kitten photos and video, my twitter feed is stuffed with Vine videos and pictures because I am obnoxious that way. This post is meant to discuss a different type of obnoxiousness: the type that occurs when an artist crafts a song that has an incredibly catchy tune, but is paired with abhorrent or offensive or nasty or just uncomfortable lyrics. We had a particularly virulent case of this sort of thing last year, with the incredible popularity of Robin Thicke’s rape-culture-happy “Blurred Lines”; all my friends agreed that the lyrics were disgusting, but they just couldn’t help but love the beat and the rhythm. It may have been the most recent case, but it’s definitely not the first.

Rooney – I Should’ve Been After You

Rooney is a group of California rockers who look and sound uncannily like they should have come from the British Invasion era, right down to the bowl cuts and long eyelashes and crooning vocals. When I first came upon this song, I loved it; it’s catchy and fun, with a lot of energy and a fantastic chorus that I assumed was about a man realizing that the true woman for him was right in front of his eyes the entire time—it’s one of the oldest tropes in the book.
But as I listened more closely, I found that the narrator of the song sounded more and more entitled, until I realized with a start: this dude is a Nice Guy. He’s straight out of a “Worst of OkCupid” Tumblr. This song is about a dude who’s been friendzoned (ugh, that word, it’s nauseating); he goes through all the classic steps. He expresses his frustrations that “It makes no difference / what I do, think, or say / There’s no way to convince you girls / That just ain’t how you play”. He pushes that the girl needs to choose between him or her friends, and then when she rejects he admonishes “Go along with your new boy, / go be a sex toy / I could have been after you.”
It’s sad, because it’s still a very catchy song and I like it a lot for the melody. But I wish the subject matter wasn’t such a mess of male privilege; it hurts my feminist heart.

Scissor Sisters – I Can’t Decide

Is it a metaphor for a breakup? A piece of American Psycho-esque black sitire? It might be. But as it stands, this incredibly catchy fun song is nonetheless about brutally murdering someone in a variety of different ways. It’s darkly funny, sure, but it still makes me a little uncomfortable when I want to sing along out loud.

Meat Loaf – Paradise By the Dashboard Light

I’m frankly surprised I haven’t written about Meat Loaf sooner; Bat Out of Hell is, without shame, one of my favourite rock albums of the 70’s. He taps into my love of theatrical music, forming a nice counterbalance to the low-key indie rock that I usually listen to. And “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” is one of the true masterpieces of Bat Out of Hell, an eight-and-a-half minute ode to the classic American experience of losing one’s virginity in a car. The first part of the song is mostly Loaf, convincing his lady love to go all the way, and after an extended and brilliant baseball commentary interlude, just before the “home run” (as it were) Ellen Foley screeches “Stop right there!” and demands eternal and undying love, or else no sex. Meat Loaf gives in, because he’s horny, and the song concludes with both parties “praying for the end of time” because now they’re stuck together in a relationship and miserable.

I love this song, but god, its views on women and sex are fucked right the hell up. Young women in North America are fed tons of lies, half-truths, whispers and warnings about sex, and losing one’s virginity is a big fucking deal for a girl; it’s implied that if you don’t choose the right man then you’re ruined forever. Many girls feel they can only ever have the one partner, and since teenage hormones often override the intention to wait until marriage, these sorts of situations are all too common. The perspective of the song paints the female voice as a shrewish, demanding, unrealistic bitch who uses sex as a bargaining chip to get what she wants. It paints the man as the victim, emasculated by the mysterious powers of vagina. It’s a reductive viewpoint that does no one any favors when it comes to having a healthy sex life, which should instead be founded on mutual communication, trust, respect, and education.

I absolutely adore “Paradise”, and it’s part of an album that’s full of pubescent sexual mentality and the whole thing is rockin’ awesome. But each time I listen I feel like I need to donate to Planned Parenthood or something. “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”’s sexual viewpoints should be considered historical and not contemporary, and considering the abysmal state of sex ed in certain parts of the U.S., we’ve got a very long way to go before that becomes a reality.

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