Since hearing this spoken word piece last week, I have not been able to get the refrain out of my head:
“Can we turn up the volume, but turn down the noise; stop polluting the minds of our men and our boys with all the rude misogyny and bland homogeny of rhymes and beats so crude and obsolete? ‘Cause our ears are bleeding from all these cowards; the time is ours; we are ready to devour lyrics that make us feel empowered.”
It is a call for popular music that empowers women rather than dehumanizes them.
In “Mu(sick),” poet Madiha Bhatti references artists like Jay Z, Robin Thicke and Beyonce, drawing links between slavery and female artists of color, connecting violent lyrics to violence against women and condemning the very real dis-empowerment caused by popular music.
With skill and stirring cadence, she makes an important point that I tend to ignore.
I feel like we worry a lot about how music and video games—in short, popular culture—impact small children, but forget to care about how it influences our society at large. I’m not saying sexualizing, objectifying and dehumanizing lyrics are causing men to sexualize, objectify and dehumanize women… but it certainly isn’t helping.
Madiha Bhatti is courageous to voice a sentiment that our society and our music industry condemn as overly-sensitive. Her words remind me that I rarely question a song’s message. Of course, to continue on in blissful ignorance or oblivion is the easier choice to make.
When Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” plays at a bar and I dance, I make this choice.
When I sing along, mindlessly, to misogynistic lyrics, I make this choice.
When I and the women around me sway in time to the beat of our own subjugation, we make this choice.
I don’t know what the right choice is. As Bhatti points out, these songs are popular for a reason; they’re really, really catchy. We are compelled to dance along. And I don’t think refusing to dance, boycotting this music as a statement of disapproval, is the answer.
Still, “Good beats are the noise behind which singers hide,” and there is more to dance music than rhythm. What do we do about the lyrics—the ideas that get stuck in our heads along with the melodies?
The best response I can suggest is awareness.
Know what you’re saying when you sing along, rather than mindlessly parroting what you hear on the radio. Explain to your daughters and sons why it upsets you to hear negative and objectifying lyrics coming from their mouths. Recognize when music crosses the line from fantasy to reality, and call attention to those moments.
Listen to Madiha Bhatti, and take her words to heart.
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Editor: Emily Bartran