What Do "Blurred Lines," "Same Love," and More Say About Our Society Now?
In the last month, we've discussed the many ways in which the music industry has disappointed us. There was Robin Thicke's borderline rape-y "Blurred Lines" and Justin Timberlake's risqué video for "Tunnel Vision" — but those were just the tunes that invited conversation. During a summer that has given us so many culturally confusing headlines — we have Paula Deen's racist and sexist remarks, which show that we're still somewhat tied to old prejudices, but also the DOMA dismissal and other note-worthy rejections of old-school ideals about civil liberties — have our music tastes changed? Since the real world often influences our artistic tastes (hello Vietnam!), are we, as listeners, still tied to old ideals, or have we become more progressive in our tuning habits after this paradox of a summer?
Music might not have the answers, but it's always been a solid indicator of changing times. And looking critically through Billboard's top 25 songs on the Hot 100, there seems to be good news and bad news. In fact, the songs we're lapping up on the radio and iTunes showcase our societal indecision. We're not only wondering where we stand culturally, but musically as well. Based on the top tunes, we're stuck at the crossroads of revolution and tradition, supporting songs that both encourage new ideals and that are as morally backwards as, well, "Blurred Lines."
First, we have the songs that objectify women, most notably the aforementioned "Blurred Lines," which currently is No. 1 on the charts. It's followed by Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" at No. 2, and "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line and Nelly at No. 6 — all songs which encourage problematic attitudes toward women. Just look at the lyrics for "Get Lucky": "She's up all night for good fun/I'm up all night to get some/we're up all night to get lucky." Based on the tune, the only for the subject to have some "good fun" is to get bedded by the musicians.
Of course, for every sexist tune on Billboard's chart, there's an unimaginative, confusing, non-sensical pop song that simply exists for our ears' pleasure. Look at Timberlake's "Mirrors," Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," or Icona Pop's "I Love It." These songs are super catchy, but they also barely make sense, throwing clichéd lyrics over a beat in the hopes that we'll be dancing so hard we stop listening. Which sort of works, but it belies laziness, and also the fact that we'll listen to pretty much anything if it sounds good, regardless of how vapid it might be. All of a sudden the blatant misogyny of other top hits starts to make sense. "Blurred Lines" might shit all over a woman's right to say no, but who cares since that little whoop Pharrell does in the background is just so darn cute, right?
Then we have the stand-outs, the rays of positivity in a fairly directionless pop universe. Macklemore's "Same Love" — written in support of the marriage equality movement — is unique in its seriousness, and Bruno Mars' "Treasure" speaks to helping a girl understand how special and beautiful she is. These songs appear to be guiding lights in a congested darkness. There is no previous point in time when a song advocating equal rights like "Same Love" would have become so popular, so in a lot of ways, our endorsement of songs like that indicates a step forward. Just when the top 25 might get a little hopeless, there's encouragement for the future of pop. We might secretly enjoy the nothingness of Icona Pop, and we might groove a bit to "Blurred Lines," but we also tear up at "Same Love," or serenade our friends with "Treasure."
Although the top 25 might still be heavy with outdated ideals and boring clichés, there are glimmers of progressive thinking, and that's something to be proud of. Musicians might still be singing about hot girls, fast cars, and dancing the night away, but some are singing about self-respect, equality and the way forward — if we can't quite give up on rappers bragging about girls and money, then at least we're gaining a new perspective at the same time.
Maybe someday open-mindedness and egalitarian attitudes will be the norm in both everyday life and in music. Until then, however, all we can do is keep jamming out to the songs that align with our personal beliefs, and hope that others will, too.