When I was 10 or 12, I made the grievous error (or so I imagined) of absent-mindedly humming aloud to Salt-N-Pepa’s then popular track: Push it. My aunt admonished me and asked me to stop. Obviously I didn’t, not till about the fifth glare. Now, I knew what the simple-yet-suggestive lyrics had alluded to and, yet, I never gave it much thought until my aunt insisted I stop humming. It was no big deal, was it? It was just a catchy tune.
So, what qualifies a song to be a hit? Is it the catchy beat or the lyrics?
Fast forward to now, where kids are savvier and understand lyrics more incisively than they did before. Lyrically speaking, songs often reflect violence and misogyny mollycoddled in a blanket of spiffy hooks, beats and grooves.
Is it “cool” and “with it” to sing songs that are lyrically offensive? Whether we realize it or not, we are all susceptible and easily influenced. When those offensive lyrics are spoken/sung/ rapped or what-have-you, they subtly promote aggression and misogyny, and apparently this is acceptable!
Rap songs by Eminem, Tupac Shakur aka 2Pac and Lil Wayne have lyrics that are almost always about gang or domestic violence, blowjobs and porn-star sex. Which begs the question – how many women have actually sung/rapped about the same material? I’m guessing none. Even the music videos aren’t very flattering – almost all of them have the standard high-end luxury cars and bikini-clad girls – glorified props who invariably fawn over them. Other genres like rock, too, have had their fair share of violent lyrics.
So, is there a correlation between violence and lyrics? Apparently, there is. According to the American Psychological Association, “Violent song lyrics increase negative emotions and thoughts that can lead to aggression”, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 84, No. 5). The study challenges the ancient Greek "catharsis hypothesis," which claims that expressing aggressive emotion will later decrease aggressive behavior. Instead, researchers from Iowa State University and the Texas Department of Human Services found that aggressive music lyrics augment aggressive thoughts and feelings, which might perpetuate aggressive behavior and have long-term effects, such as influencing listeners' perceptions of society and contributing to the development of aggressive personalities. Read more here.
Closer home, Bollywood and other regional ‘woods’ are equally culpable. Our beloved staple of any film these days are the mandatory, dime-a-dozen raunchy item numbers. The popular Tamil film ‘Boys’ (a localised version of American Pie) and its hit song ‘I want a girlfriend’ shows that it’s perfectly okay to be lewd and crude with the object of your affection. In return, she will respond positively. Is it any wonder that what seems to work in reel-life is perfectly acceptable in real-life, too? And when that fails, a fragile ego married with a desire to show the classic who’s-the-boss leaves lasting effects on a woman clearly because “she was asking for it”.
Bollywood’s Farhan Akhtar, post the horrific gang-rape, acknowledged that Bollywood is much to blame. But is it a case of too little too late?
Similarly, Honey “Rape Rapper” Singh, well-known in some parts of India, whose songs are often overtly misogynistic and sexist, was at the receiving end of a severe backlash when his concert was boycotted. Let’s be honest here: had there not been aftershocks to the Delhi gang-rape, the show would have gone on. And that’s precisely where the problem lies – in our conditioned and apathetic acceptance of it.
In an age where we are constantly addicted to some kind of digital morphine or other, we have to talk about it and find practical solutions. Artists across the board must make conscious choices because they have the power to influence, and their charisma can do wonders to a cause when channeled positively.
Women artists have already done that with their chart-topping hits right from Aretha Franklin’s ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T’ to Sara Bareilles’ ‘King of Anything’.
So men, what’s stopping you?