By Kevin Sayre
I chose to reflect upon the recently increasing trend of songs (and music videos) that are attempting to obviously oppose the standards of sexuality in popular culture, or trying to draw attention to the ideas of societal standards for men and women. I really appreciate music that is oppositional, especially when it’s catchy, and even more so when it’s funny. The ideas of these new modern pop songs more easily reach the audience that can do something about it when the songs are catchy or comedic.
Spring Break Anthem by The Lonely Island is a great example of oppositional music. The song and the music video contrast the harsh dichotomy of same-sex marriage and college students partying during spring break. While watching the music video, a viewer would not expect the sudden shift from the swear words and pro-partying attitude to that of same-sex marriage, wedding planning, and love. When asked during an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit about the meaning of this song, the group stated that, “The meaning of it is is to show one thing that’s considered crazy and one thing that’s considered normal, and pose to the audience which one is which.” This is an example of oppositional work at the production level, which is admittedly not the most important part. However, as the audience is forced to come to terms with the differences in direction of the song, they will be forced to think about why the two actions are so different, and why they are so surprised to hear about same-sex marriage while also hearing about ‘nailing sluts.’
This song, called ‘Sex Yeah’, by the singer Marina & The Diamonds addresses society pressures on men and on women, and how sex and sexuality are the main means by which things are sold to people, and how people think of themselves. This idea can particularly address gender roles in our society, how women are to be sexy, show-offish objects and how men are to be tough and gritty. Marina wants to break out of the shell she’s been forced into by popular culture. This is the same shell that Klein speaks of, “Asian and lesbians were made to feel ‘invisible,’ gays were stereotyped as deviants, black as criminals and women as weak and inferior: a self-fulfilling prophecy responsible for almost all real-world inequalities” (Klein 108). Klein is speaking of representation in media, as is Marina during the first verse of the song. Springer also addresses this idea of definitions-by-sex with the question, “How can black women say yes to sex when our…media…discuss[es] black women’s sexuality only as a set of negative consequences?” (Springer 207).
‘Born This Way’ by Lady Gaga is one of the more popular examples of oppositional music in modern culture, even if the song itself is a couple years old. Perhaps one of the prominent features of her song is that it takes the fault off of people for cultural difference, telling them that because they are born into it they shouldn’t allow their differences to define them. The song encourages ideas represented like “subjugation of subjects in a culture which appears to arrange always and in every way for the annihilation of queers” (Butler 124). This idea of very anti-gay attitudes in modern pop culture is often dangerous. Lady Gaga seeks to help people that are feeling down because of their sexuality (something that wouldn’t exist but for modern popular culture).
This parody video of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” as performed by Mod Carousel demonstrates extremely well the oppositional reading, by forcing its viewers to recognize how bad it really is that women are objectified in the way they are. Many of the initial Youtube comments on that video were taken aback by the men in women’s underwear, high heels, makeup, and no other clothes. The wear of the women (suit jackets) and the new position of power they were in also challenges the deeply held beliefs of most of the viewers. The viewers were forced into an oppositional gaze and they didn’t like it. Society tends to require these drastic role swaps to notice the differences in gender equality and how often women are sexualized and objectified (and how normative this sexualization is).
Macklemore’s Same Love, while controversial, is another great example of a non-normative song. It attempts to address the struggle faced by LGBT youth, and the video shows the life of a gay man and his partner. Importantly, while the subject of the video does face trials that hetero people would not face, generally shows a normal life, as is the point. Many people still feel as if same-sex couples are somehow very different than heterosexual couples, and the music video shows how they face the same problems that everyone faces. This is not, however, an attempt to claim that heterosexuals face the same problems that homosexuals face. Judith Katz addresses some of this heterosexual privilege in her piece, namely, “[Heterosexuals] do not have to experience, on a daily basis, the jokes, slurs, and outright hatred directed towards people of [their] sexual orientation” (Katz 7). Same Love brings about showing how homosexuals are not fundamentally different people while still showing the difficulties they face, and why society needs to change its feelings towards those members of society.
All of these texts express a very new trend of oppositional reading. Many artists, especially those that are geared towards teenagers and college students, realize that their fan bases are beginning to alter their sociopolitical views. Because of this, artists are now trying to reflect what their audiences feel about social pressures. It’s also likely that many of these artists, especially Lady Gaga, The Lonely Island, and Mod Carousel, are displaying their own personal views of society. Through comedy, catchy music, catchy beats, and catchy lyrics, a new trend of oppositional music and oppositional music videos is starting to arise in the pop music culture.
First, it’s important to notice that, out of the three artists who I featured music videos for, two out of the three of them have men and women of color in their videos. Mod Carousel has a black woman as dominant and a black man as submissive, and the protagonist of the Same Love music video is black. This shows that the artists themselves are definitely aware of the fact that not all members of society are black, and it allows black viewers to identify with the characters. Especially in the Mod Carousel video, the traditional ideas of black masculinity are not at all reflected by the submissive black male in the video. This is extremely oppositional, as the modern depictions of black men are typically as the tough, hyper-masculine, stereotypical muscular-bodyguard type. The black woman in the Mod Carousel video also doesn’t fit into any of the traditional stereotypes for women of color. Both of these non-normative stereotypes help only to foster an oppositional reading of the Mod Carousel video.
Next, we can notice the pro-love similarities of the Lady Gaga song, The Lonely Island song, and again the Macklemore song. Especially in Born This Way and Same Love, the lyrics very much encourage acceptance of whom you are and who other people are. The Lonely Island video more encourages this than the song itself, with all the characters in the ‘marry a man’ half of the song as happy people with happy families, which very much is oppositional to the male gaze intended ‘spring break’ half of the song, featuring many bikini-clad college girls and beer guzzling frat boy stereotype boys.
It’s important to note how Spring Break Anthem doesn’t feature any races apart from white men. This could be an intentional appeal to the white male demographic, given that many anti-homosexual people, and the vocal ones at that, are the white frat-boy type. While it may not be intersectional for the rest of pop culture, it does act as highly oppositional for that demographic. It’s not as representational as it could be to have the most impact, but it does accomplish being oppositional.
Finally, when we put together Sex Yeah and Blurred Lines, we notice the pop culture pressures on men and women to fulfill specific gender roles. Mod Carousel addresses this by totally flipping the gender roles on their heads, and Marina addresses this by her direct lyrical approach of questioning societal pressures.
As a total group of videos and songs, each of these reflects clearly the new trend of anti- or non-normative oppositional readings of society. They are each attempting to bring about change in society, or force society to recognize their problems and to deal with them.
Butler, Judith. “Gender Is Burning.” Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “sex” New York: Routledge, 1993. 121-40. Print.
Katz, Judith M. “Owning My Advantage, Uncovering My Collusion.” Cultural Diversity at Work. N.p.: n.p., 1997. 7. Print.
Klein, Naomi. “Patriarchy Gets Funky: The Triumph of Identity Marketing.” NO LOGO. N.p.: Flamingo, 2001. 106-24. Print.
The Lonely Island. “Re: We Are The Lonely Island – Ask Us Anything!” Weblog comment. Reddit. N.p., 13 June 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1g8f46/we_are_the_lonely_island_ask_us_anything/cahqe9f>.
Springer, Kimberly. “Queering Black Heterosexuality.” N.p.: n.p., 2008. 207-12. Print.