The Portrayal of Masculinity and Femininity Through Contemporary Hip Hop and Rock Songs and Music Videos

A scary subject and one I’ve been putting off! This week’s blog discusses the interpretation of sexual discourses in contemporary hip hop and rock songs and music videos. Do the lyrics and images of these songs reflect the roles of men and women in society and are there any messages being communicated through these mediums?

Music videos are a powerful tool which deliver messages about sexuality and gender and in a industry where the vast majority of music is consumed on YouTube, this can have very real consequences and truly affect our lives. Sut Jhally States in his documentary “DreamWorlds 3”, “Music videos have become a central and vital component to the musical industry- from pop to rock to rap hip hop and country- sexual imagery that quickly came to define it as a genre.”

(Jhally, S. (Director). (2007). Dreamworlds 3 [Documentary]. United States:Media Education Foundation.)

A reason I’ve been putting off this blog is because I have absolutely no interest in hip hop, I dislike the music because I find it boring and repetitive and I dislike the lyrics because I usually find them too difficult to understand and when I do, their content disgusts me.

Straight away I’m into the subject at hand, from what I have seen in hip hop music videos, men are well groomed, well clothed and portrayed as strong, powerful, independent creatures to look up to and idolise. Women are shown wearing little or nothing, (short skirts, bikinis, trashy jewellery) and dancing provocatively either at the camera or the males in the video, very often the camera shots are close up to the women’s body parts.

The idea that women are shown to be emotionally dependent on men and seen as objects of sexual desire burns me. When I Googled “hip hop singles 2012” the first song that appeared was “Ball” by T.I feat Lil Wayne and the video and lyrics reinforced my personal opinion about this genre of music.

The lyrics such as “Bitch shake it like a dog, hop like a frog, ride it like a horse”, “Where you at hoe? Where you at hoe? Can a n-gga stick key up in ya back door,” and the hook- “This club so packed, these hoes so drunk. This club so packed, these hoes so drunk. This club so packed, these hoes so drunk.” reinforce the conventional discourses of gender.

When discussing this subject with a trusted music producer friend of mine, I was alerted to a very interesting video. At the start of the video Lil Wayne is shown saying “I believe females deserve the ultimate respect at all times” and the rest of the video is a mashup of his lyrics which clearly show his disrespect for women. How can a man who committed so many derogatory statements to tape say he believes females deserves the ultimate respect?!

My attention is drawn to Lil Wayne’s “Something You Forgot” song. A song where Lil Wayne pours out his heart and soul and tells the world how amazing his previous girlfriend is and how much he misses her: “To me you are the brightest star under sunlight. See, take away my title, take away my stripes. You give me back my girl and you give me back my life. Give me back my girl and you give me back my life”. Lil Wayne blasts the stereotypical image of the masculine man of hip hop and shows his emotional side, claiming his need for one particular woman. There is no official video for this song as it was never released as a single (wonder why?!), it’s actually musically nice, listenable and catchy. A rare gem in the collection of songs which normally run women down.

But it would unfair to say that the men are all to blame for the disrespect shown towards women in music- just look at Nicki Minaj. Another icon I personally can’t stand. Okay she’s not really a hip hop artist but she is closely linked to Lil Wayne. The video for “Pound the Alarm” was actually my first impression of the lady. Dressed in a skimpy bikini with big breasts jumping all over the place with cheap pink lipstick and humongous fake eyelashes surrounded by many women styled in the same fashion, what message does she convey to the public? That women are sexual objects of desire to be oogled.

“Oh, oh, oh, come fill my glass up a little more”, is this woman out for one thing only? Are all women looking for sex? On the other hand she does say “I wanna do it for the night, night
So get me now, and knock this over, I wanna do it like you like, like. Come get me, baby we’re not getting younger, I just want you tonight, night. Baby we won’t do it for life”, these lyrics could be interpreted that women are no longer looking for Disney relationships with high expectations and happy-ever-afters, but they too, like young men, can go out there and have one night stands, have some fun with no strings attached and this in itself could well be empowering for modern women. This could be reflecting the modern Western young woman who doesn’t get married or have children until her 30’s or later.

Not all hip hop is evil towards women, in fact I’m blown away by the lyrics of Talib Kweli who is a real rarity in a genre dominated by feminine disrespect, murders and drugs. He never refers to women as “ho’s” and as far as I know, doesn’t slag off women at all. There isn’t a video to accompany the song “For Women” so I have to rely on his lyrics to determine his portrayal of women.

“I got off the 2 train in Brooklyn on my way to a session,
Said let me help this woman up the stairs before I get to steppin’.
We got in a conversation she said she a 107,
Just her presence was a blessing and her essence was a lesson”

His opening lyrics alone show a deep respect towards a woman he met briefly. He goes on in each verse to describe different women and the pain they’ve suffered, he salutes their strength.  All the lyrics are well worth a read so I’m dropping the link here: FOR WOMEN LYRICS – TALIB KWELI.

So what about rock music? As we discussed in class recently, rock music has a predominantly male fan base. Key themes evident in rock music are male sexual dominance, apathy and aggression. But the ladies are very involved in rock music, arguably the most famous being Courtney Love with her band “Hole” who embraced the aggressive behaviour typical of male rock musicians.

Take the example of Motorhead’s “Rock Out” which was released about 5 years ago. When one thinks of Motorhead they generally think about hardcore, metal-loving hairy men and motorbikes! The simple music video shows Motorhead fans getting ready to go to a gig and then rocking out at the show. Interesting to us is that women are very much a part of this video, shown listening to the music as they get dressed and then rockin out just as hard with the male members of the audience. Personally I feel the band made a point of embracing their female audience and giving them equal status with their male fans.

On an even more personal note, they first time I went to a Motorhead concert, the audience was of course male dominated but at some point during the show a girl did pass overhead, crowd-surfing her way towards the stage and managed to kick me in the head with her massive biker boot. Phil Campbell, Motorhead’s guitarist saw it (I was in the second row) and asked me was I alright and when he was satisfied with my smile and thumbs up he gave me a smile! Nice to see a man concerned about the safety of his female fans! 😉

“There’s a dichotomy between the feminine expectations of society and the reality of their brutal musicianship in the metal scene.” – John Schulze, 2012.

Sexuality and gender is not a subject for contemporary heavy metal band Kittie. One might expect issues of femininity and sensitivity in an all female band. The band defy gender roles not out of controversy but out of artistic expression. Their recent single “We are the Lamb” does not address any such issues, lyrically the song suggests sacrifice and the moving on from life’s problems but the video does not relate to this message at all!

A song I mentioned in my recent playlist is “Face Down” by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, a song which is about a woman standing up to her boyfriends abusive behaviour. The video cuts between shots of the band and a woman alone in her house reminiscing about the love she and her boyfriend once shared as all her belongings crashing around her. At the end of the video the woman throws her photographs, letters and teddy bear into the bin. She has had enough of the abusive relationship and walks away.

“Face down in the dirt, she said,
“This doesn’t hurt”, she said,
“I finally had enough.” ”

I personally feel that rock music doesn’t influence our perceptions of gender and sexuality as much as hip hop does. Rock music has become significantly more gender equal in recent years with bands such as Evanescence, Halestorm, Lacuna Coil, Paramore, Pretty Wreckless filling stadiums and selling records. Perhaps rock music encourages women to get involved with music and enjoy successful, fullfilling music careers more so than the violent culture associated with hip hop music.

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One thought on “The Portrayal of Masculinity and Femininity Through Contemporary Hip Hop and Rock Songs and Music Videos”

  1. You’ll find a lot of the more mainstream rap acts will have those things as themes, it’s a bit lazy and done to death at this stage. But it doesn’t represent the whole of hip hop. A lot of underground or less popular hip hop has more conscious lyrics about life, ghetto, drugs, crime etc. It’s kind of following on from social consciousness and R&B from Marvin Gaye (Whats going on). Theres a song called Make you feel that way by Blackalicious, very positive sunny vibe off it relaxing, theres The Roots (amazing jazzy sound, great lyrics and musicianship mostly instead of just drum samples), A Tribe called Quest (classic group), so much more like Public enemy (fighting for Black people, revolution) etc etc. All these are worth checking out. I don’t think most of rap in the charts is great these days. 90s rap could be popular and still great (P.E, NWA, ATCQ, Dre, Snoop) Snoop dogg is still misogynistic but good artist nonethess.

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