Looking at the music charts reveals yet again that the songs we listen to on our streaming services and radios mostly sell more misery and sexism than joy and happiness. Let’s check out the current German Top 10 Single Charts.
#2 OK by Robin Schulz feat. James Blunt
This is one of those songs that portray love or relationships as something complete addictive and co-dependent. Many love songs make love seem as something where you cannot survive without your partner, making it not about two independent minded people who share feelings for each other. Instead, everything is projected on the partner, making it more or less impossible to work out because a relationship cannot be about everything. In this song it sounds like this:
I really need you
I really need your love right now
I’m fading fast […]
I’m burning up, I’m going down […]
Could you love me more, just a little […]
When every star falls from the sky
And every last heart in the world breaks
Oh hold me now
When every ship is going down
I don’t fear nothing when I hear you say
It’s gonna be OK
The lyrics make it seem that survival is impossible without the loved one. And, sure, fair enough, that is what love sometimes feels like. But real relationships shouldn’t feel like that. If this is the responsibility you have for your partner, that without you they fall apart, then there is a clear lack of balance. I would also argue that because many songs are similar to OK, it is easier to think that is what it has to feel like. This also plays into our cultural idea of considering it normal to be unhappy as more love songs are about being sad and desperate than about being happy and satisfied.
#3 Thunder by Imagine Dragons
This song tells a familiar story:
I was dreaming of bigger things
And wanna leave my old life behind
Again, feeling unhappy with their current lives, as we are culturally wont to do.
Not a yes sir, not a follower
Fit the box, fit the mold
The narrator also identifies with being ‘different’ and ‘not like the rest’. While this is a tendency that should generally be appreciated in our normative culture, there is often a sense of saying you’re different while following the same traditions and rules as everyone else. Our culture is very good at making us feel as if we’re really unique and not like the others while still perpetuating the status quo. Still, the sentiment here could lead to something.
Kids were laughing in my classes
While I was scheming for the masses
Who do you think you are?
Dreaming 'bout being a big star
You say you're basic, you say you're easy
You're always riding in the back seat
Now I'm smiling from the stage while
You were clapping in the nose bleeds
And there is our punchline. How does the narrator show everyone that he is different and unique? By being famous. Because, as we learn, fame supposedly gives us all the satisfaction we are looking for so desperately. If you can ‘make it’, well, then you’ve made it! That we are at the same time constantly warned about the excesses of fame and bathe in the stories of failing celebrities is just one of the standard contradictions we grow up with in our culture.
#4 Wild Thoughts by DJ Khaled feat. Cashmere Cat, Rihanna & Bryson Tiller
Sexism can be odd. Normally we only talk about it when men are sexist and almost celebrate it when women do it. While it may seem strange at first glance, it could be justified by arguing women have been objectified for ages while for men it is still relatively new. If that is enough to use the same demeaning mechanism or if shouldn’t get rid of it at all, is a different question.
Why do I bring this up? Well, Wild Thoughts is one of those songs that is written for the summer, it features a Santana sample and sounds cool and relaxed, the perfect summer hit. If you said the lyrics out loud to someone, though, you’d risk a lot of embarrassment or a sexual harassment suit.
Rihanna sings things like:
I don’t know if you could take it
Know you wanna see me nakey nakey naked
I wanna be your baby baby baby
I hope you know I’m for the taking
You know this cookie is for the baking
The chorus states
When I’m with you, all I get is wild thoughts
So, the idea is that being near that other person causes a lot of thoughts about sex. I wouldn’t call this problematic in itself since sex is a normal thing and thinking about it is just as normal. I don’t really like the way Rihanna’s narrator offers herself, even if it’s in the taunting, teasing way that could signify some power. Which is pretty typical Rihanna, who likes to immerse herself in sexual extremes (which doesn’t make it better). Now, there is the counterpoint in the song in Bryson Tiller’s verse:
I heard that pussy for the taking […]
I treat you like a lady
Fuck you til you’re burned out, cremation […]
Now that pipe got her running like she Usain […]
And you know I’m gonna slaughter like I’m Jason
Bust it, why you got it on safety?
There is the complete reduction to genitals, there is the very (very!) odd connection between sex and cremating (because, you know, burning corpses is hot!), there is another connection to violence as fucking her is akin to destroying her (another weird desire) and finally the question why she has any kind of protection or is holding back anything. If you think about just each of those things, it could make you cringe but all together it is quite astonishing. Also, if you again compare both verses, there is a huge difference. Rihanna sings about wanting sex because he turns her on, Tiller only sings about fucking her into oblivion without actually talking about her at all. I mean, it’s not like Rihanna’s verses are romantic poetry but at least there is some sense of “Hey, you’re hot, I’d be ready to do it with you” while the other side doesn’t go beyond “I will fuck you violently.”
This song is very representative of how pop songs can do almost anything without anyone caring. Wild Thoughts will be played on the radio, at parties, anywhere and will make people smile and dance to the lyrics of a sexual massacre. Out of curiosity, I looked around if anyone minds the sexism of those lyrics. XXLmag says: “Rihanna and Tiller croon on about the ‘wild thoughts’ they have when they approach someone they’ve got some romantic feelings for.” There is nothing like the romantic feeling of slaughtering someone and burning their body. Vogue only talks about the fashion used in the music video. All the other reviews don’t mention sex at all. OK! explains that in the music video you can kind of make out Rihanna’s nipple ring. And the cover of the single features (as you can see above) a baby and a lion cub. Wild thoughts indeed.
#6 Mama by Jonas Blue feat. William Singe
Another song that makes it clear that it is really normal to want to escape your life.
Where should we run to? […]
They say we’re wasted
But how can we waste it if we’re loving every day? […]
Don’t wanna wake up one day wishing that we’d done more
I wanna live fast and never look back, it’s what we’re here for […]
We got our problems
But just for the minute let’s push all our troubles aside
It’s a mixture of understandable sentiment and cultural throwbacks that shows stagnancy instead of progress. There is a “they” as a kind of abstract antagonist. The idea of not regretting to have done more is so good but the solution of living fast not looking back is exactly what got our culture into the mess we’re in right now. Overall, it shows the desire to run away, to find some faraway place where everything is better than here. That the path to bliss is changing the ‘here’ instead of running away from is not an option here. It also emphasizes the idea that young people don’t care about change but only about themselves without thinking about anything.
#7 There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back by Shawn Mendes
This song is very similar to the idea of obsessive love we have seen already in OK.
I wanna follow where she goes […]
I wanna let her take control
Right from the start, loving someone basically means giving up yourself.
You take me places that tear up my reputation
Manipulate my decisions
These lines illustrate the idea of love like a drug. Not just giving up control over yourself but becoming actually self-destructive.
Cause if we lost our minds
And we took it way too far
I know we’d be alright
Look, I’m all for following your emotions and instincts and not just relying on reason. And love can be strong and disorienting and fanatical but this shouldn’t be its normal form. Love, after all, is supposed to be the basis for a relationship not for a personal apocalypse. Just like we keep normalizing unhappiness, such songs also keep normalizing love as a seductive danger. If love is always supposed to be like this we might as well start taking drugs.
#8 Unforgettable by French Montana feat. Swae Lee
And yet another song that might pass by you as a run-of-the-mill rap/pop song that is easy on the ears. But again, if you take a moment to listen to the lyrics, you might feel different.
I peeped you from across the room
Pretty little body, dancing like go-go
But you are unforgettable
I need to get you alone
A fucking good time never hurt nobody
You only have to squint a little bit and those lyrics describe a typical rape scene. Picking your victim (with a ‘pretty little body’), getting her alone and claiming you only want to have a good time. Sounds familiar? It doesn’t help that other lines mention all kinds of alcohol being involved. Later we get this:
I got a hard head but her ass soft
She want the last name with the ring on it
Cause I pulled a million cash
Not rape, only sexism paired with the ‘women only care about money’ trope.
You have all the right to think I’m exaggerating here, but the song is by someone who told someone who criticized him on Twitter to “be humble” after calling her a “cum drinking Dick banging ass”.
Anyway, that was another round of “Mindless, Innocent Pop Songs That Are Actually Filled with Dangerous Ideas.”