No, the above lyrics are not pulled from some underground cult of self-hating women. And no, they were not ripped from the pages of The Good Wife Guide, (although, minus the updated urban jargon, they totally could have been). These are actual lyrics from David Guetta’s smash hit “Hey Mama,” courtesy of some especially unsettling verses by Nicki Minaj.
Let’s get one thing straight; I adore Nicki Minaj. I would need two hands to count the number of hours I’ve spent trying to convince people that she is a force to be reckoned with among female role models. To me, she represents strength, assertiveness, and in-your-face femininity. She’s the type of woman who would apply a perfect coat of fuchsia lipstick just to kiss her critics goodbye; the type of woman that understands cutting women down does nothing to raise her up; the kind of woman that chooses to command attention instead of ask for it.
And she’s also the kind of woman that authors horribly misogynistic bullshit like the lyrics you see up there.
But how can that be? How can the woman who releases a glorified ass-porno as a music video be the same woman who interviews like a bona fide feminist powerhouse? How can a woman who has spent her entire life pulling herself up by her bootstraps be the same woman that resorts to relying on her assets when the well for rap material runs dry? After all, it’s nearly impossible to extract poetics from lyrics like: My man full/He just ate/Don’t duct nobody but tape
There are a hundred answers to that question. We could blame it on the music industry and its relentless need to truncate dynamic artists into mere caricatures of who they really are. We could blame it on the artists themselves and their willingness to objectify their minds and bodies for a couple extra million views on Youtube. Or maybe, we could blame it on the guiltiest of culprits — ourselves.
It’s time to be honest. How many times have you been jamming in your room, singing along to some tunes in a bar, or outright dancing in a club to one of your favorite songs, only to find yourself thinking, ‘Holy Hell, those lyrics are kind of messed up.’ I can’t be the only one that feels a tinge of guilt when I belt out the chorus to an especially juicy track from The Weeknd, a.k.a. the king of steamy-meets-sexist lyricism.
And therein lies the problem. How is it that the same girls kicking complete ass as Women’s Studies majors are the same girls belting out lyrics like: Call me obsessed/It’s my right to be hellish/I still get jealous? How can we reconcile our love for downright sexist music with our unfaltering feminist views?
Answer: we don’t. Well, scratch that — we can’t. Unless we’re willing to part ways with the small gold mine of songs we’ve been collecting since “Candy Shop” reigned supreme on our iPods.
But we can do the next best thing; we can call it like it is. We can make a point of being intellectually engaged with the tracks that are played ad nauseam on the radio. We can take the time to think critically about what stereotypes these songs portray, what sexist tropes they perpetuate, and what chauvinistic paragons they proffer. Because when we make the effort to really critique the lyrics that pollute our brains, we’re laying the groundwork to be able to identify how these sexist conventions normalize themselves in the world around us.
So that when we finally see popular music for what it really is — a vehicle that disguises abhorrent lyricism as mindless jabber — we’ll be far more equipped to recognize how these sexist structures impact us every single day.