Brodsky: Not quite ‘Fearless’

There are many things I don’t understand about Ke$ha. I am confused about how waking up hung over in a stranger’s bathtub is akin to “feeling like P.Diddy” or why she was chosen to sing at the Grammy Awards on Sunday. I don’t understand why there is a dollar sign in the middle of her name or how I am supposed to pronounce it.

But I know Ke$ha, along with her pop-music counterparts, has a lot to tell us about our consumption of music with dangerous attitudes toward romance and sexuality.

But I shouldn’t be Kanye and take the mic away from Taylor Swift. The feminist blogosphere was a-flutter after the release of Taylor’s “Love Story.” She’s waiting for a Romeo — she’s perpetuating passive femininity! But she urges Romeo to find “someplace we can be alone” — she articulates female desire! But if she’s an empowered woman, why does T-Swift/Juliet have to wait for Romeo to ask her dad for her hand?

“Today Was a Fairytale,” Swift’s most recent single, is much less ambiguous, and the new message is disappointing. The young singer croons that she “used to be a damsel in distress,” but the past tense does not derive from a recent self-actualizing experience; rather, she was rescued by a prince.

Plenty of people seem surprised that men like Taylor Swift. She’s the new Gossip Girl — isn’t it cute that boys like her too? But I find it much more surprising that women are on the Swift train. That there are a few guys who like skinny blondes sitting around waiting for them isn’t hugely surprising, but it is more troubling that plenty of women are excited to see someone so helpless.

While passivity in initiating relationships is in no way comparable to sexual assault, this response to “Today Was a Fairytale” reminds me of that to Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It [On the Alcohol],” one of last year’s all-star “date rape anthems” in feminist blogger Amanda Hess’s words. I think Foxx would have trouble coming up with more destructive lyrics if he tried. The song simultaneously informs women that sober desire is shameful — so start drinking! — and men that the drunk girl at the bar is inebriated because she wants to sleep with you, equating drunkenness with consent. Yet many of my female classmates proudly raised their glasses in the air and chanted along with Foxx, as though to prove that indeed the Goose had got them feelin’ loose.

While Swift and Foxx deal with very different subject material, the response to both shows women gladly buying standards that leave them passive and vulnerable.

This is where Ke$ha comes in. This other blonde bombshell has recently released a date rape anthem of her own, “Blah Blah Blah,” flipping the traditional date-rape script. Most of the lyrics are not fit for print, but in summary: Hey! Attractive man at the bar! Ke$ha wants you to “shut up” and show your genitalia. She’s worried you may be not be drunk enough for sex, well on second thought perhaps too drunk — not to consent, but to get the mechanics working.

I asked a few male friends about the lyrics, and reactions were pretty uniform. Most commented that it looked like a dumb song. Nearly all described the situation as undesirable from the man-at-the-bar’s perspective. Some commented insightfully on the gender dynamic, but primarily as a failing of a “feminist” attempt at empowerment through sexual dominance. Only one mentioned he was personally offended. None reported feeling threatened.

But sexually and romantically destructive lyrics shouldn’t be problem delegated to feminists. It is a “people problem,” as shown by Ke$ha’s new song.

Yet, few want to make it their own. Even the women who thought that the message behind Foxx or Swift’s lyrics was problematic didn’t want to take the songs “too seriously.” To them, it was a problem for the Women’s Center — it’s full of lesbians without senses of humor, right? And the men bothered by “Blah Blah Blah” identified the date rape narrative as disturbing, not for past and future male victims of sexual assault, but for the feminist movement. It seems that to them, rape, in any form, against any person, is a women’s issue.

I am not advocating censorship. I think all three artists have the right to produce their songs. But an insistence on free creative discourse is rooted in the belief that the art that surrounds us should be taken seriously — and we’re failing. When no one considers and reacts to popular anthems, we don’t hear the lyrics but we internalize their messages.

Friends of both genders casually quote Foxx after a regretted night, which started with three too many drinks to excuse female lust. Young girls’ romantic fantasies are shaped by the scripts of Swift’s. We cannot delegate these issues to one gender or even passionate interest groups.

We all should listen a little closer.

Alexandra Brodsky is a sophomore in Davenport College.

Comments

  • FS

    How did Paul Needham let this attack on Taylor get published??

  • Tim Ellison ’10

    All of your statements about Ke$ha’s music are unimpeachable: I cannot quibble with the mechanics of your points, or the quality of her lyrics. Nonetheless, I love her album; it’s extraordinarily catchy; and I already have 58 plays of “Blah Blah Blah” on my iTunes, and I’m not embarrassed. Why? It’s pure synth-dance pop. It’s not supposed to be intellectualized. It’s about beat & energy, not meaning.

    To defend Ke$ha, which I have been bemused to find myself doing lately, her entire attitude in the album is ironic. She knows that she’s doing this. Not that I think that we should think to hard about this, but Ke$ha claims that by objectifying men in her lyrics, she’s commenting on the objectification of women in male pop/rap music. At any rate

    blah blah blah

    i like it.

  • Eamon Murphy

    I have never thought the Women’s Center was full of lesbians.

  • y11

    Stop taking music, and yourself, so seriously.

  • Matt M.

    This is really an outstanding piece you’ve written. It is all too easy to make the argument that the music’s catchiness justifies its popularity, but this simply isn’t true.

    Musicians with far superior talent are putting out energetic dance songs that make a mockery of “Blah Blah Blah’s” broken, hiccuping phrases and even more anemic drum/synth track. Taylor Swift can certainly sing well, but so can other young folk singers with lyrics that stand up to Swift’s like a Faulkner novel might to a Disney script.

    You say in your article that “… we don’t hear the lyrics but internalize their messages.” I wonder if the party generation is not so innocent — I suspect that internalization precedes (even causes) the songs’ selection for popularity.

    Either way, your concern is justified, and your insightful and sensitive handling of the topic was most impressive. Thank you for this work.

    -Matt

  • FailBoat

    Alexandra, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but if you seriously think that that the traditional fairy-tale fantasy is trouble for women’s liberation, you need to reconsider your own view of women and their intelligence.

    First, feminists accused men of imposing the fairy-tale fantasy onto impressionable women’s minds. Then, they accused men of brainwashing women into perpetuating the fairy-tale fantasy. Now, you’re criticizing women for being stimulated by the idea of the fairy-tale fantasy altogether. Yup, you’re JUDGING their fantasy.

    (Of course, the Yale Women’s Center would never judge if your fantasy was, say, lesbian BDSM or menstrual art – those are within the range of feminist sensibilities)

    The point is – maybe young women have the fairy-tale fantasy because it’s something innately feminine. It’s interesting to me that, like dragons and the Campbellian hero, the fairy-tale fantasy of a woman waiting to be rescued is a cross-cultural archetype. Maybe you should not be so quick to dismiss it as an anti-feminist plot device and realize that there’s something deeply appealing about it to countless women around the world.

    Oh by the way – I like that date rape against men is REALLY jut code for date rape against women. Switch to a major that requires conscious thought (goodbye EPE!) and you’ll realize how ridiculous you sound.

  • Yerp

    I agree with all of the comments except #5, which I assume was written by the author.

  • @FailBoat

    I agree that the problem is more than just men vs. women, but I think that’s the point of the article. Definitely in regard to “date rape against men is REALLY just code for date rape against women”–the author critiques people who do that

  • ?!

    Jesus, I can’t believe the victimization that is oozing from this piece. Yes, equalizing gender rights is a great and necessary goal, and I certainly respect the sentiments behind the idea of a Women’s Center. But what the hell ever happened to personal responsibility? Just because the lyrics in question might be distasteful or politically incorrect does not mean that they control our individual consciousnesses. Think that date rape is wrong? Good, me too. So don’t do it. Think that women should be able to be an equally assertive member of any type of romantic encounter? Good, me too. But in any given situation, be it inequality in a relationship or date rape, the blame is not on the music a person listens to, but the person themselves.

    I’m not defending the lyrics per se. I personally would rather live in a politically incorrect and sometimes distasteful world than one that is micro-managed and over-structured. But I do think that this culture of victimization that has developed around the feminist movement is counterproductive.

  • Sam D

    yeah, i pretty much disagree with 90% of this here, but it’s mostly opinion.

    what isn’t opinion–and is simply factually wrong–is in the lead. ke$ha didn’t “sing” at the grammys, she presented. for about two seconds with justin bieber (pairing with him was kind of making a mockery).

    also, i find the message of “blah blah blah” kind of refreshing. it’s nice to hear a woman be able to sing like that. it’s usually a viewpoint you would only hear from a male singer.

  • @7

    Matt M. writes a lot of YDN comments. Maybe it’s miss bordsky but seems unlikely

  • @#5

    Looks like SOMEONE is an aspiring musician who fancies himself “talented,” and is bitter about less “talented” artists like Ke$ha and T.Swift becoming popular.

    News flash: You can be “talented” and still make music that is not enjoyable to listen to.

  • anonymous

    Ke$ha is clearly an empowered women. Why else would she be able to kick men to the curb on a whim unless they look like Mick Jagger? The submetadiscursivity of her work is absolutely staggering in its ability to undermine traditional gender dynamics.

  • @#12

    Case in point, John Mayer!

  • kanye

    a piece that criticizes Taylor? i like it.

  • SY 12

    Very nice piece! Everyone needs to calm down. Her point is good.

    Why is it that every time a girl writes an even vaguely feminist article that people just scream at her?

  • Will You Marry Me Taylor

    Coming from a society where T. Swift’s music and beauty are appreciated. I think the writer’s view are completely sexist. Just because T. Swift can sing and make grown men swoon, doesn’t mean that she is a victim. I would really love for the day that so many people at Yale would quit being victimized, pick themselves up by their bootstraps and cowboy(or girl) up. Life sucks and ain’t fair so quit complaining about it. My little sister listens to T. Swift and I would rather her hear her message than Blame It any day. Just because the author will not get the result of a Love Story, doesn’t mean it don’t happen. I really hope the author doesn’t attack Carrie Underwood next. If you look, prince charming just may come around.

  • YWC ’11

    I agree completely with this piece! It’s also a travesty that we haven’t had more female artists perform at Spring Fling. We could have gotten Lady GaGa – a strong queer-friendly female performer last year, but the committee decided instead to go with NERD who put out misogynistic songs like Lapdance that celebrate violence and objectification of women.

  • Cullen Dyer

    I commend y11 for really getting to the root of this issue in his/her comment (#4).

  • Cara McClellan

    This is an excellent piece. Full of truths we are all to afraid to say ourselves. One need only talk to a pre-teen to realize the validity of what she is saying and recognize the opinions we would voice were we not trained to speak differently about these issues.

  • tee dee one oh

    ke$ha is a dumb dumb. look at my name, its tee dee one oh… isn’t that annoying? it should be TD 10. as her name should be kesha.

  • Will You Marry Me Alexandra

    I think this is a great article. Cullen Dyer, you and y11 ought to bag that misogynistic sentiment. Feminist women too often get called out for “taking themselves too seriously,” when really they should be praised for sticking up for themselves and for equality

  • suprised

    You are one crazy woman. Don’t criticize Taylor Swift for her lyrics or who she is. She may not have good songs, but at least she’s living right. You people who are too worried about gender rights need to spend just as much time thinking about where you will go when you die.

  • @23

    hahahahhahaha good one, that’s such a great impression of a misogynist disguised behind religion! well done!

  • Stanford

    Alexandra really, really doesn’t understand the lyrics. This song is an anthem all right, but it’s not “reverse date rape” it’s just another one of those sex-is-something-men-must-earn-from-women scripts. The theme is really common in female pop music and for whatever reason the message routinely escapes feminist critique… probably because women derive lots and lots of sexual power from being “picky” as is indicated in the hundreds of songs that tout this message.

    A decade ago, TLC’s version smacked young males in the face with the lyric “a scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me.” What’s Ke$ha’s take away from Blah, Blah, Blah? Girls like her only do real men, and real men don’t take it slow or chitchat like girls.

  • prion

    Those uniforms, postures and hairstyles make me think these slobs don’t give a damn about anyone, not even about themselves or their own jobs. What stops them from dressing like respectable upholders of the law?