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.