Sensual dancing and sexual innuendo are nothing out of the ordinary for the music scene. But 2014 saw the heights of popularity or female rappers, such as Nicki Minaj, in an otherwise predominantly male field. Yet despite the increased popularity of female artists the amount of sexualized and sexist content has not decreased.
The male–centric popular rap songs of late, such as Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen show some explicitly sexist and sexual lyrics with for instance: “Introduced her to my stove” and “I swear I love her how she works the damn pole.”
Other songs go even further. T-Wayne’s Nasty Freestyle peaked at number 9 on the U.S. billboard top 100 with lyrics such as “let your bitch ride on me” and “if the pussy ain’t good then I probably won’t feed her.”
Minaj’s work, though she’s a woman, sticks to the formula that works for her male colleagues. Her popular song Anaconda, besides containing a chorus saying nothing but “Oh my gosh, look at her butt,” is filled with sexually charged dance.
Almost half of the scenes in music videos contain sexualizing messages, according to research by the University of Leuven. They base this on research done on Belgian television that analyzes occurrences of sexually provocative dancing or the highlighting of female shapes in music videos.
In the Netherlands the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science financed research into sexualization and its influence. Both the Dutch and Belgian research projects concluded with a note of worry as they speculate on the effects of sexualization on children. They address the possibility of children being raised in acceptance of sexist behavior and objectification of women, but admit a lack of causality between sexualized music and acceptance as such.
This is partially because the sexual explicitness is both ingrained in audio and video. The contents of music videos portray a variety of sexually charged imagery. This can partially be explained by the male gaze theory, a concept introduced by Laura Mulvey during second-wave feminism in the 70s. This theory originally referred to the film industry by explaining that women are objectified due to men being in control of the camera. Now, even with a female being the lead artist, the production is still in the hands of men, possibly explaining the continued focus on sexuality.
Rapper for Flowëtisch, a rap group from Groningen, Luke Balding has a different opinion about the current situation: “I find that it doesn’t really matter what images are produced with music.” On the topic of sexualization in music videos he says: “If that image is something people want … and other people want to hear, so be it.” According to him the same goes for videos because these are made for various reasons and “are not something that you should make accountable for the vision it portrays.”
But in the U.S. research concluded that students who watched sexualized videos were more likely to have adversarial opinions about sex than others. Their findings back up the notes of worry pointed out by the Belgian and Dutch researchers as the research in the U.S. found that people who watched sexually objectifying videos were more likely to have adversarial opinions about sex than others. But Luke has more trust in people: “Most people know there is a lot wrong in lyrics.
Right now the climate is changing again, altering the message and visuals of music. New female rappers such as Lizzo are promoted as taking back power, taking steps back from the stereotypical hypersexualized images and instead taking approaches of empowerment. Not adhering to the typical ideals of beauty and sexuality, her songs such as Faded carry the new message of empowerment, rather than the sexualization female artists previously portrayed more commonly, as U.S. researchers found that 71,7% of female artists were sexualized in their videos and music.
The amount of sexualized content in music as such is undeniably large, but popular music is fleeting and goes with the trends. A slow counter motion is happening, but for now, sex sells.
By Jeroen de Vries