When Women Kill

Dixie-Chicks

A couple of weeks ago, Chelsea wrote about the proliferation of murder ballads, and their tendency to fetishize, in the narrator’s perspective, the destruction of “something beautiful” – a woman. She was prompted to explore how male musicians like Nick Cave view their female subjects after listening to this response song by Hurray for the Riff Raff:

I want to present a different take on murder ballads, and showcase different types of songs performed by female artists. Two broad categories emerge: in the first, the woman is the killer. In two of the most famous country songs of this type, she kills in response to unrelenting domestic violence with no help in sight from society – but she also kills for revenge. In the second category, the woman sings the story of her own death. Misogyny is pervasive in these stories; they reflect our culture’s lack of value in women and sing stories back to us that very loosely mirror what so many women have faced. If dead women could sing, would Deanna Cook’s song sound like one of these?

Before diving into heavier stuff, there’s a more comedic response to traditional murder ballads that you might remember from its video’s heavy rotation on Country Music Television and other outlets. The Dixie Chicks, now infamous for their criticism of George W. Bush and the subsequent fall from country music grace, survived this controversy before Natalie Merchant’s words in London sparked outrage.

“Goodbye Earl” flips the narrative. Songwriter Dennis Linde weaves a tale of two women that support each other from girlhood to burying Wanda’s abusive husband – who they poisoned black eyed peas. Wanda is portrayed as a victim who seeks a legal solution, but when the law fails to protect her, she and Mary Ann cook up a scheme (literally) to get rid of him and live happily ever after. The women are never caught, unlike the narrator of the quintessential murder ballad, “Delia’s Gone,” who laments his tale to his jailer.

The music video highlights the comedy; a sleazy lawyer and Keystone cops round out the cast of absurd characters, and a dance break at the end features zombified Dennis Franz. Of course, conservative country radio had a problem with it. While the song peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot Country chart, many stationed refused to play it (or at least had it in a very light rotation), and plenty turned to their listeners and asked if they wanted to hear it. Contrast this with “Independence Day,” penned by Gretchen Peters and sung by Martina McBride earlier in the decade: while domestic violence is the catalyst for for both, with neither woman getting help from society, there’s no comedy in Peters’ story.

Some postured that the song sent the wrong message – murder is okay, and taking the law into your own hands is justified. KRTY, a country station in San Jose, California, aired a phone number to a domestic violence hotline each time the song was played.

But “Delia’s Gone,” interpreted by many but most famously performed by Johnny Cash, didn’t face the backlash of Goodbye Earl, and I don’t think it’s because Delia’s killer ended up in prison, while Mary Ann and Wanda walked away scot-free to sell strawberry jam. Cash’s persona was the polar-opposite of the Chicks. He was the Man in Black, a hard-drinking, prison-playing, home-wrecking outsider. The Chicks were pop stars and counted many young girls in their fan base. The refusal to play “Goodbye Earl,” and the questioning of its appropriateness at all, makes one statement: women can’t sing about killing their triflin’ lovers, but men can.

Never mind that “Earl” is entirely fiction and born of black comedy. Never mind that Delia was a real person who was killed at only 14 years old. The thought of female singers altering the story to perpetuate violence themselves is enough to make country station programmers clutch their pearls and worry children will get the wrong idea – that women can fight back.

In other songs, they have. They’ve also perpetrated the violence without any pretense of self-defense. Many fans of “Goodbye Earl” and “Independence Day” may not know of “Murder in the First Degree,” performed by Victoria Spivey in 1927. Like Delia’s killer, she croons from the jailhouse. She tells the judge she killed her cheating man, but she deserves to go free – he is the one who wronged her.

Of course, Victoria Spivey would never be as well-known as her male counterparts, nor would her music be fresh on the minds of country music listeners when another song featuring a killer woman topped the charts twice. Vicki Lawrence first recorded “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and Reba McEntire covered it twenty years later. Tanya Tucker also sang a version, but its lyrics differ from the original. Like Mary Ann and Wanda, the narrator is never caught – her brother is punished for her crime. This murderess counts two victims under her belt, and proudly claims the law will never find the body of her sister-in-law.

Most of these songs were written by men, indicating that even when the overt motivation of the character has nothing to do oppression, the patriarchy is still dictating the plot. In the second type of murder ballad, a man wrote one of the most well-known figurative versions. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” was written by Sonny Bono for Cher, whose version has been eclipsed in the past decades by Nancy Sinatra’s haunting take.

While the singer isn’t shot or strangled or buried in the woods, the imagery deliberately evokes death. At least Mary Ann and Wanda are active participants – here, Cher or Nancy can only react to her baby’s decisions. Florence + The Machine recently recorded a song of this type, and it is much more literal. Unfortunately, it does not subvert any cliches in the way that “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” or “The Body Electric” does. The video even features the faceless killer stepping on Calla lilies – the funeral flower.

I’m appreciative of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s response to murder ballads in “The Body Electric.” This song directly confronts the fetishization Chelsea discussed, without painting her victim as incapable, or a scorned or battered woman seeking revenge. Songwriter Alynda Segarra manages to humanize both the victim and the killer she’s working to do exactly what she sings: settling the score.

I think Segarra’s song also reflects potentially positive shifts in our society. While rates of violence against women are still disturbingly high, and state and federal legislators unrelentingly go after women’s rights, some laws are making it easier for victims to escape, get help, and start their lives over. A California law went into effect this year to allow domestic violence victims to break leases quickly and more easily, and the state recently became the seventh to provide protection for abuse victims from employment discrimination. Seven out of fifty isn’t such a great number, each gain is helpful. Of course, I would be more satisfied if all states had these laws, or if they were implemented nationally more quickly, but I’ll continue to cheer each progressive step.

[You can find Katherine P. Hudson on Twitter.]

Dead Women Tell No Tales

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A few weeks ago I saw Hurray for The Riff Raff in New York City, and one part of the show particularly struck a chord with me. Frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra announced that the song she was about to play off of her new album was a response to “murder ballads,” a disturbing trope in country music where men croon about killing (or, mostly killing women). I ran the gamut of emotions while hearing this, because I hadn’t realized at that point just how often I was expected to identify with the male murderer, instead of the female casualty. (The song she performed, by the way, is called “The Body Electric”.)

Perhaps one of the most prolific and popular purveyors of the murder ballad is Nick Cave, whose work in The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (who actually released an album called Murder Ballads), and Grinderman all have recurring themes of coveting, hating, torturing, and killing women. I don’t mean to suggest that Cave harbors such fantasies, but the premise and appeal of the stories he frequently tells are based in the mistrust and fetishization of the so-called fairer sex. In Cave’s world, women are either beautiful to the point that it drives the narrator mad (and therefore must die), or spiteful whores (who are disposable to begin with).

In the straightforwardly titled “I’m Gonna Kill That Woman,” Cave bemoans “Yeah I did everything I could/ everything I could. Lord Knows I did everything I could” but despite his best intentions, he has to kill his straying partner. The virgin/whore dichotomy is recurring, but interestingly, for Cave, both types of women frequently meet the same result. In “Where the Wild Roses Die,” Cave’s character kills Kylie Minogue with a rock, singing “And I kissed her goodbye/ said ‘all beauty must die.'”

Of course, Nick Cave isn’t really a killer, and his narrator is just a character exploration. When he was asked by Vulture about his depictions of women a few years ago, he was pretty candid about his intentions.

” I get criticized for a lot of what I write about, but as far as I’m concerned I’m actually standing up and having a look at what goes on in the minds of men, and I have the authority to talk about it because I’m a man. Women don’t have the authority because they don’t know what goes on in a man’s head, so largely what they say is kind of irrelevant. My songs and stories and books are character-driven, they talk about the way people are and the way men are and women are. “

Gross.

The pervasiveness of dead women in songs is certainly troubling, and Nick Cave has plenty of company in that particular club. The ubiquity of classic murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl,” which lovingly describes knocking a woman down with a stick until she dies (and has been covered many, many times) suggests that the trope hasn’t slagged in popularity. Eminem’s “Kim” and “97 Bonnie and Clyde” are particularly disturbing because, unlike most murder ballads, his victim (his wife at the time) has a face. Other than that, there’s Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” The Rolling Stones “Midnight Rambler,” “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes, Hüsker Dü’s “Diane,” and so many more.

Why, exactly, is killing women such a common subject manner? My best guess is that it’s because it’s an easy way to characterize the narrator of the story (the man, the killer, the beast) as troubled, evil, or psychotic. In these songs the methods of their murder and disposal of the bodies are more fantastically described than the woman, with the exception of her being beautiful. These men describe the troubled (and disturbingly, sympathetic) monsters that they are by the destruction of beauty that is personified in a woman. Look at this pretty thing I killed, look at how unredeemable I am.

Besides the fetishization of feminine death, murder ballads are troubling because, once again, women are a means to an end. The story isn’t that a woman died (she’s disposable), but that a man was driven to kill.

It’s Hard Out Here For Lily Allen

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In 2008 Katy Perry described herself as a “thinner version of Lily Allen,” a peculiar jab that turned out to be an amalgamation of what caused Allen’s rage at the music industry. In her earlier years with the release of Alright, Still, Allen’s weight and “unconventionality” were talking points (and in some cases, selling points) to an extent that when she lost weight around the time of her follow-up album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, she sarcastically swiped back on her hit “The Fear” with “Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner.”

Allen has always been acutely aware of the shelf-life of women in the music industry, a beauty and youth based package that, inevitably, would leave her behind. In “22,” Allen relates this to non-singers, a catchy pop tune bemoaning the plight of an aging woman. (“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.”) It almost seemed like Lily Allen had taken this to heart and was going to retire from music for good, until the announcement earlier this year that she was working on her third album.

And lo, it’s “Hard Out Here” for a bitch.

In Lily Allen’s New Video Probably Went Over Your Head, Kathy Iandoli summarizes the difficulties of Allen’s life following her departure from music:

The years that followed for Lily Allen were pretty brutal. She miscarried more than once, met with tweets from “fans” who said things like “I’m glad your baby died” and other pleasantries. When she finally gave birth (twice), she was called fat a number of times and accused of “falling off.” She changed her name to her married name, Lily Rose Cooper, and was called a kept woman. So she brought it back to the née status and was accused of going through another divorce. It truly is hard out here for a bitch.

The “Hard Out Here” video, a satirical pop culture send-up of music industry misogyny, begins with her manager bemoaning her post-baby weight gain, until a newly-liposucked Allen makes a comeback of sorts in a cartoonishly over-the-top music video. Besides the obvious swipes at Robyn Thicke with lines like “who will tear your butt in two” and the glorious balloon display of “LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY,” the majority of the video satirizes the self-objectification of young singers, notably Miley Cyrus.

I’ve said this about Miley before, but her sexually liberated front is really a carefully calculated appeal to the most basic straight male fantasies, and I couldn’t help but think of that when Allen’s manager tries to teach her how to twerk in the “Hard Out Here” video. The twerking, along with the white woman (Allen) objectifying her women of color dancers in order to assert her dominant sexuality, seems pretty familiar to anyone who has seen or read anything about Miley Cyrus in the past year. This is an interesting point on Allen’s part, but the execution is very flawed.

Allen’s got a bit of her own internalized misogyny that she’s dealing with, notably in the lines “I don’t need to shake my ass for you because I’ve got a brain,” which I’m sure the many brilliant ass-shakers of the world take issue with. The idea that overt sexuality and liberation are mutually exclusive is just flat-out wrong, and I would counter that with Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video.

Allen’s use of women of color backup dancers as a Miley slam mostly ends up feeling awkwardly racist. The close-up shots of butts twerking and bottles popping aren’t something that Miley invented (duh), and in fact, it’s her appropriation of those signifiers that got people talking about Miley to begin with. There’s a lot to critique about how young women singers are marketed, and at points Allen is spot on (The part where she makes a dancer pose for Polaroids, a la Terry Richardson, is fucking brilliant), but at some point she ends up perpetuating sexist views of what, exactly, makes a woman empowered.

Work, Bitch: The Increasingly ‘Gay-Friendly’ Marketing of Pop Stars

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[Guest Post by Michelle Ofiwe. Read more from her at The Doorknocker]

Like most of her career post 2009, Britney Spears’ newest single “Work Bitch” has the Internet fumbling to make up its mind. The four minute collision of disco beats and autotune has been swirling around in the whirlwind of media blogs, pop culture commentators and less-than-psyched fans. Somewhere underneath Spears’ candied British accent, you can hear the ambiguousness of millions of fans hoping for some small semblance of a comeback across the varied, scary space of the Internet.

In the aftermath of its release, the single has drawn some criticism over its thinly veiled attempt at “gay marketing,”—a term that not-so-neatly refers to the hunt for the hundreds upon thousands of (sometimes corporate, sometimes not) dollars squirreled away in the pockets of the elite of the queer community. The most interesting criticism yet comes from queer rapper Mykki Blanco:

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To be honest, Blanco isn’t mistaken. Spears’ single features bumping house beats, chic references to the slang of New York’s ball culture (the title alone is a reference to RuPaul, one of the more recognizable members of the LGBTQ community. This has spawned rumors about a potential vocal feature from the diva herself), and chants to “work! work! work!” among other cultural signifiers. Spears’ sings about parties in France and the life of luxury that awaits you if you’d just “work, bitch!” In a way, it strikes a huge resemblance to the glam-cheesy music of drag culture, complete with a bassline and plenty of inspirational sass. At first glance, Spears’ single doesn’t seem very culture-vulture(ish) because such signifiers have phased into the mainstream with the help of networks like LogoTV and shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, which draws in straight and queer viewers alike.  A track like “Work Bitch!” is just another recognition of the queer community (specifically, gay men as the originators of the slang and the culture) consumers within a market.

Yet, one of the main avenues to tap into this market is limited to things like the “gay marketing” Blanco describes above. In the midst of Spears’ track, vodka banners at Pride parades and “gay districts,” is the idea that the connection to the community must come from a celebration of one’s sexual identity. The “design to keep [gay men] rolling on ecstasy till 6am” is a problematic but lucrative venture hell-bent on sneaking its way into gay clubs, where LGBTQ socialization and unionization is considered to occur the most. Play a song in the club and maybe someone somewhere won’t think you (or your artist) is a homophobe or otherwise intolerant to the “gay lifestyle,” and you  might just make a profit. If it seems shallow, it’s because it is, and because certain ideas and tenements central to the queer community has changed.

Gay marketing is a thing because some recognize their own buying power. Take, for example, queer/sex columnist Dan Savage’s extremely popular boycott of Russian vodka in protest of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ policies. Although the “movement” has been proven to have little to no effect on Russia’s economy or its LGBTQ community, it is perhaps one of the biggest displays of the buying power of gay, white men and a sharp divide from the older days of radical protests within the community as a whole.

Historically, politics’ intersections with class are not new, but buying power has an interesting background when it comes to extending the political reach of otherwise marginalized communities. Money has also been an effective way to relate a message to a particular mainstream group or oppressor, whether by boycotts or “buycotts.”  Thus, it’s no coincidence that the dollar votes of gay white males are having a huge effect on the representation outside and within the community and especially within the media. The recent strides in queer representation in media (Modern Family, Glee) and their subsequent popularity is a huge example of how a little “gay” goes a long way. The music industry is taking notice.

Spears’ single exists because of this shift in economic power, and because of the unbalanced buying power within the queer community that puts the direction of its issues, ideals, likes/wants/needs in the hands of gay, white (rich) men. It is possible that queers of color may enjoy Spears’ single, but Spears’ main target is, of course, those with the money to buy her single, spin her hits and show up to her concerts. They are the queers who have made enough money to shimmy up next to her in a party in France and scream the slang of young Black and Latino queers in the hood. For all intents and purposes, they are the queers who have “worked.”

The other important shift that makes Spears’ single possible is a racial one. The appropriation of the styles, language and even the music generated and popularized among young, poor queers of color has slowly infiltrated the consciousness of white queers—specifically white gay men—through either the media or just organically. Because gay, white males get to behave as a link between straight people (and the media they produce) and queer community, and simultaneously as the source of all pop culture related to the community, then it’ll be easy to understand how Britney Spears’ might find her way to the slang she throws out so easily on the track. As it stands, most of the queer community benefits from the ball culture and other subcultures created and inhabited by these queers of color who very rarely find themselves in the same spotlight or with the same credit as Spears’ does.

Spears is not the only pop diva guilty of this, of course, and Blanco’s claim can be made about many popular female artists whose fanbases include gay men or queers in general. “Work Bitch” is another notch in what can very much be termed as “gay marketing,” but the ideas and game plan that make it possible have been in effect for many years, and will likely be for many years after. What we need to consider is both the strength and the direction of the new buying power of the queer community, and what message such money is being funneled into.

Baby Don’t Cry (Don’t You Want an Ally?)

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[Trigger Warning for rape]

The controversy a month ago about “On Fraternity,” a new song James Brooks (formerly Elite Gymnastics) released under the moniker Dead Girlfriends, took Brooks by surprise, probably both because he was painfully naive about how his song would be interpreted (especially in conjunction with the name “Dead Girlfriends,” which comes from a quote by the feminist Andrea Dworkin), and also that he wasn’t expecting criticism from the feminist community that he wants to be a part of. Before Brooks unleashed a series of annoyed posts on Tumblr correcting the narrative, “On Fraternity” was regarded as a song about women fearing sexual assault, specifically because of the line “In their opinion you were always kind of asking for it, all along.”

The posts by The Remix Baby and Spin calling Brooks out could be seen as a sort of long-coming backlash against how male musicians handle sexual assault in their lyrics. With the prevalence of thinly-veiled rape fantasies in modern music and movies (this is something that really seems to get worse with time, instead of better), the idea that we should be grateful for any sort of recognition takes precedence. This mindset is patronizing at best, and legitimately harmful at its worst. The problem with tackling rape is that, even though it happens to both men and women, it’s laughable to say that the average man has the same experience with gendered and sexualized violence as the average woman.

A mostly glossed-over track on DELS’s 2011 album Gob, “Droogs,” is a graphic tale of the rape of a young girl. “She can’t fly because her confidence cape is gone” DELS laments, as he goes on to describe how her life has been spoiled.

On the surface level it’s a sad song about a common tragedy, but the element of voyeurism is palpable. There’s something to be said about entertainment value, about how rape and sexual assault are an easy trope to get listeners to feel a grief (or worse, titillation) that diminishes the experience for those that have encountered it. From the gruesome rape-revenge film I Spit on Your Grave to Aerosmith’s cornball “Janie’s Got a Gun,” the gut-wrenching auto-response of morbid fascination makes light of what nearly one in every four women will encounter. While “Droogs” might seem to speak with more gravity, DELS detachment speaks volumes: this is a sad story. This is real, but not real for me.

Fugazi’s “Suggestion” is often held up as a model example about how men should write about sexual assault, taking the perspective of both the woman (“Why can’t I walk down a street free of suggestion?”) and, more powerfully in this case, the male onlooker (“We blame her for being there, but we’re all here. We’re all guilty”).

Much like 2Pac’s “Baby Don’t Cry” (“Sheddin’ quiet tears in the back seat, so when she asked me,”What would you do if it was you?” Couldn’t answer such a horrible pain to live through”), “Suggestion” acknowledges a lack of understanding men have with the realities of sexual assault. Both songs give prominence to the feelings of women, and the culpability that men have in using their lack of experience with gendered attacks to explain away their continued silence.

Even better, though, are the songs by the women themselves. Tori Amos’ “Me and a Gun” is an a cappella heartbreak, a modified (she was attacked with a knife, not a gun) account of her trauma before she became famous (And later, a spokesperson for RAINN). Contrast the solipsistic ‘this-poor-girls-life-is-over’ of “Droogs” with Amos’s line “I haven’t seen Barbados,” and the narrative changes, even though the songs are purportedly about the same thing.

Similarly, Angel Haze’s “Cleaning out My Closet” is just as graphic and horrifying as any rape revenge film, but there is no voyeuristic pleasure to be had here. “Disgusting right? Now let that feeling ring from your guts” says Haze as she gives a detailed account of her repeated childhood rape. It’s shocking because it’s the uncomfortable truth, not a sterilized-yet intoxicating third-person account that acts as a stimulant for easy emotional response.

Last month Pitchfork praised “On Fraternity” by (formerly) Dead Girlfriends as being “ideal in 2013– a white male artist with a direct feminist message that can speak freely with anyone, that will get under your skin if it’s not already there in less poetic terms.” The words that stick out are “speak freely,” because, in Pitchfork’s review they (intentionally? Not sure) acknowledge that Brooks’ words will be given more gravity because he is a white man.

Women have been speaking just as freely. It’s just unclear who is listening.

Blurred Lines of Consent

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I’ve been reading what I can about Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines”, and part of why I feel the need to put my two cents in is because I actually really like the song. It’s fun and catchy and I always turn up the volume to yell “YOU DA HOTTEST BITCH IN THIS PLACE.” But my enjoyment of it doesn’t really negate the fact that it’s sketchy, to put it nicely.

The video isn’t really worth my time discussing because it seems like it’s mostly calculated view-bait. Videos that are banned from YouTube are typically part of the marketing strategy, a sort of salacious invitation that most (including myself) can’t resist. But when you actually watch it, it’s mostly topless models cavorting. Not too interesting, except at some parts their hair isn’t covering their breasts. (“Like a stupid fashion magazine, right?” -Bob’s Burgers)

The fact that the song is called “Blurred Lines” itself is just so ooomph. “I know you want it” itself isn’t too bad, because the song kind of implies that he’s talking to a girl who’s too shy or too much of a “good girl” to express her sexual desires. But if the lines are blurred, how do you know she wants it?

(videos is NSFW)

I remember a few think pieces about consent in R&B and I think that that’s an important thing to talk about, as long as it doesn’t blame R&B for the rape culture that makes the problems in this song go relatively unnoticed. Problems in the genre are actually problems in music and the culture at large, which is why when Two Door Cinema Club uses one of the most misogynistic album covers that I’ve seen in a long time, it’s not an indictment on all babyfaced Irish dweebs. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we shouldn’t be talking about “Blurred Lines”, Miguel’s hugely creepy “How Many Drinks?”, or the Weeknd’s lyrics that verge on date rape. But that’s a small part of a bigger picture, and R&B is actually packed with women right now who are singing not only about consensual sex, but female enjoyment and revelation in it.

Right now you can’t turn on a hip-hop station without hearing Kelly Rowland’s “Kisses Down Low” or Ciara’s “Body Party”. “Kisses Down Low” is one of the few songs in recent memory that is instructive about cunnilingus (meaning the lady is describing how she wants it MUCH LIKE A MAN WOULD DO), and “Body Party” is so enthusiastically consensual (“You can’t keep your hands off me” followed by “I can’t keep my hands of you”) that Ciara cast her current partner, Future, in the video.

A few years back Latoya Peterson was interviewed by Spin about the supposed maturation of hip-hop with the moral decline of R&B, and she had some pretty interesting things to say about how music isn’t catered to women.

“Generally speaking, pop culture is not interested in the desires of women. Every industry has this problem. There’s no Bechdel Test for records, but generally what women are doing isn’t considered noteworthy unless it’s tailored for male consumption. Trey Songz may get to be eye candy and Kanye gets to have a few reflective moments, but that doesn’t mean society suddenly has started caring more about what women want.”

He might “know you want it” but Robin Thicke’s type of leering, gauche fantasy of a woman who is too shy to voice her desire (or even worse, doesn’t desire it at all), is very far from this world where women write and control their own narratives.

Banned Love

I’m calling this post “banned love” because this video was insta-banned from YouTube (to be fair, unsurprisingly), but itis thoroughly NSFW NSFW NSFW NSFW so if you are in a public space I suggest you bookmark the video and watch it when you’re away from eyeballs that don’t belong to you.

“Mindfuck” is the first single released from Brooklyn R&B artist Ian Isiah’s upcoming LP, and the video is certainly a mindfuck if gender normativity is something that’s really important to you (Not a Neophyte is firmly in the “roll your own” category when it comes to gender, for what it’s worth). The video is overtly sexual, watching two lovers engage in extremely intimate moments – so much so that it almost feels invasive on the part of the viewer.

Ian Isiah is bejeweled and wearing false eyelashes on a bed with a sheer canopy, getting close with boychild, a gender non-conforming performance artist. boychild’s gender identity is purposely and famously ambiguous, but Isiah appropriates feminine signifiers (like the jewelery and makeup) to muddy his own as well. The result is what could be your typical love scene in a romance movie, with the exception that the roles of man and woman (or man and man/ woman and woman) are indefinable.

Sex as “Sacrilege”

I woke up this morning to the gut-punch that was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ new video for their song “Sacrilege.”

The non-linear storyline starts with a woman (British model Lily Cole) being burned with a lover while the town watches. The story rewinds and we see the capture of this man (a preacher) by the townspeople, moving back even further to show the woman having sexual relationships with the people in the town one by one, until it ends (or rather, begins) at a wedding in a church, officiated by the same preacher that she was burned with.

The hypocrisy of the townspeople for punishing the woman for something that they themselves were complicit in is a critique of small-town Christian values. She is punished in the same way that “witches” were in the past by being burned alive, a result of religious condemnation and vindictiveness. The final straw for the townspeople was the sexual relationship with the preacher, a Scarlet Letter relationship that ruins both of them.

What’s interesting is that this video isn’t about the relationship between the woman and the preacher, but the woman and the townspeople – shifting the narrative from religious purity in the context of the preacher being brought down by a woman – into something much more poignant. It isn’t about infidelity or star-crossed lovers, but the ownership and control that the townspeople felt that they had over the woman. She is a possession, passed between them until they feel it’s necessary to discard her– using the preacher as an excuse. Woman-as-commodity is heavily tied into more fundamental aspects of Christianity, and the relationship between a woman’s sexuality and who possesses that woman is central to the video. Purity in women is valued on the surface, but the relationships the townspeople develop with the woman show that they have a different standard when it has the potential to benefit them. Nobody lives up to the idealized standard because everyone is sinning, yet the woman (and the preacher by association) are the only ones to pay the price.

Sex-as-sin casts the woman as the temptress, responsible not only for her own purity but of the men (and other women) around her, and when she fails she is punished. The inevitability of that failure is not closely addressed in the video , but slut-shaming as a hypocritical and gendered concept is. I’m a fan about how this video combines guilt and the feelings of entitlement that the townspeople have about the woman. As a sign of their own sins she must be eradicated, but even more than that, the fact that she cannot be possessed troubles them. With her value being so closely tied to who owns her, she becomes damaged goods – therefore discardable.

Identity and Agency of Gay Rappers

Shoutout to Le1f’s Twitter account for bringing my attention to a somewhat troubling occurrence. The rapper took issue with the way his music is covered, particularly the focus on his sexual identity when that might not always be relevant.

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le1f1

It reminded me of a tweet he posted a while back (which appears to have been deleted) about how not every dance he does is voguing, despite how it’s framed. For music writers to label that incorrectly reads as though they have little desire to understand the culture that they’re covering, especially since voguing has such a well-documented history. Misrepresentation of what that entails in order to cram as many gay references into an article about a gay artist is a means of erasure of experiences.

As far as identity goes, there’s an uncomfortably thin line between acknowledging an artist’s contributions to breaking down barriers, and using that identity as a novelty. Le1f is clearly not down with his sexuality being at the forefront of every conversation, and that’s a very valid way to feel, especially considering how fond music writers are of pinpointing trends (Le1f, Zebra Katz, Mykki Blanco, and Cakes da Killa are often grouped together by virtue of being gay rappers who live in New York). For publicly identifying as gay, Le1f does not have the benefit of divorcing himself from his sexual identity, and that informs how even innocuous verses (like those about playing Pokemon on the 1train) are perceived.

This is not to discount the importance of representation of gay artists in music (although there is something to be said about the particular kind of hand-wringing that comes with covering a gay rapper), but to point out the lack of agency in the the way gay artists, and gay rappers in particular, are framed.

Mixtape: Me First- Songs about Female Sexual Pleasure

It wasn’t until I was listening to Kelly Rowland’s “Kisses Down Low” the other day that I thought about all of the songs where women sing about getting theirs (THAT *OTHER* C WORD). There isn’t exactly a shortage of songs about cunnilingus, but there aren’t really boatloads of them either. I didn’t really stick to the theme of strictly going down, but it’s a pretty decent mix of ladies coming first (If you exclude Lily Allen’s “Not Fair,” which is exactly the opposite).

Me First- Songs of Female Sexual Pleasure by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

[UPDATE]

I just finished making the CD version

mefirstcd

Tracklist:
1. Kisses Down Low – Kelly Rowland
2. Give it to Me Right – Melanie Fiona
3. Play – Goapele
4. Ladies Night (Not Tonight Remix) – Lil’ Kim
5. Downtown – SWV
6. You Know You Like It (Raffertie Remix) – Alunageorge
7. Twist – Goldfrapp
8. Stroitel – Cheese People
9. Not Fair – Lily Allen
10. Luv Cruisin – Making Friendz
11. I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked – Ida Maria

It’s going out to my friend Shelby. If you want to request a mix go to this form right here.