So Love Songs Are Less About Women and More About Men

On my drive home from college, I found myself tapping on the steering wheel to various songs on the radio.  As one song ended, I quickly scanned to the next station for another.  By the time I got home, approximately two hours and thirty minutes, I had lost count of how many love songs that were played; perhaps being that I was never good at remembering lesser things anyway.  Songs about love and women make it to mainstream media every day and are consumed by people of all ages throughout the country. Yet, how much of these songs are actually reflecting the proper image of what women should feel comfortable as?  I am no expert on that topic nor do I have the perfect answer to give you; however, I do find that some of those songs can be misleading, especially when you factor in their music videos.

When I got back to campus, I did a little digging to educate myself about a few songs that I have heard on the radio.  As I was listening to these music videos, a few of my buddies were glancing over my shoulder screaming “nipples” at the top of their lungs; thus, I decided to ask them a few questions.  This little incident lead me wanting to ask a few more people about their thoughts on how pop artists are portraying women through songs lyrics and music videos.  The music videos that I chose were Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision”, Bruno Mar’s “Treasure”, and Ne-yo’s “Miss Independent”.  So I loaded up those music videos on my smart phone and started approaching individuals around the area.  The conversations that we had were informal.  I asked them to watch the music videos and prose a few questions.  I told them that I would like to use our conversations in an article that I am writing; I won’t use their name since most of my small talks ended up becoming group conversations.  Thus, I will represent the majority of them as a single idea and perspective.  However, there were two individuals who did stand out on their own; I will be giving them different names going by Joe and Jane.

I first showed them Timberlake’s music video.  In this video, a fully dressed Timberlake dances and sings by himself in a gray room while a few completely naked women in various poses were shown in different scenes inside a dark room with fog and lighting. The lyric is about having tunnel vision for a single woman, with lines like “everything I see is beautiful ’cause all I see is you”.  Most of the people I interviewed had never heard of the song and none of them had seen the music video, and I wouldn’t blame them. This song hit mainstream media at about the same time Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” did, and because of the attention that Thicke was getting, “Tunnel Vision” went under the radar.  After a few minutes into the video with a little bit of chuckling in between, I pop the question: how does this music video portray women’s image?  They all said that it is slightly awkward, especially since we are watching this in public and in the afternoon.  Once the conversations got more serious, the topic became about the naked women.  They agreed that it is an art form; Jane said the reason being that it looked like a form of art is because the naked women are in a separate room by themselves, without a lot of lighting.  They are not completely wrong, Rachel Grate’s from Miss Representation posted an article titled “Timberlake, Thicke And The Media’s “Tunnel Vision””mention that critics said the same thing.  However, Grate said that the portrayal of women in Timberlake’s video as artist is not a good enough excuse and also making a reference to Elizabeth Plank’s “A Feminist Takedown of Robin Thicke and Anyone Who Thinks There’s Something Blurry About Sexism,” stating that though Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” objectified women, some viewers of Thicke’s video claim that this is art as well (Grate)!

So in order to make a point, I showed my audience “Blurred lines”.  Right away, their disgust for the video was visibly apparent.  When we talked about what made them feel that way, the finger was pointed at the nude women.  When asked how were the women in this video different from the ones in Timberlake’s, Jane said the women were more confrontational with the men.  She also said that there is a difference between being sexy and being trashy. Then Joe mentioned that the real problem with both videos is the presences that the males have over the female.  They are like props to the males, they are both being objectified, and that the music videos don’t agree with the lyrics; especially Timberlake’s song, since it seems to be about one woman and having “tunnel vision” for her.  So the lyric is fine in Timberlake’s song, it is his video that seem to draw the attention.  How about Bruno Mars?

When I show them Mars’ music video, they weren’t expecting it to turn out fine, especially after the conversation that we have just had.  A few of them mentioned the woman in the music video, but doesn’t have a strong follow-up.  They said that she is being objectified; yet she seems to be the one in charge and in the center of attention. No, the part that is actually troublesome is in the lyrics, which serves as a good contrast to “Tunnel Vision” where the problem is not the lyrics but the music video.  So what’s wrong with the lyrics?  From, Allison Tetreault blogged “Criticism of “Treasure” by Bruno Mars: Let Me Tell You Who You Are”. The article walked her readers step by step on some of the lyrics that bothered her.  Just like the boy band One Direction, Mars’ lyrics inserted a strong masculine projection of women imagery with lines like “I know you don’t know it, but you’re fine…” stating that the women he is singing to don’t think that they are “fine”, but that he has the power to determine whatever or not she is (Tetreault).  Our discussion didn’t last long on this one, partly because everyone just mutually agreed on the conversation that we were having.

Ne-yo’s music video, however, was a slightly different story.  Unlike the first few videos that I have shown them, “Miss Independent” was from five years ago.  They also know the song quite well and understood the meaning within the lyrics.  After we had watched the video, the only few comments were on the fact that there are a lot of girls in the music video and nothing more.  That is because Ne-yo have been a known advocate towards “independent” and strong women and everyone, except for Jane, had known this.  But if one were to look more subtly at the chain of actions that Ne-yo took in the music video, one would notice that it doesn’t live up to the standards that he had set for himself.  Karen Tongson of MediaCommons wrote an article titled “Miss Independent, or Between Women – Reconsidered”to put emphasis on how the narrative in the music video presented Ne-yo as a “well-heeled exec surrounded by an alluring all-female staff”; it felt like the power is centered around Ne-yo and not the women, that even though there were scenes where the women turn down his approaches, he just simply hopped from one women to the next (Tongson).  Joe mentioned that the problem with the video is once again the male presence, and he is correct.  Tongson noted in her article the Rin on the Rox cover of “Miss Independent”, and in this cover are two girls singing to each other beautiful lines from the song; lines like “Ohh there’s something about/kinda of woman that can do for herself”.  Once, you eliminate the presence of the masculine figure, the song comes out to be much more empowering for women.  In our conversations, we carried this idea over to the earlier songs and talked about if it would make a difference if the singers were women and why certain songs that were this empowering had such disappointing music videos?  We also went back and talked about how the problem was actually not the nude women but the men in power.

Joe and Jane have some notable comments on a solution.  Joe said that the problem is the institution and that it is misogynistic.  At the same time, Jane pointed her finger toward the consumers.  They are both correct; we must first look away from the misdirections of the institution that desensitized us of inequality.  Then we the consumers have to educate ourselves and become more aware of the product that we are consuming, like eating healthy, we just have to learn and watch what we eat.

As I conclude, I want to mention that the people I conversed with are all Hmong students currently attending college. I kept their ethnicity hidden until the end so that I can “whiten” them throughout the article; an attempt to eliminate racial bias on the reader’s end. I want to show that gender inequality do not have a racial standard and that education is important when it comes down to noticing this social issues. Jane studied literature as a minor and is especially interested in women’s rights while Joe, on the other hand, is majoring in social justice; their education have played a role in their contribution to the conversation. I’ve talked to a total of eight students intentionally, with about ten more whom wondered in and out of conversations.  I ended my discussion by talking about women’s images in popular media as well as the medias produced by Hmong people.  We realized that we are still a long way behind the path of gender equality, however, by consuming right and developing sensitivity for social injustice, there may be less of a demand for music videos like “Blurred Lines”.

Works Cited

“Blurred Lines (Unrated Version).” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

“Bruno Mars – Treasure [Official Music Video].” YouTube. YouTube, 14 June 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

Grate, Rachel. “Timberlake Thicke and the Medias Tunnel Vision Comments.” Miss Representation. Miss Representation, 29 July 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

“Justin Timberlake – Tunnel Vision (Explicit).” YouTube. YouTube, 03 July 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

“Ne-Yo – Miss Independent.” YouTube. YouTube, 13 Dec. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Plank, Elizabeth. “A Feminist Takedown of Robin Thicke, And Anyone Who Thinks There’s Something “Blurry” About Sexism.” PolicyMic. PolicyMic, 24 July 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.

Tetreault, Allison. “Criticism of “Treasure” by Bruno Mars: Let Me Tell You Who You Are.” Actually Allie. WordPress, 17 July 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

Tongson, Karen. “Miss Independent, or Between Women – Reconsidered.” MediaCommons. New York University, 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.



Comments are closed.