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“For all the Southside niggas that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that b**** famous (goddamn) I made that bitch famous. For all the girls that got d*** from Kanye West, if you see ‘em in the streets, give them Kanye’s best. Why? They mad they ain’t famous (goddamn). They mad they still nameless.” I get goosebumps every time I hear these lines from Kanye West’s 2016 hit single “Famous”. In the first half, he refers to an altercation with Swift in 2009, during which he hijacked an award being given to her and stated that Beyoncé deserved it more. Here, he suggests that it was this event that made the country singer a household name.
But Swift was famous years before Kanye West embarrassed her on stage. At 14, her father relocated to Nashville so she could sign with a new independent label called Big Machine Records and achieve her dream of becoming a country singer. At 17, in 2006, she released her first album Taylor Swift, which put her on the map. It was rated in the top 10 of the Billboards 200. The fame only increased with her second album, Fearless, until Taylor Swift became a household name.
It’s very popular, in pop culture, to have men negate the hard work and work ethic of women both in their songs and off-stage. From calling them “b****es” to objectifying them to promoting assault to normalizing rape culture. In Eminem and Kendrick Lamar’s Love Game, the lyrics go: “Snatch that b**** out her car through the window, she screamin’; I body slam her onto the cement until the cement gave and created a sinkhole”, narrating an encounter in which he assaulted a woman. In another instance, Rocko, Rick Ross and Future’s U.O.E.N.Ohave the lines: “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it; I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”, encouraging rape culture. There are many similar and even arguably worse lyrics – from Snoop Dogg’s Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None) to Eminem’s So Much Better to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.
But women have started reclaiming the derogatory terms and redefining them for themselves and the world. When Megan Thee Stallion was asked the inspiration behind her song Tho Shit, she said: “I’m really just talking shit and taking ownership of the words ‘thot’ and ‘hoe’ because they’re not the drag the men think it is when trying to come at women for doing them. Thot Shit is a song that celebrates women unapologetically enjoying themselves, doing whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of what the critics have to say.” Years ago, Amber rose started SlutWalk, a protest aimed at bringing an end to slut-shaming and rape culture. Some years later, when asked about the achievements of the initiative, she said: “A lot of men are learning exactly what consent is. My SlutWalk is really inclusive, so we don’t leave anyone out. The LGBTQ community, non-binary, transgender, women, men, all walks of life, it doesn’t matter where you come from. We’re just spreading awareness and I think that whether being sexually assaulted or slut-shamed, women in general, we’re just not taking it anymore.”
People are becoming more and more conscious of sexism and misogyny and because of this, artists are infusing feminism into their art. In recent songs, many artists are uplifting women, reclaiming terms and emphasizing the all-too-popular saying “my body, my choice.” In Megan Thee Stallion’s Hot Girl Summer, she said: “Handle me? (huh) Who’s gon’ handle me? (who?) Thinking he’s a player, he’s a member of the team. He put in all that work, he wanna be the MVP (boy, bye). I told him ain’t no taming me. I love my niggas equally.” In another example, Dua Lipa’s New Rules emphasize three rules: “One: Don’t pick up the phone. You know he’s only callin’ ‘cause he’s drunk and alone; two: Don’t let him in. You have to kick him out again; Three: Don’t be his friend. You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the mornin’. And if you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him.”
While these and many more songs are challenging gender roles and norms, they are just one in a million. Even in 2020, we have songs like Rosalie and Travis Scott’s TKN, which says: “She got hips I gotta grip for (yeah); A lot of ass, don’t need to have more; I know it’s sweet, I like that.” In 2021, Nigerian Rema released the song Bounce, which sexually objectified a woman’s backside: “Girl I’m in love with your booty bounce […] You so fine I wanna lick you like a lolly; This your yansh e dey very very soggy; I no go lie e dey make my thing dey solid […] Your booty dey make man love all of a sudden; Baby girl, no go play me like Woody […] When I weigh the thing; E weigh one thousand pounds; Girl, this night; We dey go like seven rounds.” Even with all the awareness about women empowerment, we still have artists sexually objectifying women through their lyrics.
But if songs can be used to degrade women, then they can also be used to empower because language has the power to change our perception of a thing or a people. If instead of calling women b****es and boasting about sexual encounters with women, men were rapping about the timeworn traditions of misogyny as they do racism, maybe the world’s perception of black women might change. What if our art ‘spoke’ against misogyny instead of entertaining it? Music has a huge influence on the youth today and like Uncle Ben told Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”