Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

New releases need to pull it back

Courtesy Garfield

This is a great month for new music. Rihanna’s new album “Loud” came out on Nov. 12, and on Monday, new albums from Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha will be officially released. Justin Beiber also has a new CD coming out Monday, but I haven’t listened to that one. While my taste in music has strayed into pop and away from elitist-indie-whatever, I’ve refrained from becoming a 14-year-old girl.

These four new albums are all pretty excellent. Catchy and refreshingly mature, they represent a very interesting time in well-crafted, socially-conscious pop music. Okay, maybe mature and socially-conscious are not appropriate descriptive terms for Ke$ha, but everybody else is doing pretty well.

Yet, each of these artists has included language and themes in their music that make me cringe, and wish they’d just thought a bit harder about what they’re putting into the mainstream – or maybe just fought harder against some record executive insisting upon it.

Ke$ha is the easiest to pick on. On the first track, “Cannibal,” she mentions something about “pulling a Jeffery Dahmer.” To be honest, when I first heard the song, I thought she was referring to the Donner party, but I have since been educated that Jeffery Dahmer was a serial killer in the late 80s and early 90s who engaged in cannibalism (in addition to a variety of other unfortunate serial killer things).

There’s been some mild outrage around this lyric, but I have a hard time mustering anger about it. The word “dumb” is repeated over and over again in “We R Who We R,” and I think it was only used because it rhymes with “numb.” These are creative people; I know they can come up with better lyrics. I think the most concerning song on the album is “Grow A Pear,” a lovely song about how Ke$ha doesn’t want to “date a guy with a vag.” This song is full of transphobia and internalized misogyny that will probably fly under the radar of many of its consumers.

It’s unfortunate that not only is Ke$ha saying that feminine characteristics would be a deal breaker in a relationship, but that crying and whining are inherently feminine. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the implication that she makes: that a man with a vagina would be disgusting.

Transphobia and transgender politics seem to be relatively new concepts that the mainstream consciousness is dealing with, but that’s not an excuse. Somebody should have thought a bit harder about the lyrics and what they imply. This isn’t to say that we’re all going to listen to the song and suddenly be brainwashed by the insensitive lyrics. It’s simply about being more aware that as a pop artist you are contributing to something of a pop canon, which will to a certain extent be integrated into the language and actions of youth culture for a long period of time.

Nicki Minaj is more complicated. It is not my place as a white person to comment on her appropriation of Asian culture, and several bloggers have done so recently with far more eloquence that I could possibly have on the issue. However, I do feel compelled as a queer person to speak on Minaj’s gender politics. I actually find a lot of her lyrics to be empowering in a strange gender-bending kind of way, such as “If I had a dick I’d pull it out and piss on ‘em.”

I could probably write a book on Minaj’s ultra-fem style, and how it relates to these lyrics – it’s certainly complex, interesting and worthy of discussion. Actually, my problem with Minaj isn’t actually her at all – it’s with Eminem. He collaborates on “Roman’s Revenge,” and the line “F@&$ can suck my dick, no homo,” is really disgusting.

Minaj has set herself up as something of an ally to the queer community, and it’s unclear to me if she had any say on this lyric. But it’s repulsive and homophobic, and I don’t expect anything more from Eminem. It is a gross line on what is otherwise a pretty good debut album from a very talented woman I hope we hear a lot more from.

Eminem is also the problem on Rihanna’s album. I hate that this man is so full of misogyny and homophobia, because he is one of the most technically sound and talented artists on the radio these days. But man, romanticizing domestic violence when you have a history of spousal abuse and then pulling in a victim of domestic violence to validate your message is sick. Someone should have stood up and stopped this.

The issue of “Love the Way You Lie” is complicated because it’s easy to say, “Well, Rihanna shouldn’t have been on this track, she should know better.” But this is blaming her personal actions for a systematic problem. Rihanna’s album features a second part of the song that came out earlier this year about a mutually aggressive relationship. But instead of giving Rihanna a chance to perhaps give a contrasting view to the picture painted by Eminem, the lyrics reinforce the idea that this abusive relationship is dangerous and painful in a sexy way.

Again, I don’t think that blame should be placed solely on Rihanna, and I also think that it’s possible that this was her actual experience. We shouldn’t invalidate that, should it be the case. However the fact still stands that this music is being consumed by a big chunk of young women out there who have no shortage of romantic depictions of abusive relationships, and perhaps they could have used a different take on things. It’s not Rihanna’s responsibility to do this … It’s the responsibility of everyone who put Rihanna in a situation where this seemed like a good thing to create.

Kanye’s album is amazing. I could write a book about the complexities and messages in this album. The only thing that jumps out at me as particularly problematic is Jay-Z’s guest spot on “Monster,” where he talks about raping and pillaging a village of women and children. I could have lived without that line.

There are other tasteless lines I haven’t deciphered yet, to be sure, but the album wrestles with race, gender and power in our society in such a remarkable way that it’s worth viewing it as a whole instead of taking a line or two out of context. I just wish he hadn’t apologized to former President George W. Bush. Telling the former president that he’s a repulsive human being (for caring more about being called a racist than for letting a city drown for days without help) would have been some words I could really get behind.

Victoria Knobloch is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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  • K

    KyleNov 22, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Surprise surprise, you’ve found another thing that offends you.