In Defence of Pop & Rap’s “Unintelligent” Lyrics.

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Last week I posted a link to a study by Seat Smart about the most unintelligent songs of the past decade in which the genres of pop and R’n’B/rap/hip hop featured heavily.

Word length and the amount of syllables therein were factors in pushing a song over the edge from unintelligence to intelligence. From the study:

“Country music is full of words like Hallelujah, cigarettes, hillbilly, and tacklebox. Add to that long place names like Cincinnati, Louisville, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and [c]ountry has a serious advantage over the competition.”

Country music coming out on top as the most intelligent genre is laughable; this is the inherently sexist genre that brought you such gems as “Thank God I’m a Country Girl” and Taylor Swift before she found feminism. Just because country originated in parts of America with really long names don’t mean jack. (I tried my hand at some country-esque parlance there.)

Though you wouldn’t think it from the flashy and oftentimes nonsensical rap styles of Pit Bull and Snoop Dogg phoning it in on tracks like Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”, rap and hip hop were spawned in some of the poorest and most downtrodden parts of major cities where their primarily black and Hispanic residents were oppressed and discriminated against and where drugs and crime were rampant. In his younger days, Tupac Shakur rapped about police brutality (“Trapped”, “Changes”), slut shaming, sexual assault and STDs (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”, “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Baby Don’t Cry”), and drugs (“Changes”), while N.W.A. produced songs with similar content.

As is evident in the popular music that the study chose to… erm… study, the rap that makes it to the top 40 charts isn’t necessarily an accurate depiction of the genre as a whole. Take, for example, Kendrick Lamar. I’m not super familiar with his work but I do know that the most commercial success he’s seen came with his recent cameo in Taylor Swift’s (of country music origins) video for “Bad Blood”. And while we all have an opinion on Kanye West, he raps intelligently—although this study would seek to disprove that—about fame, money, racism. (His inclusion on Katy Perry’s “E.T”, making it one of the past decade’s smartest songs, while Perry’s “Wide Awake” with no obligatory rap interlude makes it the 10th dumbest song of the decade should be indicative of rap’s—or at least Kanye’s—value.) This is not to mention the copious amounts of underground and unreleased rap out there.

When it comes to women, Mariah Carey (“We Belong Together” is finally getting its due as one of Mariah’s more artful arrangements) and Nicki Minaj (again, her unreleased stuff is far more sophisticated than “Anaconda” and “Starships”) are topping the intelligence scales while Beyonce makes an appearance in both intelligent and unintelligent lists. That the biggest and best artist in the world today could be described using the word “unintelligent” is a crime. It just goes to show that word length alone doesn’t demonstrate the myriad aspects that go into creating music.

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It’s also interesting that many of the artists who rank high in intelligence are appropriating the music of other cultures, ie. Eminem and Macklemore. (My mother recently said she thought Eminem was the best rapper, despite the high rotation of rappers of colour on my and my sister’s CD players in our youth.) On a related note, Iggy Azalea is nowhere to be found in this study.

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Sure, songs like “California Gurls” and “Tik Tok” may indicate our lowering intelligence as a culture (though, having said that, these are two of my favourite songs to get down on the dancefloor to, so do with that what you will), but artists like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Taylor Swift (despite what the study says!) who are changing the game would suggest otherwise.

What do you think? Do you agree with the study’s assertions or would you counter them like I have?

Related: On the (Rest of the) Net: 29th May 2015.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [Seat Smart] Lyric Intelligence in Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis.

[Jezebel] Country Music Dude: In Radio, Female Performers Are Basically Garnishes.

[The Guardian] Taylor Swift: “Sexy? Not on My Radar.”

Images via Seat Smart.

Bad Feminist: All of My Favourite Songs Are By Men.

Roxane Gay writes in the feminist tome of 2014, Bad Feminist, about how her love for problematic music such as “Blurred Lines” makes her, well, a bad feminist:

“As much as it pains me to admit, I like these songs. They make me want to dance. I want to sing along. They are delightful pop confections. But. I enjoy the songs the way I have to enjoy most music—I have to forget I am a sentient being. I have to lighten up.”

Ahh, the catch cry of offensive joke tellers and sexist comment makers everywhere: lighten up.

I recently compiled a list of my favourite songs for personal purposes and while the list is only small it does consist solely of male artists, and not wholly unproblematic ones at that: INXS, Fine Young Cannibals, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams.

I’ve written here before about having to detach yourself from the more troublesome aspects of pop culture in order to consume it lest you become a hermit. Like Gay, this is the same attitude I have to take when it comes to music, especially the kind you want to get down to in the club (which I do when it comes to all of the above. To be more specific, they are “Need You Tonight”, “She Drives Me Crazy”, “Chop Me Up” and “Beautiful” respectively. The fact that they focus primarily on the sexual attraction of women or a particular woman is fodder for a whole ’nother blog post.). It’s unfortunate that the music that has the sickest beats also had the sickest attitude to women. And other minorities. And crime. And violence… The list goes on.

Related: Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

Whipped Cream Feminism: The Underlying Message in Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Video.

I’d been wanting to break out a whipped cream bra for a future Halloween, but seeing as I’ve already got my costumes planned for the next five years, my friend April suggested I bust it out (get it?) for our friend Eddie’s bad taste themed birthday this past weekend, thus keeping it relevant.

I was enormously nervous about it, as it’s probably one of the most attention-seeking costumes I’ve ever worn—and that’s saying something! Also, the party was held at a pub in Melbourne Central! Luckily, I had the company of Joel Monaghan to share the humiliation with.

But, there was a message behind the madness; well, several actually. Allow me to elaborate.

#1. Though not related to the underlying message of Katy Perry’s video, in essence, my costume was totes an oxymoron. Because although it was derived from the worst taste film clip of the year, thus making it perfect bad taste party fodder, the costume actually tasted good (as photos of partygoers sampling my cans will attest).

#2. While “California Gurls” is highly sexualised, Perry is literally using her sexuality as a weapon: taking down Snoop Dogg’s “troop of gangsta gummis” with her whipped cream cans. In some ways, she is subverting the common perception of woman as sex object and turning her into a subject. It’s just heavily sugar coated and therefore easy to miss.

#3. As someone who is not such a fan of Perry’s (love her music; hate her), I tend to lean more towards shock value and über-sexuality as the means behind the video as opposed to the above argument.

Laura Money mentions in her guest post “On Stripping” the notion of “lipstick feminists”; I would argue that Perry is very much the “lipstick feminist”, though in this case she could be labelled a “whipped cream feminist”; using her sexuality purely for entertainment and shock value—and thus record sales and YouTube views.

So, Perry’s video and my costume were both making a statement; the former shock value and the latter best (worst?) bad taste costume (yes, I did win the unofficial vote!). While I tried to incorporate the above points into my costume to make a statement on feminism and to provide blog ammo, somehow I’m not so sure Perry did the same thing…

Related: Bad Taste Foxymorons.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

On Stripping.

’Tis the Season…

Beauty & the Bestiality.

Elsewhere: [SodaHead] Is Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Video Exploitation or Feminism?

Snoop Dogg hearts True Blood.

In one of the oddest pairings in the history of the world, Snoop Dogg raps about True Blood heroine Sookie Stackhouse!

With lines such as “We’ll do it in the daytime/Bill won’t know a thing,” this is a priceless watch for anyone who’s in love with True Blood!

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Watch Snoop Dogg’s True Blood Tribute “Oh Sookie”.