What’s Sex Got to do with…Bass?

510230-screenshot

The other day I was driving home and a song came on the radio that actually made me pull over so that I could concentrate on the lyrics—you’re welcome, fellow drivers. The last time this happened I had heard Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” for the first time, and I felt the need to pull over because, surely, I thought, I must have heard the words wrong. Nope, I heard right. This time I stopped with intrigue at Meghan Trainor’s body-positive anthem “All About that Bass,” and its paradoxical message—both radical in terms of its body politics and troubling in the way that it participates in what Adrienne Rich calls “compulsory heterosexuality,” or the concept the heterosexuality is a political institution, propelled by representations in media, literature, law, art, religion, and other social discourses, that naturalizes male dominance, oppressive gender roles, and homophobic ideologies, among other things.

The song is cute and catchy—I especially enjoy the old school doo-wop beat with the present-day idioms. The video follows that old school/new school faux-nostalgic tone too. Here’s what I mean:

 

And the song is smart in many ways. I think it’s clever how the lyrics compare musical notes to body types, in an effort to send the message, “hey, we’re all a part of this same symphony, y’all!” Trainor’s song completely has me with verses like this one:

“I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop
If you got beauty, beauty, just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top.”

…cuz we do know this, right!?: model-photoshop_7-620x183

I appreciate this whole everybody-is-beautiful campaign in pop music lately–for me, it acts as an antidote to those horrible moments when my Facebook feed makes me fear the state of the world. Trainor joins other female artists in pop music world such as Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, and Katy Perry, who have released songs over the past few years that call attention to the social construction of different “conditions of being” that we tend to associate with the idealized female body—beauty, properness, and gentleness. Other artists feature similar messages—Pharrell’s “Happy” views like a 24-hour love letter to unadulterated self-expression, for instance—but Trainor, Caillat, Bareilles, and Perry, among others, deal explicitly with gender construction. So right on.

AND YET…

Rich reminds us that gender and sexuality intersect in ways that regulate our sexual expression into an explicitly hetero-centric framework, and then labels that framework “natural” or “normal,” and in ways that we don’t immediately notice (because it’s “compulsory,” or coercive, not necessarily chosen). I hear Rich’s theory ringing like a warning when Trainor sings

“Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”

Is there a mainstream song out there yet that celebrates self-acceptance without tying self-acceptance to sexual validation (Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two / But I can shake it, shake it / Like I’m supposed to do”) or to the “skinny bitch” backlash (I’m bringing booty back / Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that”) or to compulsory heterosexuality with a predator-prey dynamic (Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase / And all the right junk in all the right places”)? “All About that Bass” was almost that song for me…

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “What’s Sex Got to do with…Bass?

  1. ‘READ ALL ABOUT IT: Part III’ By: Emeli Sande

    I think songs that makes a simple equation of self-acceptance = sexual validation is a lazy way of going about things. Yet, it is pretty damn effective. I mean if you assume a person who is desired by many people is happier than the person who is wanted by a very few, then this method of having self-esteem is rather well thought out. But sexual validation is easy and it is only a short term solution. Ten years down the road, what if your skin begins to wrinkle. What if that young adult is now the center of people’s attention, using the same sense of self-acceptance = sexual validation that you used in your youth. What draws people to Emeli Sande’s take of ‘Read All About It’ is the simplicity within its message, the universal resonance it has with its audience, from you Professor to someone like me. It invokes courage, “I wanna sing, I wanna shout, I wanna scream tip the words dry out’. I find that to be more satisfying than talking about the size of my ass.

    ACTUALLY PLOT TWIST. Why does “fat girls” aka normal sized girls have the right to comment on “photoshopped skinny bitches”? Wasn’t fat girl originally preaching self-acceptance? What if some of the skinny bitches are naturally skinny and not starving themselves as you would assume?

    —————————————————————————-

    ‘You’ve got the words to change a nation
    but you’re biting your tongue
    You’ve spent a lifetime stuck in silence
    afraid you’ll say something wrong
    If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song
    So come on, come on
    Come on, come on.
    You’ve got a heart as loud as lions
    so why let your voice be tamed
    Baby we’re a little different
    there’s no need to be ashamed
    You’ve got the light to fight the shadows
    so stop hiding it away
    Come on, come on
    I wanna sing
    I wanna shout
    I wanna scream ’til the words dry out.
    So put it in all of the papers, I’m not afraid
    They can read all about it
    Read all about it
    oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oooh
    oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh ohoh
    At night we’re waking up the neighbours
    while we sing away the blues
    Making sure that we’re remembered
    Yeah, cause we all matter too
    If the truth has been forbidden
    then we’re breaking all the rules
    So come on, come on
    Come on, come on
    Let’s get the TV and the radio
    to play our tune again
    It’s ’bout time we got some air play of our version of events
    There’s no need to be afraid
    I will sing with you my friend
    Come on, come on
    I wanna sing
    I wanna shout
    I wanna scream ’til the words dry out
    So put it in all of the papers, I’m not afraid
    They can read all about it
    Read all about it
    oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oooh
    oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oooh
    We’re all wonderful, wonderful people
    So when did we all get so fearful ?
    Now we’re finally finding our voices
    So take a chance, come help me sing this
    Yeah we’re all wonderful, wonderful people
    So when did we all get so fearful ?
    Now we’re finally finding our voices
    Just take a chance, come help me sing this
    I wanna sing
    I wanna shout
    I wanna scream ’til the words dry out
    So put it in all of the papers, I’m not afraid
    They can read all about it
    Read all about it
    oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
    oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
    I wanna sing
    I wanna shout
    I wanna scream ’til the words dry out
    So put it in all of the papers, I’m not afraid
    They can read all about it
    Read all about it, oh’

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great points, Lyle. For me, the biggest question surrounds the dynamic that you put into such a straightforward equation: “self-acceptance = sexual validation.” I definitely hear that playing out in the lyrics. So, my question is: Why and how do those two concepts get put into a causal relationship, and for whom? Everyone or for specific folks with particular modes of gender expressions? What are your thoughts? (and thx for commenting 🙂

    Like

    • I wonder, for songs that are applicable to all gender expressions, are they written from the perspective of a let’s say, (a gay person looking at a gay person) or are they writing (how a straight person thinks a gay SHOULD look at a gay person).

      I mean for songs referring to heterosexual romances, especially in R&B, you obviously hear the words, “Baby Girl” here and there. But I don’t know if it is the norm, but a song that is revealed to be from a man to another man, the references tend to be ambiguous until the artist choose to reveal it. Somehow, it seems weakened.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Part of Rich’s point with “compulsory heterosexuality” is that songs celebrate or commiserate “romance” and “love” and “sex” and whatnot, not heterosexual romance, heterosexual love, or heterosexual sex. In this way, heterosexuality comes to be normalized as the “appropriate” or “normal” sexual orientation. The heterosexual dynamic is taken for granted. If compulsory heterosexuality weren’t operating within mainstream (read: radio-play) music, I’d be able to think of more than Frank Oceans, Sam Smith, and Mary Lambert as counter examples. As for whether or not pronoun play weakens a song artistically, I imagine we’ll all have LOTS to say on that beginning Friday, when we look at sexual and gender diversity and identity categories with which some of us may not be familiar.

        What about the rest of y’all? Thought?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s