Usher has imparted many #1 hits unto the world. From “U Make Me Wanna” to “Confessions” to “OMG,” Usher has graced us with not only his voice, but also his softer, more emotional side. However, what happens when Usher switches gears and speaks about his relationship… with a stripper!?
Sex work. Arguably one of the oldest and most heavily stigmatized professions, sex work has always been demonized in our society. Although there is consistently a demand for this occupation, these workers (mostly female) are constantly disparaged for the work that they do. These women are seen by society as “immoral,” “loose,” “dirty,” and “unintelligent.”
Recently, there have been movements seeking to bring respect and dignity back to the oldest profession and its employees. Some even headed by sex workers themselves, these movements attempt to disprove the many stereotypes used against sex workers.
And in comes Usher. In his new single, “I Don’t Mind,” Usher aims to ensure his romantic partner that he is a-okay with her stripping for a living. However, what he actually does is reinforce his male dominance and objectify his partner – subscribing to society’s misconceptions about sex work.
All of Usher’s songs are instantly enjoyable – catchy, smooth, and memorable. Though what seems to be a song meant to make a woman feel better about her profession, it soon turns into a man playing into the very perceptions that would damage this woman’s self-esteem.
Shawty, I don’t mind if you dance on a pole / that don’t make you a ho / Shawty, I don’t mind if you work until three / If you’re leaving with me / Go make that money, money, money
You can twerk it while in a split, you racking up them tips / Your body rock and your booty poppin’, I’m proud to call you my bitch
In the beginning of the song, Usher is singing of how what his partner does for a living does not make her who she is as a person. He is trying to reassure her that her profession is not a problem in their relationship with each other. Usher even goes against the common misconception that sex workers are “whores.” However, by the end of the song, it is clear that Usher still sees her as just a stripper, no matter how much he “doesn’t mind.” In his lyrics, Usher results to objectifying the woman because of her job and maintaining focus on her body. He even goes so far as to call her – his partner – a bitch, a highly gendered and derogatory term. Even though this song began with Usher superficially supporting his girlfriend’s profession, it ends in him upholding the very misconceptions about sex work that he was beginning to contradict.
Is it necessary to focus on a sex worker’s body when speaking about them? Are the demands of the job important to highlight? Is it productive to call attention to money when trying to uplift the dignity and perceptions of sex workers? Is it possible to support sex workers while simultaneously pointing out their line of work in extremely problematic ways? Or, is Usher just extremely proud of his girlfriend – who just happens to be a stripper?