Are song lyrics too sexually explicit?

I got cross in the car today.

I was listening to the radio, and had one of those ‘God, am I getting old and prudish?’ moments, like when I had my anti-porn rant. In fact, I got nearly as cross as I do at the Eminem song where, despite the fact that he’s repeatedly violent towards her, Rihanna apparently ‘likes the way it hurts, and loves the way he lies’. What a fantastic role model she is.

The song was called ‘Down For Whatever’, (read ‘Up For Anything’), by Kelly Rowland, and includes the lines:

I’m down for whatever, I’m down for whatever, when it comes to you I could make love on the floor.

It was a dance version, so I’m imagining gangs of drunken, barely dressed teenage girls, dancing and falling over. It gets better. She goes on to sing:

Say the word, I’ll do anything, I can’t say no to you.

Is it me or is that just a bit rapey? And then:

There’s no place I wouldn’t go. Tonight I’ll take it anywhere.


Now I’m really not a prude, and I’m more than happy to be open and experimental in a trusting relationship, but really, is this the kind of ethos we want to be instilling in our young clubbers?

A quick bit of research shows I’m not alone in being concerned about the potential harm of such widely heard and sexually explicit and misogynistic lyrics. One study for example showed the impact of sexual-aggressive song lyrics on aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behaviour – male participants who heard misogynist song lyrics recalled more negative attributes of women and reported more feelings of vengeance than when they heard neutral song lyrics.

And don’t even get me started on the videos. Is this really music and art, or merely soft-porn, peddling the idea of women as submissive sexual objects who invite abuse and violence?

Am I over-reacting and simply showing my age, or is it really not OK to be glamourising the idea of not being able to say no to ‘taking it anywhere’?



  1. 14 March, 2012 / 10:06 am

    I don’t think you’re over reacting at all, I’m in agreement with you on this one.

  2. Mummyjay
    14 March, 2012 / 10:25 am

    Nope I agree, I love singing pop songs listening to capital radio with my two boys (aged 4&5) but sometimes worry about the lyrics. Worst is when I download an album and run to change a track when the singer starts swearing (most disappointing for this is Katy perry)

  3. 14 March, 2012 / 10:36 am

    I think music, like any art, is a broad church and you like what you like. That said, I fear we risk reducing art to the anodyne if we over-analyse such things in social context.

    • 14 March, 2012 / 10:55 am

      I just don’t buy the ‘you like what you like’ argument as a justification for the overt portrayal of women as nothing more than sexual objects. Some people might ‘like’ hurting others, but that doesn’t make it OK. These musicians and artists know that they are going to be looked up to by young boys and birls and I think that means they have a responsibility to think about the messages they are sending.

      As for the risk of reducing art to the anodyne, I don’t think that not wanting to hear men sing about abusing women, or not wanting my daughters to watch sexually explicit videos means that their cultural range has to be in any way bland or narrow. Art can still be controversial and ground breaking and thought provoking without having to objectify women can’t it?

      • 14 March, 2012 / 7:04 pm

        Then we should ban Delilah by Tom Jones. Personally I don’t have a problem with this…

        • 15 March, 2012 / 9:01 am

          Well, for a start this isn’t some sort of knee jerk Daily Mail reaction, I’m not saying ‘Oooh, ban everything that mentions sex or violence! Protect the children!’, I’m just expressing concern for the growing trend of normalising extreme sexual imagery and lyrics, and making violence against women seem ‘cool’. I’m interested though as to how you think Delilah is comparable – the song is about a jealous man who goes temporarily mad, stabs his ex, and then faces the consequences. At no point is Delilah singing back ‘Oh yes Tom, please stab me, that makes me so horny’.

  4. 14 March, 2012 / 10:37 am

    It really IS not OK. When we were on holiday in Georgia recently, the restaurant we had lunch in was playing songs with really off-colour lyrics – to the extent that we never went back there (which was saying something as there were only 3 to choose from). And like you, I’m not a prude – but I don’t think letting my sons repeatedly listen to and take their norm from songs that denigrate women and talk about sex all the time is a good way of bringing them up as reasonable future men.

    • 14 March, 2012 / 10:57 am

      Absolutely. And there is evidence that being exposed to overtly sexual of misogynistic songs and videos DOES effect the way men think and act – how could it not?? It’s the porn argument again isn’t it? When the mainstream pop culture normalises and glamourises certain behaviours, of course young people are going to be influenced.

  5. 14 March, 2012 / 10:51 am

    Totally totally totally agree. It’s the kind of subject I rarely get into a discussion about in Real Life because it makes me incredibly angry and I’m afraid I might come across as a ranting loon.

    Like you, I’m not a prude. Although I may apply certain standards to my own life, in part due to my faith, I think people should be able to do what they’re comfortable with in their own relationships, whether that’s as simple as wearing kinky boots and a peephole bra or playing out extravagent fantasies.

    That said, there’s a difference between someone making a well-informed decision about what turns them on, and being brainwashed by films, songs, magazine etc which a) constantly undermine women and make it ok to treat them as objects who are there to be used and abused, and b) make sex into a purely carnal, physical experience rather than the intimate and loving act it should be (even if it is done in kinky boots and a peephole bra!)

    • 14 March, 2012 / 11:01 am

      Rin, I couldn’t agree more. I knew this would be something I could rely on you to come up with a brilliantly succint arguement about! Sometimes things make me so angry, but I fear I’m just being silly and unreasonable, and can’t always explain properly WHY it feels so wrong.

  6. Vicky
    14 March, 2012 / 12:29 pm

    I agree with you. I recently got into a debate at uni with some younger friends who really couldn’t understand the problem I had with a number of songs including the Rihanna + Eminem one. Ashley loves music and it always makes me feel really uncomfortable when I hear him signing words or sentiments that in no other circumstamces would be acceptable. Grrrr!

  7. 14 March, 2012 / 1:08 pm

    I’m with you on this one – I found the Kelly Rowland song a bit much as well. Most Rhianna tunes are a bit beyond the pale – that woman has got no self respect in my opinion. What about these lyrics:

    Well you can say what you want
    But you can’t say it ’round here
    ‘Cause they’ll catch you and give you a whippin’

    Well, I believe I was right when I said you were wrong
    You didn’t like the sound of that
    Now, did ya?

    Lovely, I thought. Using violence to control freedom of speech. What’s it from? Real Gone from Cars.

  8. 14 March, 2012 / 3:08 pm

    No. You are not over-reacting. This is an extremely worrying trend. It seems the more freedom women achieve in some spheres – such as the freedom to work outside the home as well as have a family for example – the more oppressed we become in others.

    I wrote my own post on this exact same subject a couple of years ago. You can read it here if you like:

  9. honeybee35
    14 March, 2012 / 5:13 pm

    No I don’t think you’re over-reacting at all..and I’m glad that you’ve blogged your honest thoughts about it. Like yourself, I dislike this on-going trend to be as ‘risque’ and smutty as possible in pop music, videos, advertising etc.

    And, most annoyingly, I find the ‘explanation’ to balance the explicit lyrics to children is often beyond their comprehension, so as a parent you can feel as though this ‘song’ has encroached upon the values you wish your children understand and to appreciate.

    I love the radio much more than film/TV and I tend to stick to Smooth radio nowadays so that my little boy hears lots of songs that he recognises from family films, eg, Shrek, from a playlist that’s a bit more selective and less likely to offend listeners.

    Personally though, I don’t mind if if I’m labelled a ‘prude’ – my over-riding responsibility is to instill some good morals and values for my children.

    (Okay – rant over… and thanks for listening!)

  10. 14 March, 2012 / 8:57 pm

    Thou I hugely embarresed myself on Chris moyles show ( #shizgate ) the principal remains the same.. ” Its five o’clock in the morning..” Gets turned off in the car straight away now, and thou the hook line for “down for whatever” is strong and catchy, it gets turned right down and I will start a conversation that’s more suitable for an 11year old.. We never “enjoy” music Tv .. When I eventually reach the end of my teather during the school run, its classic FM or radio3 of course I initally get complaints but a little waxing lyrically about how the music matches the countryside usually works…. for now, what the future holds for the next generation of children bought up on a diet of what’s “popular” god knows.. X

  11. D
    14 April, 2012 / 1:00 am

    You are not showing your age at all: I am 23 and in my record collection I have some of the most explicit rap songs ever made. I am far from prudish. However when I hear my 2 and 7 year old god daughters innocently singing along to songs on the radio which are overly sexual, I get furious.

    I get equally mad at most songs by Rihanna who seems to be advertising domestic abuse and pretty much everything immoral and wrong for a woman to do.

    Songs should be regulated just like TV and film. If a song lyric wouldn’t be allowed to be read in a U classed Disney film, then it has no place being on the radio before 9pm.

    Another problem in my opinion is the music videos themselves. Even when the song lyrics are OK, the accompanying video can imply some very concerning issues. For example James Blunt – You’re Beautiful sounds like a lovely song, but when you watch the video you realise the song is rather shadowy – he sees a woman, instantly falls in love, realises he will never see her again so he kills himself. The whole of the video is him preparing to do this, we see him remove all his possessions and place them neatly in front of him, something which often happens with suicide.

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