Lessons in violence from the UK Top 40

I’m a bit of a pop music fiend. In my car, in the gym, in my office…I love my daily fix of catchy tunes and sexy beats. Sometimes however, I’m tempted to give it up for good…

I noticed a fair amount of debate on the feminist blogs recently regarding the theme of domestic violence in the latest tune from Captain Misogyny himself, Eminem. Somewhat disturbingly, Love the Way You Lie features vocals by Rhianna singing about her attraction to a man who ‘hurts’ her, a word which she mouths in the video with a bite of her lower lip and a strained look of longing and desire. The drama played out by the two fictional characters in the video came under The Guardian CIF scrutiny drawing some degree of debate as to whether it appears to highlight the problem of domestic violence in a responsible way, sexualise and hence glorify it, or neither. My own feeling about it is summed up by one canny CIF commenter who stated ‘The only thing this video tells us about domestic violence is that it’s something people do before having sex.’ As the universally adored Queen of Sexyface Megan Fox flounces about a sweaty apartment in slow motion with the hobbity bloke form Lost who’s a bit buff, I see only a sanitised, Holywood version of relationship violence that tells me nothing of the horror of the ‘behind closed doors’ abuse that kills 2 women every week in the UK.

So if pop songs and videos like this don’t effectively challenge their young fans to view domestic violence as totally unacceptable, should they give us cause for concern? There are many who argue that musicians should be left to create their art / entertainment free from the pressure of responsibility to the young minds consuming their wares. What they produce are honest accounts of love, sex, youth, struggle, and pop fans connect with the experiences depicted regardless of the tone in which they are presented. Kids are media savvy, they don’t uncritically absorb everything they watch on music channels allowing the emotions and attitudes and images to influence the way the understand themselves and each other…right? No one is going to be affected by the fact that in the last verse of his song, after pleading lovingly for his woman to come back and give him another chance to prove himself, Eminem’s character makes the sinister admission to the listener that,

“I apologize, Even though I know it’s lies, I’m tired of the games, I just want her back, I know I’m a liar, If she ever tries to fucking leave again, I’mma tie her to the bed, And set the house on fire.”

There’s one thing that’s been missing for me in the discussions about this song and that is the fact that I’m not hearing anyone talk about the wider context within which it is placed. Perhaps in isolation a song like this comes along and ruffles the feathers of a few nervous people and in the end maybe does serve to promote a bit of healthy debate. However, it’s not in isolation at all. In fact it’s disgusting just how many pop songs right now are focussed on violent and destructive relationships. At a time when young people are experiencing a lot of emotional instability and forging intimate relationships for the first time, the music and images that furnish their world are romanticising relationships that hurt, that involve cycles of betrayal and abuse, and present an image of the abusive partner as someone to be desired.

Let’s have a quick look at this week’s Top 40:

No. 2 – The aforementioned Eminiem and Rhianna song ‘Love the Way You Lie’

No. 5 – Ne-Yo’s Beautiful Monster sexualises violence and fear with the following lines, and it doesn’t matter that it’s a man being afraid of a woman. When being terrified of someone is supposed to turn you on that’s problematic regardless of the genders of the people involved:

“You’re a knife, Sharp and deadly, And it’s me, That you cut into. But I don’t mind, In fact I like it, Though I’m terrified, I’m turned on but scared of you. [Chorus] She’s a monster, Beautiful monster, Beautiful monster, But I don’t mind, And I need her, Said I need her, Beautiful monster, But I don’t mind.”

No. 7 – The Saturdays’ latest vacuous pop offering is called Missing You and is a bit more of a ballad than their previous tunes, complete with video of long lingering shots of the girls that incidently always begin on a crotch, leg or chest and then shuffle up to their faces. (I had to watch it with the sound off before I noticed this.) Anyway, this one is more about what sounds like an emotionally abusive relationship in which a girl is sad that the love seems to have died because they no longer have the ability to crush each other’s spirits and hate each other. Lines like the following make me think one thing…that’s way too fucked up people!

“I miss missing you, sometimes, I miss hurting you, till you cry, I miss watching you, as you try, Try not to end up in tears, Begging to get back together…I get high when you’re making me weak, Let me down till I crawl on my knees…I wanna die for you cause love is only true if it hurts!”

I’m not going to deny that when you’re young there’s something very addictive about the lover who makes it hard for you to love them and I know I went through stages where songs like this would have helped me connect with the self-destructive feelings I had for people. But the level of partner abuse in teenage relationships should make us very very wary of ignoring the influence of messages like ‘love is only true if it hurts.’ Have a look at this study by the NSPCC which sparked off a government campaign to help young people recognise the signs of abuse in a relationship. Both boys and girls reported emotional, physical and sexual violence and abuse in their relationships with girls reporting higher levels of all three.

There’s one final song I want to look at from this week’s chart: No. 11 – Chase & Status, Let You Go (feat. Mali) This little electro pop ditty chilled me the first time I caught it on the car radio on my way home from work. I had to pull over as I was subjected to an angry, aggressive male voice screaming this at me in ever increasing intensity:

“There’s nowhere to run, No place you can go, Nowhere you can hide, Where you won’t be found, There’s no place on earth, Where you could lay low, Wherever you are, I will track you down, There’s no way in hell, I will let you leave, Let you just get up, And walk out on me, There’s no way on earth, Hell would have to freeze, More than twice before, I will let you gooooo!”

I have very little to say about this pure filth except that it makes me sick. And Radio 1 make me sick for promoting it as their record of the week in the run up to its release. Broadcast all the nice educational programmes you like folks but you’re still promoting a culture of violence for a quick buck! Even when one listener’s text to the Gregg James show actually got read out, asking ‘Aren’t the lyrics of this song a bit dodgy?’ Gregg simply responded ‘Well, yeah…but it’s a banging tune!’ Tosser.

This track is basically the voice of an abuser, a violent threatening male abuser, the kind who kill their partners and ex partners every week in this country when they try to leave. Since the first time I heard it, I’ve noticed Raul Moat is still all over our TVs, having been given his own platform on Channel 4 and the news continues to offer up dead women at an alarming rate. Here’s one in Dungannon, and another one in Portadown killed by her husband. This one in London occurred last week and saw a man kill both his ex wife and her mother on the day their divorce was finalised.

To be honest this blog post has no real conclusion. I’m not going to ask everyone to write to somebody or complain or protest something. I have no idea what that would achieve other than giving unwelcome attention to songs that will hopefully be forgotten as quickly as they appeared. I’m simply writing because I’m disgusted and because I work with young people and I am constantly concerned with the legacy our generation is passing on to them. We have a responsibility to turn this trend around.


1 Response to “Lessons in violence from the UK Top 40”

  1. 1 soisaystoher August 27, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    At the time I was writing this, news of a woman in Belfast murdered on the day she was due to be married was breaking. Turned out it was her fiance. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11106544

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