While it may not seem like it, one major component of the music industry today is the sexualization of artists. For decades, sex appeal has been used in some of our favorite song lyrics in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Artists across several genres have utilized this factor in their lyrics and videos, and the reception these types of performances receive is often dictated by one thing — gender.
While men have often been praised for boasting about their sex drive and partners in songs, women have often been chastised for flaunting their sexuality or promoting what is deemed as “bad behavior.”
Music by male artists with sexual themes are made successful, yet when female artists try to take the same independence, they are said to be bad influences and promote promiscuity. This mistreatment is a longstanding issue within the music industry that needs to be resolved.
Women should be granted the same liberties that men do when expressing themselves in their music. This double standard does nothing but limit women’s artistic freedom, create false expectations of how women behave and reflect outdated values and beliefs.
Even singer Katy Perry has revealed the pressure she felt to portray herself in a sexual manner because of the recognition she gained from doing so.
“This is hard for me to share, but I'll share it with you,” Perry said in an interview with the website Pride. “I feel like maybe I oversexualized myself a little bit growing up. Especially in the first part of my career because that was the only way, well one of the ways, I got attention.”
Society has created a system of consumption where people crave and support when female artists create music with sexual tones and lyrics, but many consume the product to criticize the artist and cry shouts of vileness and trash.
Women in music act almost as martyrs in the world of sexual liberation, as they take the blunt force of everyone’s reaction when they choose to exercise their independence. However, they are slowly opening the door for future women to keep pushing boundaries.
Sometimes an artist doesn’t just push the door, they try and blast it wide open. An instance of this can be seen with Madonna’s 1992 photography book titled “Sex.” The book featured dozens of nude photos of the star posing with nude men and women. The book was meant to be an empowering glimpse into human sexuality and promote the freedom of sexual fluidity, but was instead met with insults of being “raunchy” and “trashy”.
The photos featured in the book were not flashier than what would be featured in a Playboy or Playgirl magazine, coming after male celebrities who had already bared it all before, with Burt Reynolds posing nude for Cosmopolitan in 1972 and Jim Brown doing the same for Playgirl in 1974.
While Madonna’s book did not break the hinges off the door of sexual liberation, it showed the evident difference between how society will react to a man embracing his sexuality and their reaction to a woman doing the same. Despite this double standard being blatantly evident since the early ‘70s, the problem is just as relevant today.
Rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released the chart-topping song “W.A.P.” in August, and the song celebrates body positivity, confidence and sex. It features both rappers boasting about their skills at the act and how much they enjoy it, a common rhetoric for sexual songs. However, they received tons of criticism and were called shameless and disappointing.
Male artists have been creating content like this since the ‘90s, just with the difference of not getting criticized for it. Even lyrics describing sickening acts, such as “U.O.E.N.O”s lyric “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it,” in which Rick Ross raps about drugging a woman and taking her home to sexually assault her, receives less public backlash than the general female pop star acting provocatively.
In a world where Rick Ross can take a month to apologize for a song lyric about rape, and Cardi B is plastered on numerous tabloids and gossip sites for flaunting her own body, there is an obvious problem at hand.
While men get free-passes to go down any path of personal identity they choose, women are dealt a field of landmines when it comes to how to present themselves.
Society needs to step back and look at the routine ways we treat the musicians and singers who we praise and criticize.