10 Songs Whose Sexual Politics Are More Troubling Than “Blurred Lines”


The controversy over Robin Thicke’s odious “Blurred Lines” is going to be one of those stories that just runs and runs, by the looks of it — just when everyone had started to forget about it, there was the whole VMAs debacle to remind everyone of the song’s unpleasant lyrics and general air of rapeyness. Apparently a student union in Edinburgh has banned the song completely, a move that raises all sorts of questions over the efficacy and ethics of censorship, but whether or not you support expunging it from the airwaves entirely, there’s no doubt that its take on sexual politics is thoroughly questionable. Still, there’s a whole lot of other songs you hear almost as often that are even more troubling. Like these ones, for instance.

The Rolling Stones — “Under My Thumb”

The age-old story of shrew-taming, conveniently set to a nice, catchy tune by Jagger, et al. The Stones’ career hasn’t exactly been light on questionable lyrical treatment of women — see also “Stupid Girl,” “Brown Sugar,” and the enduringly loathsome “Some Girls” — but this is the most egregious example of flat-out misogyny in their catalog, made all the worse by the smug self-satisfaction with which Jagger sings his boasts about the song’s unfortunate subject being under his thumb.

The Crystals — “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”

A thoroughly disturbing portrait of an abusive relationship, and all the more unnerving for being written — by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, by the way — from the perspective of the abused woman. It was apparently inspired by a real relationship involving ’60s singer Little Eva, and depending on your point of view, it’s either a subtle condemnation of domestic violence or a flat-out horrible endorsement of such abuse. It’s been covered to great effect by Hole and Grizzly Bear, amongst others. (See also: Spiritualized’s “She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like a Hit).” Very droll, Spaceman.)

Kylie Minogue — “Better the Devil You Know”

As discussed recently on Flavorwire, Nick Cave famously called this “one of pop music’s most violent and distressing love lyrics,” and once you strip away the layers of pop gloss, you realize he’s dead right. The song explores similar territory to “He Hit Me,” although this lyric never makes it explicit that the relationship in question is physically abusive.

TLC — “Creep”

And another in the same vein, a portrait of a dysfunctional relationship wherein both participants are cheating on one another, although it sounds like there’s a pretty whopping power imbalance: “I’ll keep giving loving/ ‘Til the day he pushes me away, never go astray/ If he knew the things I did he couldn’t handle it/ And I choose to keep him… protected.” Sigh.

The Knack — “My Sharona”

“Such a dirty mind… Always give it up for the touch of the younger kind…” Um. Yeah.

Eminem feat. Rihanna — “Love the Way You Lie”

Eminem’s career has also been characterized by his “issues” with women, most notably his ex-wife Kim Mathers, his relationship with whom has inspired some of his most intense and disturbing tracks. But there’s something particularly distressing about this, even more so than the likes of “Kim” or “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” — perhaps it’s the way Rihanna sings the chorus, a chorus that seems to imply that she’s just fine with being burned alive because she knows Em loves her really.

The Police — “Every Breath You Take”

The original stalker anthem. Good job, Sting.

Snoop Doggy Dogg — “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)”

Ah yes, the cheery ode to possible gang rape that represents the nadir of Doggystyle. In the days when Snoop came across like Tipper Gore’s worst nightmare rather than a cuddly, self-parodic Lion, he did plenty of envelope-pushing as far as questionable sexual politics went, but at least there was always an air of the arched eyebrow about his declarations that he “really didn’t love hoes.” This track, however, finds him turning the mic over to his boneheaded offsiders, with singularly depressing results.

The Beastie Boys — “Girls”

“Girls to do the dishes/ Girls to clean up my room/ Girls to do the laundry…” The older, wiser Beastie Boys would probably claim it was all tongue-in-cheek, but still.

Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer — “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Hey baby, I’m gonna drug your drink and rape you! Merry Christmas!