Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2014. We’ve selected it as one of the posts we’re republishing for our 10th anniversary celebrations in May 2017.
As long as there’s been music, there have been unpleasant lyrical descriptions based on the subject’s gender — songwriters have long been relying on stereotypes and/or on demonizing the opposite sex as a way of expressing their pain and heartbreak and resentment and whatever else is troubling them. None of this, of course, means that doing so is anything less than obnoxious, so as an exercise in symmetry, over the next couple of days, we’re looking at both misogyny and misandry (because, you know, that’s a real thing!) in music. First, then, the misogynist side of the equation.
Guns N Roses — “It’s So Easy”
The casual nihilism of a small-town Saturday night. The misogyny here is almost tangential to the general air of alienation, but it’s still very much present: “Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you/ Besides, you ain’t got nothing better to do/ And I’m bored.”
Sublime — “Wrong Way”
I mean, what do you expect from a band that’s known for a song called “Date Rape”? This one takes the biscuit, though, a gender-essentialist tale revolving around the life of a 14-year-old prostitute. She’s put out on the street by her “drunk-ass dad,” and sadly she doesn’t know that she’s making money the “wrong way,” the poor lamb. Happily, Bradley Nowell comes along and, after having sex with her because he is a manly man and cannot control his manly urges, he explains to her that she’s doing it all wrong and that, “It’s up to you what you really want to do/ Spend some time in America!” Sadly, she goes back to her wicked ways, but hey, he tried his best and got laid, right?
Limp Bizkit — “Nookie”
“I did it all for the nookie,” claimed music’s most aggressively priapic frontman, a man whose entire demeanor just screamed “INCEL RAGE.” OK, if you say so, Fred.
Neil Young — “A Man Needs a Maid”
No, really, it’s about how Neil Young wants a maid, because life is hard and women keep fucking him over and it’d be nice to just have someone to “keep my house clean, fix my meals, and go away.” The struggle is real.
Eminem — “Kim”
It’s really a matter of “close your eyes and point at an Eminem song” here — his ongoing problems with women have been well documented, and he doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to resolving them. All of which means that listening to this tirade against his ex-wife “Kim” is just as hard to do as it was in 2000. At the time, producer Dr. Dre said, “If I was her, I would have ran when I heard that shit.” Well, yes.
Fall Out Boy — “Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today”
Kinda like “Kim,” actually, only whinier and more annoying than terrifying.
The Crystals — “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)”
Perhaps the most notorious of all, although there’s an argument to be made that it’s a song cataloging misogyny rather than a misogynist song, per se (after all, it was co-written by a woman, namely Carole King). Regardless, its chilling portrayal of domestic violence and the sort of pseudo-Stockholm syndrome it can induce in victims still makes for unsettling and uncomfortable listening.
David Crosby — “Triad”
David wants a threesome. David is trying to wheedle some unfortunate girl into fulfilling his fantasy: “Your mother’s ghost stands at your shoulder/ Face like ice a little bit colder/ Sayin’ to you, ‘You can not do that, it breaks all the rules/ You learned in school’/I don’t really see/ Why can’t we go on as three.” It’s your mustache, David.
The Big Pink — “Dominos”
In which the girls who just can’t help falling for The Big Pink are compared to dominoes, tumbling haplessly into love with two unremarkable English dudes. Of course, being men’s men, they’re having none of it: “As soon I love her it’s been too long/ And I really love breaking your heart/ These silver apples will shine on I was wrong/ The hottest love has the coldest end.” Also, true story: when The Big Pink toured Australia a few years back, apparently the one who isn’t the singer couldn’t get a visa, so he was replaced for the tour by a lookalike and NO ONE NOTICED.
Korn – “K@#0%!”
Ugh. Just: ugh.
The Police — “Every Breath You Take”
The world’s most famously misunderstood song, thanks in no small part to P. Diddy (or whatever his name is this week), and its most prominent stalker anthem. “Oh, can’t you see/ You belong to me?” No, Sting. People get arrested for this shit.
2 Live Crew — “Me So Horny”
There was something distinctly cartoonish about 2 Live Crew’s entire schtick, which seemed more designed to induce a coronary arrest in Tipper Gore than anything else. Still, it’s pretty much impossible to defend their lyrics, unless “Won’t your daddy be disgusted when he sees your pussy busted?” is your idea of a healthy male view on sexuality. For a thoughtful treatment of the group, their notorious obscenity trial, and their relationship to black feminism, see here.
Dory Prévin — “Beware of Young Girls”
And now on to the “internalized misogyny” portion of the program. The story behind this song is such that you can see why Previn might write it: basically, her husband André Previn ditched her for Mia Farrow, at whom the song is pointedly directed. Any mention of André’s role in the whole affair is notably absent — instead, there’s a whole lot of vitriol (beautifully written vitriol, but still) aimed at Farrow, casting her in the classic stereotype of ingenuous homewrecker.
Johnny Cash — “Cocaine Blues”
“The judge he smiled as he picked up his pen/ 99 years in the Folsom pen/ 99 years underneath that ground/ I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down/ Come on you gotta’ listen to unto me/ Lay off that whiskey, let that cocaine be.” Or, alternatively, do as much blow as you want, just don’t shoot women, eh?
NWA — “A Bitch Iz a Bitch”
And a misogynist is a misogynist, right?
The Rolling Stones — “Under My Thumb”
There’s a famous piece Ellen Willis piece in which the critic argues that it’s less misogynist than, say, Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” because in this case, roles can be reversed, whereas in the case of “Wild World,” it’s hard to imagine a girl tenderly explaining to her boyfriend that, hey, it’s a scary old world out there, maybe you should just stay with me. (The piece gave rise to what is now known as the Willis Test.) That’s all very well, but this song is still pretty unpleasant, right?
Cat Stevens — “Wild World”
And speaking of “Wild World,” here it is in all its head-patting glory. The thing about this song is that, unlike most of the songs on this list, its intentions aren’t necessarily bad — Stevens’ narrator clearly cares for the subject, and isn’t being aggressively possessive. But the whole thing is just so damn condescending.
Snoop Dogg — “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)”
Now that Snoop is benevolent old Snoop Lion, crusader against gun violence and, um, only occasional purveyor of misogyny, it’s easy to forget that for all its undoubted classic status, Doggystyle had its moments of being flat-out obnoxious. In particular, this ode to involuntary group sex (we call that “gang rape,” Snoop) hasn’t exactly gotten any more appealing as the years have gone by.
The Beatles — “Run For Your Life”
Listen to this, and then try to imagine why anyone was surprised to find out that John Lennon beat his wife. Also, can we have a moratorium on songs referring to grown women as “little girl”?
Robin Thicke — “Blurred Lines”
The Misfits — “Attitude”
Behold, Glenn Danzig is angry: “Attitude, you got some fucking attitude/ I can’t believe what you say to me/ You got some attitude/ Inside your feeble brain there’s probably a whore/ If you don’t shut your mouth you’re gonna feel the floor.” Of course, let’s be honest, it’s probably Glenn who’s gonna hit the floor, the little wetbag.
Nickelback — “Follow You Home”
Ah, Nickelback: not only do they suck, they’re also distinctly unpleasant. You could choose any number of songs for this list (“Something In Your Mouth” springs to mind, in particular), but this song, wherein Chad Kroeger comes across like a Canadian T-1000 with bad hair, is especially obnoxious. “You can slap me in the face/ You can scream profanity/ Leave me here to die alone, but I’ll still follow you home”? SO ROMANTIC, BRO.
Death Cab for Cutie — “I Will Possess Your Heart”
An “Every Breath You Take” for the ’00s. “How I wish you could see the potential/ The potential of you and me/ It’s like a book elegantly bound but in a language that you can’t read.” Or, Ben Gibbard, maybe she just doesn’t like you. Also, trying to escape the friendzone by lurking outside someone’s window: generally not an advisable tactic, unless you think a restraining order is the way to her heart.
Rocko feat. Rick Ross and Future — “U.O.E.N.O.”
The famous Rick Ross date-rape anthem! The one he refused to apologize for until Reebok canned their sponsorship of him! (Related: why on earth were Reebok sponsoring Rick Ross in the first place?)
Danny Brown — “Outer Space”
And finally, if there’s such a thing as postmodern misogyny, this is it: “Love a feminist bitch, oh, it get my dick hard/ So no apologies for all the misogyny/ I just want your company to come and watch some porn with me.” So self-aware! (But c’mon, rhyming “misogyny” with “porn with me”? Must try harder.)
Play-N-Skillz feat. Redfoo, Lil John and Enertia McFly — “Literally I Can’t”
Hey, remember this? (Whether it actually qualifies as a “song” remains questionable, but it really had to feature somewhere on this list.)