taking shots

I’d just put on LMFAO’s “Shots” and the beau was dancing in the most ludicrous manner possible: lots of hip-wiggling and butt-thrusting. He stuck his tongue out in concentration and pumped his arms vigorously in the air as I laughed with appreciation.

He’s not the kind who listens to lyrics. That’s my role. I’m the music-obsessor in this relationship. But that’s fine. He’s the food-obsessor; it all evens out. But this time, this one time, one of the lyrics caught his attention:

The ladies love us
When we pour shots
They need an excuse
To suck our cocks

The beau froze mid-waggle and frowned, then straightened up. His arms hung limp at his sides; all the party had drained from his body. “That’s… not good,” he remarked.

Indeed. In-fucking-deed, sir.

I love all kinds of music. I have corny country and schmaltzy 80s and ditzy pop. I have hardcore rap and indie rock and electronic dance. I have music I’d never ever acknowledge owning were it not currently fashionable to admit to our guilty pleasures. But one thing I can’t get past is how to deal with uncomfortable lyrics.

I like music that makes me move. A well-constructed beat drives me mad in the most deliciously euphoric of ways. I often put on Girl Talk’s sample mashups to help me plow through workouts and work projects alike, and I’ll be grooving along happily until suddenly — mixed right into the lilting strings of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” — comes a cuttingly creepy whisper:

Wait’ll you see my dick
Hey bitch
Wait’ll you see my dick
Gonna beat the pussy up beat the pussy up


Suddenly I don’t quite feel so happy anymore.

It’s somehow not enough to make me stop listening, though. It’s easy to refuse to listen to a song I disliked in the first place, but if I’ve already halfway fallen in love with a tune things get difficult — especially if there are other, less-offensive songs I already enjoy from the same artist. Rarely do I ever get to the point where I break down and drag an .mp3 into the trash in anger. This makes me feel like a bad feminist, certainly. But part of me feels that questionable lyrics, along with questionably-behaved artists, are so pervasive in music that you can’t possibly boycott everything you disagree with. Can you?

I mean, I may feel kinda squicky when Jackie casually informs Diane that he wants to take her behind a shady tree to “dribble off” her Bobbie Brooks jeans and that she should then let him do what he pleases, but that doesn’t stop me from turning up the volume and beating on the steering wheel every time John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” comes on the radio.

I’m not exactly proud of it, but there it is.

Do you ever find yourself willfully ignoring the squirm-inducing parts of songs in favor of rocking out? How do you cope with problematic lyrical content?

15 Responses to “taking shots”

  1. I’m sure you remember us both being uncomfortable about Die Antwoord’s She Makes Me A Killer (in the comments on the epic Breaks post back in April). It got to the point where I couldn’t listen to it anymore.

    John Mayer and his fucking Daughters song to. Well, any John Mayer. I’m also positive there were a few of us unhappy about that on the old blog.

    I also know people who feel that way about Kanye.

    • YES. I DO. NOT. EVER. LISTEN. to that “She Makes me a Killer” song. But that hasn’t stopped me from listening to part of the rest of the album, still. Even though some of the other ones are nearly enough to drain the dance from my body. Bad person? Pretty sure I’m a bad person.

  2. My tolerance for bad lyrics is very much tied to my state of sobriety.

    Having said that…I do spend the MAJORITY of my day sober. So honestly, I have changed the music I listen to over the last 5 years or so. I just can’t do the Kanye shit anymore – he was a repeat offender for me. I stick with the dance-happy dork music now.

    I always wonder – how do people with kids even turn on the top 40 station in the car anymore??

    • I’m finding it hard to deal with Kanye, too. I haven’t deleted the albums from my iTunes yet, but I just don’t listen to them much anymore.

      I hear you about things changing. I once went to a 2 Live Crew show — I’m not sure I can do the same anymore when three quarters of the lyrics make my stomach turn. How was I able to stand it then?

      • See, I can cope with Kanye because it is all so obviously tongue in cheek. The minute I hear he is mistreating women I will stop buying, until then he is one of my favourite artists of the last few years.

  3. I tend to listen to a lot of music that blasts and flat out denies my particular religion. I think I need therapy.

  4. I’m a total hypocrite about this. I hate Katy Perry because of her “girls? BARF” lyrics, but I still love Ke$ha and just refuse to listen to “Grow a Pear.” [i even sometimes try to pretend that she specifically chose the “p-e-a-r” spelling to evoke a uterus and expose the insincerity of the songs equation of girl parts with lameness, but I know that is stretchier than a mid-labor vagina.]


    I like music, and sometimes hate that the stuff I like to dance to has lyrics that make me want to hide/kill someone. I keep searching for good stuff, but I have to admit that sometimes I’m semi-embarrassed to have music. I draw the line at Chris Brown, but I “should” probably draw it further out. C’MON MUSIC INDUSTRY!

  6. I am terrible with lyrics, and I like it that way. LALALA I CAN’T HEAR THE CHAUVINISM OVER THE AWESOME BEATZ AND DANCY TUNES. When it’s really egregious though, it does make me uncomfortable. But I still love early Kanye, even though I hate him too. Maybe it’s when I can identify brash talent and real art that I look past the distasteful elements? It’s not good, but since I gloss over lyrics anyhow, I can generally continue forward in my bubble.

  7. I struggle with this off and on. Sometimes I feel fired up and militant, and other times, I just want to dance and not think about it. And honestly, I can be very dim when it comes to lyrics; unless I look them up online, I don’t tend to notice them as much as the beat/melody.

    I still don’t know at what point I’m being a terrible hypocrite and should delete files or not purchase songs, and when it’s okay–and human, and natural, and nobody’s perfect–to tolerate some cognitive dissonance.

    I’ve been through this before with a twist: I went all-out restrictive when I was a teenager due to my “values.” I wouldn’t listen to anything that wasn’t Classical or a religious hymn. I had a zero tolerance policy. I slowly started widening my list of acceptable music (mostly because I’d hear something, like it, and think, “I don’t care if this is wrong, it’s catchy”) to include Christian Contemporary music, showtunes, opera, ’60s rock & roll, folk music… and then it was an easy slide to “harmless” bubblegum pop (MMMBop!), until I finally reached the point that I listened and enjoyed a wide range of “un-Christian” music… including ::gasp:: rap with x-rated lyrics. This happened to coincide with my becoming more questioning, more open-minded, and less religious. But I don’t think the music was a causal factor in my slide toward agnosticism (sorry, Reverend in Footloose).

    Now that I no longer ascribe to those beliefs, I feel silly for being so dogmatic and shutting myself off from whole art forms just because the artists were gay (yeah, I was an intolerant jerk) or had tattoos or used drugs… but now I find myself in a similar dilemma, only with different (and thankfully fewer– and IMO saner) benchmarks of what constitutes an unpardonable offense.

    Really, it’s a huge, sticky question–I’ve never been able to figure out if it’s okay to like Wagner’s music even if he was anti-Semitic, to enjoy Polanski’s movies, etc. The line between art and artist can be confusingly fuzzy.

  8. …and I wrote you a novel. Oops. 😉

  9. This weekend, Tony and I were putting together a playlist for Bean. The idea was that we want to introduce her to a large variety of different types of music so that she can really think about what appeals to her, and why. For almost every single song, we had to stop and think. What kind of message does this song send to a young girl? Are there too many bad words? Is it about hurting or demeaning women? Does it send the wrong message about love and relationships? (The Caridgan’s Lovefool was eliminated because, despite it’s catchy tune, I don’t want her to think that it’s better to be lied to than to be alone.) If we add our favorite blues-rock songs, will we teach her an affinity for the whiskey-voiced misogynists who play those songs?

    Let me tell you, it was a very, very difficult playlist to assemble. Worse, even, than the wedding playlist.

  10. I have a REALLY HARD TIME ignoring lyrics. Every time a song comes on, I groan. And probably start ranting to Josh. It’s probably better for everyone that we just change the station.

    A girl at work used to play ‘Shots’ all the friggin time. I groaned and rolled my eyes. A lot.

  11. Came across your site as I was ‘googling’ feminist interpretations of LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know it. So far, none found. I work/play with teenaged girls and they love the song/video. Pointed out that the behavior (shaking of bits & scantily clad males) is what the music/entertainment industry generally deems necessary for women in background to “sell”. Check FloRida video (something Feeling) and there is a rather incongruous portion, possibly at the Folies Bergere, where scantily clad women are shaking and displaying their bits. Just put LMFAO’s “wiggle, wiggle…” in there.

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