My beautiful dark twisted hope for 2011

Date: January 6, 2011
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Fine, fresh, fierce?

The top 40 radio hits of 2010 were anything but.

When Katy Perry and the anachronism that is Snoop Dog sang about California girls this year, a catchy beat couldn’t make up for the tired lyrics. “California girls, we’re unforgettable, Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top, sun-kissed skin, so hot we’ll melt your Popsicle, ooooh oh oooh.”

Excuse me while I bring up my lunch.

Let’s face it; so much of American pop music has always been bad. Funny, though, how the world loves to embrace it, unquestioningly, even in a region like southern Africa, with a rich history of music actually worth listening to.

What’s worse is that Western pop music continues to be one of the main conduits for sexism and misogynistic attitudes, an extra little gift to the world.

And yes, popular music has also always been sexist, from Tammy Wynette, who reminded women to stand by their man, to Jack Jones who made sure women knew their role when he sang: “Hey! Little girl. Comb your hair, fix your makeup, soon he will open the door. Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger you needn’t try anymore.”

Yet here we are at the beginning of 2011 and it only seems to get worse, dangerously so.

This year Eminem, America’s “crazy white boy”, made a comeback with a song that didn’t make me love him better. No stranger to sexist, homophobic and downright dreadful lyrics, the rude rapper managed to rope Rihanna, pop culture’s poster girl for gender-based violence, into singing about just that.

Rihanna’s haunting voice in Eminem’s chart-topping 2010 hit “Love the way you lie”, was a standard on our radio this year. The 20-something chanteuse who was herself violently beaten and bruised by ex-boyfriend and R&B singer Chris Brown in 2009, seemed to be advocating, or at least excusing, such violence by teaming up with the grand marshal of violent mainstream male chauvinism.

“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts,” sang Rihanna from my car radio this year, so often and on so many stations I eventually switched it off.

To which Eminem ultimately replies: “I’m tired of the games, I just want her back, I know I’m a liar, if she ever tries to leave again I’m going to tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.”

And then there was Kanye West, another charming American celebrity known for drunken award-show outbursts and equally sexist lyrics.

“Every time I hear ’bout other nigga’s stroking you, might say I hit you,” sings Kanye in the song “Blame game” from his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “You should be grateful a nigga like me ever noticed you.”

Ah yes, such a creative flair with words, Kanye, a real golden tongue.

It would be easy enough to dismiss these songs as poor quality, mass-produced rubbish, which they most surely are. The trouble is, for some reason this seems to be what the masses crave and what makes it to the top of today’s Billboard charts.

And if I listened to Eminem’s tedious new hit so many times I instead chose to tune into the blare of Johannesburg traffic, then there aren’t many who escaped his irritating bluster. Even when we find something worthwhile to listen to on our radios or iPods, we often can’t escape the tacky, salacious and dangerously misogynistic music videos used to promote these songs.

In a world with so many choices, channels, websites, stations and artists, we somehow keep aiming for the lowest common denominator.

If there wasn’t such a clear cause-effect relationship, it wouldn’t really matter, but what’s unfortunate is the idea that this music is taken seriously, and even worse, used to justify criminal behaviour by its listeners and fans.

A gender-based violence indicators study conducted last year in South Africa by Gender Links found that more than three quarters of men in South Africa admitted to having perpetrated violence against women at some point in their lifetime. Interestingly, fewer women (51%) said they had been victims of violence.

What this says is that men are not scared to admit to perpetrating violence against women. It is not taboo or embarrassing. It is widespread, normal and can be found almost everywhere in popular culture, most notably in the trashy music brought to us by the American people, more often associated with their attempts to export more useful products such as democracy and freedom.

In this context, Kanye’s beautiful dark twisted fantasy becomes very dark and twisted indeed. For it is a nudge and a wink from an encouraging, rich and powerful celebrity. If Kanye and Eminem sing about hitting women, then what’s the problem?

The problem is more than the terrible music; it’s the dangerous offshoot of these songs. For as long as fans have been tuning into pop music, they’ve also been trying to emulate their favourite pop artists. So just as Katy Perry’s caterwauling likely brought Daisy Dukes back into style this year, so too the women-hating lyrics of Eminem have ensured violence against women stays in fashion.

My hope for the year ahead – beautiful, dark and twisted as it may be – is that we can come to our senses and start demanding music worthy of our times, music from artists who take the word “art” seriously, music that advocates the positive rather than enables the negative.

Danny Glenwright is a Canadian journalist. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service. For the research quoted above, please go to



0 thoughts on “My beautiful dark twisted hope for 2011”

Anna says:

This is an amazing article Danny! I don’t watch music videos… yet, reading your article it made me realise that it’s not just what my eyes see that affect my psyche, but also what I hear!
I remember a few years back my nephew ran into the living room singing Akon (and Eminem again I think)’s “I wanna fuck you”… He was 7. It made my me sad. Misogyny, chauvinism and patriarchal “norms” are perpetuated in our society by the latent influences like the music we listen to as we do our weekly shopping… it must stop soon.. THAT’s my beautiful, not at all dark or twisted fantasy…

Ntombi Mbadlanyana says:

Great piece Danny, got me thinking I actually love this song from Kanye’s Album ” The Devil Wears a Dress” featuring Rick Ross- even the title of the very song has misogyny and the comparison of the “devil” wearing a dress that right there implies that women are the personification of the devil.
And the lyrics are some what very haunting and disturbing, my little nieces and nephews as young as 4 yrs old know all the lyrics to some of these songs that are often very disturbing. And it is also rather very scary for me to think that this is what they are singing at such an early age.

Great piece, though really got me thinking…

tapuwa says:

brilliantly said…hope for a better 2011.violence with words perpetuates madness&a very unhealthy society.we need artist who can create beatiful music.ok im go listen to Salif Keita.

Angela Mdlalani says:

This is a great read, and thought provoking too. I am a great lover of music and though in my early twenties have found it very hard to listen and actually enjoy the music aired in radio stations. I actually wonder if people ever listen to the lyrics they so enjoy, women dance to music where they are referred to as b***es, they sing along to songs degrading them, worse, a female DJ actually tells us to ‘enjoy the hit’. Our children are exposed to this kind of music and tend to enjoy it even more, what are we teaching them

Ayanda says:

Danny this is brilliant stuff, and makes one ponder on some more issues that are in our media. This year in SA, the song that played in celebration of the new year is titled “Jezebel” its a South African kwaito song,sang by Professor, he cites the disgrace manner in that Jezebel displays by her promiscuity. Whether Jezebel is promiscuous or not its not what concerns me, but i just wonder if Professor would have composed the same song about a promiscuous man. This is the song that ranks no.1 in SA at the moment and the amount of media coverage, has been amazing.

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