Examining Gender Roles on Billboard’s Hot 100

Perusing the Sociology Source, I read about a cool activity author Nathan Palmer uses in his class to teach gender. He hands out the lyrics to the songs on Itunes Top 10 Songs list, and has students break down the songs and discuss the gender roles that appear therein. You can read Palmer’s post here here.

I thought I’d do this activity, but to mix it up, I’ll examine the top 5 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart as of today, Sunday, May 15th:

1. Rolling in the Deep- Adele
It’s difficult to pick out any stereotypical gender roles in this song, because either a man or a woman could sing it (John Legend does a nice cover of it) and it would have the same meaning: love lost, bitterness, self-sufficiency. The only lyrics that may hold some gender constructed implications are “You’re gonna wish you never had met me” chiming in the background during the chorus. To some, these the words might bring to mind the image of the “crazy female” hell bent on revenge. However, John Legend sings these words too. All in all, “Rolling in the Deep” is a solid, meaningful number—and I’m glad it’s number one on the chart, rightfully above all of the bile that follows.

2. E.T.- Katy Perry ft. Kanye West
What a nightmare for ten year olds to hear. I’m a supporter of Kanye but his lyrics in this song are filth:
I got a dirty mind
I got filthy ways
I’m tryna Bathe my Ape in your Milky Way
I’m a legend, I’m irreverent
I be reverand
I be so fa-a-ar up, we don’t give a f-f-f-f-ck
Welcome to the danger zone
Step into the fantasy
You are not invited to the otherside of sanity
They calling me an alien
A big headed astronaut
Maybe it’s because your boy Yeezy get ass a lot

Essentially purporting the view that men are lauded for the amount of sex they have, nothing subtle here. And then Katy Perry’s chorus:
Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison

Take me, ta-ta-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction

Boy, you’re an alien
Your touch so foreign
It’s supernatural
Extraterrestrial

I’ve always taken Katy Perry’s music as fun, not to be taken seriously music. She’s not the bastion of musical genius for our times, and her songs and videos are always capitalizing on her innocent yet teasing sexuality (not to single her out, that’s just pop music in general for females). Some sites read into the lyrics saying things along the lines of “the guy is so different and great that he’s unreal and he must be alien, etc.” While this may be the intended meaning of the song, these lyrics just further the socially constructed view of women that females are weak, fragile creatures that counter the strength and ego of men.

3. On the Floor- Jennifer Lopez ft. Pitbull

This song is a joke.

Jennifer Lopez:
Dance the night away
Live your life and stay out on the floor
Dance the night away
Grab somebody drink a little more
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la
Tonight we gon’ be it on the floor
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la
Tonight we gon’ be it on the floor
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la
Tonight we gon’ be it on the floor
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la
Tonight we gon’ be it on the floor

Some highlights from Pitbull:
Now pump it up
And back it up like a Tonka truck
That badonka donk is like a trunk full of bass on an old school Chevy

It’s clear that this is a song about dancing and having a good time in the club, complete with some degradation of women. I think it’s astounding that the only song I can think of where a female artist talks about a man’s body is “All For You” by Janet Jackson. There’s definitely more, but it says something about how different genders are treated that songs disrespecting women outnumber songs disrespecting men by a landslide. The repetitiveness and vapid lyrics of “On the Floor” bring this image to mind:

4. Just Can’t Get Enough- The Black Eyed Peas

Will. I. Am:
Honey got a sexy all steamin
She givin hotness a new meanin
Perfection mama you gleamin
Inception you got a brother dreamin dreamin
Damn baby I’m feignin
I’m trynna holler at you, I’m screamin
Let me love you down this evenin

Fergie:
Love you love you ya you know you are my demon

Will. I. Am:
Girl we could form a team and
I could be the king you could be the queen and
My mind’s dirty and it don’t need cleanin

Fergie:
I love you long time so you know the meanin

Will. I. Am:
Oh baby I can’t come down so please come help me out
You got me feelin high and I can’t step off the cloud
And I just can’t get enough

Fergie:
Boy I think about it every night and day
I’m addicted wanna jump inside your love
I wouldn’t wanna have it any other way
I’m addicted and I just can’t get enough

Once again, we see the female as victim stereotype—Fergie is helplessly addicted to her man, or their love. Will. I. Am is addicted as well and pleads for help, although he is also set on “hollerin” at a woman and wants to have sex with her.

5. The Lazy Song- Bruno Mars
Cause in my castle I’m the freakin man

Tomorrow I wake up, do some P90X
Meet a really nice girl have some really nice sex
And she’s gonna scream out, “this is great” (Oh my god
this is great)
I might mess around and get my college degree
I bet my old man will be so proud of me
I’m sorry pops you just have to wait

This song is very open about gender roles. Bruno is “the man” of his castle, works out, and has casual sex with women. He touches on the father-son dialect of living up to the father’s expectations, but also asserts his own ego by doing things on his own time in his own way. It’s a lighthearted song that holds heavy implications of what it means to be a male in our culture. I do feel that it has an interesting (though not exactly admirable) twist on the stereotypical, male dominance concept of being the best and racking up impressive accomplishments or material possessions—the song’s about being lazy and doing nothing. Though it compels one to think: could a female artist get away with being lazy in such a direct, frank way? She would probably have to present it differently, in a way that would be comfortable to our cultural norms about what gender behavior is acceptable.

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