FEATURE: Infamy as Child: Social Revolution and Sexual Evolution in Music



Infamy as Child



Social Revolution and Sexual Evolution in Music


I hope we have got to the point where rote…



sexual encounters have a diminished role in music. Brash sexualisation is not an optimal position for today's music: at a time where morals are being questioned and high-profile celebrities are being examined, accused and punished – can we expect some of music’s disgraced hang-ups to exist and influence?! I have been thinking about the past year in society and how we have got to where we are. Actors, directors and various male figures have been brought to the fore: accused of sexual indiscretion and stepping over the line. There have been arguments about where the line is: what constitutes consent and how do you define ‘acceptable’ physical contact? The answer is a lot simpler than the argument suggests: any form of unwanted contact is unacceptable. The controversy around the #MeToo movement and the furore surrounding Aziz Ansari. The comedian has divided opinion and blurred lines regarding sexual consent and truth.

Sarah Solemani, in The Guardian, added her voices to the debate:

Let’s get real about what a social movement actually is. It does not come organised, strategised, streamlined and clean. It does not come neatly presented by experienced journalists and authorised by legal ombudsmen. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. It ebbs and flows and expands and retracts because it’s a human phenomenon. It takes place in the streets and in unofficial publications, and is propelled, most crucially, by a collective imagination. And historically, the imagination of a movement is led by the young. This is where we are now: the hard bit, the exciting bit, the bit that counts”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Aziz Ansari/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There has been a lot of debate around this case: whether he is in the wrong and why the backlash against him is unjustified. It is the latest case study in a growing narrative that raises questions and calls for greater discussion. I am not going to throw my hat into the ring and offer an opinion regarding Ansari: I wonder whether the ongoing story will impact music and change the way we discuss sex and physicality. I will bring in another article from The Guardian – where they look at the way music has changed since the Robin Thicke/Blurred Lines ‘regency’ of 2013. The questionable suggestions and seedy mantras seemed, to the naïve and mindless Pop fans, like ordinary words that held no real meaning. To those listening clearly – including the estate of Marvin Gaye; they successfully sued the song’s writers over copyright infringement and intellectual theft - there was something very wrong working under the skin. The article added another dimension to my thought’s train. I have noticed a shift: a move from the overtly sexual to the more tempered and safe brand of sexuality. I have written about misogyny in music - and whether sexual equality is possible.


IN THIS PHOTO: Christina Aguilera/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I was concerned, last year, that we would enter this year seeing a rise in the salacious and undisciplined approach to sex in music. Whether it is the Dirrty-era Christina Aguilera; images of a young Britney Spears cavorting in a school uniform (…Baby One More Time); the sexual liberation of Beyoncé on her eponymous album – can we support that kind of imagery and vocabulary given what is happening around us?! Beyoncé’s brand of self-expression and sexual freedom is different to the somewhat ill-advised and overly-explicit form of Pop we saw from Aguilera and Spears. You can say, in each case, there was no harm done and it was an innocent bit of fun. The artists were trying to sell records and, during that time, we did not have the same sort of concern and problems arising. None of those songs has corrupted society and set the course of sexual equality and consent back: looking at these songs, however, and one gets a rather bitter taste in the mouth. I am one who feels there is a thin line between sexual expression and going ‘too far’. Certain artists (like Beyoncé) are showing their femininity and taking pride in their sexuality. It is hard to say whether other artists are exploiting their bodies for commercial gain – or they are presenting their own version of self-confidence and emancipation.



It is not only reserved to female artists: male musicians have muddied the waters and, in certain genres (Rap and Hip-Hop especially), we continue to see an alarming amount of explicit images – in music videos – and profane songs. I feel we have cleaned up a lot over the past few years. Modern Pop singers, male and female, are talking about sex in different ways. We still see a few scantily-clad and teasing videos/songs – new artists like Dua Lipa are showing their femininity and discussing sex in a very open way – but there are fewer artists that raise eyebrows. I think the unseemly case of Robin Thicke helped move Pop/music away from a very bad place: the nature of consent was questioned and we have tightened morals, to an extent. I am still seeing too much sexism and over-sexualised content in some areas of music: for the most part, changes are being made and, with the spotlight and augmentation of new female artists; there is hope greater parity and understanding will come into music this year. The Guardian article I read raised interesting points:

“…But pop’s portrayals of sexuality have been complicated – and muted – by an unusually eventful half-decade. Intimacy has been corrupted by technology and anxiety. Female artists are redefining sexuality. Would-be seducers must acknowledge conversations about consent and gender politics. Provocateurs who aren’t progressive are soon rumbled. R&B is grappling with what pleasure looks like when black bodies are under siege from police brutality and cultural fetishisation. And LGBTQ listeners are demanding more than rote heterosexual hook-ups. This immediacy is nothing new – pop has always either shaped or reflected the social and sexual mores of its era – but the outcomes are”.


The game is changing – it NEEDS to change – and music cannot commercialise male artists who take a very chauvinistic and unwise attitude to sex – thinking they can touch a woman because their ego and status are huge. As I said; I am not going to put my boots on and wade into the waters of the #MeToo campaign. There are debates and arguments from both sides; revelations and accusations are coming through – the shockwaves and impact from women speaking up has not only reverberated in film/T.V. Music is accountable and, whilst not as culpable in terms of sexual indiscretion; artists cannot conceivably return to the manufactured sexuality we saw in the 1990s and early part of the last decade. There is manufactured sexuality from both genders: it is more potent and prolific in female acts; perpetrated and controlled, to an extent, by male-run labels and directors. There are still lurid and softcore videos/songs in music but far fewer than recent years. What I am noticing is how relationships and the nature of sex is changing. Modern artists like Rina Sawayama are talking about other areas of life: social anxiety and the effects of the Internet; dealing with more pressing and personal viewpoints. Transcending from sexual promiscuity and near-the-bone artists: today, artists, female and male, are talking about matriarchy, empowerment and morals.



Beyoncé’s Lemonade pointed the finger at a cheating spouse (although she has claimed, in some sources, it was not about Jay-Z’s infidelity); young up-comers like SZA and Cardi B are addressing other aspects of their social life. Rather than talk about getting laid and going out to meet a guy – they are talking about Netflix-and-chill preferences and cosying up for the night. That might be a rather binary and simplified conclusion: there are plenty of artists who still talk about the club and riding-until-they-drop; male artists who are materialistic, obsessive and porn-y. Female artists are still exploring sex but employing it in different ways. Whether an alleviation of stress; a cessation (of sex) due to anxiety and the pressures of music – more ‘modern’ influences are coming into play. Artists like Sawayama are talking about social media, technology and a night in with her phone – using metaphors and double-meaning to portray something sexual through electronic communication. Black artists, including modern R&B/Pop artists, are challenging the racism in their country. With Obama out and Trump in; there is great repression and the need to speak out. Racial aggression and (those of colour) being overlooked means a lot of black artists are talking about the fight ahead; battling the oppressive government and their ignorance: sex still plays a part but it is taking a back-seat to other concerns.


IN THIS PHOTO: Julia Michaels/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

At a time where we are aware of L.G.B.T.Q. issues and cultures; sex and music are evolving and stepping away from the less developed and educated days. A lot of modern Pop/R&B songs are being penned by L.G.B.T.Q. writers: with that, listeners are being informed of the spectrum of sexuality; the complexities inherent in modern society – learning more about emotional issues rather than sexual desires. Maybe the Internet has made us more anxious and anti-social; we are staying in more and slavishly deferring to the control of our devices and tablets. Modern female artists like Sigrid, Billie Eilish; (even Dua Lipa) SZA, Kelela and Julia Michaels – as was outlined in The Guardian’s piece – are not letting men speak for women; they are aware of their sexuality but are more concerned with solidarity and depth. These artists do not flash their bodies and see themselves as inferior and the hunted: they are empowered and intelligent women who enjoy relationships and sex but are using their platform to talk about the struggle of their gender and what changes need to be made. Some might look at this assumption and think the music scene has gone tame. Sexual explicitness was once the cornerstone of Rock: listen to bands like Led Zeppelin and one blushes through a large section of their back-catalogue. Music took a while to evolve and look inside itself but, because of recent developments; the need to change and proffer artists with greater wisdom and conscientiousness is evident.



We have seen sexual shifts in music over the past couple of decades. From the bold and forward bands like TLC and En Vogue – who were modest in their fashion but talked about sex in an open way; ensuring they were safe and not allowing the man to dominate – to the little-left-to-the-imagination breed that includes Britney Spears and Rihanna (years apart but similar ideals)…we have come to a point where modernisation, greater understanding and a more complex, mature attitude to sex has defined the music we hear. It does not mean we have lost libido and are too scared to talk about one-night stands and the thrill of the chase: the language is smarter and prurient; the broadness of the sexual spectrum has added colour and conversation; technology and the changing nature of modern relationships means things, to an extent, are more digital and less physical. The greatest change we have seen – and evolution that will happen this year – is a greater sexual equality and artists, mainly male, thinking twice about how they address women and consent in music. One cannot allow grabby hands are ego-boosted artists the freedom to talk about sex in a very obnoxious and troubling way. We are seeing a social revolution occur where male stars are no longer immune from professional castration and exsanguination.



I have brought other voices into my piece because they are noticing what I am: music is discussing sex and relationships differently to years past. There is a lot of debate around various accusations where one draws the line: who is to be believed and how far is ‘too far’. Whilst there are some clear-cut culpable: there are a lot of others making the news where the reality is far from clear-cut. This obfuscation needs to be tackled but, for music, artists are seeing what is happening and thinking about what they write – lest they be subject to recrimination and accusations. This is a good thing and, the more we tackle loose morals and questionable sexual motives; the sooner we can create genuine change. The debate around sex and unwelcomed notoriety in the entertainment industry impinged on the music scene: 2018 is going to be a year where we will see some great steps take place. The more conscious musicians are to what is happening around them…



THE richer the music scene will become.