Let me preface this by saying I am in love with music. I was that choir kid for nine years of my life, have headphones in every bag I own, and purchase far more concert tickets annually than my budget allows. Music is the most powerful form of self expression and I truly believe it is the most effective forum for conveying major political, social, whatever type of message you feel needs to be heard. With that, I have loved the University of Kentucky’s men’s a cappella group, AcoUstiKats, since I first heard them perform at a Kentucky choir festival nearly a decade ago. The group has changed quite a bit, naturally, in this time as members have long since graduated and new talent has rolled in. Most recently, the group has started referring to themselves at “AcoustiFRAT” as they exemplify a pretty preppy look and have even made their logo a bowtie. I can definitely see why this branding would be effective; embracing the idea of “southern charm” gets nearly an entire region on board behind them and definitely transforms the image of the traditional choir nerd. Honestly, I think it’s precious because that’s just the kind of style I’m into.
UK’s AcoUstiKats recently earned the honor of performing on NBC’s rejuvenated a cappella competition, The Sing-Off. Leading up to the show’s premiere, it was amazing to see my campus get behind these gentlemen and support their journey to success. I’m fairly confident Lexington has never had more individuals listening to a cappella music than in the past month since the announcement. Last night, I was fan-girling like any other choir nerd on campus at the fact that people I KNOW are on NATIONAL TELEVISION exhibiting their amazing talents. I made a point to stop working on my massive essay I have due this week to watch this performance live. When the group took the stage, I was shocked to hear the opening notes of “Blurred Lines”. I watched the rest of the performance and definitely had to agree that the AcoUstiKats out-performed any of the other contestants. The group’s harmonies and synchronized dancing undoubtedly displayed mastery of musicianship and tremendous hard work to give such a compelling performance. As the show ended and I perused my social media accounts, I found my newsfeeds overrun with support for the AcoUstiKats. Tweet after tweet, post after post praised the men for their accomplishment of performing on national television and representing the University of Kentucky. I was thinking about such representation as I continued scrolling through my accounts and noticed numerous comments about how “sexy” the performance was and what a fantastic song choice was made. This is where my frustration began. I then texted a friend saying I needed to vent. He responded quickly, concerned about my issue, and I expressed my frustration with the group’s song choice. He replied, “Jesus, I thought it was something that mattered.” Does ANYONE other than me see an issue here?
Let’s take a second to dissect the lyrics of Thicke’s summer anthem, “Blurred Lines”:
“But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty”
Knowing the stereotypes associated with “good girls”, the lyrics imply that any advance by a woman means she wants to have sex. The problem that lies in this conjecture is the lack of explicit consent in these lyrics. Making assumptions when any “lines” in a sexual situation are “blurred” is WRONG. Assuming a girl wants to “get nasty” suggests the man is going to have his way, regardless of whatever the woman actually wants. And despite whether or not the performers composed the lyrics of the song, it should be a musician’s responsibility to uphold his or her personal beliefs in the music he or she releases, unless these individuals actually believe language such as this does not or will not affect any past or future victim of sexual violence.
“You the hottest b**** in this place”
Don’t even get me started about derogatory language such as the word b****. Connotations of the word aren’t a secret and there are PLENTY of better words to be used in this context.
And we can’t forget the worst lyric of all: “I know you want it” – Repeated seventeen times throughout the four-ish minutes the song lasts.
I am not a victim of rape, sexual assault, or any sexual misconduct. I am a fortunate individual who has never had to endure the pain (physical, mental, and emotional) caused by sexual violation. The words “I know you want it” are all too often used in such situations and real survivors have reported their attackers using similar phrasing. Such a phrase implies pressure, at the very least, for a woman to partake in sexual activity that may or may not be desired. Language such as the lyrics used in Thicke’s song can easily serve as triggers for victims of sexual assault and violence which makes me question the character of an individual who would release such lyrics in the first place. Furthermore, and perhaps the greatest problem I have with the song, lyrics such as those in “Blurred Lines” are only a drop in the bucket of derogatory and discriminatory language against women. Other songs, in all genres of music, in addition to commercials, billboards, magazines, you name it include images and language that use sex to attract viewers. Almost always at the expense of the woman, the influx of such language and imagery causes a heightened desensitization to serious issues such as rape and sexual misconduct.
And now we return to the AcoUstiKats. Performing a song such as “Blurred Lines” on national television isn’t a crime. And with my heavy criticism of song choice, I do not want to attack the hard work and commitments these men have made to perfect such a special talent. Furthermore, this is not an attack on the character of any of the performers, but rather a concern that by choosing to perform such lyrics implies that the members are conscious of the meaning and likely interpretations of the song. I sincerely hope the group goes on to win the $100,000 and Sony Music recording contract. The frustration I have with the entire situation is the fact that the majority of students, faculty, and residents of Lexington for that matter watched this two minute performance without any consideration of the language employed. If I could guess, I would dare to say that not one member of the group considered the language of the song or acknowledged how performing such lyrics further reflects the desensitization our society has developed to hearing such language. Additionally, if any member did notice how the language of the performed song blatantly alludes to sexual misconduct, they did not speak out and voice such concerns. It has been brought to my attention that groups on The Sing-Off don’t have the power to select the songs they are to perform each week. This being said, SOMEONE chose this song and it just happened to be brought to mine and my peers’ attention via the men representing my university. Thus, the blame game is trivial — we’re all at fault. Because we are bombarded with inappropriate sexual language and imagery regularly, no one notices it, comments on it, or, Heaven forbid, speaks out about the atrocities associated with the way our culture handles rape. And just to note, I’m far from the perfect specimen of a perceptive human being that can effectively identify all inappropriate or misconstrued media and inform others of my findings. I know I’m guilty of downloading songs with equally offensive language, but that doesn’t discredit the point I’m trying to make now.
Did the AcoUstiKats deliver an amazingly captivating musical performance? Indeed. But at whose expense? Last month, my Gender and Women’s Studies course literally spent half a class period discussing the lyrics of this song and I couldn’t stand by and not comment on how unconcerned and ignorant really that our society has become to understanding and acting upon derogatory language. I don’t know that there is much hope for my generation to become media literate and conscious of the media they publicly endorse – I fear worse for our children. I want to reiterate that this is not an isolated example. I recognize that this song is far from new and that many other songs exist and espouse even more violent and blatant allusions to non-consensual sex. I chose to highlight such an example because it is relevant to my peers and the campus of the University of Kentucky at large. Again, this is not to attack individuals but to raise awareness of how often people fail to recognize language negatively directed at a specific gender identity, race, sexual orientation, and so on. And just to clarify: Women aren’t the only victims of sexual violence! (Even though the media often acts accordingly) Such discrimination, subtle or blatant, occurs daily throughout the media, as do real acts of sexual misconduct and rape. The vicious cycle will never end until enough individuals are concerned and talking about such language and imagery. I put myself in a very unusual and uncomfortable position today when I publicly voiced my opinion on social media, something I RARELY do, but at least I initiated conversation.
A few articles that started this discussion long before I did…
Watch the AcoUstiKats’ The Sing-Off debut: