Pop music & its proselytizing of rape culture

Don’t get me started on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”

OK never mind. I hate that song. I hate the fact that the lyrics seem so clear but the rest of the world sings and dances to that song without a concern. But “Blurred Lines” came and went a few years ago, it unfortunately helped continue the topic of blurry consent lines being sung about in mainstream music that is sung by the masses.

Fast forward to this current year of 2015 has brought Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” Upon first listen, assumption would think Justin’s just confused about what a woman wants, no harm intended right? You could even make a joke using classic stereotypes with this,  like Justin is just a classic man trying to understand women and their complexities.

Too bad thats not actually what the song is describing. Lets take a look at some of the lyrics shall we?

What do you mean?
When you nod your head yes
But you wanna say no
What do you mean?
When you don’t want me to move
But you tell me to go
What do you mean?
Oh, what do you mean?
Said you’re running out of time, what do you mean?
Oh, oh, oh, what do you mean?
Better make up your mind
What do you mean?

You’re so indecisive, what I’m saying
Tryna catch the beat, make up your heart
Don’t know if you’re happy or complaining
Don’t want for us to end, where do I start?

You’re overprotective when I’m leaving
Trying to compromise but I can’t win
You want to make a point, but you keep preaching
You had me from the start, won’t let this end

First you wanna go to the left then you wanna turn right
Wanna argue all day, make love all night
First you’re up, then you’re down and then between
Oh, I really want to know…

So on first glance, my initial assumption – that Justin is just singing frustrations about not understanding women – seems correct. But digging deeper, if we as listeners take apart each segment and really think about whats being said, it seems less simple. Especially when coupled with JB’s video to the song which is just as bizarre as it is disturbing.

The premise that women do not actually know what they want and that they are notoriously bad at communicating their desires (sexual and otherwise) is pervasive. In the song, Justin sings “What do you mean? / When you nod your head yes / But you wanna say no / What do you mean?” The lack of clear consent isn’t just present in the song; it is what provides the sexual tension. It’s part of what is intended to make the song “sexy.”

Sexualizing women’s sexual indecision is an important part of the way rape culture works. It is one way that conversations about consent often over-simplify a process that is and should be much more complex. The song itself presents Bieber nagging the woman to whom he’s singing to make a decision about their relationship. But there are many elements suggesting that the decision she’s being asked to make is more immediate as well—not only about the larger relationship, but about a sexual interaction in the near future. Throughout the song, the click of a stopwatch can be heard as a beat against which Bieber presses the woman to make a decision while berating her for the mixed signals she has been sending him.