Sex drives the music industry. It has done from the beginnings of rock and roll in the 50s to the rise of disco music in the 70s. But with the shift in how we interact with music now, the emphasis on desirability is now greater than ever. With unlimited access to images of musicians through music videos, TV appearances, or a social media presence, comes more exposure to an artist’s image. Young adults, the main market for popular music, are increasingly accepting of sex and their bodies; something that is reflected in content for almost all genres, with artists cashing in on providing us with soundtracks to our promiscuous doings. In this sense, the music industry is just another part of a society saturated with hypersexualized images trying to sell us something. But, when does sex in the music industry cross the line into themes of sexual objectification and aggression?
R&B artist, The Weeknd thrives off of a reputation based on his partying habits and the women he meets doing so – strippers and coked-out rich girls with “lips like Angelina, and ass like Selena”. The majority of Schoolboy Q’s videos are filled with slow motion shots of women in bikinis, rubbing their bodies over him while he raps about all the women he has in relation to his credibility as an artist. This consistent need to brag about the amount of ‘bitches’ willing to have sex with an artist can be seen as controversial as these women are portrayed as passive objects, relaying the message that women are easily attained and that they exist for the sole reason to please men. This theme also crosses into sexual aggression as lyrics normalize rape culture. Rick Ross and Future’s ‘UEONO’ speaks of their power through money and fame, rapping “put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it”. With pop/rock band Maroon 5, Adam Levine sings of hunting down women like “animals”, with a music video that promotes stalker tendencies and violence with sexual reward. These messages mixed up with portraying an image of success and respectability further masks the implications of rape involved in this content.
However, this outlook ignores the power that female artists can carry with their own sexuality. Popular artists such as Madonna, Rhianna, and Gwen Stefani have fought this passive stigma by using their sexuality to empower. Rapper Nicki Minaj’s lyrics are filled with references to sexual acts performed by men, judging their pleasing power, and stating her dominance over her male counterparts. In her music video for ‘Only’, portrayals of dominatrix introduce Minaj’s verse, speaking of denying featured Drake and Lil Wayne’s desires to have sex with her, and celebrating her “big titties, big butt, too” as a tool of power.
Fighting music’s emphasis on sexuality as a whole are female-fronted indie and punk rock bands, who without the hypersexualized image, take control of their own pleasure. Frontwoman of new-to-the scene four-piece Estrons, Taliesyn Källström expresses sexual dominance in ‘Make A Man’, singing “I’d like to fuck you and fuck you, I’d like to make a man of you”. Female punk rock duo, Honeyblood explore sexual independence in ‘Sea of Hearts’, while their music video portrays a naked woman discovering sex for the first time at a party.
While these resistant bands may not have the selling power of Rhianna’s sexual appeal or desirable lifestyle of The Weeknd, there is power in a growing number of artists making clear the blurred lines of sex in the industry. Sex, indeed, sells, but there are positive, forward-thinking ways for the industry to do this.