I’m about to stage dive into a subject that’s bound to stir up some conversation, so I can only hope the crowd will hold me up on this one. Although I know for a fact that if I was concerned about maintaining some kind of passive, acquiescent reputation on the internet, I definitely wouldn’t be bringing this up. But I’m not. I think it’s something we have to talk about because it’s something I’m seeing more and more of in music, and it’s certainly not okay. Let’s talk about sexual assault in the music industry.
Certainly, stories like those of Lostprophets’ Ian Watkins or Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst aren’t the only circumstances where musicians are accused of, and allegedly responsible for, sexual assault. Let me tell you from personal experience, there are some creeps out there. When I was first starting out as a music journalist trying to help local bands gain exposure, I was nearly victimized by a musician (and personal former friend) that I was working with for Tori Talks Music. This is the first time I’m talking about it publicly. And let me clarify: no, I was not raped, but his intentions were clear, and I’m lucky I got out of the situation when I did. It really shook me, and it’s still a scary thought to this day to think that there are people out there like that, and you might not even be able to tell them apart from your friends.
What prompts my sudden discussion about my encounter with a sexually forceful artist formerly supported by this site is a band called Hit The Lights. Let me first be clear: I love Hit The Lights. I think they’re a group of insanely talented musicians, and they put on one of the most entertaining live sets I’ve seen. I’ve seen them twice over the last month or so – first at the Glamour Kills Holiday Show, then again at the final stop on the Acoustic Basement Tour. But both times, the band played the hidden track off This Is A Stickup…Don’t Make It A Murder called “Her Eyes Say Yes, But The Restraining Order Says No,” and I’ve never felt so uncomfortable at a show in my life.
The song makes blatant references to rape and murder, and I’ve always hated it. But it wasn’t until I started hearing it live that it really started to bother me. It makes me angry that after nearly eight years of growing up and seeing the real world through “adult” eyes, the band can still play that song with clear consciences. But the moment that I decided I needed to sit down and write this blog post was when lead singer Nick Thompson preluded the song by addressing its vulgarity with an backhanded apology.
“As I get older, I realize how creepy the lyrics we wrote for this song are, so I apologize for that. But ladies love it, so you all should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Excuse me, what? Do the “ladies love” the obscene lyrical content of the song, or do they love your ability to write catchy melodies? Did you ever even bother to ask yourself that? Or how about the fans? Did you ever ask them if they were comfortable hearing about your “adoration” of using a cloth soaked in chloroform (an anesthetic, for those who are unfamiliar with this compound) to get a girl to submit to your pursuits? Are they comfortable hearing “as she’s losing consciousness, I’m gaining confidence?” Or how about that you “pray [she]’ll die slowly, so [you] can be the last thing that [she] see[s]?” I’m not, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
I’m not saying the song isn’t well written. Musically, it’s catchy and the instrumental track is beautiful. And, quite frankly, the lyrics are even poetic. I’ve seen this come up in a lot of internet discussion about the song. Some say it’s a metaphor for how much he loves this girl and it’s not meant to be taken literally. They say it’s a nice sounding song so we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on the lyrics. But the bottom line is, I don’t care how pretty the song sounds, or even if this song is a metaphor for something deeper than rape and death. Using rape and death as a metaphor for love is equating rape and death to love, and I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I think of when I hear the word “love.” These distasteful references are (metaphorically or not) explicitly stated in the song, and Nick even acknowledged its “creepiness” at the show this week. He admitted it sends off a horrible message, so why does he still choose to send this horrible message? Why is it still okay for him and the rest of Hit The Lights to play it live and bring it to the forefront of attendee’s attention?
Music is a safe-haven for so many people out there who have gone through so many different experiences in their lives. This music scene prides itself in acceptance of people from all different backgrounds, upbringings, and cultures, putting all focus on the common love for music among fans. When a crowd surfer goes up at a show, you probably don’t know a damn thing about them, but you sure as hell do all you can to keep them above ground. When someone falls in the pit, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen them before in your life, you know to pick them up. This scene is all about nondiscriminatory help, love, and support.
But how can we make someone feel welcome and accepted when there are such destructive ideas like this one being made acceptable?
We need to put a stop to the appropriation of sexual assault in music. The fact that there are fans actively singing these lyrics with no objections is just as destructive to the safety of the music industry as the cases against Watkins and Oberst. This doesn’t only happen when “Blurred Lines” hits mainstream media for controversy-driven attention. Appropriation is real, it’s dangerous, and it’s everywhere. We need to stop telling people through our passivity as consumers that the promotion of this kind of behavior is okay, and we need musicians to use their voices as public figures to do the same. Songs like this and attitudes like Nick’s are not uncommon, but they’re inhibiting efforts to make this world a safer place for everyone to live in. It’s time we stop fueling these negative attitudes and start encouraging positive, consensual relationships instead. It’s also our job as a community to remind people who have endured this kind of abuse that there is help, hope, and support out there, some of which is listed below if you ever need it. But hopefully, if people in the public eye like musicians can be an advocate for positive change, not so many people will need it.
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE
Emergencies: Dial 9-1-1
Click here to visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline
Edits and Clarifications:
1) My reason for posting this blog in the first place: I just want to clarify that the song itself did not evoke this response from me, but rather Nick’s comments on the song at the concert. I recognize that the song is 8 years old, and it would be silly to rekindle that fire. But what Nick said only happened a few weeks ago, which is certainly timely enough to post a response blog. I would also like to reiterate that I am not suggesting that what Nick said at the concert is the only problem contributing to the appropriation of sexual violence through music, just the most recent example I’ve seen and kind of a tipping point for me personally. In fact, all of the critics of my article who responded with other songs that are supposedly worse than this one are only supporting that point. And lastly, although I already stated that this wasn’t meant to be an attack on Nick or Hit The Lights in particular, and his comment at his performance a a few weeks ago is merely what prompted this blog post, I have removed all images related to the band.
2) My reasons for mentioning Ian Watkins in the post: First of all, I want to make it clear that I AM IN NO WAY TRYING TO COMPARE NICK TO IAN. In my first mentioning of Watkins, I use it to prelude my own experience with sexual violence in the music industry, stating that very extreme and public cases are not the only ones that exist. The second reference to Watkins comes later when I make the point that music is supposed to be a safe haven for people, but multiple issues make that difficult, from the act of sexual violence (Watkins, for instance) to the appropriation of sexual violence (Nick’s comments, for example). How are people expected to find safety in music when both of these things are happening?
3) The first amendment: My goal was never to prohibit any kind of expression. I do not have the right, nor does anyone, to tell you that you’re not allowed to say something. But just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should. There’s a difference, also, between writing a song like this and expressing topics like sexual assault or kidnapping or murder through other creative outlets. When you go see a horror movie, you’re not rooting for the murderer or rapist. But when you’re singing a song, you’re automatically put in a place where you’re rooting for the first person perspective portrayed in the song. Whether you actually condone that kind of behavior or not, that is how you are being portrayed. So there’s a difference between a movie theater filled with viewers screaming in fear at a movie and cheering fans reciting a depiction of an assault from the assailant’s perspective.