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The Images Get Stuck in Your Head

Katy Perry California Gurls
By , 18, Staff Writer Originally Published: August 7, 2012 Revised: August 26, 2015

The lyrics to popular songs easily get stuck in our heads because they’re so catchy, but it’s not just the catchy tune that’s getting stuck in our heads. Music videos enhance a song’s message with images. But what do these images, which we see over and over and over again, tell us about sexual relationships and gender roles?

Girl Pleasure

There are lots of popular music videos that use sexual imagery. And you see this in practically every popular music video—whether the music is hip hop, rock or pop. When you think of sexual imagery, there are certain songs that are more obviously sexual, like Lil’ Wayne’s song “Lollipop.” With lyrics like, “So I let her lick the rapper, like a lollipop,” most of us get that he’s talking about a woman performing a blow job or oral sex on a man. Although the music video doesn’t portray women performing oral sex, several of the women dance around seductively while the men are making hand gestures. It’s not just hip hop and rap music that are all about women pleasing men. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” clearly depicts the idea of girls being consumed. If you haven’t seen the music video, the girls are dressed in candy and dessert costumes. The message is pretty obvious.

If you watch a few music videos, the women’s job seems to be to provide the ultimate pleasure for their partners with nothing in return. In lots of music videos, women are there to be as sexual as possible. If you’re a girl watching music videos, what message does this send you about relationships? No matter what the women think, feel or want, the message is that they should be focused on pleasing the men. But shouldn’t relationships work both ways, so both partners get something out of it? Should guys only look for partners that they’re sexually attracted to? Isn’t there more to a relationship than sex?

Sex is a normal part of life, and popular music videos make sexy people and imagery really appealing. But when music videos only highlight the sexual aspect of relationships between men and women and only value women for being sexually available for men, that’s when it gets problematic.

Alas, the music industry is all about selling an image. The industry wants to sell glamour and fantasy, using the same old images of sexy women and strong guys.

Desirable Items

If you’re a girl, it doesn’t take watching many music videos before you get the message that guys will only find you appealing if you are sexy or sexual. In many music videos, women are highlighted as desirable items rather than individuals with emotions, thoughts and feelings. As a young woman, I feel offended and even disappointed seeing women depicted this way. It’s sad to see women valued only for how desirable their bodies are and not for their brains or personality.

The images in music videos also set impossible standards of beauty that leave girls who are not “up to par” feeling discouraged about their perfectly healthy, beautiful bodies, and it’s no surprise that girls might have poor self-esteem or feel like they have to be sexy to get approval. This definitely harms women, especially young women, who might be left thinking that the way women look in the media defines the only acceptable way to look.

Basically, girls want to be accepted and appreciated, but most women we see being accepted and appreciated in music videos are dancing around men, showing off their bodies and being the objects of desire. It is important to value women, like men, for who they are as a person—for what thoughts, opinions and ideas they have.

Pressure on Guys

Music videos send repeated messages about how men are supposed to act too. I can imagine if it’s difficult for a woman, it must be equally difficult for a guy to know how to handle the messages music videos throw at us. Not all men desire women for their bodies. (Not all men are heterosexual for that matter.)

Many music videos also show men in absolute control. Repeatedly, we see this representation of the heterosexual man in control, surrounded by sexy women. And like those catchy song lyrics, these images get stuck in guys’ heads and can have an effect on them. I imagine these representations put a lot of pressure on guys.

Glamour and Fantasy

Alas, the music industry is all about selling an image. The industry wants to sell glamour and fantasy, using the same old images of sexy women and strong guys. I would like to see more music videos that aren’t so simplistic in their portrayal of sexual relationships and the ideal guy or girl. Music videos have such a large audience; they should shake things up with more variety in terms of how they portray women and men.

Yes, the beat and lyrics may be catchy, but if you look closely (especially to the music videos), you will notice there are a few sexual messages about men and women that get hammered into our heads time after time. But there’s so much more to men, women and relationships.

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