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Music in identity

‘What people listen to is more important for their sense of themselves than what they watch or read’ (Firth 2003 cited in Abolhasani, et al, 2017).

In my personal experience music has always played an important role in my life, from understanding religion, embracing cultures, uplifting my mood to simply starting conversations. However before starting this module I never really thought of music as a vital role in one’s identity construction, rather just a coping mechanism and away of spreading cultures. The purpose of this paper is to gain insight into how music; artists, lyrics, music videos and visuals, can contribute to the construction of gender identity, what it means to be male or female in this day and the role music plays in the contribution of the sexualisation of both sexes. I will be looking at these in terms of their impact on individuals in adolescence and emerging adulthood a life stage which I am currently undergoing myself. I will be relating my own experience to psychological, biological and feminist models of gender construction and identifying the role music can play in these models of gender identity.

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I will also be using Nietzsche’s dichotomy of The Disonayan and Appolyanian of arts as a theoretical framework to analyse the theme of toxic masculinity and misogyny in grime music. Finally I will be analysing artists outside of their musical careers and how their activities outside their musical career can influence their audience.

18 to 24 year olds spend on average three and a half hours listening to music. (The daily express, 2017) this age group is undergoing the process of identity development in; adolescence and emerging adulthood. The Identity status model (Marcia, 1993) is a useful framework to understand the process of identity development in emerging adulthood, particularly Identity moratorium as moratoriums are struggling to define themselves. They are lively, engaging, conflicted…they may draw to others in their identity formation processes (Schwartz et al, 2012). Here ‘others’ could be used to refer to artists, they may feel that through lyrics and visuals they can relate to artists. Three and half hours is a long period of time to listen to music on a daily basis when people listen to music, they perceive and process information, and experience a variety of emotional states (Juslin & Sloboda, 2011; Meyer, 1956 cited in (Leipold and Lepthien, 2015) music can serve as coping mechanism for young people as emerging adulthood is perceived as a time of prolonged emotional insecurity regarding role status (Arnett, 2001 cited in; Zimmermann and Iwanski, 2014). Music serves as active and important function in the daily lives of young people undergoing the stage of emerging adulthood, including myself I spend most of my day with headphones on or background music playing as it improves my concentration. Music can serve as a useful purpose for young people in emerging adulthood as it is transformative and a means of self-expression. Music is one of art tool which transfers human are feeling, emotion, understanding and awareness…It is the language of dreams, expectations and feelings in humans (Irani, 1993; cited in Shayan et al., 2011).

“My job with the music video is to bolster the song, give it a whole new component, connect it to a visual narrative and add”,” (Jason Koenig cited in Cobo, 2017). Music videos give songs a whole new meaning and significantly contribute to the gender identity of young people through the sexualisation of men and women as well as the portrayal of women as the weaker sex. Music videos are interesting and are just as important as the song in fact they give the songs context for example; Lil’Dicky and Chris Brown’s song ‘Freaky friday’ would make no sense without a music video. However most music videos thrive of sexualisation, as sex sells. This is done by both male and female artists. Nicki Minaj’s anaconda is a overly sexualised song with the lyrics;

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‘And he telling me it’s real, that he love my sex appeal”,

He say he don’t like ’em boney”,

he want something he can grab’.

(Minaj, 2014)

These lyrics symbolise what it means to be a woman in 2018, regardless of the rate of working women rapidly increasing women are still marginalised on their outward appearance ‘he want something he can grab’ suggest that regardless of how far women progress they are still going to be sexualised and judged on their outward appearance. Mainly due to the fact that ‘sex sells’; (Boitch, 2017) female artists use their sex appeal to promote their work and gain popularity. However on the contrary it can be argued that female artists use their body to promote their femininity, sexuality and female empowerment this is all dependant on the viewers interpretation as the assumption that displays of feminine sexuality are indicators of sexual availability. (Lhooq, 2014) or a invitation for unreciprocated sexual abuse or harassment. However women are raped because their bodies are viewed as sexual conquests… a mindset which stems from the unequal power relations between men and women. (Philippine Commission on Women, 2018) this ideology and inequality of power difference is constantly displayed in the music industry; with songs like Kanye West’s ‘I love it’.

‘I’m a sick fuck, I like a quick fuck

I like my dick sucked, I’ll buy you a sick truck

I’ll buy you some new tits, I’ll get you that nip-tuck’

(West, 2018)

These lyrics suggest women are happy to fulfil men’s desires, suggesting the function of a women in society is to pleasure men in any need which the requires and in return the men will lavish women with expensive gifts and beauty treatments which women could not ordinarily afford, so women are only with men for financial gain they are only good at one thing ‘sex’. These lyrics are not only damaging for young women’s body image as it is a mockery of body dysmorphia ‘buy you some new tits’ suggests the original body parts are lacking. Lyrics such as; ‘I’ll get you that nip-tuck’ contribute to the rise of ‘sugar babies’ young women who are in transactional relationships with wealthy older men for financial security, lyrics like these are suggesting to young women that they don’t need a career but can use their bodies in a profitable way. In 2015 university students made 42% of a popular Sugar Daddy website (Jones, 2015). Statistics such as this suggest even career-oriented women are using their bodies for financial gain and security because in our society a women’s body is extremely sexualised and seen as a prize, young women will in emerging adulthood will listen to lyrics such as these and may feel that they too should use their body for financial gain”,

The cover picture for this song (figure 2) is a black women with large breasts which she is covering with her hands and the entire song is singing the objectification and sexualistaion of women this song was also debuted for the first ever pornhub awards, however ironically the song has a feminist intro and outro;

‘Cause you know in the old days

They couldn’t say the shit they wanted to say

They had to fake orgasms and shit

We can tell niggas today:

“Hey, I wanna cum, mothafucka!’

(Adele Givens)

(West, 2018)

The first time I heard this song was when I was at the gym I was really impressed by the intro and expecting this song to be a empowering feminist anthem which would make young women like myself feel empowered however I was very disappointed when I heard that rest of the song:

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‘You’re such a fuckin’ ho, I love it (I love it)’

(Lil Pump)

(West, 2018)

Women have significantly progressed in terms of rights and representation in the workplace, politics, mainstream media and music, but regardless of this emancipation. Rates of depression in young women are rising yearly, research published in; The BMJ concluded that there was a 68% increase in self harm among girls aged 13-16 between 2011 and 2014. (Morgan et al., 2017). Although female artists like Nicki Minaj have talent they use their sex appeal for attention this creates a negative image for young girls, creating a standard of beauty norms which are hard to attain for the average person, such as surgical treatments to enhance certain body parts, (figure 1 the cover photo for Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda.) This can lead to body dysmorphia. Interestingly body dysmorphia usually develops in adolescence, a time when people are generally most sensitive about their appearance. (Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, n.d.) Adolescence is also a period where individuals begin to develop gender identity (Steensma et al., 2013) and when they are receiving different types of imagery from musical lyrics and their visuals of the portrayal of women as such sexual beings is significantly damaging for a young woman’s sense of self, rather than empowering.

Although body dysmorphic disorder is popularly discussed as a female problem it also affects young men, body dysmorphic disorder in men is commonly surrounding how they feel about their; skin, hair (thinning), nose (size or shape), or genitals. (Phillips and Castle, 2001). An overly sexualised music industry not only affects young womens and their identity but equally affects men as they to have an image to live up to, most sexualised lyrics about men refer to their genitalia, for example;

‘Come here, rude boy, boy, can you get it up?

Come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough?

Take it, take it, baby, baby’

(Rihanna, 2009)

Traditionally in England, sex was sacred and preserved for marriage, women who had children out of wedlock would have to give their children up for adoption as their children were not recognised as legitimate by the law. However during the 1960’s ‘The sexual revolution’ began in England and by 1966 the birth control pill went from being only available to married women to being accessible by all women (Hekma and Giami, 2014), because of this more people were having sex and soon premarital sex became the norm, through this sexual revolution, sex has been brought into the public image more and is less censored then it previously was, many sexualised music videos are available on Youtube without age restriction and are even shown on daytime T.V. Through the emancipation of women sexualisation in the music industry has moved from being predominantly women to now men also being sexualised by female artists. Lyrics such as: ‘come here rude boy, is you big enough?’ are challenging men’s self-esteem, male body dysmorphia particularly regarding genitalia is increasing (Phillips and Castle, 2001). The cultivation theory is useful to understand the relationship between male body dysmorphia and sexualised music videos and lyrics about men. The cultivation theory holds that the more time an individual spends watching a form of media increases their perception that the reality they are watching aligns with their social reality (Shanahan and Morgan, 2003), music videos such as the music video for Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ where she is teasing the men in the video show male viewers that their not enough to sexually please their women, ‘is you big enough?’ implying that for a women all that is important is a male’s ability to pleasure her of course this is damaging for young men as most female artists sing about a male’s ability to pleasure them; since viagra has been available to purchase without prescription sales rapidly increased, £4.3 million in the first twelve weeks (Anekwe, 2018). Suggesting that the reinforcement of a man’s abilities to pleasure women constantly portrayed in the music industry is affecting men so they look on to medical support to help them.

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Male artists such as The Weeknd and Chris Brown also encourage the idea that a mans successes is not measured by his wealth nor his achievements but rather the number of women they can have sex with.;

‘I just fucked two bitches ‘fore I saw you’

(Weeknd, 2015)

And Chris Brown;

‘Got all these hoes in my DM (yeah, I do)’

(Dicky and Brown, 2018)

Lyrics like this are challenging the identity and self image of male adolescents as if they are not able to have sex for whatever reasons or are not getting female attention it will lead to them feeling very insecure and unworthy developing low self esteem and body dysmorphia. Female artists such as Stefflon Don;

‘Look how you make me feel

Look how you make me get senseless

Look how you make me feel

Look how you make me get aggressive’

(Don, 2018)

Who frequently discuss sex in their songs, and use personal pronouns ‘you’ this can make young adolescent males (as most mainstream music refers to hetrosexual relationships) aspire to having sex. To make themselves feel worthy and accomplished, this is damaging for both men and women; men feel entitled to having sex with women through the exposure of sexual lyrics. If we look at sexual lyrics inducing sexual activity in Freudian terms, sexual lyrics can act as a stimuli for an individual’s sexual drive ‘libido’ and thus lead to the excitation of the erotogenic zones, The aim of an instinct is in every instance satisfaction, (Freud, 1905). Here the satisfaction will ultimately lead to some sort of sexual activity and possibly sexual abuse, when female artists are expressing emotion and singing about sex it can make some men feel like this is what all women want (cultivation theory) which can lead them to misreading a woman’s body language and ultimately sexual abuse.

I will now be looking at how music can influence gender identity development by looking at gender identity in; The psychosocial stages of development (Erikson, 1995 ) and Social learning theory (

Bandura, 1977).

Feminism gender is a social construct so we lean what male behaviors and what female behaviors are through society

An overally sexulaised music industury and the portayal of females behaving in a certain way and male dominance can contribute to young people ideas about accepted social norms, however artists like David Bowie and freddie mercury are adopting androgynous dress so changing ideas about gender showing that the way one dresses or chooses to express themselve does not necessarily need to be gendered.

Biological theory of gender holds that gender is as result of a individual’s genetic makeup and determined by XX or XY chromosome. Males have testosterone females have oestrogen”,

Testeone associated with aggrestion and make bheabiouse

Pornography does not cause rape or violence, which predate pornography by thousands of years. Rape and violence occur not because of patriarchal conditioning but because of the opposite, a breakdown of social controls.

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