Victor Hugo, a well known French Romantic writer, once stated “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Though this statement was made in the 19th century, it continues to stand true to this day. Through decades of evolution, music has constantly been a way for anyone to express themselves through melodies, timbre, dynamics, and lyrics. People around the world are composing, as well as listening to, all kinds of music, and this unifies nations in all countries and continents. Introduction to Literature is an anthology that consists of a variety of literary works – poems, short stories, and excerpts from novels – that discusses globalization. I believe that a chapter regarding the subject of music and its evolution should be included in the Introduction to Literature.
Music has continuously been changing ever since the first beat was tapped, the first piano was struck, the first violin was plucked, and the first horn was blown; however, in the last 150 years, the meaning of lyrics and the style of music has changed drastically. From Bing Crosby to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Eminem, the artists and composers have altered the way music sounds on the radio, computer, and other musical devices. Every genre has artists, who have songs, which have lyrics that contain a story. Whether the story is from a memory, a dream, or an ambition, it becomes clear when it is being heard by billions of people. Music has become a basis for artists to exert their most inner emotions and thoughts into lyrics that others can relate to, live by, and act upon, as well as a means to degrade women in an approach that people don’t realize until the lyrics are sought out, the song is heard an abundance of times, or the video is seen.
This proposed chapter is about how music has become more degrading and demeaning towards women, but most importantly, how it has evolved through the decades. The reader should be able to experience how music has changed as he reads from page to page and understand that the adjustments have not necessarily been for the better.
The first piece the reader encounters will be an insightful poem by the great Harlem writer, Langston Hughes. This poem, “The Weary Blues,” is a fantastic piece to use for the poetry section of class. It evokes a gloomy tone and the tempo of a blues song; it contains strong diction and includes blues lyrics within the piece itself; and it portrays a wonderful example of imagery. This poem is also comprised of a relationship between the speaker and subject as in lines 1-3. As Hughes states “Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, / Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, / I heard a Negro play,” he connects the audience to the performer by describing their interaction of rocking back and forth. “The Weary Blues” also ties in well with this chapter because it speaks of an earlier form of music: jazz. During the jazz period, music was not about how harshly one could make his ex-wife sound to an audience, but freedom to play, listen, and dance to music. This idea of simplicity in music complements jazz music’s complexity of rhythm, syncopation of notes, and improvisation that varies by player. This poem creates a smooth transition to the next item in the chapter.
For this piece, I envision the picture, as shown above, along with a paragraph below describing Etta James’ participation and involvement with music. She is a revolutionary woman who is an inspiration to women everywhere. James is also relatable to anyone who has faced difficult challenges, as she has battled with dementia, hepatitis C, and leukemia. This Grammy-winning singer began singing in choir and premiering on the radio at age 5. At the age of 16, she ventured to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower”, also known as “Roll with Me Henry”, change her name, and join a vocal group. She introduced her well known song “At Last” in 1961, which received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1995. Not only has James been a part of the evolution of music, she has conquered the transformation and prevailed with singles that are still popular today. Etta James’ music has evolved alongside the passing decades. From singing in the times where blues and R&B were popular to the times where pop music stood out, James’ songs were heard and topped the charts. Not only were her songs peaceful and easy to listen to, they contained meaningful lyrics and a story behind every song. Though the melodies, instrumentation, and tempos were important, the lyrics were what made Etta James’ songs relatable. Lyrics can be seen as the most significant aspect of a song because it is in the lyrics where the artist gets to share their memories and emotions with the audience. For this reason, the next two items of the chapter are lyrics from different decades.
The third text in this chapter is Bing Crosby’s “Beautiful Dreamer” lyrics. These lyrics were originally written and published in March 1864 and have been performed by numerous singers. Bing Crosby’s rendition of this song was on his Greatest Hits: 1934-1943 CD. At the time of this release, these lyrics were incredibly inspirational to all who heard it. It was not demeaning towards women, it used no offensive terminology, and unlike music that one might hear on Mix 93.3, it brought hope and encouragement to the audience. In the chapter, this song comes before the fourth item – lyrics for “My Name Is…” – so that it is in chronological order for the reader to see how music has evolved.
Though “My Name Is…” by Eminem is more explicit than Crosby’s, most college students have heard the terminology stated in the song at least once before. Therefore, I believe this entry in the chapter is acceptable for admission. This song was produced in 1999 for the CD The Slim Shady LP. “My Name Is…” is relatable to many of the songs one hears today when listening to hip hop and rap music. One of the prominent themes in this song is about attempting to get a woman for a one night stand. While rapping this theme, Eminem uses degrading terminology in the explicit and extra-explicit versions. In the radio edit, he refers to women as “extraterrestrial” (line 29). He also says “served the bartender, then walked out with a tip cup” (line 28). This line that can be easily overlooked refers to him engaging in sexual relations with a woman he most likely just met and then being paid because he was “that good.” This demeaning music is just one of the hundreds out there that kids listen to every day and slowly their subconscious believes that calling women these derogatory terms is acceptable. In the chapter, these two lyrics should be on adjoining pages. These two sets of lyrics need to be located this way so that the reader can visually compare and contrast them.
Comparisons between these two lyrics are more difficult than spotting the differences. For example, “Beautiful Dreamer” is a shorter piece with repetition throughout the song, no stated chorus, many masculine rhymes, and examples of personification. “My Name Is…” is a longer song, contains a stated chorus, uses explicit language (most has been removed due to the radio edit), has both masculine and feminine rhymes, and includes multiple examples of hyperboles and metaphors. If listened to, these songs also are complete opposites in tempo and timbre. “Beautiful Dreamer” is a peaceful song that could be sung as a lullaby; on the other hand, “My Name Is…” has a much more upbeat tempo and almost a mocking tone.
After looking closely and analyzing these two pieces, one can begin to see the comparisons. The first comparison between these two pieces is they both have a meaning behind each of their lyrics. Crosby is singing as a lover who is serenading his other half. This woman is oblivious to the worldly cares as she lies dreaming the night away. Eminem’s song has a different meaning to each person that hears this song. Eminem may be establishing authority as a white rapper to gain “street cred”, exaggerating his childhood and youth, or he could just be absolutely insane and writing down random thoughts that go through his head. Another comparison between these two lyrics is the use of their rhyming. Eminem uses both feminine and masculine rhymes in his song to project the harshness of his tone. He primarily uses the singe rhyme, such as “straight / impregnate” (lines 11-12).
This utilization creates a sharper end to the phrase, which helps produce the projected tone. Crosby uses the masculine rhyme to help emphasize the waltz-like rhythm and placid tone. By not using multiple syllables at the end of the phrase, the emphasis is placed at the beginning of the line rather than the last word. Students can further discuss these comparisons and contrasts as well as come to their own conclusions regarding the themes for each song as a class activity. These two songs have been placed before the next item in the chapter so that the readers can see how women are portrayed from different time periods. This reason for placement is the main topic of “From Fly-Girls to Bitches and Hos” by Joan Morgan.
In this excerpt from Which Chickenheads Come Home to Roost…My Life as a Hip-Hop Feminist, Morgan talks about how music started out as a way to show emotion, such as affection for a subject. She then moves on to share about how this method that once was used to express concerns, numbness, affection, and reactions has transformed the way our society behaves like gentleman and ladies to fellas and gals to ganstas and hos. This relates to the chapter because it shares a woman’s view on the negativity of music heard by children, teens, and adults today. Morgan takes a personal stance on the demeaning lyrics used by many artists. Though she believes that it is wrong for artists to address women in such an offensive way, she states “many of the ways in which men exploit our images and sexuality in hip-hop is done with our permission and cooperation” (Morgan 605). She points out that it is not forced upon women to act in such seductive and sexual ways in music videos, as they are merely volunteers willing to disgrace and objectify themselves so they can be paid and get noticed. An example of the portrayal of women in a music video can be seen by the following piece in the proposed chapter.
Jay-Z is a vociferous American rapper known for his risqué music videos and his explicit lyrics that objectify women. For this entry in the chapter, there will be a picture of Jay-Z and the woman from the music video “Excuse Me Miss” at the time of 1:56. Underneath the picture will be a paragraph about Jay-Z, his lyrics, and this particular video. The instructor DOES NOT have to show this video in class or tell the students to see it outside of class. The reference to this video, along with the picture, gives a strong connection to why it belongs in the chapter. This picture is of Jay-Z looking towards the ceiling while sharing an elevator with a woman in a low cut, hole-filled, silver sequined dress and a black and white striped fur coat looking towards Jay-Z.
The woman’s dress leaves little to the imagination and can be seen as very risqué. The lyrics to “Excuse Me Miss” supposedly refer to love at first sight, but if you disregard the lyrics and watch the first half of the video, it shows women scantily dressed, dancing provocatively, and looking in a seductive manner towards the rapper. This video, as well as the lyrics, dehumanizes women into objects that men can play with when they choose to do so. This portrayal of women is common in today’s hip-hop and rap music and is shown in many videos, such as the one included in the chapter. Due to the representation of the female in which artists sing and rap about, children and teens are learning that it is okay to abuse, mistreat, and degrade women in life. Kayley Gillespie discusses this in her online article that finalizes the chapter.
In “Portray of Women Perpetuates Dangerous Attitudes toward Sexuality,” Kayley Gillespie identifies different components of life that have been compromised due to the music heard from different media sources. In this article, Gillespie describes how “healthy constructions of sexuality prevent sexual violence,” but in today’s time, our country is providing the exact opposite. She gives the artist Drake as an example of a social media source that hinders children’s view on women. He raps about taking advantage of women, guns, drugs and alcohol and continuously repeats the well known mantra “you only live once.” She gives the statistic that at least 60 percent of all music videos are sexually explicit songs that contain women dressed in provocative clothing, and 80 percent of movies shown on cable or network television have sexual content. The negative influence of music and other forms of media are helping increase sexual violence in America.
The proposed chapter not only lets the reader experience the evolution of music through the years but also raises awareness of the derogatory terminology used in today’s music. The poem “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes gives the reader an insight of the soulfulness of blues, how pure the lyrics and melodies were, and how the singer and audience could connect through a simple interaction of a body rocking back and forth. The photo and brief paragraph about Etta James shows the reader how the lyrics can make or break a song, how they can create a relationship with the audience, and how evolving one’s music along with the popular music of the time is important. The lyrics by Bing Crosby and Eminem reveal the most drastic changes of music within a time span of 135 years and how the perception of women has been altered.
Joan Morgan challenges the reader to question the anger coming from the artists and rappers, informs the readers of the change in the tone of music, and calls for action by the reader to stop allowing these artists to demean women in their songs. Jay-Z shows the reader that women are portrayed in skimpy clothing, are dehumanized and objectified, and are shown to dance in a provocative and seductive manner in many music videos. Lastly, Kayley Gillespie ties these sources together by sharing how these changes in music affect the amount of sexual violence in America and corrupt the minds of children and teenagers that listen and watch the different social media outlets that degrade women. The evolution of music has taken a toll for the worse as lyrics have deeper connotations and teach younger generations that it is satisfactory to use profanity and acceptable to use a female for sex or hitting practice. I believe that this chapter should be in the Introduction to Literature anthology so that future readers will understand and analyze the evolution of music and how it has become corrupted in today’s society.
Crosby, Bing. “Beautiful Dreamer.” Greatest Hits: 1934-1943. CD. 1996. SongLyrics. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
Eminem. Lyrics. “My Name Is…(Radio/Video Edit).” The Slim Shady LP. CD. 1999. AZLyrics. Web. 30 Nov.2012.
Gillespie, Kayley. “Portrayal of women perpetuates dangerous attitudes toward sexuality.” OUDaily.com. The Oklahoma Daily. 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
Hughes, Langston. “The Weary Blues.” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1994. 50. Print
Jay-Z. “Excuse Me Miss ft. Pharrell.” The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse. The Neptunes, 2002. Music video. Dir. Little X. Feb 2003. Television.
Leopold, Todd. Etta James. 1961. CNN Entertainment. CNN. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
Morgan, Joan. “From Fly-Girls to Bitches and Hos.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s. 443-449. Print.