How R&B Music Draws a Line Between Gender and Affects the Minds of the Youth
Dec. 1, 2013 | Essay I wrote for my Women’s Studies Class
Music has been around for centuries captivating the hearts and minds of people all around the world. One type of genre known as R&B has evolved entirely over the years. Once recapping the history of R&B it will show how quickly the genre had changed from its viewpoints of “soothing the masses” to highlighting major issues of America to focusing on sexual orientation. The way it is set up today and given to the world through media it plays a huge role in shaping the mental state of the youth and the way people live. When it comes to gender theories in R&B, lyrics and music videos have expressed a new understanding of morals and power whose negative influences affect social norms and self-representation of men and women.
R&B which means ‘Rhythm and Blues,’ “originated during a time of great change in the black community.” Blacks were beginning to move into urban areas and immediately their social and economic status began to change. (Henton, “About R&B Music”). It was introduced in the 1940s as the genre of blues and jazz combined performed by African-Americans. The term ‘Rhythm and Blues,’ was created to replace the known term at the time, ‘race music.’ In the 1970s the term was also a way of describing soul and funk. (Nero, “What is R&B Music?”).
In the beginning of R&B around 1950s through the 1970s, the music was played on instruments. Most lyrics had only a few words in them. Combined they produced, “mellow, lilting, and often hypnotic textures while calling attention to no individual sound.” Once the 1960s ran by including upbeat music under Motown Records such as “Shop Around” by The Miracles and other artists such as the Jackson 5 and Diana Ross, R&B was used to raise awareness to racism, poverty, and social violence as well as endorsing Black Nationalism. (Shaw, Lee 461). When it came to money and power it was presented in a different way than it is today. (Wikipedia, “Rhythm and Blues”).
Presently, Contemporary R&B is still a part of popular culture which according to one article said, “… some scholars suggested that popular culture regulates society by “soothing the masses” meaning that energy and opposition to the status quo are redirected in pursuit of the latest in athletic shoes or electronic gadgets.” (Shaw, Lee 450). This is trying to say that music was first created for enjoyment to the ears and for dancing to a beat. But today it is literally regulating the way people think. If a song is about buying a new pair of shoes that has recently been released, then most likely a majority of people will eventually go and buy the shoes. The way music is presented is very important because whether a person sees it or not, it will affect them in some way. People have different responses when it comes to music. While contemporary R&B now focuses on ‘hitting it big’ and the steps in doing so, it depends on a person’s life whether they will be vulnerable to follow in that artist’s path or look the other way.
In the music industry they see music as a means of enhancing their profits and popularizing their business in the marketing. In order to make sure they stay on top they target the sect of people who are most vulnerable to follow and become addicted. Young people, especially those in the midst of adolescence, are either starting or continuing their progress in finding who they are. “Ever since the rise of rap and hip-hop music, teens have been turning to them to help solve their problems. However, these kinds of music can be very destructive to teens,” said Teen Ink’s article “The Impact of Rap and Hip-Hop Music on American Youth.” What is said to be considered dangerous to the mind are the lyrics in a given song. Topics include, violence, violence towards women, drugs, money, degrading women, and the list goes on. If a child listens to these types of music depending on the way he is raised and what he faces in his social life, he will either go to music for his answers or to an acceptable role model.
When it comes to gender R&B plays a huge factor. Some music, take “Look at Me Now” performed by Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes talks about how popular and successful a man is when he has certain things. The lyrics say, “Yellow model chick, yellow bottle sipping, yellow Lamborghini, yellow top missing,” includes the fact that he has a light-skinned model. Using the words ‘yellow’ and ‘chick’ disrespects the nature of a woman. Instead of the lyrics describing her as a ‘beautiful model’ it had to go into depths in describing her. This mentally tells young men that in order to “get inside the club” one must try and get a specific type of woman.
Other than the presence of violence in R&B music women are rising to be a number one usage. Because of the money flowing into the music industry producers and companies ignore the new contents used in lyrics to define the meaning of masculinity and femininity. In history women were given a specific role in life. They were respected and seen as important to society but due to changes in the laws, media, and opinions of people the respect and importance of women have decreased.
To young boys listening to songs like, “Miss New Booty” by Bubba Sparxx and “I Like,” by Jeremih and Ludacris they get the impression that women are supposed to be used as a means of pleasure. Take the first line in the song “I Like,” “I’d like to take the time to love your body, rub your body, kiss and hug your body.” When male artists put certain parts of women’s bodies on display and talk about how it makes them feel good, it messes with the minds of young men. It tells young men that women are nothing but sexual objects used to satisfy them mentally and physically. This also displays itself on the way men dress. In music videos artists are seen with their pants handing below their buttocks. This style of dressing to men identifies them as being thugs or powerful and is a form of acceptance in the male community.
R&B music that displays this type of behavior also affects women in many ways. In order to help promote songs, artists use music videos to help express what they really mean in between the lines of their lyrics. In most videos women are seen dressing provocative why the male is fully clothed. Girls entering adolescence visually see women shaped a specific way, wearing specific clothing, dancing and behaving in undesirable manners and get the notion that the social norm is to be like that. They also get messaged that women are objects and are powerless and should act this way towards men.
One form of presenting women in a negative way is music videos. They go as far as showing women dancing half naked and her body being broken down as objects to a man’s needs. Men are superior or can be superior if they have a woman as if they own them. It was not like this back in history. Most media given are unconsciously seen through a male’s perspective. Whether they mean it or not on televisions it does portray a sense of supremacy. With women having no voice in the matter of presentation in music videos and music this will only continue and become normal for women to constrain their opinions and fall powerless.
When it comes to other genres such as Pop, the messages concerning women are more positive. In Bruno Mars’ song, “Just the Way You Are,” he says, “When I see your face there’s not a thing that I would change cause your amazing, just the way you are.” is a perfect example of how music can promote self-respect, and self-worth in women…They go beyond being a commentary on women’s physical appearance and rather into being a commentary on her character.” (205group4, “Hood Life”). When music contains positivity it brings a different outcome. In order to get respect you must give respect.
Because this world is more male centered, women are forced to be seen as objects and unimportant to society. This brings abuse and self-abuse. The violence against women such as domestic abuse will continue to rise. Already women are seen wearing provocative attires in order to look desirable and to fit into society. The social norm today due to the tainted ‘Rhythm and Blues’ declares a new route in getting a boyfriend of a husband. A girl must talk disrespectfully, be a part of a mass majority of friends, and keep up with the trends in order to appear powerful.
The social norm was once surrounding women succession. How women can receive an unlimited amount of education and apply for the jobs they desire. They can both have a family and be successful. The mental state of both women and men has changed drastically. The urge to have a decent education has been deprived by the messages of ways to get rich quick. The rate of gangs has increased since the 1990s and is still rising today. The dropout rates in schools have doubles substantially. And contemporary R&B is not only to blame for the acts of discouraging the young people but other forms of media as well.
With R&B falling in line with other types of media that degrades the nature of women and outline the basics of male dominancy, there are music videos, television shows and movies, and advertisements. The influences given through media does affect the way people think and have changed the social norms concerning gender. While feminism groups are trying to endorse the acts of equality and erase the usage of sexism, the government is helping the music industry in promoting tainted R&B. Parents are also another factor in letting this way of thinking rise in America. Older women such as grandmothers and grand aunts have faced those days of racism and a divided nation and most are not satisfied with the way music is changing. But when it comes to parents of the 20th century they have also been hypnotized by the degrading of genders. While the music is being played in clubs and young people dance to them, most of the time they are not listening to the words. But unconsciously the words are sinking into their minds. When they return to listen to these songs they find themselves accepting what they hear.
Due to the advancement of technology, media has a way of slowly giving messages in between the lines. Though, many do not hear it, it is obviously there. With rap and hip-hop the lyrics are fast and misunderstood as entertainment but most of the time it is endorsing the wrong things to do. As said before concerning violence. Young people sometime turn to their favorite artist for advice. Not only do they see them as role models into becoming successful they hear through their songs ways on handling situations. “They may use this power to help others, or they may use it to destroy others. One big example of the negative effect of rap and hip-hop music is violence. Violent lyrics in songs can be a trigger for some teenagers to start fights, even kill others for what they have. Some possessions could be cars, clothes, jewelry, and money.” (Teen Ink, “The Impact of Rap and Hip-Hop Music on American Youth”)
R&B has changed a lot over the years. From being a form of entertainment and soothing to promoting and influencing violence and degrading women, contemporary R&B plays a huge role in shaping America. People are affected mentally and physically by R&B lyrics and have drawn a line between masculinity and femininity. The definition of power whether it’s becoming successful in a negative way or expressing disrespect to a specific gender it has affected social norms.
All Rights Reserved by LeQuita C. Harrison (c)
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