Tuesday, December 7, 2010

There Once Was A Story About A Boy: Part 2

One aspect of the "Man-Box" is that men must be sexual beings that don't know how to control their hormones. Men are supposed to be continuously on the hunt to have sex with many partners and then brag about their "conquests". Music is a great way for musicians to open up about their sex lives and their own sexuality. This particular blog will continue with the theme of men's story-telling through music. The two songs that are being discussed in this particular post will deal with this issue of how men hyper-sexualize themselves through their music.

Hip-hop music is a great example of how men portray their sex lives and their expectations for other men's sex lives. It has been commonly known for the way it subjectifies women and further builds the walls of the "Man-Box". Instead of picking the obvious choices of Ludacris or Plies, I've decided to focus on an underground hip-hop artist that goes by the name of MURS. His song, entitled "Freak These Tales" is about a few of the women that he had sex with in the past.

While starting this blogging project of mine I have become a fan of MURS. His songs aren't the cookie-cutter formulaic versions of hip-hop songs coming out today. The stories he tells through his music are more about what rappers were rapping about when hip-hop music emerged in the 80s. This song, though, comes close to this pattern of rappers telling of their sexual conquests. He raps about his experiences from the time he lost his virginity, a lesbian, an aspiring female rapper, a Korean woman, a "hood rat", a stripper, a latina woman, and a few others. It isn't so much of what MURS says about these women that bothers me, as much as it is the chorus of this song:

"Once upon a time in a land around the way
There lived a couple girls that would never give me play
Used to wear tight shirts and shorts skirts everyday
Everytime I tried to hit it, they say no way
Until one fine day, in this land of LA
One finally slipped up and she let me have my way
She kinda turned me out, changed my life I must say
Cuz I haven’t stopped chasin these broads to this day"

It's a glimpse of the age-old myth that just because a woman is wearing revealing clothes, she is looking to have sex with every man they walk by. Other than that small complaint about this song, I enjoy how blunt he is about his experiences with these women. He admits that he doesn't have sex with every woman that crosses his past. He also admits that he isn't a rockstar in the bedroom, so to speak. As far as hip-hop music goes (I hardly listen to it any more, thanks to my introduction to the world of feminism) I won't hesitate to listen to MURS again. A big thanks goes out to my ex who told me about him.

On the complete other side of the subject of this blog is a song written and performed by a band named Franz Ferdinand. Their first self-titled album, Franz Ferdinand, has a mix of your typical pop-like, indie rock, dance tunes about women and love is a song that surprised me the first time I heard it. I was a senior in high school when this cd first came out. I fell in love with their #1 hit "Take Me Out" and rushed to buy their album. Upon first listening to this album I heard the song "Michael". "Michael" is a song written by the lead singer about his two of his friends' debauched night at a dance club.

While I was completely fine with homosexuality, it was still a taboo subject within high school-aged children. I had gay friends who had just came out during a time when coming out as a homosexual was still unheard of and risky. When I first heard this song I blushed and felt weird listening to it (and loving it!) Most of Franz Ferdinand's heterosexual male fans felt weird for loving this song too. None of the members of Franz Ferdinand have not come out as being homosexual to my knowledge. It is refreshing to see a once-popular male band sing about homosexuality just as if they were singing a song with heterosexual lyrics.

In the next blog I plan to continue this theme of sexuality and how men express it. My next blog will focus more on this idea of ambiguous male artists, such as Franz Ferdinand. I will be focusing on masculine and feminine versions of ambiguity and what I mean by masculine and feminine ambiguity. Until then I shall be listening to this man boombox!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

There Once Was A Story About A Boy

While every song tells a story, I believe that the quality of the story being told has really sunk within music being produced in today's society. There seems to be a cookie-cutter template within popular music in general as to what stories musical artists tell in their songs nowadays. This blog will focus less on popular music and shift towards older music and independent artists. The stories within the songs I will be discussing will be focusing on masculinity on different levels.

The first song I would love to discuss first is the song "Carolina Drama" performed by The Raconteurs (which is ironic because a raconteur is defined as being a travelling storyteller). This is a fascinating, literal story about a young man who lives with his little brother, his mother, and his mother's alcoholic boyfriend. The young man wakes up to see that his mother's boyfriend is beating up a preacher while is mother is huddled over, crying and distraught. The young man then realizes that this preacher is the father he never met, and decides to end the life of the boyfriend who has beat the man's father within an inch of his life. It turns out that even though this man's father was never physically in his life, he supported the young man and his family by helping to pay all of the bills for their household.

This songs tells the story of a young man who sticks up for the father he never knew. At the end of the song it is never revealed on whether or not the young man's father lived through the attack inflicted by the drunk boyfriend. That is left up to the listener to decide on what happens to the young man and his family. I would like to believe that the preacher decided to have a physical appearance within the young man's life after the incident of this song. Society would prefer an outcome such as this.

Jimmy Bufett's song "Pencil Thin Mustache" illustrates Jimmy Buffett's perception of what the image of being a man was for him while growing up. Throughout the song Jimmy Buffett talks about how wished that he had a pencil-thin mustache, dressed like Ricky Ricardo, and solved mysteries. Instead he was an awkward-looking boy who was forced to go to school, but only cared about being with women. His ideas of masculinity seem to be greatly influenced by the media he grew up around. A pencil-thin mustache showed an image that demanded respect and held power. If he dressed and looked sharply and lived dangerously, in the young Jimmy Buffett's mind, he would present the image of being a man in society. What bothers me about this song though is his perpetuation that boys only care about being cool and wanting nothing but sex. I'd like to believe though that Jimmy Buffett painted this picture to show what society has done to the boys and men of the United States and the world over.

While these two songs displayed stories about manhood and its struggles, my next blog entry will carry on with storytelling dealing with masculinity and sexulality.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boys Don't Cry

Boys and men are generally told that they should not show soft emotions such as fear, sadness, or love. Male musicians have been the exception to this rule for decades. There is no way that you can make music without emotions behind the songs. In this segment of "The Man Boombox" I will be exploring the range of emotions that men use when writing songs and performing.

As I'm sitting here listening to music for this particular blog post a song came up that should be worth noting. This song has to be one of the greatest songs I have heard regarding a man going through heartbreak. What Made Milwaukee Famous's song, entitled "Jeopardy of Contentment" is a song about a man who decides to let go of a relationship that is already beginning to fall apart. In the song he admits that this break-up will hurt them both, but it's what's best for both of them. It's easy to hear the heartache that the singer expresses during this song:

"So, there you left me standing
to fend for myself however.
but I'm holding up,
I'm pulling through.
I'm not sure what else you expect me to do.
But I won't deny that I'm taking it hard...
I'm taking whatever's available to me.
You see, that's just the way I deal with grief."

-What Made Milwaukee Famous: "Jeopardy of Contentment"

The man singing sounds absolutely distraught over the ending of this relationship, but the lyrics show a man who's forcing himself to put on a strong mask to hide to his ex how hurt he truly is. It's the same mask that men are forced to wear every day of their lives.

Another way men wear their masks of emotions is to replace sadness with anger. Cee-lo Green's latest hit "F**k You" is a great example of this emotional mask. This song is about a boy who fell in love with a girl who would rather have the rich man over the poor man. The boy is upset with this realization of his choice of woman and decides to swear the woman off all-together. There is a verse within the song where the boy is crying to his parents and his parents don't want to hear any of the boy's crying. By the end of the song it is revealed that even though this girl in question is not a good choice for a girlfriend, the boy is still head-over-heels for her.

The boy in Cee-lo Green's song wasn't very good at keeping the strong, angry mask on in the face of heartache. The man mentioned in Travis Tritt's song "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" puts on a stronger front though. Country music has a reputation of enforcing gender norms for both men and women. Travis Tritt's song is no exception to this trend. This particular song is about a man who has been cheated on. He breaks up with his girlfriend even though she is begging for forgiveness and wanting to come back to him. Travis Tritt then goes on to sing about how he could care less about this woman's problems and how she is a dirty cheating woman. The music video depicts him sitting at a garage sale selling all of her belongings.

I know some people deal with heartache differently, but I also know from personal accounts from my male friends what someone cheating on them does to their heartstrings. Men feel heartache, they just don't show it because society tells them that it's wrong to.

While my last two blog posts have dealt with men and their lack of emotions, my next post will focus more on the stories that male musicians decide to tell within their music. Everybody has a story to tell...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Girl's Bromance

Like most children, I listened to whatever my parents listened to. Like most children too, my musical tastes began to evolve around the time I began to hit puberty. I started to show interest in boys, which quickly followed by my love of boy bands. I wish I could say that I skipped over that trend of loving pop music and following what everyone else was doing, but I can't. I was one of the generals of the Backstreet Boys army in the major boy-band fued between Backstreet Boy fans and N'SYNC fans. The walls of my bedroom were wallpapered with the faces of Brian Littrell, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, and Howie Dorough (I'm actually not too surprised that I still remember their full names).

I was not alone amongst this craze of boy-band-crazy pre-teen and teenage girls. Boybands such as Backstreet Boys, N'SYNC, 98 Degrees, and LFO had swept the world during the 90s and the early 2000s. Boybands gave girls a perfect image as to what their boyfriends should be like and gave boys unrealistic expectations to live up to according to the girls they wished to date.

Every boyband follows a similar pattern. There's 3 to 5 good-looking "boys" of varying personalities. They sing songs about love lost and love gained, all while dancing to choreographed steps planned out for them and while wearing matching outfits. These bands are put together by record companies looking to make an easy dollar off of the impressionable female youth. MTV made a movie that later spawned the television series with the same name of "2gether". "2gether" (the television show and the movie) was made to satirize the boyband concept and make up. 2gether's band make-up consisted of the "Shy One", the "Older Brother", the "Rebel", the "Cutie", and the "Heart Throb".

What really strikes me as being odd is that while these bands are called "boybands" a great majority of their members are over the age of 18, and should therefore be considered men, not boys. Many parents would find it more disturbing, though that their children were listening to "manbands" rather than "boybands".

The social make-up of boyband fans is something that is very noticeable. The great majority of boyband fans are heterosexual white females between the ages of 9 and 15. While male fans exist, they knowingly exist sparingly. Any boy who dares to declare themselves a fan of boybands is immediately dismissed as being gay. Society has taught boys that it isn't "manly" to enjoy pop music in general. Even though these bands are comprised (mostly) of heterosexual men who sing their hearts out to girls with the hopes of winning their hearts, boys are taught that this is not acceptable behavior for a man.

When Lance Bass of the band N'SYNC came out as a gay man a couple years ago the media and society took the news with a mix of responses. While the gay community was accepting, the rest of society met this news with responses such as: "That doesn't surprise me"; "I always thought he was gay"; "He was the ugly one anyways"; and "He had to have been gay to be in a band like that." In my eyes I don't believe it was so much as Lance's sexuality that was being attacked as much as it was the sexuality of all boy band members of the past and present.

Nowadays boybands aren't as prevalent as they were during the times of Backstreet Boys and N'SYNC. Girls and boys these days now have the Jonas Brothers to to fill their boyband needs. The major differences are that the Jonas Brothers all play their own instruments, write their own songs, are actually biological brothers, and put out a clean-cut image that promotes Christian values such as their major value of abstaining from sex until marriage. Nickelodeon has also recently spawned a 2gether-esque show entitled "Big Time Rush". "Big Time Rush" is about a boyband with the same name working to make it in the music industry. While I have yet to see any of this show it appears to follow the boyband pattern that is more common.

There is definately a gap within the bridge between what society says girls should look for in a guy and how guys should portray themselves to girls. Girls are taught to look for the good-looking, sensitive guy who can dance and easily put their emotions into song. Guys are taught that being sensitive and showing emotions are both signs of weakness and dancing is something that only girls do. This blog will go on to explore which kinds of emotional music is "acceptable" for men within society today.

An Introduction to a Blogger and Her Love of Music

When I first decided on writing a blog about music, I immediately began exploring which bands and musicians I would discuss. I perused the internet for pictures. I even had a set of blog titles in place. The one aspect that I failed to address though was how I would begin my blog. After much consideration, I have chosen to give my readers (you guys and gals) a bit of a taste of where I am coming from with my music tastes and opinions.

I grew up in a home that centered around music. My father was a drummer for a rock band for some time before I was born, and therefore, shared his love for rock. My mother's taste in music is a bit more broad, ranging from jazz, classical, and musicals, to rock music. Instead of the TV being on during dinner, we listened to music. My mom would clean the house while while my siblings and I danced to the music that my mom was listening to. Our parties were filled with music, starting with jazz at the beginning of the party, and then shifting into rock music as the party carried on into the night. Our favorite movie within our home was the movie "Wayne's World". My parents owned the soundtrack to that movie. My brother did the memorable "Foxy Lady" dance that Garth did in that movie while I dreamed of being Cassandra when I grew up. My brother and I were in band throughout middle and high school. I had dreams of making a career out of my love of music as either a band teacher or a music producer or band manager for an up-and-coming band. As I grew up my music tastes changed and shifted over time. While I brought new musical tastes into my life, I never forgot about the originals that helped define my childhood.

I currently listen to just about every type of music out there, except for country. Within the past year my recent identification as a feminist has led me to think about my music tastes. My Women's Studies class I'm taking right now, "Theories of Masculinity", has led me to begin this blog. I was especially interested in the discussion that we had in class about masculinity in music. Men in society today are forced to live within this invisible box that dictates how a man should act, how they should dress, and how they should present themselves to the public. Music, and musicians themselves, do a great to help define this box. This blog will explore masculinity in music and how there are male musicians out there who help define the walls of this box, and the musicians who help break the barriers of this "man box". I am going to do my best to explore every genre (even those that I don't listen to).