Tuesday, June 14, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 14: A Song That No One Would Expect You To Love

It's Day 14 of the 30 Day Song Challenge, and I'm guessing that I've revealed enough about my musical tastes by now for there to be several songs that "no one would expect me to love." For those of you who were looking for a complete U-turn from my selections on Day 2 ("least favorite song") and Day 12 ("song from a band you hate"), sorry to disappoint but there's no Toby Keith or The Doors here today.

Today is one of the more interesting categories so far, because it requires me to step outside of myself and try to think about what others think about what I think about music. And, given that others know that I think a lot about music, I fear that this requires me to think about what others think about me, my tastes, my prejudices and biases, even my own image of myself as a music-lover. (Meta-meta post here, for sure.) As it turns out, I think that today's selection goes a long way toward upsetting the picture I've presented of myself so fat in the Challenge. This is a song from a genre of music that I haven't featured, but which I listen to a lot. It's also from an artist who I don't think I've ever mentioned before on this blog, but all of whose albums I own (and listen to a lot).

Let me just go ahead and kill the suspense. Here's one of my favorite songs by 50 Cent (featuring Olivia), "Candyshop," from his 2005 album The Massacre:

I'm guessing that most people who only "know" me through this blog would be surprised to learn that I love 50 Cent. I pretty regularly sing the praises of roots music (country, blues, rock-n-roll), but don't often enough write about the rap and hip-hop artists that I also love. But even if you may have guessed that I like rap and hip-hop, and even if you guessed that I like 50 Cent, I'm still betting you didn't guess that "Candyshop" was something I'd like.

Here's why I think no one would expect me to love this song. First, it could be heard as more than a little sexist. The video doesn't help that much, being set in what looks to be a modern-day brothel and suggesting that the ladies are the "candy" in that "candyshop." In my defense, I'll just say that it's not clear to me that anyone is being objectified more than anyone else in this song. Olivia certainly is meant to be the candy, but 50 pretty much reduces himself to a lollipop. So, I'll call that one a draw.

Second, it's a pretty straightforwardly sexual song. Like, awesomely nasty sexual. I mean, sure, there's the whole extended metaphor of the "candyshop" (and 50's "lollipop"), but when he says "if you be a nympho, I be a nympho"-- well, I think at that point the metaphor has been dropped as fast as 50 and Olivia's pants. ("Soon as I come through the door she get to pulling on my zipper / It's like a race who can get undressed quicker.") Now, there's a lot of R&B music that I love that is equally sexual, but it tends to present its content under a slight cover... with the obvious exception of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" or "Sexual Healing," that is. If you were of the opinion that I don't like these songs, you were just wrong.

Finally, I'm guessing that most people wouldn't expect me to love a song by 50 Cent, who has a reputation for being violent and misogynistic and homophobic. Well, I don't particularly like Toby Keith, either, though I like his music. And my favorite artist of all time, Johnny Cash, was no angel. Hell, I even like a couple of Stanley Kubrick's and Lars von Trier's films... so I know how to separate the art from the artist.

Anyway, I love "Candyshop." Sue me.


Kyle Ference said...

What you touch on at the end of this post is something I've thought a lot about. I'm a big fan of Eminem, Lil Wayne, and other rappers whose songs frequently use misogynistic, violent, and homophobic lyrics. So where should someone who is against these things stand when it comes to these artists and their music?

In a way, I've kind of viewed my taste for this music as a guilty pleasure. Whenever I blogged about homophobia in sports a few months ago, I often wondered whether or not anyone saw as hypocritical the fact that part of the header to my blog title was a lyric from a song by Lil Wayne -- someone who sometimes uses the word "faggot" in his songs. I wondered whether or not, as you point out, one ought to be able to separate the artist from the product. The question I kept arriving at, however, was What about when the product includes obviously offensive material? I guess the way I end up rationalizing it amounts to acknowledging that there are certain aspects of our culture that are troubling (e.g. sports culture or hip-hop culture) and that, while recognizing that there is room for improvement, we can still appreciate sheer talent when we see or hear it. I cringe whenever I hear that word in a Lil Wayne song and tend to skip over those songs (much the same way that I'm sure you skip over a certain Toby Keith song).

To use the example of sports, two popular NBA players (Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah) were recently caught on national television using homophobic slurs. Although I find such behavior highly offensive, I will continue to marvel at their skills on the court and to pay to see them play when they come to Memphis. As I noted in the aforementioned blog post, the fact that I heard homophobic language on the football field does not mean that I think that my teammates and coaches are or were bad people. Rather, I'm of the opinion that such language occurs in sports and hip-hop music because misogynistic, homophobic, and violent attitudes are so deeply entrenched in these cultures that the people using this language simply don't know any better. But the fact that they don't know any better doesn't mean that we ought to accept it. The music is going to exist whether we approve of it or not. Nothing is wrong with recognizing and enjoying the talent, while simultaneously recognizing the obvious need for improvement and education.

This is a tough issue for me, and one that I frequently go back-and-forth on inside my head. Sometimes I wonder whether or not I'm subconsciously rationalizing it this way just to get myself off the hook. A sticking point for me is this: What if a talented white country artist frequently used the N-word in his lyrics and just "didn't know any better" because he was raised in the Deep South? I'd probably avoid that artist's music, but still listen to Lil Wayne and Eminem. Why is that? I'm not exactly sure. It's something that I need to give more thought, I suppose. But for now, I'm still a fan of sports and rap music and remain hopeful that those cultures will come around.

DOCTOR J said...

@Kyle: You've very eloquently hit on all of the problems that also disturb my conscience about some of the artists/songs I like. It made me think of something that troubles me often, namely, what to do when you're singing along to one of your favorite songs and the N-word comes up. In particular, I'm thinking of Cee-Lo Green's hit "F**K You"-- I don't usually have any problem singing along with the F-word, but I NEVER say the N-word when singing along to the part where it goes: Oh sh*t, she's a gold digger / Just though you should know, n***er. I just will not say that word. And, like you, I don't think any other white person should, either.

I'm with Russel Simmons in wishing that words like "b**ch" and "ho" and the N-word could be eliminated from a lot of the music in which they appear. But I also understand that those words are used in a lot of different contexts and a lot of different ways in music, some of which are more offensive than others.

What to do? Keep thinking critically, I suppose. Sigh.