Is it Domestic Violence or Romance?

I am twelve years old and on my way to my hip-hop dance class. I ask my mom to turn on the radio. She turns on a local pop station with all the recent hits. My favorite songs play, energizing me as I leap out of the car to my hip hop class. My dance instructor seems to have the same vibrant music. One dance in particular catches my attention–the music, “Love the Way you Lie,” by Rihanna and Eminem, is perfect for hip hop dancing.

Looking back, I am appalled that a group of ten-year-old girls danced to this song. This song, like many others played on the radio station before the #MeToo Movement in 2017, paints domestic violence as, “true love,” which can cause women to seek out abusive men.

At a glance, the song “Love the Way you Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem has a catchy beat that makes you want to sing along. In 2010, it was a number one US hit for seven weeks straight.[1] Americans loved it, but had they really listened to it? In the chorus Rhinana sings:

“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn?

Well, that’s alright, because I like the way it hurts

Just gonna stand there and hear me cry?

Well, that’s alright, because I love the way you lie”

While Emenin raps,

“If she ever tries to f*cking leave again

I’m a tie her to the bed and set this house on fire”

“Eminem Tackles Abuse in ‘Love the Way You Lie’ Clip.” Billboard, 14 Jan. 2013[2]

This song,with these lyrics, was so popular that little girls were dancing to it in their hip-hop class! The message that it sends is that being abused is desired by women and there is not one verse in this song that points out that this behavior is not acceptable. Rihanna repeats that she, “like[s] the way it hurts.” The idea of liking or desiring being abused only justifies Emenin’s lyrics describing how he abuses her. At twelve years old I did not understand the severity of Eminen’s lyrics, but I did understand that Rhinana was in love with him and that she found his actions irresistible.

In this post, I have chosen to focus on this song in particular due to its obvious message. However, there are many other hit songs that portray the same theme of violence against women.A study conducted by Brook Bretthauer, Toni Schindler Zimmerman, and James H. Banning in 2006 researched various songs that feature domestic violence. Their research titled, “Feminist Analysis of Popular Music: Power Over, Objectification of, and Violence Against Women”  collected data through the content analysis of 20 songs from the years 1998 to 2003. These 20 songs that spanned across five years were found on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. They found that these top songs contained messages by male artists that disrespect women and encourage violence against them. Their research also led them to discover six distinct themes found in popular music: “men and power, sex as a top priority for males, objectification of women, sexual violence, women defined by having a man, and women as not valuing themselves.”[3]

What messages were these songs sending to women across America? Researcher Nancy Brunner explored this question in 1993 in a study titled, “The Knower and the Known: Exploring Issues of Violence against Women in Popular Music.” In the study Bruner had her students listen to songs and then draw conclusions on how women are portrayed in the music world. Bruner stated that “Students often saw women as deserving of their situations and often saw no need to problematize what I read as victimization.”[4] Bruner concludes that song lyrics that belittled women affect the mindsets and actions of those who listen to them.

Since the #MeToo movement in 2017, there have been many female artists who sing about abuse in positive ways and there has been a definite decrease in the amount of artists condoning domestic violence. In her latest 2021 album, Billie Eilish released a song called, “Your Power.” This song is the exact opposite of, “Love the Way you Lie,” in all the best ways possible. It tells the story of a young girl being used by an older man. Billie sings to the older man who used the young underage girl:

“How dare you?

And how could you?

Will you only feel bad when they find out?

If you could take it all back

Would you?”

The song is from the album, “happier than ever,” which ranked number 1 on Billboards music charts the week that it was released.[5]

Although I cannot go back and change what songs were played in my dance classes at the age of twelve, I can have a hope that my future sons and daughters can listen to music that promotes gender equality and educates instead of encourages domestic violence against women. Although progression in supporting gender equality in music is rising, it is essential that we are mindful about how the lyrics we listen to affect our actions.

-N.K.


[1]           “Love the Way You Lie.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Nov. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_the_Way_You_Lie#:~:text=From%20July%2031%20to%20September,Songs%20and%20Radio%20Songs%20charts.

[2]           Concepcion, Mariel. “Eminem Tackles Abuse in ‘Love the Way You Lie’ Clip.” Billboard, 14 Jan. 2013, https://www.billboard.com/music/music-news/eminem-tackles-abuse-in-love-the-way-you-lie-clip-957009/.

[3]           Batanchiev, Tula. “Entertainment or Oppression: Media Depiction of Domestic Abuse.” Boston college, 2008, pp. 1–96.

[4]           Batanchiev, Tula. “Entertainment or Oppression: Media Depiction of Domestic Abuse.” Boston college, 2008, pp. 1–96.

[5]           McIntyre, Hugh. “Billie Eilish Scores One of the Biggest Debuts of 2021 with Second No. 1 Album ‘Happier than Ever’.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Aug. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2021/08/08/billie-eilish-scores-one-of-the-biggest-debuts-of-2021-with-second-no-1-album-happier-than-ever/?sh=7220c4b812cc.

Additional References

Bretthauer, Brook, et al. “A Feminist Analysis of Popular Music.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, vol. 18, no. 4, 2007, pp. 29–51., https://doi.org/10.1300/j086v18n04_02.

957009/.

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