Image from author. Top: Aleesha Sachanandani reacts to the vulgar lyrics in Kanye West’s song.
Over the last few decades, rap music has become increasingly prominent in teen culture. This genre is found blasting in students’ headphones, at parties, and at school dances. However, the often explicit nature of the lyrics of many songs has allowed artists to sexualize and demean women in ways that aren’t considered appropriate in today’s society. Are listeners at Washington uncomfortable with these lyrics, or is it simply an accepted characteristic of hip-hop?
Many of today’s most popular male musical artists feature sexist lyrics. Rhea Shaik, a senior at Washington High School, specifically finds an issue with the song “Famous” by Kanye West: “He has this outburst about Taylor Swift winning an award, which she got fair and square, and mentions having sex with her.” She adds that in objectifying Swift to pursue his vendetta, West weaponizes her female sexuality against her, targeting her based on her gender. “When listeners only pay attention to the rhythm and melody, turning a blind eye to offensive lyrics, the misogyny becomes more normalized,” Shaik says.
In addition to sexism in songs, Nitika Sathiya, another senior, says there’s a double standard for men and women in the music industry. “When female hip-hop and rap artists speak about their sexuality using crass or explicit language, they’re condemned for being unladylike. A man’s explicit vocabulary is more acceptable than a woman’s in today’s society.” She finds that many popular rap and hip-hop songs written by men are derogatory, but female artists who are merely open about their sexuality are targeted more often. “I listen to artists such as Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Doja Cat to feel empowered in my womanhood,” she says.
Others, however, don’t see sexist lyrics as a large concern. “I think it’s not too bad because there’s a healthy balance between people demeaning women and men,” says one student, Kushagra Paliwal. He comments that both men and women have spoken crassly of one another in music, making lyrical misogyny less problematic. He also adds that women in the genre often speak positively of each other, saying “Ice Spice is one of them. In the lyric ‘She a baddie, she know she a ten. She a baddie with her baddie friend,’ she uplifts other women.”
While women are the primary advocates for themselves in hip-hop, male artists can elevate them as well. Rhea, for instance, mentions that the late Mac Miller wrote an album titled The Divine Feminine. Throughout ten songs, Miller expresses love and gratitude for women, preaching unity over hatred. His overall message is for society to grow together, rather than separating into divisive subgroups. While maintaining traditional elements of rap, he doesn’t shy away from speaking positively about women.
Many Washington students feel that the current music industry rarely addresses the blatant prejudice and sexism in artists’ songs. They want to listen to the music they love without being bombarded with derogatory lyrics. Others believe that although misogyny exists, it’s not a significant issue. Regardless, Washington High School students acknowledge the crass language associated with rap and the potential negative impact on listeners.
Shruthi Subramaniyan is a senior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Fremont, and this is her first year at The Hatchet. She’s interested in covering topics regarding the arts, culture, current events, and the Washington community. Her passions include art, music, teaching, and psychology. She also plays badminton on the school team and loves spending time outdoors with her friends. In the future, she hopes to attend university to study psychology and explore potential careers.