Do you remember the song “Lush Life” from 2015? It’s one of those songs that we rocked out to during the summer, and many people forgot about the artist or didn’t care enough about her to check out her other work. I’ve been following Zara Larsson – the singer of “Lush Life” – on her YouTube Vevo account. Within the past two or three months, she released a song called “Ain’t My Fault.” The song is an upbeat pop song about her attraction to a guy and how it’s “not [her] fault [he] keeps turning [her] on.”
The first time I listened to the song, I jammed out to the beat, but the lyrics gave me pause. There was something in the words that made me feel uneasy. When I listened to the song enough to sing along, I realized what bothered me so much about it: the song perpetuates rape culture. It is a woman singing about being attracted to a man, but it has the elements of rape culture ripe within it. Even the first line of the song is about placing blame of her physical attraction and her actions because of it on the person she’s attracted to: “It ain’t my fault you keep turning me on, it ain’t my fault you got me so gone. It ain’t my fault I’m not leaving alone, it ain’t my fault you keep turning me on.”
It has always been a huge debate in the art culture of how much sex and violence the general public should be exposed to. This debate has lead to such regulations as the Motion Picture Film Ratings System in the film industry; the set of rules that’s responsible for the G – NC 17 ratings at the beginning of every movie you watch. The film industry put these rules in place so that the United States government wouldn’t do so.
In our present day, there’s often controversy in the music industry of what should be allowed to play on the radio based on violence, language, sexual content and a number of other regulations. Part of these controversies stem from how much control the media has over how the public thinks and feels. It’s hard to admit, but aside from our families and friends, the media has the largest impact on how we feel about our society and our everyday lives. Whether it be movies, commercials or music, the media has a great influence on our thoughts and actions.
But what a lot of people fail to realize is that while we are subject to influence from the media, we do still have higher cognitive thought. We are still able to think for ourselves. As humans, we are able to sit down and think about the lyrics to a song, what the subtext of that song is, how it might be able to influence us and, finally, how we can keep the lyrics from controlling our actions if we disagree with the message.
That’s the lesson I got from listening to Zara Larsson’s “Ain’t My Fault.” While the entire song perpetuates rape culture, an act that I vehemently oppose, the song still has a great beat, the flow of the lyrics is uplifting, and while Zara Larsson has only recently put out songs that aren’t variations on “Lush Life,” she has a tremendous singing voice and I enjoy listening to it. So instead of being angry at the song’s lyrics and Zara Larsson for singing them, I can decipher the subtext of the song and decide not to let the song’s lyrics change my perception on the subject matter. In this case, the song has a strong case in favor of rape culture, but now that I’m aware of this subtext, I can choose to continuing fighting against rape culture but still enjoy the song.
I agree that regulations should still be in place to reduce the amount of negative media children are exposed to at an age where they’re still learning to think critically, but I think it’s also vital that teenagers and adults learn to acknowledge their biases, the subtext of the content they consume, and how they feel about that subtext. It may not be fun to go into deep rational thought while you’re listening to “Side to Side,” “Starving,” or “24K Magic,” but if you’ve listened to a song for a long time without caring about the lyrics, maybe it’s time to start caring for a moment. Think about the song’s message, think about your feelings toward that message, consider whether or not you agree with that message and then continue listening to the song. Media has a strong influence on our culture, it’s important to recognize that without letting it control you.
And even if you don’t want to listen to “Ain’t My Fault,” I recommend you check out more of Zara Larsson’s music. She’s actually a wonderful vocalist and she deserves more exposure and better lyrics than her label seems to be providing her.