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Why Are We So Quick to Cancel Women in the Music Industry?

By Melissa Lipari

The Beatles. Kanye West. Chris Brown. Eminem. All four of these musical talents have three defining factors in common. One, they are all men. Two, they are all successful. Three, they have all been accused of glorifying or participating in acts of violence or disrespect towards women. What is the most maddening about all of this? They are still popular today.

Almost everyone can rap the words to “Real Slim Shady” and we have praised The Beatles to be one of the best rock bands of all time. If we read in-between the lines though, we would soon come to the realization that “Real Slim Shady” disrespects women and The Beatles have a hit song about violence against females. It is quite interesting that despite their derogatory actions towards women, many still continue to support their music. This prompts the question: why are we so quick to give male artists a free pass in their music and demeanor, yet crucify women for making lesser mistakes in the same industry?

Seemingly overnight, controversy has stricken many females in the music industry. The notorious “Sad Girl” of the pop universe, Lana Del Rey, wrote a detailed Instagram post entitled “Question for the Culture” last week. In this post, she names several female artists that are her counterparts, that she also believes get away with talking about sexual topics or showing their bodies in ways that she is shamed for. Del Rey name-dropped fellow pop artists Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello in her post, but fans were mostly outraged with her inclusion of Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B. Users called Lana “tone-deaf” and “racist” for singling out these African-American women, while also claiming that she was the first person to romanticize the sexualization and freedom of femininity in the last decade. Whether you agree or disagree that Lana pioneered a genre of music that catered to female expression, it is hard to overlook her insensitivity towards women of color.

A few days later, Lana went back to Instagram to try and justify her freedom of speech. Del Rey was terrorized in the comments of her initial post and was deemed “canceled” by the Internet, even getting the laughable but also consequential label of “Karen” - better known as a white woman who exerts her privilege in every situation. Essentially, she was being deemed a White Supremacist in not so many words.

In her second post, Lana tried to explain that she considered herself a feminist, but one of the “new wave”. She also understood the nature of the comments she received. Del Rey argued that she compared herself to the artists that were named in her post because she felt that they have previously faced the same backlash as her. Lana claims she didn’t name-drop them because she thought she was better or more oppressed than they were. This would have been an understanding validation of feelings, until it involved FKA Twigs, another woman of color. Lana stated in a separate Instagram post - this time a video - that "When I get on the pole people call me a whore, but when [FKA] Twigs gets on the pole it’s art", according to Insider.com. It's safe to say, the Internet was back on the canceled train again, with the memes and dreadful comments aimed right at Ms. Del Rey for the third time in a week.

Another singer, Doja Cat, was also named in Lana’s post and has gained her fair share of controversy on Twitter during Memorial Weekend. Doja was under-fire after old tweets of hers re-surfaced. In these since-deleted tweets, she said she hated her natural African-American hair and supposedly stripped for White Supremacists on Tiny Chat. To top it off, a song of hers entitled “Dindu Nuffin” spread across the web, with many people making the connection between the title and lyrics with Sandra Bland. BBC.com reported, “Some people claimed the lyrics referred to Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody in Texas in 2015, although Dlamini (Doja Cat) never mentioned her by name in the song”.

The “Say So” songstress wrote on Instagram that she has made mistakes and “Dindu Nuffin” was not made to insult Sandra Bland or police brutality. Instead, she felt that this song was a way to reclaim a phrase that people had used against her because of her skin color, before realizing how insensitive it all sounded. Just like Lana, Doja’s future in the music industry is very uncertain, after #DojaCatIsOverParty was the #1 trending topic on Twitter.

While these two women have made evident mistakes and have tried to make them right, it still does not explain why male artists have gone relatively unscathed for stirring up just as much controversy. When Chris Brown brutally attacked Rihanna in 2009, he barely made an apology. Almost a decade later, he spoke in his documentary about the assault, making the claim that because Rihanna tried to kick him first he therefore had to “defend” himself. It is mind-blowing that someone who was found guilty of assault, could sit in an interview and actually call the attack on their victim a “petty fight”, when in reality it was blatant abuse and toxic-male aggression. If we are going to hold women accountable for the mistakes that they make in the public eye, we should do the same for men. Scratch that, everyone. There needs to be a change in the music industry - and in the world - when it comes to the term “canceled”.

Vox Media notes that the term “canceled” became popularized in the 1991 film New Jack City. Vox writes, “Given how frequently it’s been used to repudiate sexism and misogyny, it’s ironic that the concept of “canceling” shares its DNA with a misogynistic joke. Possibly the first reference to canceling someone comes with the 1991 film New Jack City, in which Wesley Snipes plays a gangster named Nino Brown. In one scene, after his girlfriend breaks down because of all the violence he’s causing, he dumps her by saying, “Cancel that bitch. I’ll buy another one”. This quote shows the acceptance in pop culture of the controversial male persona.

Whether it is the persona of Nino Brown, Yeezy, or Slim Shady, men have constantly been accepted for their alter egos. Egos that are crude, disrespectful, and outright menacing. People are quick to say “This is Yeezy talking, not Kanye” and suddenly defend the latter when something controversial is brought to light. In that regard, why can’t we say that it was just the persona of Lana or Doja talking and leave Lizzy and Amala out of it? Why can men have their “persona” be blamed for their actions - that are detached from their true selves - but women are considered bitches - persona or not? When we differentiate the characterization of men but not women, it displays how canceled culture is forced upon women immediately, without giving us a chance to explain ourselves. 

We are so quick to cancel women - even though we live in a “progressive” country because there are still barriers that we have yet to overcome. We still live in a racist and sexist society. Even with all of the milestones we have made. While it is easy to say that we are not even halfway close to making the world a more equal place, it is difficult to say how we can stop “canceled culture” from ruining the careers of female artists who don’t deserve it. For example, Lana Del Rey’s song entitled “Love”, was a dedication to her LGBTQ+ fans - yet that is being overlooked because of one poorly executed comment (I don’t see Chris Brown helping victims of abuse). I believe that if we understand where “canceled culture” stems from, perhaps we can do better to cancel the term that is plaguing our world and put that energy towards people who deserve it instead. No more #___IsOverParty. We need to see more action towards holding everyone accountable for themselves in every industry - not just women in music. 

References

https://natalialzam.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/run-for-your-life-the-beatles-and-gender-violence/

https://www.insider.com/lana-del-rey-fka-twigs-video-backlash-women-of-color-2020-5

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-52805974

https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/12/30/20879720/what-is-cancel-culture-explained-history-debate

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