Coming by Naira Marley and Busiswa has garnered three million views on YouTube in just a month which is, as far as African video content goes, quite impressive. The song has all the usual hallmarks of a hit, a catchy beat, and a collaboration between two of the continent’s biggest artists. However, even these qualities are not what makes it stands out. Coming contains highly sexually explicit lyrics which are expressed in an equally provocative video. In other words, don’t listen to it or watch if you are underage.
Coming is just one of the many, many examples of how artists have over the years become less inhibited when it comes to expressing and depicting sexual themes. A random video search into what took place at this year’s Grammys one day led me to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s performance. I don’t think I need to go into details about what exactly it is that I saw. Lil Nas X whose catalog of hits has sparked so much controversy that it needs its own article recently released the Industry Baby music video in which he and some backup dancers dance in the nude. The sexualization of musical content is hardly new, spanning decades but today it has recently become so pervasive that it is almost hard to escape. While often touted by many as being “liberating” or “empowering,” I’m of the unpopular opinion that hypersexuality can in the long run be detrimental, particularly in our fast-paced and social world.
The widespread use of social media has introduced, normalised, and even challenged certain norms, beliefs, and ideas. I feel that social media is normalising hypersexuality today in a way that is unparalleled by any other era. Take for instance WAP, the Cardi B earworm. The success of the song was crystallised by the social media hype, i.e. the #WAPChallenge, and the praise it received for allowing women to take control of their femininity and sexuality thereby restoring their power. Herein lays the rub; does a woman’s power lay solely in her sexuality? I think not. The current generation of teenagers and young people is watching all of the aforementioned artists, and wouldn’t be blamed for believing that in order to be truly empowered and successful individuals they have to rely on a highly sexualized persona but this is a limiting and ultimately disempowering belief. What of, some may ask, male musicians who have gotten away with hyper-sexualizing and objectifying women. When they do it it’s okay but when (insert famous female rapper name) does it is it isn’t, critics add. There is what is often referred to as “the male gaze” which is a way of looking at women in a way that objectifies them (men get objectified too). A woman who decides to adopt a sexualized image by way of empowerment still hasn’t averted this gaze. She remains objectified. But what I think is the great tragedy in all of this is the constant wielding of sex and sexuality as a tool, sometimes to empower, sometimes to make a statement, sometimes as a career springboard, sometimes as a way to have a little “harmless” fun. Sex is becoming less about love and intimacy and more about transactions and opportunism. The irony is that in trying to deal with one problem, that of the fear and shame of addressing these issues, we have created another, that of hypersexuality and vulgarity.
Each of the artists I have mentioned is extremely talented with almost unmatched lyrical prowess, voices, cadences, and larger-than-life personalities. The unfortunate truth, however, is that nowadays talent and charisma are sometimes not enough. The platforms for people who write, sing or rap about non-sexual matters, or political and social issues seem to get smaller and smaller. A lot of talented artists whose songs carry a lot of meaning never really make it because their lyrical content is not risqué enough. Others end up molding their image to suit the criteria of a “sexually liberated” performer. In Africa’s growing music industries provocative images and lyrics are becoming more commonplace, as songs that wouldn’t have been released two decades ago are finding their way onto the mainstream.
As time goes on, I can only hope that femininity, and even masculinity, will not become synonymous with hypersexuality and that young people will not have to feel that they have to adopt a sexualized persona to have any sense of purpose in this world.