Take Back the Night (Fisking Pop Songs)


I heard the new single from pop icon Justin Timberlake over the weekend and was completely floored. Not by the musical stylings, of course, those sound exactly as I would expect them to, and I generally love Timberlake’s style.

But the name of the song is exactly the name of a campaign of night walks to promote women having a right to feel safe at night. I figured the song might have something to do with that, I mean, how genius would it be to write a song specifically knowing that a certain group of people would make that their anthem, and play it over and over again at all of their rallies and walks! But with four writers, including Timberlake, Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, and James Fauntleroy, none of them seemed to be aware of the campaign at all. Beyond that, the lyrics show a complete lack of knowledge about the problems that “Take back the Night” walks are trying to address.

Yeah, uh, feels good, don’t it?
Listen, Yeah, this was your city
You did it all and more, broke every law except for one, babe
Attraction, are you ready
I know you feel it
Pull you nearer ’til you feel it again, oh

The song starts by asking a loaded question with a rhetorical feel to it. It’s a question that can be asked with the expectation that if no response is given, then everything is assumed to be fine. The first verse ends by telling the woman that the singer will make her feel attraction to him again by physically pulling her towards him.

I wanna do something right
But we can do something better
Ain’t no time like tonight
And we ain’t trying to save it ’til later

All of these are statements he makes FOR her, and makes me feel like he’s reminding her of things she’s said before. This is an issue, because having sexual agency and personal control means being able to set boundaries and have them respected the moment you set them, even if you’ve “gone further” before, or said you wanted something different in the past.

Stay out here living the life
Nobody cares who we are tomorrow
You got that lil’ something I like
A little something I’ve been wanting to borrow

I love the way the language flows here. She has something he wants to “borrow” but to him its just a “lil’” something. No stretch to say this is sex, no stretch to say that it is all he is focused on, and no stretch at all to say it is the one thing he values.

Tonight the night’s, come on surrender
I won’t lead your love astray, astray, yeah

Surrender is a word that is used to imply a conqueror, someone is a winner if the other person surrenders. On the positive side, however, he does amend this by saying he won’t “lead her love astray”. This is a very vague statement, but interpreted charitably it could mean he won’t mistreat her once he gets that “lil’ something”. However, no cookies for being a decent human being.

Your love’s a weapon
Give your body some direction
That’s my aim

Here we see the reversal, its not the man who is dangerous, it’s the woman. Her sexuality and personal agency is a weapon, and needs to be directed by a man who can handle it.

Then, we could
Take back the night
Come on, use me up until there’s nothing left

He really hasn’t made it clear what “Take back the night” even means. They are taking it back from where, to where?

Take back the night
Dizzy, spinning, sweating, you can’t catch your breath
Take back the night
Ooh, don’t know when the sun is rising next
Take back the night
So if the feeling’s right, raise your glass and let’s take back the night

I guess they are taking the night back from the sunlight, as the sun rising always seems to be the worst thing ever in these party songs. Maybe the idea is if they take back the night and run in the right direction, they can keep from ever seeing the sun rising. (Reminds me of the small planet in the “Little Prince”.)

Take back the night
They gon’ try to shut us down, I’ll be damned if we gon’ let them
Take back the night, take back the night
You know you gon’ mess around and find out there ain’t no one better
Take back the night, oh

Another statement he makes for her, that no one else she could mess around with could possibly be better than him.

[Verse 2]
Rare, there’s not too many
No one but you and crowded rooms, we can do anything (yeah)

This reminds me of the mindset of men who are able to move beyond their partner’s comfort zone on the dance floor simply because it is packed. On the surface, yeah, you’d think being in a room full of witnesses would be the worst place to molest someone, but actually it’s a very permissive environment because it’s very hard for the woman to voice her disapproval.

Attraction can drive you crazy
The way you move, you go crazy, that’s incentive for me

The way she moves drives him crazy and that is incentive enough to pursue her. Sounds like a way of saying she was asking for it.

I wanna do something right
But we can do something better
Ain’t no time like tonight
And we ain’t trying to save it ’til later

A typical tactic for people who pressure others into sex is to point out that there is no point in waiting, if you think you might go for it in the future, then why not now. You aren’t one of those prudes who waits forever, are you? Just because you aren’t “saving yourself” for any particular purpose, doesn’t mean you want sex now as much as later. Getting to know a person or being comfortable with yourself before engaging in sexual activities is just fine.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed that the hook was the name of a popular anti-harrassment campaign. The group had trademarked the name, and contacted JT. It looks like there will not be a lawsuit, and Justin responded to the situation fairly humbly and directly:

“Upon the release of my new single, ‘Take Back The Night,’ I was made aware of an organization of the same name called The Take Back the Night Foundation. I wanted to take this opportunity to let all know that neither my song nor its lyrics have any association with the organization. As I’ve learned more about The Take Back the Night Foundation, I’m moved by its efforts to stop violence against women, create safe communities and encourage respectful relationships for women — something we all should rally around. It is my hope that this coincidence will bring more awareness to this cause.”

I have absolutely no doubt of his sincerity, and I completely believe that this was an accident. What it shows, however, is that people who have the privilege to see the world around them as consensual and possessing agency as a matter of course, don’t see the way the words they use casually are used deliberately by predators. Of course JT doesn’t mean that a girl was “asking for it” when she is assaulted.
I believe it is very likely that he is the person he portrays in interviews, a generally intelligent, caring individual with a great sense of comedy and is very in touch with his emotions. Watch his emotionally wrenching portrayal of a tortured young man in love in Black Snake Moan, and you see a person who is unafraid to cry, to connect with women and show his vulnerability. Which is why it is important that we not give him a pass on this song. He cares about women’s issues, he needs to be shown that cliches like “no one could be better for you than me” can be phased out of the public consciousness if pop stars would stop using them so casually. Wordsmiths in the artistic world can be held accountable because intent isn’t magic.

“It just shows how far we have to go when Take Back the Night as a historic movement to end sexual violence in all forms is still not widely enough known, according to Mr. Timberlake, that he claims he didn’t know that we existed,” Katherine Koestner, executive director of “Take Back the Night”.

I think the best thing that JT could do would be to take the hook, the sound and the feeling of his brassy song and rewrite it as an anthem for the group “Take Back the Night” to use. Do a remix with Gaga (whom he’s worked with before informally on SNL) or Pink to show the other perspective, or better yet, work with them and let them sing it entirely. Give it to the nonprofit royalty free and let any personal proceeds from both versions go to the group.


Just Give Me A Reason (Fisking Pop Songs)


It is no exaggeration that I fisk everything, even songs I adore. So without further ado, here is Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason”

 “Just Give Me A Reason”

(feat. Nate Ruess)

(Verse 1: Pink)

Right from the start

You were a thief

You stole my heart

And I your willing victim

Pink uses a lot of violent imagery in her lyrics, and this is a rather mild example. Victim is not really a word I would use to describe a participant in a love affair, especially the female, and it grates here (especially since it makes a rather weak assonance with “fixed them”). However, there are many songs that use the “thief” stealing hearts as both good and bad.

I let you see the parts of me

That weren’t all that pretty

And with every touch you fixed them

That’s a lovely thought, but it unfortunately reinforces the idea that the non-pretty parts need fixing by a man, or that a woman needs to be made pretty once entering a relationship.

Now you’ve been talking in your sleep, oh, oh

Things you never say to me, oh, oh

Tell me that you’ve had enough

Of our love, our love

This is a wonderfully complicated idea. On the one hand, a person might say things they have been thinking about in their sleep. Many a story has revolved around someone saying something while unconscious that they might not have done otherwise. On the other hand, the sleep talking idea gives room for the woman to allow that it might be a misunderstanding, that the context of the person’s mind matters, which cannot be determined while the person is asleep. I think if the next lines had something accusing the man of being unfaithful, or patronizing or lying, this would be a different song. But instead she just launches into one of the most hopeful and realistic choruses I’ve heard in pop radio this year.

Just give me a reason

Just a little bit’s enough

Just a second we’re not broken just bent

And we can learn to love again

It’s in the stars

It’s been written in the scars on our hearts

We’re not broken just bent

And we can learn to love again

I love the idea that relationships aren’t either together or broken, that they can be bent, but healing can happen. The name of the song and the first line of the chorus are rather ambiguous, however. “Just give me a reason” could either mean “What is the reason you think we are over?” or it can mean “Just give me a reason to keep working with you on our relationship.” Either way, information is being asked for, and unfortunately it’s not clear how the other person should respond.

I should note, that up to this point, any of these lyrics could have been sung by a man, as in there are no gendered phrases to make sure the audience is catching that it’s a hetero relationship. If you aren’t familiar with pop music, you might wonder why I’m pointing this out, but in the pop world, often times the duets that top the charts make a point of writing gendered lyrics for the woman, who sings first, just so that the man can sing almost identical lyrics but with the gendered action changed (See Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” where the woman can call because she just “lost all control” because she was alone, but the man can’t lose control unless he’s been drinking, then its ok).

(Verse 2: Nate Ruess)

I’m sorry I don’t understand

Where all of this is coming from

I thought that we were fine

(Pink: Oh, we had everything)

This is valid, he’s confused as he doesn’t remember saying any of the things that are making her worried. Also, unlike a lot of songs where one party sings echoes and the other person doesn’t seem to hear or ignores it (“Take Me (Or Leave Me)” from Rent) Nate actually responds to the interjections.

Your head is running wild again

My dear we still have everythin’

And it’s all in your mind

(Pink: Yeah, but this is happenin’)

Yeah, this sounds like gaslighting. Yes, she may be overreacting, and he has a right to call her on that, but he doesn’t have a right to say that its ALL in her mind. So far there have been no gendered terms, but that doesn’t mean Nate’s part isn’t adhering to a male narrative in some ways. I love that Pink calls him on it, and contradicts him, saying that it IS happening right now, which may be her saying “so maybe I overreacted about that, but what is happening right now is also not ok”.

You’ve been havin’ real bad dreams, oh, oh

Used to lie so close to me, oh, oh

There’s nothing more than empty sheets

Between our love, our love

Oh, our love, our love

Here’s where it gets murky. Either he is telling her that she didn’t hear him saying things in his sleep (“Who you gonna believe, me or your own ears?”) or Pink’s part of the narrative WAS based on a dream. If he left it at that, he might look like he was being mean either way, but I like that he moves on to the problem that HE notices. Namely that there might be a cause to this confusion that is purely physical, that they aren’t sleeping as closely together as they used to, and that the problem can be worked on.  This shows he took her seriously when she says “Yeah, but this is happening” which points out that if there wasn’t SOME problem they wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Pink: Our tear ducts can rust

Nate: I’ll fix it for us

Together: We’re collecting dust

But our love’s enough

Another slightly gender specific line, with Nate singing “I’ll fix it for us.”

Nate: You’re holding it in

Pink: You’re pouring it dry

Nate: No nothing is as bad as it seems

Pink: We’ll come clean

And just to contrast, here’s a gender reversal in the line “You’re holding it in”. Usually it’s the man who is accused of holding in emotions, but in this case, the woman is being tightlipped and the man is “pouring it dry” which I believe is supposed to mean that he’s letting everything out all the time.

The last two lines before the chorus repeat are really simplistic, but useful for understanding the song. In this, the couple makes up, works it out and is able to repair everything. In total, a very hopeful and real song.

Blurred Lines (Fisking Pop Songs)

glass-with-drink-clip-art_424673I listen to a lot of pop music. A LOT of pop music. I listen to pretty much anything on the radio, and dissect it all. There is almost no song I listen to that I have nothing good to say about. I’m a student of sociology and I love to listen to what everyone else is hearing to see what influences them. So when this song came on the radio, I loved the beat, the crooning, the harmony on the chorus and the overall feel of the classic R&B that is coming back into vogue these days. But I had a few thoughts…

“Blurred Lines”
(feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams)
[Verse 1: Robin Thicke]
If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say
If you can’t read from the same page
Maybe I’m going deaf,
Maybe I’m going blind
Maybe I’m out of my mind

Pretty basic, he feels that what he is trying to say to the woman/women he is singing to is pretty clear. If its not clear, obviously you get to call him a lunatic. This is a classic technique used to silence people from criticizing, and it was used on me the other day. A man who I disagreed with on a point came back to me after the disagreement and proclaimed “You know I was just kidding, you know I’m not a male chauvinist pig, right? You know me well enough to know that.” I had never called the man a misogynist, or a male chauvinist pig, I’d never accused his character. However, to him, to disagree with his point, I either had to say he was crazy, aka give him a label that only crazy men get, or let the issue go. There was no middle ground, no option that validated that I had a right to challenge his beliefs.

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
You don’t need no papers
That man is not your maker

“He” must be a previous lover/boyfriend who Robin believes didn’t “get” this girl. The whole song talks about what this woman is, not about what she does. Robin doesn’t judge by actions or words from this woman, he judges by “instinct” that her nature is different than what she presents it to be.

[Chorus: Robin Thicke]
And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl

Robin is absolutely certain that he is going to “take a good girl”, meaning he will now be in charge of her education, sexual freedom and expression of her innate nature. Possessive words like “take” imply aggression and ownership. Again, the woman has no agency, except in the image that she portrays of a “good girl” and obviously, that image isn’t correct, so she needs to be reeducated.

Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted

The woman is an “it”, or possibly her body parts are an ‘it’, aka her breasts, as they are “far from plastic” and thus worthy of his attention. I’ve recently come to an agreement with Penn Jillette on this issue, that the measure of how attractive a woman’s breasts are depend on how much the person who owns them likes the breasts. This is an issue that will show people’s personal biases much more than they realize. Just bring up plastic surgery and breast implants to your friends, chances are there will be one person with body modifications like piercings, tattoos or some kind of past cosmetic surgery who will speak against “fake boobs”.

Also, this may be the only place where “she” could be implied to have said something. If we take this as meaning she was talking about getting blasted (aka drunk), this could clear up why Robin thinks this otherwise “good girl” is actually an animal who wants more than just drinking and dancing. However, this still shows a leap in logic that getting drunk means wanting sex. If it is Robin who is talking about getting blasted, then maybe it is a little more innocent, just something to steel his nerves before proposing sex.

I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl

Here is the crux of the song. I’m not the first feminist to take exception to “I know you want it”, but I want to point out here that they are preceded by the sentence which actually contains the title of the song “I hate these blurred lines”. In an interview, Robin clarified this part of the song, saying it referred to “the good-girl/bad-girl thing and what’s appropriate.” It seems that Pharell and Robin were trying to comment on the subject of the Madonna/Whore complex, and what it meant to men in the club. So what statement are they trying to make?

I hate these blurred lines
Hate. That’s what stands out to me. The word hate states in no uncertain terms that blurring of lines between categories is unacceptable. Women should fit neatly into one or the other, and not flirt with crossing lines, if they don’t want to be assumed to “want it”.
In a quote from another article, Robin said of the process of writing the song,, “Him (Pharell) and I would go back and forth where I’d sing a line and he’d be like, ‘Hey, hey, hey!’ We started acting like we were two old men on a porch hollering at girls like, ‘Hey, where you going, girl? Come over here!'”
=screeching tire sound= Wait, hold up. He…he said it for me. Pretty much verbatim what is wrong with this song, it was INTENDED and acknowledged by the lyricist. Next he’s going to say that he was doing this because he was privileged enough not to be called on it…
“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’”
AH. I see. Its a PARODY, you guys weren’t actually enjoying writing about rapey behaviours, its to draw attention to the phenomenon, and spark a dialogue. Cool. I have to admit, my review needs to take a different tack then, obviously I need to stop trying to prove that the statements are meant to be sexy, but come across as controlling, domineering and ignorant of women’s agency. All that was intended, so I should instead be explaining where they could clarify to bring attention to the issue of objectification in a positive way…
“People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.'”
Pleasure? It was a pleasure?

“So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”
See, when people say they want to turn the issue on its head, they usually mean they want to make a statement that very few other people are making. “Men are always gonna want to follow them (women) around” is the exact statement the majority is making as a knee jerk response to women asking not to be harassed every day, all the time.

“The whole point was to go over the top, knock down the ceiling, jump over the wall and say, we’re gonna do things everyone is afraid to do, as brash and fearless as possible.”
Please someone explain to me how doing a music video with all topless women is something everyone else is “afraid to do”? A quick google search of “music videos with nudity” brings up a Rolling stone article that lists the “top 15 most NSFW Music Videos of all time” which includes bands from From Duran Duran, Queen and Mötley Crüe to Madonna and Nelly. Pretty mainstream, and with an over 40 year history included just in that one list alone, I’m sure its safe for me to assert that not “everyone” is afraid of nudity and objectification.

The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

Ah, I lied. Here is an action that the woman has done. She grabbed him on the dance floor. Possibly implying that she groped him, or could be as innocent as grabbing his hand or shoulder as they dance, or gyrating her hips against him as she grabs his hips. Any one of those actions could be misleading if the girl doesn’t want “it” and the man is hoping for “it”, as men have feelings and hopes too. But hoping to get laid is different than making a conclusion that she “must want to get nasty” if she does something while dancing. Sorry, nope. I’ve danced with plenty of men at clubs, seen plenty of women friends dance with men at clubs, and seen plenty of them leave and go back home alone, completely happy to be so.

[Verse 2: Robin Thicke]
What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest bitch in this place

Side note, in the radio edit, the song goes “You the hottest ‘OH!’ in this place” which sounds like ho and I wondered how they got that on the radio. I’m not sure which is better or worse, TBH.

I feel so lucky
Hey, hey, hey
You wanna hug me
Hey, hey, hey
What rhymes with hug me?
Hey, hey, hey

This is probably my favorite line in the song (completely unironically). I love it when people say/sing they feel lucky because someone chose them, and its actually cute to use the euphemism “hug me”.  I think I like it so much because it hearkens back to some of the “classic” pop songs of the 50s and 60s.

[Verse 3: T.I.]
One thing I ask of you
Let me be the one you back that ass to
Yo, from Malibu, to Paribu
Yeah, had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two

Confession: I don’t mind my songs having a bit of dirty talk, I don’t even mind them having a lot of dirty talk. Some women enjoy it, and that’s ok. Its always important to consider context, however. For instance, in the Ludacris song “What’s Your Fantasy”, it talks about many similar themes. Why do I like that song? Because the whole song is about communication, asking the woman what she likes, and then presenting a whole range of options, from role playing to relaxation, to rough to smooth, and it has a woman on the track specifically mentioning what she wants to do. Communication between two consenting parties is GREAT and very appropriate. This song has no indication that the woman wants to be talked to/about like she’s a piece of meat.

Swag on, even when you dress casual
I mean it’s almost unbearable

Here is a good example of a guy being honest for once. It doesn’t matter what you wear. Even when you dress casual “Its almost unbearable”, with it being his sexual desire for her. Please lets stop asking girls when they are raped, harassed or assaulted “What were you wearing?” or talking about dressing modestly like it can keep away creepers.

Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that

Your choice of a man last time was wrong. End of story.

Not many women can refuse this pimpin’
I’m a nice guy, but don’t be confused, you getting it

And BINGO! Anybody else out there with their rape culture buzzword cards, I just got a straight line across the middle with the phrase “Nice guy” and a triple letter score with the implication that “nice guys” still don’t take no for an answer and are out for one thing (ok, so I haven’t played bingo for a while :P)

[Bridge: Robin Thicke]
Shake the vibe, get down, get up
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt
What you don’t like work?

So this is pretty straightforward, and translates to nothing more than “Shake what you got”. The phrasing however of the last sentence resonates with me and reminds me of the comments women get while being harassed on the street. “Oh, you don’t like me?” or in the case of my neighborhood. “You don’t wanna talk to a black man?” or “What’s your problem? You don’t like attention?” Or what was it Robin said “’Hey, where you going, girl? Come over here!’” because that doesn’t feel threatening in any way…

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica
It always works for me Dakota to Decatur, uh huh
No more pretending
Hey, hey, hey
Cause now you winning
Hey, hey, hey
Here’s our beginning

Beginning of the relationship, starts with impaired reasoning from drugs. Just interesting to note.

[Chorus: Robin Thicke]
I always wanted a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me

You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I don’t understand how he can say he “hates the blurred lines” in the same song as saying “I always wanted a good girl”, but I concede that this was probably just a thoughtless reworking of the line and after all, the song was written and recorded in a day.

Here is the link to the quotes from the article by Robin Thicke.