Although singer-songwriter Bruno Mars perpetuates many stereotypes about women and money in his music videos, he also challenges traditional views with pro-social messages. Both Mars’s perpetuation of sexual and financial stereotypes and his way of breaking with tradition can be seen particularly clearly in the song 24k Magic.

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Background
Keys writes, that “In traditional African societies, the bard is a storyteller-singer and above all a historian who chronicles the nation’s history and transmits cultural traditions and mores through performance.” Mars, as a singer-songwriter, fulfills this kind of role today, transmitting cultural messages and mores through his performances to both black and white communities. While some of the messages he conveys may have negative effects on society, others may be beneficial – especially to the black community.

Main Song: 24k Magic
In the music video for the sing, Mars dances through glitzy areas – most of them casinos – with a posse of men. From time to time, women join them. All of these women are skinny and scantily clad. Their hair is straightened. These styles are in keeping with electropop tradition. In the electropop scene, according to Jiminez, “There was a preference for tight clothing, hair products and even makeup. Photographs reveal Prince’s influence on the style of the time as an effeminate masculinity comes to the forefront.” In Mars’s videos, tight clothing and effeminate masculinity are featured heavily. The tightly clad women are not a part of Mars’s main posse, but instead, dance behind an effeminately masculine Mars and his boys much of the time. Mars and his boys are heavily clad, in pants, jackets, hats, and jewelry. The women are in bathing suits. While Mars and his posse do dance, the women dance more sensually, with barely anything covering their bottoms as they shake them. They sway their hips provocatively.
The video is set in a hotel dripping with gold. The boys drive fancy cars, play the slot machines and drive through the ritzy area without a care. They stack chips on the roulette table as the girls look on admiringly. They drive past lit up casinos. They dance through the halls in luxurious robes. They jet-ski through fountains. Mars sits back in a patio chair outside as women shake their bottoms beside his face. He doesn’t even look at them. Everyone smiles and dances.

The way in which Mars objectifies women in his songs supports traditional, negative stereotypes of women in art.
Klein writers that “Visual images throughout art history have revealed the status of women by their appearances and bodily attributes.” She further notes that traditional images of ideal women showed them as available and passive – displayed to appeal to male voyeurs. Women were shown as objects for men’s viewing pleasure. Women’s sexuality in comics and advertisements is often dependent on their ability to attract men.” The same is true of women in music.

According to Flynn, “Women are the most frequent targets of objectification within music lyrics.” Indeed, in one recent study, of billboard hits “the authors found common themes regarding the objectification of women (women were viewed as objects for men to comment on, look at, even touch, hit, and eat) and sex as a top priority for men (wanting, needing, and experiencing sex).” This is exactly how Mars treats the women in his videos. They are there to show how cool and attractive Mars and his posse are. They are available and largely passive. Their bodies, rather than their minds or desires are what Mars’s video displays.

We see more evidence that Mars views women as objects in the lyrics to 24k Magic. In them, he glorifies “players”, men who play around with a lot of women, and treats them much in the same way he treats other objects like rings and links. For instance, he sings, “Players, put yo’ pinky rings up to the moon.” Mars, in this song, is completely obsessed with money and material things and girls are among these materials. “Twenty-four karat magic in the air,” he sings, glorifying the pursuit of wealth. “I bet they know soon as we walk in (showin’ up) Wearing Cuban links – designer minks – Inglewood’s finest shoes.” Here, he tells his listeners that possessing things like Cuban links and designer minks will grant them status. Possessing these things will make people know who they are. Not only that, but possessing money and wealth will help them obtain women. “Oh shit, I’m a dangerous man with some money in my pocket,” he boasts, “So many pretty girls around me and they waking up the rocket.”

Mars further emphasizes that it is his ability to win women and to spend money that win him recognition as he sings, “Everywhere I go they be like – oh, so player!” and “Spend your money like money ain’t shit.” He objectifies women once more in the end, singing, “I gotta show em how a pimp can get it in.” Here, he glorifies men who sell women and, once again, portrays women as mere sexual objects.

24k Magic is not the only song in which Mars treats women like objects. In songs like Uptown Funk he sings about living it up in the city and praises girls like Michelle Pfeiffer for being “straight masterpieces.” And in “That’s what I like,” he sings almost exclusively about money and sex with lyrics like, “Go pop it for a pimp, pop-pop it for me” and ““Sex by the fire at night – Silk sheets and diamonds all white.”
While it is clearly true that Mars objectifies women, what is less clear is whether this objectification is harmful to them. Some argue that it is. Nussbaum, for instance notes that “Feminist thought, moreover, has typically represented men’s sexual objectification of women as not a trivial but a central problem in women’s lives, and the opposition to it as at the very heart of feminist politics.” On the other hand, some argue that objectification can be a good thing. Cass Sunstein writes, “People’s imaginations are unruly … It may be possible to argue, as some people do, that objectification and a form of use are substantial parts of sexual life, or wonderful parts of sexual life, or ineradicable parts of sexual life.”

Furthermore, by rejecting the norms of a society which suggests the objectification is bad, Mars may be championing an idea of sexual freedom that society represses. Green writes “There’s an agent of subversive reversal of negative stereotypes and portrayals of African-Americans embedded within the prosocial text of some rap lyrics.” In spite of the fact that videos those made by like Mars and his counterparts objectify women and black women in particular, “Black females generally reported more satisfaction with the shapes of their bodies [than white women] and less susceptibility to the negative effects of media.” Perhaps, then, there is something gratifying about Mars’s prosocial messages and his rejection of white mores.

Gracyk suggests that we analyze art to help us understand human behavior. Perhaps Mars’s songs give us some insight into why black women have higher esteem than their white counterparts. And perhaps his rejection of society’s rules leads to greater positivity.

    References
  • Flynn, Mark A. 2016. “Objectification in Popular Music Lyrics: An Examination of Gender and Genre Differences.” Sex Roles 75: 164-176.
  • Gracyk, Theodore. 1999. “Valuing and Evaluating Popular Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57 (2): 205-220.
  • Green, Terrell Lamar. 2015. “RAP LYRICS, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND THEMES OFSEX, VIOLENCE, AND PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR.” Master’s Thesis (University of Arkansas).
  • Jiminez, Gabriela. 2011. ““Something 2 Dance 2”: Electro Hop in 1980s Los Angeles and Its Afrofuturist Link.” Black Music Research Journal 31 (1): 131-144.
  • Keyes, Cheryl. 2002. Rap Music and Street Conciousness. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.
  • Klein, Sheri. 1993. “Breaking the Mold with Humor: Images of Women in the Visual Media.” Art Education 46 (5): 60-65.
  • Mars, Bruno. 2016. 24k Magic. https://www.google.com/
  • Nussbaum, Martha. 1995. “Objectification.” Source: Philosophy & Public Affairs 249-291.
  • Zhang, Yuanyuan, Travis L Dixon, and Kate Conrad. 2010. “Female Body Image as a Function of Themes in Rap Music Videos: A Content Analysis.” Sex Roles 62: 787-797