The social issue that I chose to examine is domestic violence. I am interested in studying this problem because it is highly prevalent in the United States. It has affected millions of women, children, and men for decades. I want to know how different artists understand and deal with this prominent issue. In each of the five songs I chose, the issue of domestic violence is treated in a different way. The song, “Luka,” by Suzanne Vega, addresses the issue from the perspective of a victim of domestic abuse. The speaker tries to hide the issue from a neighbor who might ask about the issue, as demonstrated by the lyrics “Just don’t ask me what it was,” and “I walked into the door again / If you ask that’s what I’ll say” (Vega, 1986). The victim also finds ways to justify the violence, and she ultimately accepts it with the lyrics, “You just don’t argue anymore” (Vega, 1986). This perspective is similar to the victim described in Martina McBride’s song, “Concrete Angel.” In this song, the victim is a young girl who “stands hard as a stone” (Crosby & Bentley, 2001) and dies at the end of the song due to the severity of the violence and the fact that nothing was done to prevent it. However, the lyrics of the first song suggest that bystander intervention may have no effect on domestic violence, while the lyrics of the second song suggest that if the girl’s teacher or neighbors had intervened instead of turning away, the tragedy may have been prevented.
In contrast, the victims in “Church Bells” by Carrie Underwood and “Face Down” by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus overcome the domestic violence. “Church Bells” tells the story of a woman who is abused by an alcoholic husband; their relationship is described as “all bruises, covered in makeup / Dark sunglasses” (James, Lindsey, & Crowell, 2015). She frees herself by putting “something in his Tennessee whiskey no law man was ever gonna find” (James, Lindsey & Crowell, 2015). This theme of empowerment is also demonstrated in “Face Down.” This song is somewhat unusual in that it is told from the perspective of a bystander who alternately addresses the victim and the perpetrator in the lyrics. With the lyrics, “Do you feel like a man when you push her around?” (Winter, 2006), the author condemns the perpetrator’s actions and encourages him to stop the abuse, but at the end of the song, it is the victim who says, “I finally had enough” (Winter, 2006).
The song “Love the Way You Lie,” by Eminem (featuring Rihanna), offers a somewhat more accepting perspective of domestic violence within a couple. In this song, both the man and the woman are both perpetrators and victims, as demonstrated by the lyrics, “You push, pull each other’s hair scratch, claw, bit ‘em, throw ‘em down when you’re in ‘em,” (Grant, Brooks, Hafermann, & Mathers, 2009). Still, they come back to each other, with the words, “Next time, there will be no next time, I apologize even though I know it’s lies,” (Grant et al., 2009). This kind of acceptance is different than the submission demonstrated in “Luka” and at the beginning of “Church Bells” and “Face Down.” It suggests that a violent romantic relationship may be acceptable under some circumstances.
Two Sources on Domestic Violence in Music
I found several other sources that address music and domestic violence. One article presents a similar discussion to my own. The author points out that musical artists typically adopt one of three perspectives when addressing the issue of domestic violence: they either condemn it, glorify it, or attempt to educate listeners about the it (The Florida Times Union, 2010). The other article specifically addresses violence against women in music, characterizing the relationship as an “unhealthy marriage” (Harris, 2017). Although the author notes that some songs portray domestic violence in a negative manner, many glorify it. This is different from the analysis I presented, since most of the songs I chose do not present domestic violence in an entirely positive light. The author also brings in a discussion of music videos, which are now commonly used to illustrate and interpret lyrics in popular music today.
The article, “Greatest Hits: Domestic Violence in American Country Music” attempt to understand the changes in the treatment of domestic violence by American country artists over time. The research method that the authors used is a survey of the history of domestic violence and a survey of the history of American country music (Simon, 2007). The author ten examines songs about domestic violence in the context of both (Simon, 2007). The article finds that historical and cultural movements have both played a key role in the evolution of the treatment of domestic violence in country music (Simon, 2007). This helps me better understand how experiences of domestic violence for a certain subset of Americans have changed over the years. It also helps me understand how the country songs I analyzed (“Church Bells” and “Concrete Angel”) fit into the overall canon of American country music.
In conclusion, my analysis is helpful and relevant to the study of American Popular Culture because it shows that domestic violence is considered from many different perspectives. This is no single way that this issue is treated in American Popular Culture, which indicates that Americans have not yet fully reached a cultural consensus on how to think about or address this pervasive issue.
- Crosby, R. & Bentley, S.K. (2001). Concrete Angel. [Recorded by Martina McBride]. On Greatest Hits [CD]. RCA Nashville.
- Domestic violence in the mainstream: violent music. (2010). The Florida Times Union. Retrieved from http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/400691/inside-hubbard-house/2010-10-09/domestic-violence-mainstream-violent-music
- Grant, A.J., Brooks, H., Hafermann, H., & Mathers, M.B. (2009). Love the Way You Lie. [Recorded by Eminem ft. Rihanna]. On Recovery [CD]. Ferndale, Michigan: Effigy Studios.
- Harris, K. (2017). Domestic violence and music: a controversial relationship. HubPages. Retrieved from https://hubpages.com/health/Domestic-Violence-and-Music-A-Controversial-Relationship
- James, B., Lindsey, L., & Crowell, Z. (2015). Church Bells. [Recorded by Carrie Underwood]. On Storyteller [Digital download]. Arista Nashville.
- Simon, S. (2003). Greatest hits: domestic violence in American country music. Oregon Law Review, 4, 1107-24.
- Vega, S. (1986). Luka. On Solitude Standing [7”, 12”, CD, CDS]. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
- Winter, R. (2006). Face Down. [Recorded by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. On Don’t You Fake It [CD]. Virgin.