Something happened recently that I should probably talk about. See, I was talking to my buddy Dan about… well, it was about something random, and I know he came in off-topic, saying, “apparently it’s really easy to get signed to Major Lazer”. And he sent me a link to the music video for “On the Jam” by Kito and Reija Lee. What he meant was, obviously, “god, this music blows, how did they get signed”. So I listened to “On the Jam” once. And then twice. And then a third time. And then over and over again for more than an hour and a half, just over and over again. Around the fourth time, I said to Dan, “Well, it’s not that bad.” Dan expressed wonderment at this, and questioned my sexual orientation. And I replied by telling him I’d been listening to it for twelve to twenty minutes now, and asked him how many tries he gave it? And it turned out that Dan ragequit on the song about twenty seconds in.
So, that was weird. So I went to my other techno-head friend, Dave. And I told Dave about what had happened, how Dan had sent me this song that he felt nothing but disdain for, and I’d ended up really liking it. And now, I needed Dave to tell me if it was any good or if I was a madman. So I sent Dave the song, and almost immediately, he started bashing it. I told him it would get better later–it had to for me to like it and for Dan, who quit twenty seconds in, to hate it. And then he revealed that he’d been listening to it for nearly its entire runtime and it still sucked. This was madness–how could I song I was still listening to, an hour after I’d first heard it, be so truly awful that it made all of my friends ragequit?
The answer came the following morning, when I asked Ariana, who happened to be online, to listen to a song that all my friends had hated but I’d sort of liked, a lot. And this was after I’d gone on iTunes and bought the debut EP by the act. I really just wanted to justify my purchase to myself and to my friends–find one person who liked it and then I’d be golden. Right? Right. So I send it off to Ariana, and in between cranking Sesame Street songs or some other crap, she gives it a go. She also doesn’t say anything for about five minutes after I send her the link. I’m sitting there in stone silence, waiting for a verdict. Then I remind her I sent her a link, and she says “I don’t know why they hate it–I just want to DANCE”
And it hit me. My fears were only confirmed later that day when my girlfriend was over and I asked her to tell me if it was any good. But before I could finish the question, she was already dancing away. And she already knew why I liked it and why Dave and Dan didn’t but Ariana did: Kito and Reija Lee make girl music. Music for girls that girls like and will enjoy. And that doesn’t play, at all to any man. Now, I’m a straight guy and I like to believe I’m plenty masculine. But something like this really gets under your skin, you know? How could I like girl music? And then a bigger question hit me–how is there such a thing as girl music and boy music, anyway?
I’d heard the words chick rock thrown around by my father for years to refer to Bon Jovi or other rock bands that play inoffensive rock’n’roll aimed at a female audience. But why are they aimed at a female audience? And why do no guys admit to listening to anything other than Slippery When Wet? It’s a question for the ages, really, but it’s also one I’ve had to deal with all my life. Cos as a kid, I was a gigantic fan of Hawksley Workman. And I’m not saying here that I’m not a fan now–his music remains incredible, as do the majority of his lyrics–but I am here saying that when my girlfriend started listening to it, I started noticing a few things about it. Flowery imagery, hints of homoeroticism in lyrics and in patter with bandmates–emphasis on style and clothing and fashion. Hawksley Workman, for all he’s one of the best songwriters Canada has ever produced, is a very chick-rock songwriter. And he’s even one of the more masculine I’ve ever encountered.
Of course, one of the other Canadian songwriters I absolutely adore is Danko Jones, eponymous frontman of the band. And his songs are some weird skating along the border between Michael Bay juvenile misogyny and an almost surreal celebration of what it means to be a straight man. He does sing “If you wanna learn how to play the blues, get yourself a woman”, which assumes so many things about the listener: that they’re male, that they’re heterosexual, that they will only suffer heartbreak at the hands of a woman who loves them. Yet, as a straight man, I found a lot of his themes and topics to be particularly resonant. Also fundamental in how I view him was a fight he had on Twitter recently that just validated everything I always thought about his attitudes toward women: he trashed SNL for having Chris Brown as a musical guest, solely because Chris Brown had laid a hand on a woman in anger once.
And as boy howdy, yippee-kay-yay as Danko Jones was and has been, that is a juvenile and misogynist attitude I can get behind. That women are not only welcome to their sexual freedom–and that their sexual experiences can be a turn-on–but that a man who lays one hand on one woman in anger once is automatically discarded for all of time. And I think that across the board of gender-appeal in music–which I didn’t really end up investigating, did I–that’s something we can all get behind.