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Love Shouldn’t Feel Like a Battlefield (A Battlefield, A Battlefieeeld)

October 1, 2009

The saddest thing about Kelly Clarkson’s single “My Life Would Suck Without You” is that it isn’t the only recent song that seems like a throwback to Tammy Wynette’s days of standing by her man, no matter what he does.

Even before “Tainted Love,” pop songs have hinted at the acceptance or even enjoyment of violence or pain in romantic partnerships. But a few recent songs have taken it a step further, urging the normalization of violence and suggesting that dysfunction is an inevitable part of love. Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down” (featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo) and Jordin Sparks’s “Battlefield” both tell stories about turmoil in love and then conclude with a clear message: that’s just how it is. Sparks tells us to “go and get your armor,” while Hilson’s song repeats the message: “Sometimes love comes around and it knocks you down, just get back up when it knocks you down.”

The imagery from Hilson’s video shows Hilson falling down on a bed as she and Kanye West both pretend to punch themselves in the face. Besides suggesting that falling in love is a necessarily violent process, which involves missiles shooting people out of the sky and people getting “knocked…on [their] face,” the video suggests a power play that replaces romantic love and affection.

Mainstream hip-hop takes a lot of flack for its woman-hating, in part because of the racist misconception that misogyny and domestic violence are more commonly perpetrated by black men. But songs by white pop artists like Clarkson remind us that anyone can sing a song of disempowerment, with potentially damaging consequences. I’m pretty sure I’ve actually seen the statement “my life would suck without you” listed in domestic violence pamphlets under common reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. I hate to think what the twelve-year-olds who listen to Clarkson are learning about their own worth. I hate to think what any of us is learning.

What seems most disturbing about all three songs is that they are incredibly popular, which means there is something (besides the admittedly awesomely danceable beats) that listeners relate to.  Considering pop music is generally marketed at our simplest urges and insecurities, perhaps the popularity of such songs is evidence that many of the underlying attitudes that perpetuate relationship violence are still alive and well. Our efforts to confront them should be correspondingly redoubled.

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