In the words of the brilliant Lindy West, “in a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you.”
By now, any woman who hasn’t come to that revelation gradually has probably been snuck up on and bludgeoned in the face by it. Luckily, there’s really no shortage of misogyny in mainstream culture for us to slowly and painfully come to terms with.
And if you, like me, spent your late teens under the ill-informed impression that indie rock understood you, I’ve got some bad news.
Looking back, it’s pretty clear that a deep disdain for women haunts a whole bunch of songs I once romanticized or empathized with. These songs may seem harmless, but they are born from and continue to perpetuate a culture that romanticizes obsession and teaches men that women are a prize they get for showing basic human decency. And yes, I know there are female musicians guilty of writing songs that showcase spoiled, self-serving obsession, slut-shaming, and all kinds of internalized misogyny, but it’s emblematic of a bigger systemic problem that men—in particular men who uphold a public image in the indie scene as sensitive, smart, and poetic—are passing off misogyny as romance left and right and are rarely called out on it.
Attention to misogyny in music is disproportionately paid to rap and hip hop, while in other genres, as per usual, white dudes get away with whatever they want. Enough of that–let’s consider some indie songs whose lyrics are really just the epitome of entitled male garbage.
1. “Somebody that I Used to Know” by Gotye ft. Kimbra
Take another listen, friends, and it sounds like yeah, maybe she did have to cut him off. This person had to have their friends collect their stuff, and change their number? That doesn’t sound like a cruel, histrionic ex—that sounds like someone desperate to get out of a bad, bad relationship. When the girl gets a voice in Kimbra’s verse, we learn Gotye was pretty much gaslighting her: “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over / But had me believing it was always something that I’d done.” He spends the whole song blaming her for reacting to his behavior, so that adds up. Glad you got out, girl.
2. “I’ve Been Eating (For You)” by Bright Eyes
Listen, Connor. I want to you to deal with your own illness, I do. But you DO NOT get to use it as an excuse to bait and guilt this poor person into sticking by you, ESPECIALLY not while slut-shaming them IN THE SAME SONG. No wonder they “think [you’re] an asshole now.”
3. “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J
If this song doesn’t send up murdery stalker red flags for you right off the bat with its oft-repeated opening lines (“She may contain the urge to run away / But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks”), stick around to be haunted by the increasingly desperate, creepy closing refrain (“please don’t go / I’ll eat you whole / I love you so, I love you so”). The band says the song was inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, and while it’s hard to point fingers at my favorite children’s book, I’m not sure that the violent refusal to let go of something by a childhood monster is a behavior adult men should want to glorify or imitate.
4. “Popular Mechanics for Lovers” by Beulah
You might not know this one unless you listened to Songs from The O.C. Vol. 2 as much as I did. It’s a classic tale of an entitled “nice guy” refusing to accept that maybe a girl is just not into him like that, replete with petty critiques of the partner she has chosen and of her for choosing someone else (“you’re so bitter you think he’s sweet”), and desperate “don’t you know you’re meant to be with me!!!” cliches that confuse obsession with “destiny.”
5. “El Scorcho” by Weezer
Honestly, this is my favorite Weezer song (that friend-zone refrain is just so darn catchy!), but we all have our problematic faves. Nevermind the fetishization of “half-Japanese girls” in the very first line; the lyrics pretty much boil down to “I’M YOUR FRIEND, WHEN ARE YOU GONNA SLEEP WITH ME!!!”
6. “When Did Your Heart Go Missing?” by Rooney
Yet another case of nice guy syndrome, wherein our narrator finds it impossible to fathom any explanation for a woman he treats “like a princess” not bestowing love and sex on him besides, of course, her lack of a heart! It must be missing, that’s it. That, and her life’s a mess. How else could she not be in love with him like he imagined???
7. “Song for the Dumped” by Ben Folds Five
This, along with the band’s more lyrical but equally self-important track, “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” is basically a ready-made anthem for “beta male” fuckbois in their basements, hurling abuses at the horrible, not-that-pretty-anyway, stuck-up bitches who had the nerve to dump them. Sorry, but women don’t owe you anything—not even the money you wasted taking them out to dinner in hopes that they would fuck you.
8. “I Will Posses Your Heart” by Death Cab for Cutie
In one of the most pretentiously self-assured iterations of male privilege in indie rock yet, Ben Gibbard croons such charming lines as: “You reject my advances and desperate pleas / I won’t let you let me down so easily,” and insists that if the object of his affection just spends some time with him, surely, they’ll fall in love!
9. “We Both Go Down Together” by The Decemberists
The Decemberists love to pen folkloric indie story songs set in a different period, but that’s no excuse for trivializing or romanticizing rape. The gross, assault-excusing lines, “I laid you down on the grass of a clearing / You wept but your soul was willing” are only made worse by the narrator’s descriptions of said girl as “a tattooed tramp” “from parents wanton,” suggesting that rape is an inevitable plot point for a poor girl in their historical fantasy world. Pass on that fairy tale, thanks.
10. “Change Your Mind” by The Killers
“And if the answer is no, can I change your mind?” Uh, NO. How many times do they have to tell you?
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