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Hell on High Heels
By Amy Joyce
Trigger warning: Mentions of abuse, rape, and murder.
Musician Dave Grohl once very wisely espoused, “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you like something, like it...Don’t think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic.’ It is cool to like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’! Why not?...That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of shit.”
Normally this is a train of thought on which I can easily get on board. Three Christmases ago, I shamelessly requested Rod Stewart’s holiday album Merry Christmas, Baby, which I did indeed receive (and I listen to it all year ‘round, thank you very much). I love the Disney movies Bambi and The Princess and The Frog, along with some real stinkers (yes, I do mean The Room). My other hobbies include eating entire bags of mini chocolate-covered donuts in one sitting and watching four or five episodes of Gilmore Girls in a row on Netflix. These are all relatively harmless idiosyncrasies, though some physicians may disagree. However, there is one instance where the pleasure I derive from a certain something is very much of the guilty persuasion.
Beyond their insanely catchy riffs and oft-pantomimed guitar solos, the '80s glam metal band, Mötley Crüe, is, bluntly, incredibly sexist and misogynistic. Usually it’s the genre of rap that’s singled out and criticized for these particular sins, but let’s be perfectly honest: that’s just good ol’ fashioned racism. Eighties’ hair and glam metal is rife with both, and these shortcomings are wholly and repeatedly verified by various song lyrics and accompanying music videos, several of which were banned or censored for reasons ranging from nudity to depictions of murder.
Mötley Crüe also happens to be one of my favorite bands.
I’ve seen them in concert twice and am contemplating a third time; I own several albums and a couple t-shirts; and when I need motivation, they’re one of my go-to choices. It’s become a habit of mine to crank them in my car and belt out “Wild Side” when going to and from job interviews, listen to “Live Wire” and “Kickstart My Heart” when I’m working out, and any other song that strikes my fancy even when I’m baking cookies or writing. Hi, my name is Amy, and I am a terrible feminist.
One song in particular, “Saints of Los Angeles,” contains lyrics obliquely referring to the rape of an unconscious woman, and the song “You’re All I Need” is actually about a man murdering his female lover, in spite of its seemingly power ballad-like title. This fact is made all the more sinister when one factors in that Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx wrote it out of spite for his girlfriend, believing she had cheated on him, and then gave it to her with no intention of recording it. The message here is silently threatening, an indication that “I know that you know that I know what happened,” all in the guise of a song with such an unassuming title. Closer inspection of the lyrics reveals the ultimate abuser control tactic: “But killing you helped me keep you home.”
The song “Hell On High Heels” ventures into racist territory with the lines, “Sexy Suki little geisha girl / Givin’ every samurai a twirl / An H.I.V. VIP / Backseat panties down around her knees.” The sexualization of East Asian women has always been unfortunately rampant in Western popular culture, as has the incorrect assumption that geisha are interchangeable with sex workers. And of course, there’s the infamous “Girls, Girls, Girls,” a slobbering mess of a song, albeit a super catchy one, that objectifies women in every sense. In this song, we’re literally labeled “toys,” and told that we’re “best when [we’re] off [our] feet.” The implication in that line isn’t particularly difficult to see. Neil also lists several strip clubs throughout the song, which apparently is the only place where a woman has any value to him. And even then, that value is literally monetary, and it’s a value that only he can bestow: “I’ll tell you what girl, dance for me / I’ll keep you overemployed.” There is no empowerment for women here.
To be fair, it’s entirely possible to separate the artist from their output, and to assume artists, musicians, and writers should just stick to what they know does nothing but a disservice. For example, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have an entire album titled Murder Ballads, which, unsurprisingly, is a collection of traditional songs that form narratives of murders and serial killers. I don’t think anyone in that band, or the people who wrote those ballads so long ago, are actual killers (though Nick’s appearance certainly lends itself to the imagination). Neither do I think J.K. Rowling is an actual witch, and nor do I believe that Stephen King or Quentin Tarantino are true proponents of the horror and violence that ultimately defines their respective bodies of work.
But as mentioned, it’s on record that Nikki Sixx “gifted” his then-girlfriend a thinly veiled threat of murder after she supposedly did something he didn’t like, and to add to that, both Vince Neil and Tommy Lee have track records of domestic violence and spousal abuse: The former abused a sex worker by choking her and throwing her against a wall, and the latter kicked his ex-wife, Pamela Anderson, while she held one of their children. Lee ended up spending four months in jail. These are all serious infractions, and the fact that it’s just a smattering of indiscretions makes my skin crawl.
Yes, it is possible for me, with my immense and admitted privilege, to look beyond the problematic artist, to be a critical consumer, and to not excuse the reprehensible behavior. Their music is sexist, racist, and I feel twinges of guilt every time I start my own karaoke session to “She Goes Down.” I know all of this, and yet, I just can’t quit you, Mötley Crüe. Your music truly is a guilty pleasure.
#Real #GuiltyPleasures #GlamMetal #Sexism #Feminism #MötleyCrüe
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Great article. I think when the artist crosses over that thin line between fantasy (however twisted it is) to reality is when they have power to influence the masses. But it's also up to the listener to distinguish what kind of message the artist is trying to send.
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