The Issue of Our Music Scenes’ Harmful Culture— Told Through the ‘Male-Manipulator Music’ Joke
*note that there will be mentions of emotional abuse, manipulation, and sexual assault throughout this article.
There’s something comforting in the chaos of a show. And I mean chaos in the sense that there’s bodies pressing into you at all sides and the air smells like sweat and beer and the lights are flashing in and out of your eyes and there’s a screaming white noise blaring into your ears. As fans, most of us find comfort in these situations. As women, however, we may not—after all, bands continue to be ousted for their abusive behaviors while shows continue to be unsafe spaces for young female fans.
That being said, I’ve found that the darker, more troubling ends of our music scenes tend to be wrapped away into lightly packaged jokes and then mailed off into the realms of Twitter and Instagram. With shows remaining out of our grasp until 2021, as well as the recent situation involving Burger Records, we seem to have taken on a new joke—or rather, revived an old one—which is the joke of ‘male-manipulator music’. In all honesty, I, like many others, found this joke to be downright funny. But as entertaining as this joke may be, it provides a window into our world—a window that, unfortunately, showcases the darker side of things—and I’d like to use that window as an opportunity to deep-dive into one simple question: what kind of culture are we fostering within our music scenes?
Before we begin, it’s important to clear up what this ‘male-manipulator music’ joke actually is. The joke is mostly self-explanatory: due to their ability to relate and identify with certain bands’ whiny, I-hate-girls-type lyrics, these ‘male-manipulators’ are likely to do exactly that—manipulate and emotionally abuse their partners. To provide a more concrete example, the joke would usually follow along these lines:
“You think you can hurt my feelings? I listen to male-manipulator music.” Or,
“If he listens to these bands, run. Male-manipulator music at it’s finest.” etc.
Now that we’ve established what this joke actually is, we can move further into an example of a ‘male-manipulator’ type band. According to Twitter—as well as my own personal opinion—The Front Bottoms provides as an excellent example:
“Come on Chelsea, speak a little French to me
Heard you spent two whole semesters drinking wine
While I was stuck in Jersey, trying to save some money
I guess I’m just another thing you left behind.”
— Funny You Should Ask by The Front Bottoms
When I first listened to this song, these lyrics didn’t seem to be all that bad. Cheesy, perhaps. Maybe even a little bit overdramatic. But nothing terrible. When I revisited this song, however, there was something about these lyrics that bothered me. From the first moment I pressed play, I could tell that the entire attitude of the song reeked of entitlement. For starters, the singer seems angry that his ex was able to move on, that Chelsea was able to continue enjoying her life without him. As if her entire existence, her entire being must revolve around him and their past relationship. These lyrics are laced with spite and anger and hate—ideas that have crept their way into the minds of listeners and seeped into the culture of our music scenes. It might seem like I’m reading too much into this, like I’m trying to boycott The Front Bottoms’ entire discography, like I’m making something out of nothing. But keep in mind that I’m only using this band and these lyrics to prove a larger point, to open the doors to a conversation that too often gets left in the shadows.
Regardless, bands have and continue to sell lyrics such as these, disregarding the ramifications that they might have on fans and on the scene as a whole. Because to young men, these lyrics are more than simply problematic—they hold the ability to shape their views on women, relationships, romantic partners, etc. And while we might joke about the ‘male-manipulators’ that are born as a result of such lyrics, it’s important to remember that these bands are the true culprits, and that they are the ones responsible for creating this culture of spite and entitlement amongst our scenes. While we might not believe it, the truth is that when someone in a place of power says something, you listen. Especially when the person in power is a band you idolize and adore.
And lyrics such as these—as well as the joke of ‘male-manipulator music’—have and continue to normalize these ideas and attitudes within our music scenes. This normalization, this willingness to accept our scenes’ faults only becomes more troubling when we see countless allegations of sexual assault made against bands. But even so, most of us remain unsurprised when we hear these allegations. Disgusted, but unsurprised. In the way that these harmful attitudes have been normalized, music scenes seem to be spiraling into a normalization of assault—something that quite obviously should not be tolerated.
When young people enter such a space—a space in which the line between right and wrong is hazy and unclear—they tend to fall into acting on the negative attitudes and ideas they’ve been presented with. And young people who are still forming their own identities, who are drifting through music scenes in hopes of finding acceptance and community, are easily impressionable and somewhat vulnerable. If we allow these harmful ideas to continue coursing through our scenes, these young people will only fall victim to a mentality that is harmful not only to others, but to themselves as well.
In the end, it all comes down to the power and influence we’ve allowed certain artists to exert—artists who fail us time and time again, who scarcely call out fellow artists on their faults, and who continue to uphold our scenes’ harmful and toxic attitudes. It is vital that we strip the power from these problematic, ‘male-manipulator’ type bands and instead refocus it onto those who truly wish to do good. It is our responsibility—as both fans and as artists—to dismantle these bands and deconstruct the dangerous ideas that they’ve instilled within our scenes. Because while it may seem that artists hold the majority of power over our scenes, it’s important to remember that it was only given to them through us— their fans.
So what’s to say we can’t take that power back?