|"If he ever hurts you, true love won't desert you!"|
by Andy Nowicki
A while ago, I wrote about the species of pop song, known as the "Zowie, You're Awesome in the Sack!" number, in which a (male) lover's sexual prowess is remarked upon and celebrated with ardent, ingratiating, slightly unbecoming and overly-affected reverence by a sensually-wailing waif.
In that article, I summarized the ways in which this type of tune--while seemingly male-praising--can in fact be doubly toxic to the cause of masculinity, as it simultaneously boosts certain less desirable elements of contemporary feminism ("Go ahead... Betray your loyal husband and fornicate with the sexy bad boy....You go, girl!") while also having the baleful effect of keeping men in a state of undignified sexual subjugation ("Zowie, she thinks I'm awesome in the sack! My sated hunger to be on the receiving end of flattery regarding my ostensible sexual prowess has now rendered me helpless to manipulation, by gosh!”)
A man's carnal vanity, after all, consists chiefly in his wanting to be wanted by women; therefore, his heart absurdly swells with pride upon hearing himself praised by a lovely girl crooning on the radio (in the process, heightening the sense of assumed intimacy by calling the listener "you," thus striking his needy psyche with a rush of pride, even if his more rational and reflective self knows better from the get-go).
If there is a male equivalent to this type of tune, it could be called the "Hey Baby, I'm Your Knight In Shining Armor!" number. Like the "Zowie, You're Awesome in the Sack!" song, this type of tune appeals to a certain deeply-rooted aspect of male vanity: the desire to be be seen as an effective protector of his woman, and an altogether approval-worthy man. In the lyrics of such a species of song, a man draws attention to his unswerving loyalty, unfaithfulness, and general willingness to be of service, to a degree that demonstrates the extremity of the sacrifice he is willing to undergo for the sake of his lady-love.
What is striking about this species of anthem is the fact that it is the norm, not the exception, for the singer to take pains to take himself out of the equation; that is, to accept defeat and move on following enduring a rejection from the lady-love spoken of above. He wants it known, nevertheless, that in spite of having been tossed yonder like a rind, there are absolutely no hard feelings whatsoever. He is deferential to the point of utter self-abnegation.
As evidence of the prevalence, if not ubiquity, of this phenomenon, consider the intriguingly large number of hit songs which contain some variation of the phrase “I’ll Be There” in the title. Here is just a small sampling of an extensive list:
- “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five
- “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops
- “I’ll Be Around” by The Spinners
- “I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi
- “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrants (aka the “Friends” theme song)
Without exception, each of these tunes is sung by a man. While many are mere protestations of intense devotion to a loved one (Example: “When you breathe, I wanna be the air for you,” in the rather infelicitous metaphorical formulation of one Jon-Bon-Jo), others represent a more radical position. In the Spinners’ tune (a Motown number which was covered by the So-Cal white boy act What Is This? in 1985), the speaker has just been spurned—his girl has left him for another guy. But he’s not upset about the betrayal, not in the least. His betrayer has “made (her) choice,” and it’s his role to “bow out gracefully.” And far from wishing his betrayer any ill, he instead professes continued and unending fealty:
“Whenever you call me, I’ll be thereWhenever you want me, I’ll be there/ Whenever you need me, I’ll be there... I’ll be around”
With these words, our pitiful hero is essentially “friend-zoning” himself, and he doesn’t even mind the inherent disgrace of this condition; in fact, it gives him a sense of purpose and hope. The hope, of course, is that infernally paradisiacal mindfuck that is the “dream deferred”; that is, the notion that somewhere down the line his girl will recognize that he’s the one for her:
“There’s always a chance, a tiny spark will remain And sparks turn into flames, and love can burn once again…”
But until this golden future dawns, he will carry forth his torch through the ghastly miasma that is the “friend-zone,” always on call whenever he is wanted or needed for any purpose. No doubt he views himself as her knight, but he really much more resembles her eternal galley slave. Yet he wears his degradation with a kind of confounding pride, much like another “wailing cuckold” whom I addressed not long ago, one who defiantly pronounced his devotion to this besotted bride in spite of being continually battered by her chronic infidelity.
A similar scenario plays out in the famous power ballad “Separate Ways” by Journey. Here the tempo is faster and the tone is more angsty and intense; it even sounds somewhat fiery and aggressive. But the lyrics, belted out with vigor and verve in the distinctive and inimitable multi-octave range of legendary mulleted rocker Steve Perry, are in fact nearly as pitifully self-abnegating as those featured in the far mellower Spinners tune, complete with earnest protestations of eternal affection:
“If you must go, I wish you luck/ You’ll never walk alone/ Take care, my love; I miss you, love!”
Again, the love of this speaker’s life is leaving him behind to be with someone else. But instead of expressing anger or even hurt over these circumstances, he instead wishes her the best and only doubles down on his devotion. Although she’s with her new boyfriend, the speaker insists on being the next in line should his ex’s new relationship ever go sour:
“If he ever hurts you, true love won’t desert you. You know I still love you
Though we touched and went our separate ways.”
Instead, the tendency (at least in our gynocentric times) is to embrace the “grrl power” perspective, in which the speaker lashes out in vengeance and fury (one thinks of feminoid rage fueled songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” or Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”), or more rarely, the glum and morose passive-aggression of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” in which she says she wishes “nothing but the best for you two (meaning her ex and his new lover)”, but clearly doesn’t mean it.
The differences in the male and female pop song responses to parallel circumstances (i.e., being dumped, played, and betrayed) probably don’t represent any real-world divergence; rather, they ought to be viewed as a culturally-prescribed means by which a certain paradigm of male subservience is maintained Given that men (even many who do their best to project a gruffly detached aura of impassivity when it comes to matters of the heart) always have been uniquely susceptible to the propensity towards “white knighting” (it may even be biologically-ingrained on some level, though I honestly can’t fathom what evolutionary purpose it would ostensibly serve), such songs touch on a man’s feelings of mission and self-worth.
There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule which, while demonstrating the veracity of the rule, also provide a worthy alternative to the drearily familiar. As a powerful case-in-point, consider a song which appears to follow the same old “lover’s lament” paradigm, before turning the tables two-thirds of the way through and becoming something gloriously different: namely, a roaring back against female duplicity and deceit in a grandly defiant, yet coolly off-the-cuff monologue, which puts both the offending woman, and everything else, in its proper place.
I give you the one and only Oran “Juice” Jones. This is his world; ladies, you’re just a squirrel lookin’ for a proverbial nut.