I’ll admit, the first couple times I listened to “Do What U Want” by Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly, I was instantly hooked. It has an awesome upbeat feel to it, the lyrics are catchy and easy to remember and it makes for the perfect dance song. Not to mention it’s stuck in my head 24/7 whether I really want it to be or not.
Eventually, I came to the realization that the lyrics might be problematic and found myself dissecting the song and analyzing its implications – something I never would have done prior to being a student here.
The way that I would say UCLA has profoundly changed me is that it’s made me into a socially conscious critic on steroids, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Since starting school here as a transfer student last year, I found myself taking a wide array of classes that touched on really controversial topics that I had never explored before surrounding race, class, gender, and sexuality. I feel like I analyze every piece of media, every song, every movie, etc. for an underlying message or motive, so naturally I found myself analyzing the message of this ever so catchy song.
At first, I didn’t really want to come to terms with the possibility of Lady Gaga spearheading such a misogynistic song. She always represented someone who was liberal, progressive, outspoken, and often fearlessly standing up for the underdog. She is truly remarkable in a sense that she really doesn’t give a shit what people think about her (fashion aside).
In that first stage of denial, I thought that this song has to be feminist in order to try to justify myself enjoying it. I thought Lady Gaga was taking control of her sexuality and though she’s putting someone else in the driver’s seat, at least she’s making the conscious choice to and that it’s all about giving her consent to do so, right?
Wrong. This song is just way too problematic in so many ways.
First off, how the hell did anybody think it was a good idea to allow R. Kelly to be featured in a song about doing whatever you want to a woman’s body? He is notorious for being a rapist for crying out loud. He was acquitted from 14 charges of rape after one of his several victims sued him. He’s known for the sex tape that was leaked in which he is filming himself urinating in one of his underage victim’s mouth during sex. In short, he actually HAS done whatever he wanted with a girl’s body. Actually, dozens of them… many times and many of whom were underage. Verily Magazine writer, Mary Rose Somarriba explains that choosing R. Kelly to be featured in a song like this is “as if Britney Spears teamed up with known domestic abuser, Chris Brown, for a duet remix of ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’”
Imagine what it must feel like to be one of R. Kelly’s victims (or any rape victim for that matter) and listen to your own rapist get replayed on the radio singing the verse “I’ll do what I want with your body.” You’d feel completely powerless.
It’s bad enough that their agency, power, youth, and sexuality was stripped away from them when R. Kelly made the decision to sexually exploit and objectify them. But to have the courage to come forth and sue him, only to find him acquitted on all 14 counts of rape after less than a day of deliberation in court must be nothing short of horrifying.
Although actual videos and photos of him engaging in sexual acts with underage girls surfaced rendering him a producer of child pornography, he was able to be excused from the evidence. Courts declared that because the evidence was obtained when there wasn’t a probable cause for search warrants, the evidence was seized illegally and it could be dismissed in court. Also, they claimed that the victims’ ages couldn’t be determined in the videos, so it’s not certain that they’re underage.
His presence in the song, singing the lyrics that he does, seems like a big “fuck you” to any person who has ever been raped or to any person who is knowledgeable about his history raping several young women, one of which even attempted suicide by slitting her wrists.
The ability of an absolute monster to still have his career intact, to come back with a very popular mainstream song played on almost every radio station, and to even win awards for his music after all of these allegations goes to show the extent to which rape culture permeates and prevails, and it’s absolutely disgusting, disheartening, and unacceptable.
Marshall University explains examples of rape culture and the whole R. Kelly scandal falls in line with a couple of the examples including trivializing sexual assault, tolerating sexual harassment, and refusing to take rape accusations seriously. Rape culture is defined as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in media and pop culture.”
But let’s delve deeper and actually analyze the lyrics of the song. While researching reviews on this song, I came to find that this song is supposed to represent Lady Gaga and R. Kelly singing about how the media twists their actions and portrays them in unfavorable ways. Joe_Majka analyzes the lyrics in the comments portion of Rock Genius, explaining the double meaning behind the song, broken down verse by verse. Additionally, right before the song’s release, Lady Gaga took to twitter with a series of tweets about all the headlines she is sick of reading concerning her weight, drug addiction, views on same sex marriage, etc.
They’re telling the media to do whatever it wants with their body but that it doesn’t have ownership over their hearts, minds, and voice – not each other. OF COURSE!!! The obviousness was absolutely glaring!! How could I have possibly let that slide past me!
Needless to say, I’m pretty sure 99.9% of people who jam out to this song aren’t putting forth any effort to research what Lady Gaga reallllllly means when she says “do what you want to my body” to a man who replies that yes, he will gladly do what he wants.
That’s where the biggest problem lies. Gaga’s intention was noble by trying to defy all the bullshit the media says about her. She makes it clear that they can represent her in any way they please, but she is still in control of her heart, mind, and voice and that’s what truly matters. However, the fact of the matter is people won’t perceive the song this way upon hearing it. Listeners of this song will get a completely different message.
The message this sends to people who hear this song is that men are the dominant ones, especially sexually.
Everybody thinks this is a sexy song about sexual dominance wherein Lady Gaga consents to letting R. Kelly do whatever naughty things he wants to do to her body. Though people have every right to consent to that type of sexual relationship, so long as it is consensual on both parties’ behalf and not excessively harmful or dangerous, this song seems to send an overall message that men can do whatever they want to a woman’s body.
I’m sick and tired of women constantly being represented as objects that need to be dominated and controlled by men. It’s extra problematic that the man singing the verse back to her has a history of raping dozens of young girls, and it’s even more problematic that the songwriters and producers changed his pronoun so that he’s asserting his dominance over Lady Gaga. It’s crazy how one little pronoun switch between Lady Gaga’s verse and R. Kelly’s verse can spark such fury in my little feminist heart.
Lady Gaga sings:
“Do what you want,
What you want with my body.
Do what you want,
What you want with my body.”
While R. Kelly sings:
“Do what I want,
Do what I want with your body.
Do what I want,
Do what I want with your body.”
Why is Lady Gaga telling R. Kelly out of all people that he can do what he wants with her body, but R. Kelly isn’t saying the same thing in return?
Why does a man, who has a history of predatory sexual dominance and abuse, have to reassert his dominance over the woman and declare his power by switching the verse to say that he will do whatever he wants? Why is Lady Gaga okay with this?! Why are recording companies ok with this?! Why are radio stations who play this song okay with this?! Why are we, as listeners, okay with this as we dance our butts off to it and sing it at the top of our lungs at almost any party or club?! What the fuck is wrong with us?! Do we not realize the long term impacts the representation of women in media has on socialization of youth?! Do we just not care?!
I seriously feel like this lady right now:
R. Kelly goes on to sing the lyrics “you’re the Marilyn, I’m the President.” Of course he’s the man who has literally all the power in the entire country and arguably the entire world. Of course he’s going to be JFK, one of the most loved presidents in our country’s history, despite his record of extramarital affairs. Of course Lady Gaga is going to be one of the most sexually exploited American actresses of all time, reducing Marilyn Monroe’s impact on American pop culture as nothing more than the sexual affairs she had with a married man, rather than other qualities like her talent. This is yet another example of the disproportionate level of sexual objectification women face in mainstream media. There’s so much more to her than the people she’s slept with.
Ok, Eidah. Breathe. The song is almost over. Maybe Lady Gaga will redeem herself in the end. Maybe she will think of the children!
Nope. She doesn’t. She ends the song with these lyrics before playing the horrendous chorus over and over again:
“Sometimes I’m scared I suppose
If you ever let me go
I would fall apart
If you break my heart
So just take my body
And don’t stop the party”
Uh, no. How about forget this jerk that broke your heart, pick up the pieces, and move on? How about empowering yourself and other women to know that they’re worth more than a man who is screwing them over and them keeping themselves together isn’t contingent upon a man. That they can, in fact, live without him. That they shouldn’t fear being alone because your happiness shouldn’t depend solely on another person.Because after all, a relationship isn’t really healthy if you’re so dependent on another person to the extent that you cannot function and keep yourself together without them. Plus, I can assure you, the best option would not be to just give up your body to deal with being in such a vulnerable emotional state. Again, these lyrics are being analyzed in terms of how people will take them face value, not what Lady Gaga truly intends for them to mean.
In conclusion, women need lyrics that tell them that their body is theirs to own, not anybody else’s. Women need to be presented as autonomous, strong individuals who have control over their bodies, not as objects men can have their way with.
Furthermore, celebrities with history of sexual violence and abuse like R. Kelly shouldn’t be able to still have successful careers and be respected or awarded for their music after the atrocities they’ve committed.
Most importantly, the extent to which this song so easily can get stuck in someone’s head is terrifying. It’s nothing short of brainwash. What happens to all the women who constantly hear the lyrics “do what you want with my body” and all the men who hear “do what I want with your body” over and over? They begin to internalize it.
And then shit gets real.