Dr. Andrew Smiler discusses the oddity of a pop song that describes a man refusing a hookup.
I’m listening to my local pop radio station and out of nowhere, this guy starts singing about turning down a girl he met in a bar. The chorus (and verses) are pretty clear about what he’s doing.
So nah nah Honey, I’m good
I could have another but I probably should not
I’ve got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone
No, honey, I’m good
I could have another but I probably should not
I’ve got to bid you adieu
To another I will stay true
It’s a guy singing about male fidelity! I can’t remember the last time I heard that. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a guy sing a pop song about fidelity before. The guy is Andy Grammer and the song is “Honey, I’m Good.” Grammer is a a rock/pop singer-songwriter like Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson, but recorded this track with the Eli Young Band so it’s got a solid country twang.
Male singers often mention fidelity in their songs, at least in love songs. The typical line has a guy saying the girl he’s dating (right now) is the best thing ever. This week, that’s OMI in “Cheerleader.”
All these other girls are tempting
But I’m empty when you’re gone
OMI’s fidelity is part of his relationship and part of the song, but it’s not the focus of his lyrics and he’s not talking about refusing a hookup. Grammer is different, explicitly giving us an in-the-moment image of what male fidelity could look like.
Survey after survey tells us that male fidelity is common. We know that most guys are faithful to their partners and aren’t interested in screwing around, although there is a small minority of guys who are interested in finding partner after partner. This does not contradict the fact that men are more likely than women to have cheated on at least one partner, but it does highlight that male-female differences are due to a small percentage of the guys out there.
So why is male fidelity such a rarity in pop music? I can’t say for sure, but I suspect marketing is part of the reason. A video featuring just one hot woman probably doesn’t seem as good as a video featuring scores of them to the mostly male decision makers behind the cameras. We know that music industry executives want male rap performers to appear a certain way–thuggish and highly sexualized; young men trying to break into the industry understand they need to present themselves this way, even if it’s not their reality. (Just ask 50 Cent about his lifestyle and recent bankruptcy.)
I also think it’s because we’ve bought our own hype. Fifty years ago, our basic conception of male sexuality was based on fidelity, not promiscuity. On TV, promiscuous men on popular shows were the bad guys. Then we met Fonzie (Happy Days) and Hawkeye Pierce (MASH), and our perceptions shifted: good guys could be promiscuous. Since then we’ve had Sam (Cheers), Joey (Friends), Charlie (Two and a Half Men), and Barney (How I Met Your Mother), among others. On the big screen, it’s James Bond and some other action heroes, as well as boys in movies like Porky’s and American Pie.
Stereotypical portrayals of male sexuality are quite common in pop music, even if they don’t reflect reality particularly well. Taylor Swift is focused on stereotypical bad boys. In ”Shake it Off” and “Blank Space” it’s the stereotypical player (“Players gonna play, play, play”; “Cause you know I love the players”). In “Style”, it’s the classic rebel with a “James Dean day dream look in your eye” and that “long hair, slicked back, white t-shirt”. But at least Swift outs herself as equally stereotypical. In “Style,” her appeal is limited to her body (“I got that red lip classic thing that you like,” “I got that good girl fig[ure] and a tight little skirt”) and in “Blank Space” she crows “But you’ll come back each time you leave/casue darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”. (Reading the lyrics, I learned the chorus for Blank Space is “Boy there’s only one love/if it’s torture” and not “boys only want love if its torture.”)
Meghan Trainor isn’t helping anyone either. In “Dear Future Husband,” she’s explicit about what she wants and what he’ll get in return, singing “After every fight/Just apologize/and maybe then I’ll let you try and rock my body right” and “Open doors for me and you may get some kisses”. It’s the classic “use sex to get him to do whatever you want” trope. She also wants a ring. Could the song be any more stereotypical?
Even though these are “only” pop songs, the lyrics and accompanying videos are very important. We know that people learn from the media and the people that are most susceptible to media messages are the ones who are simultaneously interested and inexperienced. When it comes to dating and sex, that’d be teens. And teens are also the primary market for pop music. We also know that not all teens are equally susceptible; they choose the songs and performers they like, deciding who to purchase, follow, and imitate.
Do I think Grammer’s song will change American pop and move us away from regressive sexual stereotypes? No. But it is a discordant note in the persistent selling of those stereotypes. If nothing else, it reminds us that guys can and do refuse sex.