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Love, Sex and Marriage in Pop Music
By Jerry Flattum - 10/20/2004 - 07:18 AM EDT

Well, that's it for Britney. She's no longer a sex goddess. If she is, that means anyone fantasizing about having sex with Britney is fantasizing about having sex with a married woman (assuming, of course, that it's mostly heterosexual fantasies and not some blown up lesbian thing born from the now legendary and infamous Madonna/Britney/Christina kiss).

Is this the end of Britney's career? What about all the other one-name sex goddesses current and in the past? How does a married woman portray herself sexually? And for songwriters, how is this marriage versus sex paradox played out in lyrics?

In pop music, marriage is taboo.

Country music is much more sympathetic to songs about marriage, raising kids, building a home and family, etc. But country, generally speaking, is no less obsessed with sex than any other genre. Who was Shania Twain appealing to dressed up as a high fashion model in her video "That Don't Impress Me Much?" Shania is married to rock legend super producer, Mutt Lange. No doubt they've had some interesting discussions about Shania's sex image.

Some sex goddesses bowed out of the game completely, regardless of marriage being the ticket to ride. Pat Benetar was once very vocal about being pinned as a sex goddess and Donna Summers turned to Jesus. On the flip side, how much of a role did Dolly Parton's breasts play in her songwriting career?

Let's use some examples. Some of these examples might actually be found in lyrics, but for the purposes of this article, they're made up.

"I want to marry you." "I want you to be my wife/husband." "Let's Raise a Family." "I'll See You at the Alter." "The Wedding Ring/Vow/Kiss."

Now, pop manages to skirt the issue, with songs like "Let's Stay Together," or, "Forever and Always," "Only You," or "A Whole New world."

Many of these types of songs are about "great love," you know, the kind that lasts forever. And great love is basically anything that lasts for more than one night. If a couple is still together after the first night, well then, it's boyfriend/girlfriend time.

And boyfriends and girlfriends live by the same rules as marriage. They pledge undying devotion. Cheating is bad and cause for breakup. Once you wear my ring, that's it, you're not going out with anyone else.

Wedding favorites (songs) manage to skirt the issue as well, like "Just the Two of Us" or "Our Love is here to stay." Couples manage to find some song that expresses their sentiments, even if it's not directly related to the act of getting married. This could be as evasive as "From This Moment" or "Just the Way You Look Tonight" to silly, like "You've Got a Friend," or ignoring tragedy, like "My Heart Will Go On."

But none of these songs actually discuss marriage or use the word marriage in either the title or body of the lyric.

There are a few blasts from the past like the classic Sinatra tune, "Love and Marriage," or the Dixie Cups, "Goin' To the Chapel." But these songs are more like novelty songs than heartfelt expressions. Musical theater gave us a few gems like, "Get Me To the Church On Time," or "I Love to Cry at Weddings."

Of course, it seems obvious pop lyrics would refrain from marriage since most of pop is geared towards an age demographic where puppy love is the first rite of passage.

But the focus on puppy love, or first love, sex and romance is in stark contrast with what is ultimately the goal for any single person and that is to get married.

Marriage is considered the very foundation of society. The purpose of dating is to find that perfect someone you want to settle down with; someone to marry.

It almost hurts to write such a stereotype since it sounds more like 1950 than it does 2004. But have things really changed?

Maybe people are waiting longer but the goal remains the same. Divorce is rampant, but that only makes 2nd and 3rd marriages more popular. With re-marriage, it's as though you didn't get it right the first time, so try, try again. Marriage isn't the problem; staying married is.

Anyone over a certain age who is not married is looked at with jaundiced eyes. Everyone wonders, "Why isn't this person married?"

What the cutoff age is for this is somewhere between 25 and 30, with 30 something's raising the ante somewhat by "waiting till later."

Of course, there are still plenty of marriages under 25. But in the demographic targeted by the music industry, mostly teenagers, marriage is for old people. Yet, most pop stars are at least in their 20's.

No one will question the music industry is geared solely towards youth and sex.

But isn't it time for a change?

How do we justify the realms of sex, romance and marriage? how do you listen to songs about sex when you're married? Won't most wives ask their husbands, "Why are you buying Beyonce's latest CD?" That of course is an issue wives have been struggling with ever since Baywatch was hailed one of the most popular shows on TV--thanks to Pamela Anderson.

What happens when you have all of Britney's albums while fantasizing someday you'll have sex with her, and now she gets married? Do the fantasies just suddenly stop and you move on to the next single sex goddess on the Top 40?

Our cultural beliefs about sex, love and marriage conflict dramatically with how these issues in our lives play out on the pop music stage.

Christianity still espouses sexual abstinence before marriage. And it is these Christian ethics that contributed greatly to putting a man like George Bush in the White House. We have an ultra conservative presidency voted in by an ultra conservative majority. Well, unless liberals thought an ultra-conservative presidency was best for the country, in spite of their own liberal views.

After all, President Bush is not going to condone "Girls Gone Wild," or two girls having sex while on exstacy in some V.I.P. room. Orgies are completely out of the question, not to mention erotic fantasies of any kind. This is a man who advocates a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. What do Melissa Etheridge, K.D. Lang and George Michael think about that?

But more importantly, how are these issues played out in song lyrics? Will George ever sing, "He's the boy of my dreams?"

In real life, despite the preponderance of pornography or such college pastimes as spring break and "Girls Gone Wild," sexual freedom, if it exists, exists underground, only to surface in pop music videos.

And to reflect back on the gay/lesbian thing, not even MTV is ready for out and out homosexual expression (however, two girls having sex somehow manages to escape homosexual radar).

Rap videos (and no less heavy metal and other sub-genres), are filled to the brim with sexy people, mostly guys surrounded by a bevy of women.

Clearly, we are confused about sex, love and marriage, in culture, and in pop music.

When you hear music, does it make you want to have sex, or does it make you want to get married?

Is true love, or love that lasts forever, something that defies the institution of marriage? Do love songs poetically exist on another level that holds love as the ultimate ideal, regardless of who loves who?

When the next songwriter writes, "I want to funk all night," someone needs to ask who, exactly does the character in the song want to funk all night? Is the character married? Is the one to be funked, married?

Is it OK to funk all night, as long as you're not married? Of course, married people are perfectly capable of funking all night, but, with each other, not some stranger who disapears with the morning light.

It will be sheer delight to see what kinds of songs Britney will sing on her next CD. Oh, there will be songs of love, unquestionably. But it's unlikely Britney will try to appeal directly to married types. "Girls, I'm here to tell ya, marriage is the answer." No, instead, the lyrics will be vague. She'll sing of great love, or how she's found happiness. As for her videos, hmmm, chances are, they'll still be sexy. But is she making the video for her husband, or for all the guys who wish they could marry a girl like Britney?


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