This letter reflects the opinions of Nelson Lai, a biomedical engineering graduate student. Letters to the editor do not reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
This article is a response to Mustang News columnist Chase Dean’s “What You Listen to is Political,” published in Mustang News’ print edition Oct. 31.
If you’re looking to find examples of toxic masculinity, racism, bigotry or any forms of prejudice within modern music, I’m sure the first person you thought of was none other than Irish pop superstar Edward Christopher Sheeran; the paradigm of feminine disrespect and white power. Forget Robin Thicke or 21 Savage. Sheeran oozes his toxicity and outdated power archetypes in every single song. Take for example when Sheeran writes, “When your legs don’t work like they used to before / and I can’t sweep you off of your feet / will your mouth still remember the taste of my love? / Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?” in 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud.” I assume he is making fun of disabled people who have leg disabilities or memory issues. Oh no wait, is that completely ridiculous? Let’s take a moment to think. When Sheeran writes romantic songs on his album, is it possible that it’s because he doesn’t actually hate women?
The article “What You Listen to is Political” tries hard, and I mean very hard, to cherry pick situations to fit this white male power narrative, but it really just doesn’t fit for Sheeran. The author claims in Sheeran’s song “Don’t” that “the tune is filled with misogynistic lyrics and portrays women as a prize to be won.” Lyrics from “Don’t” shown below are taken from the middle stanza and don’t seem very misogynistic to me. I’m not sure where the author gets this idea that this song objectifies women, but again, it seems like a weak attempt at fitting the narrative.
And for a couple weeks I only want to see her
We drink away the days with a takeaway pizza
Before a text message was the only way to reach her
Now she’s staying at my place and loves the way I treat her
Singing out Aretha, all over the track like a feature
And never wants to sleep, I guess that I don’t want to either.
– “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran, 2014
Later on, the author claims that as a white artist, Sheeran abuses power structures by stealing from primarily black artists in his music, such as Marvin Gaye and TLC. The truth is that music theft goes both ways and this scenario is fairly tenuous at best. Music “theft” often goes unpunished as most artists understand that there are a limited number of pleasant sounding chord structures and rhythms in the world.
For example, the two most egregious cases of music theft of all time in my opinion are Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” vs. Elton John’s “Your Song” and Lupe Fiasco’s “The Show Goes On” vs. Modest Mouse’s “Float On.” These are examples of black artists profiting off of white artists. In these cases, both Elton John and Modest Mouse gave approval for Aloe Blacc and Lupe Fiasco, respectively, to use their melodies. Likewise, in Sheeran’s case, “No Scrubs” co-writer Kandi Burruss gave Sheeran her blessing for the song’s harmonic similarity to the TLC hit.
Finally, not everything you listen to is political. I can see why if you want, to quote front-runner to Rage Against the Machine, that you might think everything comes with an agenda, but it’s simply not true.
“Music either supports the status quo or challenges the status quo” is obviously a false dichotomy in the same way that “You’re either with us, or against us” is obviously trash reasoning. Not everything everyone listens to is a conscious choice to support or fight against some social war. In fact, believe it or not, you can actually just listen to whatever you want and it doesn’t have to mean anything.
Honestly, how could you think an artist who wrote “Supermarket Flowers” (a song about a dying mother) is a white supremacist and misogynist? Only white women go to heaven? Really?