Strength in Parody: How a Feminist Remix Helped Rewrite a Narrative


TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual violence.


Sometimes, a song can help you realize that you're definitely not alone. 

For me, a very specific song comes to mind...Actually, two songs come to mind for me, and their impacts on my experience were polar opposites. It wasn't a song by Evanescence (the heroes from my first Superbands blog). The first was an absurdly popular song by Robin Thicke - you've definitely heard it. The next was a song by Auckland University's student law revue, the Law Revue Girls, which you may not have heard. 

See, 2013 was the year Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" debuted. With its vast popularity and with the advent of widespread conversations about sexual assault which I followed, I'd argue that it was the first time the conversation about consent reached our watercoolers, dinner tables, and campus dining halls. Even on our college campuses, and on my campus where we are Students Against Sexual Assault were doing all we could to create awareness, it was a fairly new conversation for your average student, a year before the debut of the It's On Us campaign in 2014. In 2013, for an advocate against sexual violence, there was a tension between this catchy, funky tune and its glaringly harmful lyrics. 

"I know you want it."

"The way you grab me. Must wanna get nasty."

Of course, as we know, consent is a thing. A number of pieces, like this one and this one, have pointed out the issues with this song. I don't think I need to weigh in because pieces like these (and, spoiler alert, the second song that came to mind in writing this piece) did it so well for me. As I heard these lyrics and witness those around me (wherever I went) loving it, I felt exhausted. 

People danced to it. People sang it to themselves. People blasted it endlessly. The average, 18-22 year old, DC collage student loved listening to "Blurred Lines". The numbers speak for themselves. "Blurred Lines" was the No. 1 song of the year on iHeart Radio's Top 100 Countdown for 2013. It was also the record for all-time highest number of radio impressions during a single week in the U.S, with 219.8 million impressions (which later extended to 228.9 million impressions the following week). By April 2014, the single had reached its 7 million mark in sales. As of April 2015, it has sold 7,380,000 copies in the U.S alone. 

Meanwhile, I was one of a number of advocates who refused to accept this song. After all, it was a song that, at least at first, obtained the adoration of my peers while directly opposing the advocacy I was focused on promoting. Pop culture was trying to force this Robin Thicke medallion around the necks of advocates and non-advocates alike. Like Surya Bonaly at the 19th World Figure Skating Championships; I refused to wear it; like Surya, a figure skater who refused to accept the Silver Medal, there was confusion at my resistance. There was even the perception of nitpicking or being too sensitive. That's why, in a lot of ways, the Law Revue Girls, creators of "Defined Lines", helped change that. 

See, they understood rape culture and, with their song and video, helped create awareness. 

"We're feelin' the frustration / from all the exploitation."

"You can't just grab me / that's a sex crime."

"If you wanna get nasty / just don't harass me."

While I was among the many, many people exhausted by constantly explaining this issue I cared so passionately about in the face of an unstoppable pop culture staple, "Defined Lines" helped take a lot of the weight off my shoulder and the shoulders of many advocates. 

Speaking for myself, in one sense, it gave me something to share and to point to in order to help sum up the feelings that I felt in response to "Blurred Lines". When you're exhausted and overwhelmed, a helping hand can go a long way, especially when it's as widely shared as "Defined Lines". 

In another sense, "Defined Lines" reassured me that, while not necessarily in the mainstream in our advocacy, that there were other people - a lot of other people, including may of the 5 million who watched the video - who were equally as upset and favored a message of consent over the one Robin Thicke shared. In short, the song helped some advocates, like me, not feel alone. 

In retrospect, it's powerful to think of the impact these two songs had in my world. Even more, it's stunning that they could each solicit such polar opposite emotions. What stands out most to me now, however, is how music makes us feel things. What stands out is how, in this case, music was solace. Music has never managed to let me down. I thank the Law Revue Girls for helping me demonstrate that point. 

Matt Scott
Superbands Guest Contributor


Matt Scott is the former President of GW Students Against Sexual Assault and a digital storyteller, utilizing social media for social change as a digital strategist with SecondMuse and brand ambassador for VoiceLots, a social media for social change app. An avid sexual violence peer educator, Matt has been featured in Cosmopolitan, on PBS, in The Washington Post, and on NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin.