Music as Moral Solvent: Hypocriticisms in the Cacophonic Phenomenon

One of the things I impress upon my family is how cynical the entertainment industry is towards women. They pump out nonsensical media for women at such speed and volume that one experiences it as a single Cacophonic Phenomenon. As a man, you want to just ignore it and get about your business, or your play, or whathaveyou… I advise against that.

One assault that is common in women’s pop music is the “stream of contradictions”. It’s those songs where the earnest woman sings a bunch of antonyms, seemingly-opposing ideas, or hypocriticisms–boom, boom, boom–one right after the other. Here’s a famous example. (I apologize for what I’m about to do to you.)

I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

You can read all the lyrics here.

The first thing I want to point out is that last line; which I bolded. Meredith Brooks isn’t just speaking to the man in her life. She’s setting an expectation for all men towards all women, and discouraging all women from seeking sanity. This is accepted because men do often find women confusing, and because women are easily confused. Men underestimate how bewildered and blundering women are as the go through the world. Part of the way they fake understanding is by this pretense of mystery-in-contradictions; such as Brooks describes. The truth is just confusion and lack of boundaries.

The second thing I want to point out is that the song was super popular. In its heyday it seemed like it was on everywhere, all the time. From Wikipedia:

The song steadily rose on the Billboard charts, eventually peaking at number two for four weeks, only behind “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112. It debuted and peaked at number six on the UK Singles Chart on 27 July 1997 and stayed in the top ten for four weeks. The song was also a big hit in Oceania, where it reached number two in Australia and four in New Zealand. It ranked at number 79 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s.

And, just to underline my point about the widespread acceptance of confusion masked as mystery-in-contradiction, here’s the next paragraph from Wikipedia:

“Bitch” was also used in the 2000 Nancy Myers film What Woman Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. The scene is arguably the most memorable part of the film, as Mel Gibson is seen dressing in womans’ tights and wearing make-up singing to the chorus of the song. From this point in the film the character is able to “hear” what woman want.

There you have it: Only when a man deliberately confuses himself as much as possible can he “hear” what women want, i.e., be pleasing to women. Right. Did any woman suspend that disbelief? Mel Gibson…the guy for whom People magazine invented the “Sexiest Man Alive” award.

This came up today when I was cleaning the music library on my laptop. Over the summer I had backed up all the phones in the house to my iTunes account; including importing everyone’s songs into my library. My wife and daughters, like everyone, get music here and there; free downloads from Starbucks, or copying a coworker’s CD, etc. And they’re girls, so they like girly music and they get music from other girls. While during a long lull of waiting at work, I listened to the songs to see if I wanted to keep any of them. That’s when I came upon this song.

If you save yourself for marriage
You’re a bore
If you don’t save yourself for marriage
You’re a whore-able person
If you won’t have a drink
Then you’re a prude
But they’ll call you a drunk
As soon as you down the first one

If you can’t lose the weight
Then you’re just fat
But if you lose too much
Then you’re on crack
You’re damned if you do
And you’re damned if you don’t
So you might as well just do
Whatever you want

For her oeuvre to foolish peers[1] Kacey Musgraves was awarded performances at both the CMAs and the Grammys in 2013, and CMAs’ Song of the Year in 2014.

“Now, Caldo,” you say, “these songs are nearly two decades apart. This does not a trend make.” My friends, the mystery-in-contradiction is everywhere in the top playlists of every English station, and have been; particularly since the 1990s. There are many previous instances, but it really took off with the rise of Tori Amos, Meredith Brooks, Liz Fair, Something Apple-whatsherface, and all the rest of the Lilith Faire crowd. And it goes on through The Dixie Chicks, KT Tunstall, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves…

What does the music industry get from women’s confusion? Money. It turns out that confused, vain, and nigh-amoral consumption ‘bots are addicts repeat customers.

Be forewarned: There’s a common bit of advice “Once you see it, you’ll see it everywhere.” It’s the same with the Cacophonic Phenomenon and the mystery-in-contradiction, but it’s more like “Once you make out the words, you can’t ignore them.” Listening to the radio stops being background noise and becomes reports of a horrifying, nearby, war. This knowledge can feel like a curse, but the alternative is more tragic because the Cacophonic Phenomenon is a kind of hypnotism, or snake-charming.

16 thoughts on “Music as Moral Solvent: Hypocriticisms in the Cacophonic Phenomenon

  1. Great stuff brother!

    And you are dead on about what we tend to “see everywhere”…and also what we hear.

    When walking in truth and light, the presence of darkness can be like sensory overload.

    Those songs were hard to listen to, indeed. You feel like you’re sitting next to someone attempting to have a normal conversation and they are using a bullhorn.

  2. Way off topic but I would like to see expand on this comment you left at Dalrock’s

    “This is much less true than it used to be. Even in the days when there was more social mobility, the signposts for MC and UMC were dramatically moved. Well-paid factory workers, IT staff, and low-level managers are considered MC now, and consider themselves to be such, but they’re not. Successful business owners, doctors, lawyers, accountants…those are the MC.”

    On topic that Meredithe Brooks song; I remember it coming out about the time I turned the radio off and began listening to almost exclusively Blue Grass and Old School Blues. I left the main stream a long time ago but it was a general sense of disgust and hatred, and I never gave it much thought. Near on 20 years later the reasons why are getting pieced together. Pandor and Spotify have opened me to more recent music but its a limited song by song sort of thing and I cannot think of any modern artist I want to hear for an entire CD

  3. Country music – which I like – is particularly bad. I recall a song about a guy driving down the road at night, crying (literally, he said “Tears streaming down my face” or something to that effect, in the song), yelling out his apparent ex…wife? girlfriend’s? name, who had just left him. The whole time he was lamenting how maybe if he’d cared all this much all along she wouldn’t be gone.

    I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, I’m ostensibly on your side, but you’re acting like such a pussy even I wouldn’t want to get into the car with you.”

    Not the same topic exactly, but related.

  4. This is good stuff, but how do you address it with those in your care without being an insufferable moralizer? Running the possible scenarios through my head, I can see myself either as the Frank Burns of the house calling a somber meeting to discuss issues with which only he could be so pedantic as to concern himself or as the Debbie Downer of everyone’s commute, opportunistically seizing songs on the radio as chances to hop on my soapbox. It’s not a question of agreement or conviction, but one of effectiveness and social grace.

  5. RE: “mystery in contradictions”, my basic impression is that the female mind is oriented toward subjectivity and feeling whereas the male mind is oriented towards objectivity and truth (the usual caveats, of course, about individual variation). So it’s very easy for women to embrace nonsensical contradictions and even to make up entire phoney-baloney realities and really believe them. The whole liberal thing is in being “self-defining” so it’s easy for them to buy into it. They find it really easy to lie to themselves.

    You see it on TV and in real life all the time. You see chicks that dress like harlots and literally are upset that their boyfriends are husbands don’t think of them as and treat them like a princess. They don’t get the contradiction – Cinderella didn’t dress like a harlot. They actually think they are princess-like. You see chicks that cuss worse than a drunken sailor and act disgusting and view disgusting TV & movies and are upset that they aren’t “precious” to their boyfriend or husband. They don’t see the contradiction between acting gross and being seen as “precious.”

  6. “Ryder”,

    Women are like water in that they conform to the environment that they find themselves. So, the thing to do would be to make sure that the environment is godly enough, which can be found in Christian sub-cultures, or even to dictate which friends of hers are worth being around. Then she’ll find the proper music and other cultural accoutrements for that environment and you’ll know that you’ve done the best you can and then all that is left for you is your own personal dealing with the fact that women like things that make them more flexible, especially song lyrics, which really is part of female nature.

    That’s how you don’t come across as a scold, by looking a bit farther “up-stream” in the woman’s life if her musical choices are so bad.

    Best regards,


  7. @ A.J.P. –

    That’s solid advice, but I’m more interested in how Cane impresses this sort of thing on his family. It’s good to build an environment conducive to holy living, but it’s also good to teach people to recognize danger for themselves.

    I’ve always been bookish, so pondering the embedded messages of what most consider background noise comes naturally to me. It doesn’t to everyone, though, and that’s why I want to pursue a more graceful approach because, let me tell you, I have been an insufferable moralizer through certain periods of my life.

  8. A classic example of this ‘musical cognitive dissonance’ which really is obvious was Janet Jackson’s 1986 video hit, “Nasty Boys”.
    A more recent example is Pink’s “Don’t Leave Me” (a classic example of the anthem of the violent, abusive female).

    Now that I think of it, this can actually be a useful tool to know what a woman is like, mentally — pay attention to the music she listens to, especially if she listens to it a LOT. If she listens to this type of stuff (especially a lot), do yourself a favor and NEXT her; there’s no telling how much trouble and craziness that you’ll save yourself from.

  9. @Ryder

    This is good stuff, but how do you address it with those in your care without being an insufferable moralizer?

    I think the first thing is to decide not to care if they think you are an insufferable moralizer. Second, I always behave in accordance with the truth: The onus is on the subordinate to prove to the superior. I ask questions that make them have to justify their choices: “Does her message resonate with you?”, “Why do you think fornication is reasonable?, etc.

    One notorious device of mine is to have my kids print out the lyrics and read them to me while I watch their faces turn red and towards the floor. Or we watch the video together, and I have them explain it to me in their own words.

    With my wife–and sometimes with my kids–I’ll ask them if I should have “more empathy” and put myself in the singer’s shoes: Wouldn’t it be awesome if Dad followed his heart wherever it went? He could have a lot of fun with his income and girls who want to share in his fun. Would they like it if I gave my attentions to some woman from the bar who just wanted to have a good time? What is the harm to you kids? It’s my life, you know…


    Now that I think of it, this can actually be a useful tool to know what a woman is like, mentally

    Yes, exactly.

    The trouble is, a lot of men didn’t and NEXT-ing is a foregone option.

  10. @SFC Ton

    “This is much less true than it used to be. Even in the days when there was more social mobility, the signposts for MC and UMC were dramatically moved. Well-paid factory workers, IT staff, and low-level managers are considered MC now, and consider themselves to be such, but they’re not. Successful business owners, doctors, lawyers, accountants…those are the MC.”

    In my opinion, there is one basic metric:

    1) Do, or can, they afford full-time servant(s)?

    2) Do they have noble titles?

    The answer must be “Yes” to the former and “No” to the latter to be truly MC. “No” and “No” is Working Class or The Poor. “Yes” to 2) means they are Upper Class.

    Historically, the MC were those people who lacked land and title, but had equivalent money or property. In the US, we have never had a true UC because we had no nobility and non-titled people could own significant tracts of land. Well, upper MC people have tried to put themselves in the UC vacuum on the strength of money and the power that comes with it. Which left a vacuum in the MC, and so Working Class people have tried to fill it. Various groups have gone along with this fiction because it suited their purposes; arguing for more taxes, arguing for less taxes, self-aggrandizement, the need of an enemy or more enemies…

  11. This brought a certain Scripture immediately to mind. Perhaps this problem is much older than we think…

    It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:5

  12. Sometimes I run into songs on Christian radio that remind me of this post. One that’s been bothering me is the chorus on this one:

    I’m calling out these
    Pretty pretty lies
    Pretty pretty lies
    Pretty pretty lies
    We were meant to be perfectly imperfect
    Such a beautiful mess

    I’m calling out these
    Pretty pretty lies
    Pretty pretty lies
    Pretty pretty lies

    In the middle of the chorus are the type of contradictions pointed out in the blogpost. “Perfect imperfection”, “Beautiful mess”, and while the latter one could be alright in a different context, the first one is simply wrong – we are imperfect but meant to be perfect.

    The chorus itself is a lot of chanting of the phrase “pretty pretty lies”, and it does not help the morning commute.

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