You and Your [Expletive] Invited

Mixed messages at the Grammys.

Posted Feb 02, 2018

On January 28, 2018, Bruno Mars won big at the Grammy Awards. He took home six Grammys, more than any other nominee, including the Grammy for best song. That song, “That’s What I Like,” opens with this lyric:

I got a condo in Manhattan
Baby girl, what's hatnin'?
You and your ass invited
So gon' and get to clappin'
Go pop it for a player, pop-pop it for me
Turn around and drop it for a player, drop-drop it for me

There is no suggestion in the song that Bruno Mars is addressing a girlfriend or even a woman well-known to him. On the contrary, he seems to be proposing a commercial transaction — food, money and jewelry in exchange for sex. He begins by offering “lobster tail for dinner” and then raises his offer to “strawberry champagne on ice” then “diamonds all white” and finally “shopping sprees in Paris / everything twenty-four karats.”

Eight men, including Bruno Mars, shared songwriting credits for “That’s What I Like.” There are 523 words in their collective magnum opus, but “love” is not one of them, nor is “relationship," “care” or “caring,” or any synonym for any of these words.  

Let’s imagine for a moment a young man approaching a young woman, a colleague at work let’s suppose, and the young man says to that young woman, “Baby girl, you and your ass invited!” He then offers lobster tail, champagne, and jewelry as inducements to accept his offer. The young man might well face charges of sexual harassment (as he should). He might be required to attend a consciousness-raising class, where he would learn that addressing a young woman as “you and your ass” is objectification. He would learn that offering a woman jewelry for sex is appropriate only if the woman is a professional sex worker who has agreed to accept jewelry in lieu of cash.  

At the same ceremony where Mars received his six awards, Janelle Monáe gave an impassioned speech in which she claimed that “time’s up for harassment of any kind.” That’s a nice idea, in theory.

In practice, the Grammy Awards, like the American pop culture they represent, now present young people with a hopeless mix of contradictions and mixed messages. How can we tell young people that “time’s up for harassment of any kind” when a song describing such harassment, in which a woman and her ass are encouraged to “turn around and drop it for a player” is awarded the highest honor an American popular song can receive?

How can we expect young American men to know that it's wrong for a man to proposition women with offers of money for sex, when a song celebrating such a transaction is awarded the Grammy for Song of the Year?

We can’t.

I am a family doctor. When I am not seeing patients in the office, I speak to parents about raising children, sharing what I have learned from my 30-plus years as a physician, as well as my visits to more than 400 schools over the past 17 years. I’ve written four books for parents. My message to parents is to be on your guard. Know what songs your children are listening to. If your son is listening to Bruno Mars, make sure your son knows that it is never acceptable to address a woman as “you and your ass,” or to command her to “turn around and drop it for a player,” or to offer food or money in exchange for sex. Do not take it for granted that your son already knows this. Children are not born knowing what constitutes decent behavior. They have to be taught. That doesn’t mean an occasional sermon about treating women with respect. It means every day, day in and day out, you behave like the grown-up you hope your child to become. Your child is growing up in American culture, which now means the culture of Bruno Mars. That means you have to work that much harder to teach the basic virtues of courtesy and respect.

You cannot teach a virtue which you do not yourself possess. You can’t teach your son to be courteous to women if he sees you listening to Bruno Mars.

And don’t watch the Grammys. Take your kid for a walk in the park instead.

Leonard Sax MD PhD is a family physician, a psychologist, and the author of four books for parents. Learn more at leonardsax.com.