/ 6 August 2014

School’s choice of ‘rape’ song at World Choir Games offends

Robin Thicke's song climbed the pop charts of 2013
Robin Thicke's song climbed the pop charts of 2013

The decision by private boys’ school Kearsney College’s choir to sing Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines at the World Choir Games last month has been labelled “abhorrent” and “damning” because of the song’s “rape anthem” status.

“The song, with its catchy tune and apparent innocence, is a definitive example of how rape culture permeates society and undermines the notion of consent,” sexual violence activist Michelle Solomon told the Mail & Guardian.

“To have teenage boys not only sing this song, but sing this song on an international stage is particularly damning of Kearsney.”

As the song climbed the pop charts of 2013, so did rage over its “rapey” lyrics. Commentators around the world slated the lyrics for promoting sex without express consent: “I hate these blurred lines … I know you want it.”

The school’s choir, from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, took to the stage at the event, which was held in Riga, Latvia, between July 9 and 19, and sang: “The way you grab me, must wanna get nasty.”

The Games is the “Olympics for choirs”, as the school described it on its website, “and is the largest choral competition in the world, which this year attracted 27 000 participants and 460 choirs from 73 nations”. Kearsney won gold medals for all of the three categories it entered, including the scenic pop category, for which the choir sang Blurred Lines.

A poor choice
The school’s Facebook post celebrating the wins a few days later was met with much congratulation as well as strong criticism for the song choice.

Faranaaz Parker, managing editor of online news site The Daily Vox, told the M&G that the song was a poor choice.

“It plays on that idea that if a girl behaves in a certain way, she must want to have sex with you: ‘You wanna hug me … what rhymes with hug me?’ If my son was in a school choir, I wouldn’t want him to be singing the lyrics ‘I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two’.

“What was really chilling for me was when I saw a story about women protesting against this song, holding up whiteboards showing the words their rapists told them while they were raping them. It was eerie because the rapists’ justifications mirrored the lyrics of Blurred Lines so closely: ‘You know you want it’,” Parker said.

Briony Fickling commented on Kearsney’s Facebook post: “Surely you are aware that Blurred Lines is essentially a song that promotes rape myths and victim-blaming … ?” While Danni Diana said: “Great ode to rape, Kearsney.”

The school’s Facebook post and the criticisms were deleted – a “deeply unethical move”, Solomon said in response to this.

Feeding into sexual violence
Parker said the choice to sing the song at the Games should have been considered more carefully, given South Africa’s troubling sexual violence statistics.

“This is not just about some boys having fun with a popular and catchy song. We live in a country with appalling rape stats. Let’s not kid ourselves about who commits rape. Stranger rape only accounts for a small percentage of rapes. Rape by a friend or acquaintance is much more common.”

“If we can’t at least teach boys that no means no, and that there aren’t any blurred lines, then we are just feeding into sexual violence in this country.”

The school’s marketing director, Robert Carpenter, told the M&G that it chose the song because it was “the biggest-selling pop song of 2013 around the world”. He said the school was “completely unaware” of the controversy and would never have chosen to sing it otherwise.

“Upon being made aware of the controversy, we removed the song from our repertoire and apologised to those who expressed their disappointment and anger at the choir’s performance of the song,” Carpenter said.

Explanation to pupils ‘crucial’
But Solomon questioned how this decision was explained to the pupils.

“Do the boys understand that they sang a rape anthem on an international stage, or are they of the view that the ‘femi-nazis’ stole their fun? What the boys take away from this experience is crucial,” she said.

Carpenter said the choir members were “spoken to separately and the controversy around the song was explained, as was the decision to remove it from our repertoire”.

“The boys of the school were also addressed, and it was explained why the song choice was totally inappropriate and why it has been removed.

“It was a very unfortunate choice of song, made in ignorance, and we apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.”