An Overview of the Popular Culture by the Standards of the Male Gaze in the Music Industry

Category: Culture
Last Updated: 13 Mar 2023
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Male gaze is the use of the male perspective in popular culture, how the majority of popular media we consume is from the standpoint of a heterosexual man and appeals to that audience. This notion is often associated purely with visual stimulus, however it can be applied to not only music videos but music and is often found in the lyrics of artists from a variety of musical backgrounds. Thus, we will analyse how the male gaze influences music creation and consumption and its relevance in contemporary music (with a focus on popular music). The music industry is dominated with male figures both as participants and consumers, with the majority of label executives being male'. The prevalence of males in the music industry both as performers and businessmen already shows a disparity in gender in regards to gaining jobs and success within the music industry, and this divide is found in the consumption of music.

The majority of popular media is created In the perspective of heterosexual white men, as suggested in the writings of one of the most predominant writers about the 'male gaze' Laura Mulvey, who first suggested the idea of the 'Male Gaze' in her work "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975). The perspective of men is a reoccurring theme widespread through popular music of today across the most popular genres in the industry, from pop music such as Justin Biebers "Baby" (The most popular video on Youtube in 2010 with over one billion views ), Indie rock such as Gotye's "Somebody I used to Know" (2011) or electronic music such as Daft Punks "Get Lucky" (2013). As a result of this, the male gaze has a large impact on our consumption ot music and he way musicologist's analyse and understand music within modern society. A clear example of the male perspective can be seen by examining songs such as "Blurred Lines" (2013) by Robin Thicke which has since become one of the most commercially successful songs of all time with 14.8 million purchases. The music is composed with a simple rhythm and minimal instrumentation, the focus being on the main male vocalists (of which there are three).

Lyrically, the song details the seduction of a woman who is a "good girl" however the singer knows that she "wants it" and that he can't "let her get past me". This ideology of no meaning yes and the constant pursuit of sexual gratification regardless of the circumstances ("you're a good girl / but I know you want it") are the essential themes of the song and a common trait in the male gaze. Upon its release and success, the song was widely protested by feminist groups as a result of its themes". In spite of this, the song still continued to be one of the most successful singles of all time. This suggests that the male gaze is still a large driving force in the sale and consumption of music in contemporary society. Further on from the thinly veiled lyrics, the music video (with over three hundred million views) also shows blatantly obvious allusions to the male dominance and the perceived power of men over women. Male gaze is most often related with the visual, as noted in one of the earliest instances of the male gaze by John Berger in "Ways of Seeing"". Berger also suggests that men "act" by viewing women whereas women define themselves by "being looked at". This is visually represented in the music video for 'Blurred Lines", which depicts the three main vocalists dressed in high quality clothing laughing and dancing. These scenes are shown in conjunction with close up shots of nude women who meet general male societies standard of beauty: Young, skinny and busty. The women featured are never seen with clothes and havee a blank expression on their face throughout the video.

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Through the stark contrast in emotion of the characters depicted as well as the fact that men are always seen fully clothed whereas the women are seen as nude, this furthers the idea of objectification of women found in the lyrics and also alludes to a vulnerability reflected in the main line "I know you want it". In this example, we can see that both the music and the music video possess attributes, which are commonly found when discussing the male perspective, and it is one of the most successful songs in recent musical history - suggesting that the notion of male gaze does still apply within society. However, sometimes the lyrical content and music video may show two different perspectives of a song. The importance of music vide0s cannot be understated as they can even have the power to change the meaning ot the song to the listener. A recent example of this is the Arctic Monkeys "Do I Wanna Know?" music video, which at first appears quite simple - showing a simple repeating sound wave". As the song continues however, the shape begins to change into that of a curvaceous and sexually suggestive female figure. Indeed, the figure moves in time to the song and lyrics, at one point opening her legs to the lyric "Been wondering if your hearts still open / and if so I wanna know what time it shuts". Taking the lyrics out of context with the imagery, it gives the impression of romanticism and a vague unrequited love. With the aforementioned imagery, the lyric becomes recontextualised and suggests a sexual conquest rather then an unattainable lover.

This happens again in the next verse, with the lyric "I don't know if you feel the same as I do". This again would go with the theme of unrequited love, but in the context of the music video this is again changed completely, with an image of a nude women bending over as the lyric is sung - suggesting that she is indeed attainable. Thus, the male gaze comes into affect and actually impacts on the interpretation of the music when listened to in combination with the music video (which is often the case for popular music). Another example of the music video changing the perspective is in the music of One Direction, albeit in a much different way then to the Arctic Monkeys. The lyrics of their new single "Midnight Memories" (2013)pOssess similar lines to most popular songs, again fitting into the paradigm of the male gaze. Lines such as "Anywhere we go / Never say no/ Just do it" and "5 foot something with the skinny jeans / don't look back baby follow me" are classic examples of the male perspective showing power and authority. However, the music video changes the perspective of all of this completely.

Throughout the analysis of popular music we do start to see the male gaze being challenged in the form of the fastest growing market in modern music; Pre-teen girls. One of the most popular acts for this audience is One Direction, who in their music videos are seen being the object of desire rather than in the perspective of a heterosexual male. This movement from the male gaze to a quasi female gaze can be seen in the music video, where the five male lead singers are depicted as objects of sexual desire and are placed in situations of vulnerability. This is shown through the use of close up shots of the singers looking directly towards the camera and their lack of success with women throughout the video. This contrasting view is interesting, and showS a movement visually away from the male gaze to appeal to a largely female audience whereas the lyrics remain from the male viewpoint - remaining safe within the normal conventions of popular music.

The male gaze not only deals with the heterosexual relationships of male and females, but also in more recent times has upgraded the fantasy to include women who are involved in sexual acts together (provided it is clear they would still prefer men over women). Taking into consideration the 2008 hit by Katy Perry "I Kissed A Girl"" with its main hook being the title of the song; an allusion to a casual female sexual interaction. As observed by Lisa Diamond, the song is an obvious example of the Male gaze and works by "titillating males while reassuring them that participants remain sexually available in the conventional heterosexual marketplace"". This assertion of the male dominance in the sexual encounter is made clear in the lyrics "It felt so wrong/ it felt so right/ don't mean I'm in love tonight" and "I hope my boyfriend don't mind it".

By utilizing repetition in the song, Perry makes clear that the male is in no doubt of losing her to a female, almost trivializing the idea of homosexuality in women, and thus the sexual encounter is accessible and seen as attractive in the male marketplace. This is made exceedingly clear in the music video, which shows Perry in various compromising sexual positions with women, with no men being shown until the end of the video: Where Pery wakes up and realizes that the sexual encounters were nothing but a dream and wakes up next to her male Partner. This further reassures the viewer that these are purely just fantasies. Whilst the above shows the commercial viability of the Male Gaze, it is notnecessarily essential for commercial success and popularity in contemporary pop music, as seen in the career and music of Lady Gaga. The majority of her music is sung from the female perspective and instead employs the gaze of women.

In particular, her 2010 hit song 'Alejandro'"" is a standout example of the singer taking control of the relationship and the music video showing a hyper-sexualised man with herself in control of his actions. Furthermore, the ratio of men wearing limited clothing is significantly higher than the women, giving an aesthetic that is more pleasing to the female perspective rather than the traditional male and making the male characters the key object of desire. Visually, Gaga uses weapons as a phallic symbol throughout the video to place her male subordinates in place as suggested by Martin Iddon in "Lady Gaga and Popular Music"The lyrics deal with the theme of Gaga saying goodbye to her former lovers and gaining control over her own life and relationships. Lines like "Don't call my name / Alejandro" and "Tm not your babe / Fernando" place Gaga in control over the relationship and reject the idea of the man having control. This directly opposes key ideologies that make up the Male gaze in media and the song was one of the most popular in 2010, charting throughout Australia, U.S and most European countries and amassing over two million digital downloads".

Whilst it is not quite as commercial successful as Thickes "Blurred Lines" the strong sales do suggest the male gaze is prevalent but not essential for pop music to be successful. Overall, the male gaze can be shown to have a high importance in today's pop music, affecting a range of acts from different genres withR'n'B and Robin Thicke to Rock with the Arctic Monkeys. This male perspective is not only shown through their lyrics, but in the visual imagery and symbolism in their music videos. Despite this, new perspectives are making their way into mainstream music with the rising popularity of boy-bands such as One Direction or acts such as Lady Gaga that appeal to a female marketplace and challenge previously held cultural conventions. In conclusion, Male gaze can indeed be placed onto music and it still holds a very important place in contemporary music and society.


  1. Marion Leonard, Gender in Music History: Rock, Discourse and Girl Power (Ashgate Publishing, 2007)
  2. Caroline Hein, Understanding Laura Mulvey and Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema(Auflage, 2006)
  3. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Penguin Publishing, 1977).
  4. Diamond, Lisa M. "Tm Straight, but I Kissed a Girl': The Trouble with American Media Representations of Female-Female Sexuality. (Feminism &Psychology, Vol 15, 2005) 104-110Martin Iddon and Melanie Marshall, "Lady Gaga and Popular Music. Performing Gender,
    Fashion and Culture" (Routledge, 2014)

Internet Articles:

  1. "Justin Biebers Baby' is most watched video on Youtube", Associate Press, Last modifiedJuly 16, 2010."Chart week ending October 13t, 2013, Yahoo Music, Last Modified October 13t", 2013.
  2. https:/

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An Overview of the Popular Culture by the Standards of the Male Gaze in the Music Industry. (2023, Mar 13). Retrieved from

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