Feministing Jamz: “Hey Mama” and antiquated gender roles

Summer hits rock my socks like no other section of the music calendar. I love good summer songs that make me think of the beach, kissing my boo, or driving for days through the countryside. I love bouncing beats and lip-sync jam sessions. What I don’t love is finding the patriarchy wrapped in my techno-rap-pop amalgamated remix.

There’s this song on the radio right now that meets my qualifications for a summer hit. I don’t want to think too hard about it, and when it comes on, I find myself wishing to be in a club. There’s something about bright, laser lights mixed with dingy qualities that really gets my blood going. I sing in the car, and while I walk down the sidewalk, and generally just a lot, so eventually I started singing this song. That’s when I realized it had to go.

I’m talking about “Hey Mama” by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack. Upon first listen, the catchiness is infectious, and it doesn’t seem awful. The first verse isn’t too bad:

Yes I’ll be your woman
Yes I’ll be your baby
Yes I’ll be whatever that you tell me when you’re ready
Yes I’ll be your girl, forever your lady
You ain’t ever gotta worry, I’m down for you baby

But that second verse is pretty terrible:

Yes I do the cooking
Yes I do the cleaning
Plus I keep the na-na real sweet for your eating
Yes you be the boss and yes I be respecting
Whatever that you tell me cause it’s game you be spitting

This song is not redeemed by the fact that it’s Nicki Minaj doing most of the talking. Generally speaking, if a woman wants to do the cooking and cleaning, I will not kick and scream about antiquated gender roles. It’s about choice. My problem with this song is that it takes us back to the fifties by removing the choice. The verses detail what it takes to be the woman of an unknown man. Maybe the man is David Guetta, maybe it’s just “the man.” The way the song is structured gives the illusion of a call-and-response interaction between the woman, Minaj, and the man, with Minaj answering his implied questions. On the surface, she is saying yes, so there is no issue. But the lyrics lift up her responses as the way things should be — the expectation — as opposed to one woman’s choice. It doesn’t matter if the verse is accompanied by a bumpin’ beat, the lyrics still present a retro ideal of what a woman should be and how she should treat her man — an ideal that is mass distributed over the radio waves to be heard by women and girls of all ages.

Obviously,  sexism in music is common. What I find fascinating is that no one is talking about this song, unless we count the Thought Catalog piece that is apparently in love with it, which I don’t. In 2013, the internet exploded with discussion around “Blurred Lines.” Where is the same treatment for “Hey Mama”? That is not to say that “Hey Mama” is somehow “better” or “worse” than “Blurred Lines.” They’re both sexist in how they portray expectations for women.

A lot of the time, we use the beat or the nostalgia — put on “Get Low” by Lil Jon in a room full of 20-somethings and watch us go nuts — as an excuse to not hear what is being said in a sexist song. Personally, I’m over sick beats with nasty lyrics. So let’s use that next button in protest. Time to move on.

Just turn it off.


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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