I remember an instance in time when I had been waiting for a rave to start. I had come alone to the venue, and the idea of dancing without friends did not appeal to me, so I waited upstairs to observe the happenings of the dance floor below. There, I was able to notice the individuals who have also come alone. Some of them were enjoying themselves. Some of them were not. I recall a distinct instance where a middle-aged woman came in with a fluorescent pink tank top and some glow-in-the-dark bracelets. She seemed to be dancing despite the fact that no one was watching. Then, I recalled the lyrics of Into You and a couple of facts coalesced into an idea in my mind.
The vast majority of DJs are male. I don’t know the exact statistics, but it is clear from even a cursory glance of a list of EDM artists on Spotify that EDM, despite it origins, is not a diverse genre of music. I have been following EDM for awhile, and even as a casual consumer, I can only name two female DJ and off the top of my head. I can say for a fact that there was only one and a half female artists throughout the entire of the Main Stage performances at Electric Zoo last year. Yet, despite such an overwhelming disproportion within the writing and production, so many of the songs produced by male DJs have female singers (see: literally anything produced by Spinnin’ Records).
Take, for example, the of lyrics of Into You by Matisse and Sadko:
I’m breathing, I’m feeling alone
I know that you’re leaving
While we’re still undone
It’s gone right before our faces
Gone without a trace
We had something special
I don’t need no space
I’ll be dancing like nobody is watching
And I wanna be what you need for a second
‘Cause I’m into you
Now I’m trying to get you attention
So I’m calling you up on my best intentions
‘Cause I’m into you
The narrator is a girl in a club who is reflecting on her feelings of missing someone (presumably a boy) who has left the club without saying goodbye to her. Yet, because the description of the person remains vague, the identity of the individuals she is attracted to remains open to interpretation. She addresses the listener of the song with the second-person ‘you’, which, contextually, is referring to the individual that has left the club without her. When Hanne Mjøen sings, “I’m into you,” she refers to a person in her own life. However, as listeners who cannot experience the song as it was sung, we cannot help but to contexualize the song relative to our own lives. We think, even implicitly, that she refers to us.
The middle-aged woman in the club seemed to enjoy herself as is. And, from my observation of countless individuals over that hour, she seemed to genuinely enjoy herself. Unlike those individuals who were browsing Instagram in the middle of dance floor, she danced “like nobody’s watching” because she probably genuinely enjoyed herself and did not care whether people judged her or not. Yet, the existence of Into You changes the narrative, even if implicitly. It artificially creates the idea that her actions are the result of sexual desire. Through a narrative created by a male artist, her actions are confined to the telling by a male fantasy.
Of course, the consecration of male fantasy regarding female desires by a male artists is not a new trend in society. Take, for example, Venus and Cupid by Gerrit van Honthors:
Cupid has his hand on Venus’ tits. As a heterosexual male spectator, I would also like to touch Venus’ tits. The heterosexual male community that defined the consumers of art during the Baroque Period would have liked to touch Venus’ tits. Venus (and her tits) represent both the personification and objectification of love and desire to both me and the dominant community during the same historical period. If we further contextualize the painting relative to historical ideas of claiming ownership through the sexual elements of marriage, then the act of touching Venus’ tits represented a claim on Venus (and her tits). But, because she does not exist, neither the viewer nor the artist can claim ownership over Venus’ tits.
There is always the element of voyeurism that is inherent in all nude paintings. But, in this case, Venus is facing towards the viewer. She is aware the she is being observed. Despite being in a languid and vulnerable position, she does not seem to have a revolting reaction towards our voyeurism as spectators of the painting. Venus is smiling, and because the painting permanently captures a moment in time, she will always be smiling. Van Honthors, as the male artist, has created a fantasy of a female who is delighted in being unconsensually observed.
Cupid, on the other hand, does not realize that there is a viewer. He is fixated on Venus. Cupid also does not realize that Venus is turned towards the spectator. Although Cupid has his hand on Venus’ tits, Venus’ attention is not focused on Cupid, who, possessing her tits, should have ownership over her. In other words, despite Cupid’s existence in the painting, he does not have a presence in the painting. Because Venus’ attention is turned towards the spectator, the viewer has no reason to be jealous of Cupid’s relationship to Venus. His hand becomes isolated from his essence. By turning towards the viewer, she is indicating that the viewer is in possession of her, not Cupid.
Relating back to Into You, the song was written by a duo of male DJs, Matisse and Sadko. Although the consumers of EDM are much more diverse than the consumers of art during the Baroque Period, the same motifs still exist in an industry that is still dominated by male artists. The female narrative is constructed from the male perspective, and as listeners, we cannot separate the contents of the song from the singer without a subconscious hurdle. Even when half of consumers of EDM are female, the producers within the industry has not oriented the narrative in congruence with the consumers. In this sense, even as the consumers have become more diverse (at least, in gender), those who dictate the industry culture are still male.
John Berger summarizes the idea of the male gaze:
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.John Berger, Ways of Seeing
If the music we consume dictates at all our perceptions of ourselves relative to society, then EDM just reinforces the same male fantasies produced by male artists to reinforce a narrative of female sexuality told by a group of people who merely have cultural dominance and no real authority to do so. There exists the inherent nature of the dance floor, which is, of course, very sexually charged, and then there exists the cultural space that goes beyond the dance floor, which implicitly affects all of our understandings of ourselves and the world around us. And, while dance floors serve as a tool of sexual liberation, I wonder how the culture of the industry affects us outside of the room in which EDM is played.
And so continues the male gaze in modern society: men perceive themselves as themselves, women perceive themselves as men perceive them.