Madame Gandhi: Why we must stop dancing to the sound of our own oppression

Recorded atJuly 10, 2020
Duration (min:sec)05:46
Video TypeTED Stage Talk
Words per minute183.13 fast
Readability (FK)53.16 medium
SpeakerMadame Gandhi

Official TED page for this talk


Popular music is often riddled with misogynistic lyrics that objectify and demean women ... so why are we listening and dancing to it? Performing a sample of her original song "Top Knot Turn Up" and sharing clips from her female-directed music video of "See Me Thru," activist and musician Madame Gandhi explains why she's making sex-positive music that doesn't contribute to anyone's oppression -- and calls on music lovers to get down to tunes that empower everyone.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:13 So often, I'll take a fitness class, or I'll go to a music venue, or, really, anywhere that plays music in the background, and I'll find myself loving the rhythms and the melodies and the beats ...
200:29 And then I take a second to listen to the lyrics, lyrics that, for example, place us in a position of subservience that we would never tolerate in any other context.
300:38 And I'm aghast at the degree to which we normalize sexism in our culture.
400:43 I listen to this music and I'm like, I don't want to have to turn up to the sound of my own oppression.
500:48 You know, music is one of the most powerful forms of communication, because it has the potential to either uplift or oppress.
600:59 Music caters to the emotions. Music caters to the soul.
701:03 Music opens up our soul.
801:04 It opens up our channels to receive information about somebody else's walk of life, to inform our own roles.
901:11 And while I have no problem with male fantasy, what I do have a problem with is that, according to a recent study, only 2.6 percent of all music producers identify as women.
1001:24 That means an even smaller percentage identify as trans or gender nonconforming.
1101:29 And why does this matter?
1201:31 Because, if we don't own and control our own narrative, somebody else will tell our stories for us, and they will get it wrong, perpetuating the very myths that hold us back.
1301:43 And I'm not here to tell other people how to make their music.
1401:48 But I am here to provide and design the alternative.
1501:52 One strategy I take in my music is making uplifting, energetic, percussive global beats and placing lyrics on top of them that genuinely describe my life's experiences without contributing to the oppression of anybody else.
1602:09 It's funny, because it's the same reason as to why we excuse so many problematic lyrics; it's because we love how the beats make us feel.
1702:19 An example of this is my song "Top Knot Turn Up."
1802:26 (Music: "Top Knot Turn Up") (Sings) I turned off my phone's notifications so I have more time /
1902:47 No bubbles to trouble my clear state of mind /
2002:50 One thing to know, I'm not here to please / Hair tied up, I do it properly /
2102:54 My time is not your property / When I'm productive like my ovaries, eyy! /
2202:58 Give a grown girl room to breathe, basic rights and her liberty / Free from insecurity that the world's projecting onto me / Please do not trouble me when I am focused /
2303:07 The future is female you already know this /
2403:09 I'm fighting against the corruption on SCOTUS / Turned up in my top knot since when I first wrote this /
2503:15 It's a top knot turn up It's a top knot turn up, turn up, turn up. It's a top knot turn up It's a top knot turn up, turn up, turn up.
2603:23 It's a top knot turn up It's a top knot turn up, eyyy.
2703:26 It's a top knot turn up.
2803:28 (Music ends)
2903:30 I want us to keep making sex-positive, beautiful music about joy and freedom.
3003:36 I want us to embrace our own pleasure just as much as we embrace our own pain.
3103:40 I want us to celebrate the authentic, nuanced, multidimensional aspects of our human existence, rather than perform false narratives of degrading sexuality in order to feel accepted or loved.
3203:56 And another strategy that I take in my music to combat the misogyny that exists on the airwaves is to visually depict the very world I wished we lived in.
3304:05 In the music video for my song "See Me Thru," which is like a vibe-y, queer electronic R and B song, I cast two of my dear friends, Ania and Dejha, to play the role of the lovers, because they're married in real life.
3404:20 But what you don't know is that they also are behind the camera concepting and directing the entire video.
3504:28 (Video) Heyyyyy ohhhh My emotions were tired Music should be safe and accessible for all to experience.
3604:42 As you can see, it's not about losing the sex appeal or swag that music has, it's about writing messages that infuse tenderness and positivity into music that motivates us and challenges us.
3704:53 And while we as musicians absolutely have the responsibility to make music that isn't disempowering, the consumers can be part of the change, too.
3805:02 Firstly, we get to choose which songs we want to mute and which songs we want to turn louder.
3905:06 We get to say, "I respect myself enough to say I don't want to listen to this, and I don't want this to be in anybody else's space, either."
4005:13 Secondly, we can simply ask ourselves: "Does this music or this message contribute to the oppression of somebody else?
4105:20 Why am I tolerating it?"
4205:21 And finally, we can all be choosing to make playlists or DJ-ing music that provides the right vibe or mood that we're looking for in that moment without the problematic messaging.
4305:31 Why does this matter?
4405:32 Because it's teaching algorithms in our streaming systems and our world exactly what it is that we do want to listen to, creating long-term change and a feedbacking mechanism that impacts the entire industry.
4505:45 This is not a message for just a small group of people.
4605:50 This is a message that affects everybody, because when we protect and liberate our most vulnerable genders, we liberate everybody.