Like much of St. Olaf’s campus, I was ready for a fun, nostalgic night when I heard Jesse McCartney would be performing at the fall concert. While I certainly screamed with joy once McCartney finally sang the first few notes of one of his most popular songs, “Beautiful Soul,” McCartney had already spoiled the evening with his downright creepy comments about young women. Between declaring that he “only goes to sorority houses,” not fraternities, and getting uncomfortably close to a female student onstage, McCartney’s actions were prime examples of behavior that perpetuates rape culture.
The term “rape culture” is one of those common feminist buzzwords that many people bemoan while rarely understanding all of what it encompasses. Simply put, rape culture is anything society does to normalize sexual violence.
So, yes, McCartney did cross a line when he made comments about sorority houses and name-dropped the infamous Robin Thicke – whose single “Blurred Lines” has been widely criticized for encouraging disregard for consent – before performing a cover of one of Thicke’s songs. Even something seemingly innocuous like calling young female fans “babes” perpetuates rape culture in that he simultaneously infantilizes and sexualizes his fans.
During his performance, McCartney asked for a volunteer to come up on stage. Does this promote rape culture, even if there was some semblance of consent?
In this situation, it’s important to remember the power McCartney wields as a celebrity. Because of his celebrity status and age – 29 is way closer to 30 than 20, y’all – McCartney has more power and influence than most of his fans, particularly his college-aged ones. As many say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” In this case, McCartney had a responsibility to ensure that his fans were comfortable.
When he asked for an audience member to come up on stage during one of his songs – without first clarifying exactly what was going to happen before he extended this invitation – McCartney failed to live up to this responsibility. He could have easily violated the student’s personal space, making her feel extremely uncomfortable but unable to do anything about it, since this was Jesse McCartney’s show and there was an audience full of girls who wanted to be in her position.
But doesn’t everyone in the music industry perpetuate these same behaviors? Shouldn’t we cut him some slack? It is true – the music industry is certainly notorious for sexualizing anyone and anything, with or without consent, in a misguided effort to make millennials buy their music.
However, I would argue that the prevalence of this tendency doesn’t equate to its acceptability. The flu is certainly quite common across the United States during these months, but that doesn’t make everyone desperate to catch the virus.
Musical artists should rely on the quality of their work to make a living, rather than sexual gimmicks. If McCartney had written a radio hit in the last ten years perhaps he wouldn’t have felt compelled to milk the grossest and most tired tropes of pop performance.
When McCartney interacted with the audience like he was a hormonal teenage boy, he quickly reminded me why his success as a heartthrob ended years ago.
While I certainly didn’t appreciate this behavior from a 29-year-old, I’d be just as disappointed if he were 19 or 16. McCartney’s age definitely heightened the creepiness of the whole situation, but his behavior and attitude towards women is unacceptable regardless of his age.