Don't mess with Carrie Underwood.The revenge anthem is undoubtedly one of pop music's best genres. There's no better satisfaction than screaming Alanis Morisette's "You Oughta Know" at the top of your lungs after a bad breakup, or pounding Kelis's "Caught Out There" with its refrain "I Hate You So Much Right Now," in your car to blow off steam. These songs are certainly more satisfying than weeping into a pint of Ben & Jerry's. (Full disclosure: Okay, so sometimes I listen to Kelis and eat ice cream at the same time.)
In the past few years, however, the videos for revenge anthems by female artists have upped the ante, introducing violent fantasies about murdering the men who have done them wrong.
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Country star and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood released a video today for her new single, "Two Black Cadillacs." In the grand tradition of country music, the song tells of two women who discover they are sleeping with the same man and plan to exact revenge.
The title refers to the two black Cadillacs at the man's funeral—one for his wife, one for his mistress. But they are also the cars that the women use to mow the man down, murdering him for his crimes. At the end of the song, the two women share "a crimson smile," leaving their secret "at the grave."
What could be better than murdering your cheating ex-boyfriend? Having his wife as your accomplice. See, women really can be friends.
Presumably these female artists hope to offer women a fun, cathartic outlet for their feelings of rage and revenge, one campy step-up from Alanis's embittered but non-violent "You Oughta Know."
Most of the videos in this tradition are on the playful side. In 2000, the Dixie Chicks scored a huge hit with "Goodbye Earl," a catchy song about a very real problem: domestic abuse. After suffering beatings at the hand of her husband, the woman in the song, with help from her best friend, poisons her husband and gets away with his murder. At Karaoke, you can still catch women of all ages singing this song at the top of their lungs.
But since the Dixie Chicks, these videos have become less playful and more realistic. Though on a personal level the revenge fantasy can help victims to overcome their abuse, these music videos are not a fantasy. At the end, the characters don't wake up from a dream. "In video form, this is not healthy for women," Dr. Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist and family and marriage therapist, told Yahoo! Shine. "The violence in these videos is very real. Enacting the violence normalizes it, and in that sense these videos promote violent behavior."
The dark side to the violent-revenge-fantasy video is that they may be a reflection of a world in which violence is normal in women's lives.
In Rihanna's video for "Man Down," a 2011 reggae song, a woman confesses to her mother that she has murdered the man who raped her outside a club. The video received a great deal of criticism for its violent content and the fact that it was released only four months after Rihanna was assaulted by her then boyfriend, Chris Brown.
"It's not surprising to see art reflect the reality that 20-40 percent of young women are likely to experience physical or sexual assault in an intimate relationship, particularly when justice in these areas is not easily found." Stephanie Nilva, the Executive Director of One Day, an organization that works with NYC youth to end dating and domestic abuse, told Yahoo! Shine.
There's no doubt that watching Carrie Underwood key her boyfriend's car in the video for "Before He Cheats," is entertaining and cathartic. Watching her murder a man with her car in "Two Black Cadillacs," might be a different story. Ultimately, the popularity of these videos could reflect a change in women's attitudes towards violence.
"It used to be very taboo for women to express anger. Now, as women have become the head of household, exerting more power in roles that have been traditionally male, they have also taken on some male attributes, including violent behavior," Dr. Ruskin told Shine. "Women are more comfortable expressing anger, and the art from female artists certainly reflects that."