Monday, October 31, 2011

A Close Reading of "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera

Usually, In English classes, students analyze poetry that is considered “classic” like Shakespeare and Wordsworth. I have no problem with Shakespeare or Wordsworth, but I am interested in understanding modern culture, and I think, to do that, we have to look carefully at popular music. Presumably, music that is popular resonates with a large segment of the population. Therefore, in analyzing a song like “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera, we might get a sense of current cultural values. So, here is a close reading I did of “Moves Like Jagger” with input from one of my English 101 classes. I will analyze it verse-by verse:

"Moves Like Jagger"
(feat. Christina Aguilera)

Oh, yeah

[Verse 1:]
Just shoot for the stars
If it feels right
And aim for my heart
If you feel like
And take me away and make it OK
I swear I'll behave

You wanted control
So we waited
I put on a show
Now I'm naked
You say I'm a kid
My ego is big
I don't give a shit
And it goes like this

The first line of the song is a popular cliché that sets the tone: “Just shoot for the stars.” This vague command to dream big, however, is immediately undermined by the singer’s very specific command to “aim for my heart.” Normally, when people think of “Shooting for the stars” they think about following their dreams. Maybe joining the peace corps, traveling in Asia, trying to make a difference in the world. However, the singer of this song thinks so highly of himself that his idea of someone shooting for the stars is for that person to try to have sex with him. This ego-mania is reinforced by the last few lines: “My ego is big, I don’t give a shit.” The conflicting ideas of love and extreme narcissism turn out to be a major theme of this song.

Take me by the tongue
And I'll know you
Kiss me 'til you're drunk
And I'll show you

All the moves like Jagger
I've got the moves like Jagger
I've got the moves like Jagger

I don't need to try to control you
Look into my eyes and I'll own you

With the moves like Jagger
I've got the moves like Jagger
I've got the moves like Jagger

The line “kiss me til you’re drunk” suggests that sexual desire clouds reason, making it difficult for a woman to really think through the consequences of having sex with a narcissistic ego-maniac like the singer. The lines “I don’t need to try to control you, Look into my eyes and I’ll own you” move the song in a dark direction. The singer, in his narcissistic lust, wants to “control” and “own” his woman. The connotations of these lines are frightening, as they seem to undo decades of feminism and the struggle for gender equality. The singer of Maroon 5 seems to want to return to the days when women were the property of their men.

[Verse 2:]
Baby it's hard
When you feel like you're broken and scarred
Nothing feels right
But when you're with me
I make you believe
That I've got the key

(Oh!) So get in the car
We can ride it
Wherever you want
Get inside it
And you want to steer
But I'm shifting gears
I'll take it from here
And it goes like this

Here the singer offers glimpses of compassion. He acknowledges the pain and confusion of a woman who desires an ego-maniac. However, the lines “I’ll make you believe that I’ve got the key” suggest that this compassion is merely an act, whose goal is, again, sex. The car imagery in the second stanza of this verse is a crude attempt at a metaphor. “We can ride it” seems a pretty clear reference to intercourse, which seems to be the singer’s ultimate goal.

[Bridge:] Sung by Christina Aguilera

You want to know how to make me smile
Take control, own me just for the night
But if I share my secret
You're gonna have to keep it
Nobody else can see this

So watch and learn
I won't show you twice
Head to toe, oh baby, rub me right
But if I share my secret
You're gonna have to keep it
Nobody else can see this

And it goes like this

In the bridge to the song, we get the female perspective, as sung by pop diva Christina Aguilera. One would hope she would provide a reasoned contrast to the male singer’s narcissistic lust, but sadly that is not what we get. Instead, we find a woman who is totally complicit in the singer’s patriarchical desires. “Take control,” she sings, “Own me just for the night.” It is deeply disturbing that a 21st century woman would want to be “owned” by a man. One might interpret these lyrics metaphorically, that she wants the man to be the dominant one in their sexual encounter, but the reference to ownership remains. For centuries, women were considered the property of men, and it took decades of struggle and hardship for women to reach a kind of equality. This song suggests that patriarchy is not only alive and well, but that women somehow desire it.

In conclusion, the picture this popular song paints of 21st century male-female relationships is shocking traditional, even medieval. Speaking on a more thematic level, this song falls into the same category of most popular music today. It is about a rather selfish desire for love and sex. While I do not deny that love and sex are an important part of our lives, it is disturbing that more songs do no address real-world issues like poverty, social justice or, for that matter, gender equality.

Here is the singer of Maroon 5 and a plasticized Christina Aguilera:


Here is a recent photo of Mick Jagger, the man whom Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine claims to "move like":


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this analysis, Jesse! It's awesome.
    I'm going to use it in my UNM freshman comp class tomorrow as we begin our section on analyzing media.