When Colored Girls Are Degraded: An Open Letter to CEO Lucian Grainge of Universal Music Group

By Nuala Cabral of FAAN Mail

“All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe.” – 2 Chainz, rapper

Well, all I want for my birthday is for music corporations to be held accountable for routinely degrading women of color.

Four powerful corporations are behind the majority of music we hear on the radio and the videos we see on tv. Four corporations are behind the artists who get rightfully criticized — and then quickly forgotten. But how often do these corporations get called out?

Let’s keep this in mind as we watch the recently released music video “Birthday Song” performed by rappers 2 Chainz and Kanye West. The song is owned by Universal Music Group  (UMG), the world’s largest music corporation.

Okay, so most of us probably know rappers Kanye and 2 Chainz. And we definitely know what they want for their birthday. But let’s turn our attention to someone less familiar, someone else who helped get this song/video in front of your eyeballs and ears — because well, he and his team of senior executives produce, market, distribute, and profit from it. Let’s meet Lucian Grainge, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music Group. He is regarded as the most powerful executive in the music industry.

Lucian Grainge, CEO of UMG

Why do you (and your staff and board members) think it is acceptable to routinely exploit women of color in your music?

Do you ever think of the black and brown girls navigating the lifestyles and values that your music glorify?

Do you consider the historical and present day context in which your music circulates?

After all, women of color being degraded, dehumanized, and reduced to ASS — is nothing new. We live in a world where black and brown women’s bodies have been exploited since slavery. Where 19th century European freak shows exhibited the “unusual” body of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman whose remains were finally returned to her homeland in 2002 after legal battles with the French government. Mr. Grainge, your disregard for black and brown women’s bodies is the same disregard that enabled a history of forced sterilization, the shackling of birthing black mothers in prison. Mr. Grainge, your indifference resembles the indifference of a rape culture that overlooks the men who rape, while blaming the women and girls of color, who experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates.  Research[1] has proven that the objectification of women in today’s toxic media environment has harmful effects on women and girls.

It is in this greater context of sexual exploitation where the dehumanization of black and brown women has become standard in commercial hip hop. The “Birthday Song” is simply one example. There are countless others.

For decades, artists, fans, and scholar activists have been writing and making films about this exploitation, rallying against it, provoking dialogue, engaging community, and offering alternative messages that are rarely celebrated by corporations like UMG. Even young girls are speaking up (see Spark Summit and Watoto from the Nile). Are you listening to them?

Together we are fighting this exploitation and the internalized oppression that it reinforces in communities of color and our greater society. In your mansion, Mr. Grainge, you probably never concern yourself with the struggles of black and brown girls or something called internalized oppression. But this reality is too close for many of us to ignore.

Mr. Grainge, as CEO of the largest music company in America, be clear that you, your senior executives, and board members are contributing to a legacy of exploitation.

Now, I realize that considering questions and providing a moral response would compromise your bottom line. Your bottom line is more important than any black and brown girls and women who are internalizing the harmful messages YOU own and distribute.

Screenshot from “Birthday Song”

Given this logic, it is clear that you will ONLY support change if your bottom line is at stake. And that’s why I’m writing this. I’m calling on advertisers and consumers to stop supporting your company, Universal Music Group, until you stop exploiting black and brown women in your music. It’s that simple.

I am also asking educators everywhere to help young people understand the role that corporations play in our mediated lives. Young people need to understand why it is that UMG’s music, songs like “Birthday Song” – flood our radio, YouTube, and music television. Educators, parents, and peers need to have conversations about the meaning of popular music, and unpack the harsh and complicated realities these messages reveal.  Ultimately, it’s bigger than one corporation. One artist. One song.

Still, Mr. Lucian Grainge, as CEO of Universal Music Group you cannot deny your power as a leader in the music industry. Therefore, you must do something.

Right now, you, your board members, your staff —  are a critical part of the problem. I’m calling on you to be part of the solution. And I hope others join me.

What is your response?


Nuala Cabral, FAAN Mail

[1] Halliwell, E., Malson, H., Tischner, I. (2011). Are contemporary media images which seem to display women as sexually empowered actually harmful to women? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35(1) 38-45.

Cross-posted with permission. Original post appeared on September 8, 2012.

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8 thoughts on “When Colored Girls Are Degraded: An Open Letter to CEO Lucian Grainge of Universal Music Group

  1. The message has never changed. Society views women as commodities. Black men are just more crass and brutal about it.

  2. if they want to degrade themselves then it’s fine, same with those who decide to take photos of themselves in thier underwear, in a society that celebrates, mean girl behaviour, drinking and acting like complete animals, no wonder i sometimes feel that as a size 14 girl who happens to utilise the most important organ, the brain, i feel that humanity’s going downhill if we’re in a society that overlooks good deeds and celebrates the bad deeds!

    sorry if i seem thoughtful!

  3. P.S. Out of curiosity, do you think the women shaking their asses in the screenshot above are hopeless and “desperate for money”? Or are they simply very attractive females who know that their large derrières are cash cows, and who chose a very easy way to make a ton of cash instead of slaving away at Starbucks for minimum wage like their less-blessed friends?

  4. Grackle – Forgive me in advance for the both-barrels blasting I’m about to give you, but I am REALLY getting sick and tired of this mentality that women are perpetual victims.

    Women and men are raised in different worlds, yes. So what? At what point does a woman (whose brain, I’m sure you would agree, is as capable and mentally sound as a man’s) take responsibility for her own choices? The options are “limited” for women?? Really?? Where do you think we are living? This is not Thailand or Nicaragua or the Ukraine where options for women truly ARE limited, where it really IS a choice between selling your ass on the street or feeding your kids, where there truly ARE sex slaves and mail-order brides and forced prostitution. In the US, NO WOMAN has to be a stripper or a porn star or a whore.

    In this country you have illegal Mexican women cleaning houses off-the-books or selling flowers on the street, backbreaking and thankless work for sure, but ask them if they have ever sucked c-ck for money. This country ABOUNDS in opportunity, and to say that any woman has to sell her ass in this country is an insult and an absolute slap in the face to women in countries where if you said their opportunities were “limited” it would be a gross, gross understatement.

    By the way, I am fully cognizant of the astounding number of strippers, porn stars, and prostitutes who have been raped by their fathers/stepfathers/uncles, etc. It is simply tragic. But, as I stated, at what point does a woman need to take responsibility for herself, her choices, her life? I myself am an Iraq combat veteran who still suffers frm severe PTSD. Now if I fell into drugs and alcoholism, would ths be my fault or the government’s fault? There are a ton of people out there who went through some really, really horrifying sh-t in childhood and adolescence, and they made the choice to be “survivors,” not to fall into self-destruction.

    As for women being socialized to believe that their worth lies between their legs? Guess what, a LOT of people/groups of people are socialized to believe things about themselves. It is ultimately YOUR choice to make if you will live up to the stereotype or if you will think for yourself and prove everyone wrong. As I keep saying, at what point do we hold women responsible for their own choices??

    Do men’s attitudes need to change?


    Are women helping to change those attitudes by CHOOSING to participate in a 12-man gangbang onscreen (remember that porn stars and strippers in the United States LEGALLY cannot be under 18, so this is – for all intents and purposes – a grown adult)??

    Absolutely not.

    Sorry, but the “socialization” argument can only be taken so far. At some point, women need to be held responsible for their own choices. Women ultimately know that sex sells, so they sell it. Are men partly to blame here? Yep. But women need to be held accountable for THEIR role in the perpetuation of this mentality.


  5. “But women are the ones who truly hold the key to the demise of all the industries fueled by the degradation and humiliation of women. And NO ONE can dispute this.”

    Aurelia, you seem to be operating under the assumption that men and women are socialized in the same ways, and that we all make our choices in a vacuum without really having been affected by outside influences. Females and males grow up in very different worlds; when women are no longer told from childhood onwards that the most important thing about them is their physical appearance and sex appeal, and when we as a society stop rewarding them almost exclusively for the very things you complain about, then you might have a point. Until then, you’re just blaming women for growing up in a patriarchy that gives them a very limited set of options in life: virgin or whore, nearly invisible or completely naked.

    As for your complaints aimed towards women in porn, prostitution, or stripping, you probably aren’t aware that the majority of these women are indeed victims of exploitation, sexual abuse, rape, etcetera, and that many became involved as children or very young teenagers. Most of them engage in such work not out of free choice but out of desperation for money. This is a direct result of the limited range of options for a woman in our world. (Ever wonder why the majority of prostitutes are female? Hint: it’s not because women like selling their bodies for sex more than men do.) The relatively tiny percentage of women who are involved in these things entirely of their own free will are still subjected to the same messages as the rest of us: that we are only good for sex and that the best we can be is “fuckable.”

    By the way, I suspect you are indeed a feminist: (http://tomatonation.com/culture-and-criticism/yes-you-are/)

  6. I don’t understand the point of this rant… Take the “Bands will Make Her dance” video, white women are in that video. Sex sells period whether you like it or not. The song is about… Well we know what it’s about, and I actually feel as if Kanye and 2chainz picked the women they wanted in the video (Kanye loves creative control). I feel like this argument is extremely dated. There are women of all colors lining up to do these videos now because they want that “fame”. You wanna fix this situation, start telling women they are worth more than their body parts! They are worth more than their physical. That being a video vixen is a road that leads you nowhere and especially not to stardom. This has nothing to do with the music industry and everything to do with society. This song is probably one of the biggest songs on urban radio right now. Society has to change first. These labels are out for money, if society wants it that’s what they’ll give them.

  7. Although Grainge surely deserves his share of the blame, as do the men who produce, manufacture, distribute, and, ultimately, consume this bullshit, let’s not f-ing act like the women are completely innocent lambs led to slaughter here. I’m a woman, and this is one of my biggest problems with the feminist movement, and why I will never call myself a “feminist” — a fixation on “oppressor” and “victim” with the expectation of zero accountability from the aforementioned victim.

    Get real – women who shakes their asses in videos, just like women who shake their asses on stage in the strip club, or who suck c-ck in porn, aren’t doing it because someone held a gun to their head. Stop treating women like helpless doilies who can only do what they are told by evil men. This is actually more degrading to women than holding them accountable!

    If women are indeed fully cognizant, thinking humans completely equal to men in intellect and reasoning, then why for God’s same do we not hold them to the same level of accountability as we would men?? Yes, women are degraded and oppressed by men. No one is disputing this. However, no one can dispute this fact either: the porn industry, the sex industry, and the bordering-on-pornographic-hip-hop-video industry would collapse in 3.8 seconds if women simply REFUSED to be degraded, refused to shake their asses wearing thongs, and basically refused to be treated like whores. Like as not, there it is.

    Should UMG be held accountable for this crap? Absolutely. But women are the ones who truly hold the key to the demise of all the industries fueled by the degradation and humiliation of women. And NO ONE can dispute this. The industries would collapse upon themselves without the women willing to take their clothes off for money. So long as their are women willing to expose their breasts, asses, and genitalia for money, there will be men who are willing t exploit this. That’s just the way it is, and nothing will ever change this fact.


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