Jade MacRae: 99 problems, but bitch ain’t one

Is it ever appropriate for artists to use the word bitch? Melbourne singer JADE MACRAE (aka Dune) weighs in following a week in which the use of the word was hotly debated by Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, whose new single ‘Bitch Bad’ examines its potentially damaging effects.

As a woman who has been referred to most fondly as “my bitch” and not really ever taken offence to it, I had to take a moment to ponder where I stand on its use in popular culture. When I consider my indifference to being referred to as “my bitch”, the extent to which it’s permeated our everyday lives becomes quite clear indeed. So immune to the caustic nature of this canine term, not an eyebrow would raise, nor a back stiffen, not even the slightest sucking in of breath would occur in those moments where I have been “lovingly” referred to as “my bitch”. The word would breeze right past in the flow of conversation as easily as a summer’s afternoon. But is this apparent indifference a healthy one?

There is no doubt that the use of the word in reference to women is extremely derogatory. Originating in the 14th-century, it was originally used to compare a woman who displayed a high level of sexual desire to a female dog on heat. I wonder if it was a man who came up with it? (Part of me believes it could very well have been a sexually starved woman – women have been known to be far nastier than men at times.) Whoever the originator, the term has certainly gone on to establish itself as one of the most relied upon insults of our generation – and many before. The ironic evolution of the word to a term of endearment, or a compliment, is nonetheless a very modern phenomenon.

Over the past 20 years, the word bitch has gone from being a fairly aggressive denigrating term, to one which glorifies a woman with a “bangin” body, or a chick who has a “bad-ass” attitude. In fact it has gone beyond that to be just another word for woman, lady, or girl. This transformation is quite extraordinary, and a huge part of this change can be attributed to its prevalence in pop music over the last few decades. Many people would be stamping their feet and blaming this whole thing on hip-hop and rap culture, but one of the earliest uses in a song that I can remember has nothing to do with hip-hop at all: Elton John’s ‘The Bitch Is Back’, which is actually about Elton himself.

Other “bitch” highlights include Ice T’s ‘99 Problems’, recorded in 1993, which in turn would form the basis of arguably the biggest “bitch hit” of all: Jay-Z’s ‘99 Problems’ off 2004’s The Black Album. In contrast to Ice T’s version which is a fanfare of sexual conquests, Jay Z’s version applies the term bitch to a racist cop among various other antagonists. So we see the word is not exclusively fired off at women at all. In saying that, hip-hop is certainly the leader when it comes to the use of the word and it would appear that it’s not going anywhere: Kanye West is set to release his ode to girlfriend Kim Kardashian, ‘Perfect Bitch’, on his next full-length release.

Lupe Fiasco’s latest single ‘Bitch Bad’ raises the question to us all: What kind of effect is this overuse of the word having on young girls and boys? And what kind of men and women (or bitches) are they growing up to be? For me, it’s a complex issue. Thankfully, I don’t feel it’s as much of a challenge for us here in Australia as it might be for those in America. Personally, I do not condone censorship. Music is an artform and freedom of expression is something we should be truly thankful for, especially in light of what has just occurred with Pussy Riot in Russia. I’m a firm believer that if something is offending you, change the channel or turn off your TV. These days people behave as though they are completely powerless victims, being forced to listen to horrendous music or watch vile music videos.

More often than not, when people use profanity or aggressive language in music it’s in the hope of sparking a debate or discussion. By engaging with it, you are only helping the cause of whoever created it. That being said, as someone who’s thinking about having kids, I find myself wondering how on earth I will protect them from this fucked-up world. Ultimately, I guess you can’t, but I think we need to be less afraid to demonstrate what respectable behaviour is. Take the power back and lead by example.

“Men have been known to disrespect a woman far more deeply while smiling at them and calling them a lady.”

We may be being beaten over the head by the word bitch, but if you conduct yourself as a respectful individual and treat others with respect then you’re off to a good start. Men have been known to disrespect a woman far more deeply while smiling at them and calling them a lady. It’s not always about words. At the end of the day, people are always going to use profanity, artists are always going to want to push boundaries and shed light on the darker corners of our existence. It’s up to us how we perceive it, and whether we let it bother us or not.

That being said, we could all use our heads a lot more with the words we choose. The English language has so much breadth, and I can think of a lot better things to be referred to other than bitch. As Lupe says, “Woman good, lady better”, but I also think it’s important not to get caught up in the fine print. When all is said and done, there is no denying that bitch has spawned some mighty fine music.


Jade MacRae (aka Dune) is a former collaborator of The Sleepy Jackson and Pnau, a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and a featured vocalist on records by Phrase, Katalyst and Space Invadas. Her new single ‘Shoestring’ is available via iTunes now.