As "Blurred Lines" made its way to the top of last summer's charts, controversy arose with it.
As more organizations across the world from students to feminists worked to ban the song, the awareness of rape culture grew.
Marshall University's Women's Center defines rape culture as "an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture."
Now, there is widespread debate over whether such music really impacts rape and sexual assault cases and leads to a skewed idea of sexual expectations, particularly in students.
A member of Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, Nicky Hackenbrack, junior in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, thinks certain songs are capable of helping the growth of rape culture. Citing songs such as "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, "Talk Dirty" by Jason Derulo and "Gorillas" by Bruno Mars, she believes the main reason these songs do so is because of their depiction of women.
"Songs that facilitate rape culture don't give women choice about their sexual behaviors and talk about women as physical creatures," Hackenbrack said. "For example, Beyoncé is incredibly sexual in her new album, but she has total control on how she represents herself. This distinction is important to make and difficult to spot."
Similarly, Jodi Rightler-McDaniels, a Ph.D. candidate and graduate teaching associate in journalism and electronic media, agrees that the messages of rape culture in popular music stems from the representation of women in such songs. Rightler-McDaniels is a critical-cultural scholar who deals with race, gender and sexuality representations in the media, putting her in a position to constantly question media images.
"I really just think that a lot of people who think that the rape culture doesn't exist really need to take a look at it because that's even an argument. 'Well, does it exist or do we make it exist,'" Rightler-McDaniels said. "I think that the biggest problem, especially when it comes to gender stereotypes and things like that; a lot of these aggressions and rapes are perpetuated because we have a fundamental attitude about gender and sexuality that still puts women inferior to men in society. So I think that's something that we need to be aware of."
Another contributing factor, in Rightler-McDaniels's opinion, is the self-depiction of artists to the public where "whether they acknowledge it or not, they are role models." This view has even been echoed by actress Rashida Jones in an opinion column for Glamour in which Jones argues that while "owning and expressing our sexuality is a huge step forward for women," the "oversaturation" of sexual images is too much because celebrities are role models whether they want to be or not.
"I do think absolutely that public figures should have an obligation to at least be cognizant of the fact that whether they want to or not — because a lot of them will say, 'Well, I don't want to be a role model,'" Rightler-McDaniels said. "Well, it's not your choice. When you're in the public eye, you assume that role for some people.
"I think that it definitely needs to be held a little more responsible, but that's a personal decision."
In a survey of 38 students across campus conducted by The Daily Beacon, 28 of those said they think college students accept rape culture as a part of everyday life.
Hackenbrack, while she does not believe students accept rape culture, states that listeners who are "happy to turn a blind eye" contribute to the influence of these songs. She believes students lack education about consent which contributes to their disregard to living in a "sex negative culture" and keeps listeners "defenseless to understanding why the lyrics are harmful."
"These songs, as well as other forms of popular media which are ubiquitous today, desensitize the public to issues of rape culture and the objectification of women," Hackenbrack said. "When the industry normalizes rape and then rape actually happens, that's when our society starts saying things like, 'Well, she should have seen it coming.'"
On the other hand, when Rightler-McDaniels was asked whether she believes college students are easily influenced by sexual messages in music, she replied, "Oh heavens, yes. Yes, yes, yes."
However, she said she bases this claim off the belief the media is rarely questioned because it gives a "façade of equality with races and gender" in popular culture.
"One of the things that's very important to look at is although we may see certain groups of people represented in media, we need to look at how they're represented," Rightler-McDaniels said. "Who puts them in those positions, I think, is more important than 'Oh, well I saw this person there.' It's not really about quantity. It needs to be about quality, especially when we're talking about media-making among younger generations."
Hackenbrack also does not see this as the music industry's problem. Because of the money they make from the songs, she believes it has no reason to stop producing negatively sexual songs.
She instead said she feels educating consumers on the issues at hand can hinder the profits received from rape culture.
"If the demand for these songs goes down, then we've taken some control over how rape culture permeates unnoticed in our society," Hackenbrack said. "We have to bring about a cultural shift towards sex positivity to truly erase power the music industry, as well as other industries, has on rape culture."