As discussed in my first listening post, Diane Warren and Lady Gaga are revealing their personal accounts as sexual assault survivors through the lyrics of “Til It Happens To You.” Through telling their personal stories, Warren and Gaga are creating a space for other survivors to speak out against sexual violence and possibly even share their own stories. The theme of survivor unity and power in numbers is not only presented throughout “Til It Happens To You,” but also plays a fundamental role in the Me Too movement. For the first lineage I have pulled songs from the Me Too movement that provide survivor accounts of sexual assault. This social movement advocates on behalf of survivors, while also providing a unified platform to speak out about their experiences in order to expose and resist all forms of sexual misconduct. The following songs all provide personal accounts of sexual violence in order to facilitate important dialogue and to spread awareness:

“Me and a Gun” (Tori Amos – 1991) → “Sullen Girl” (Fiona Apple – 1996) → “Cleaning Out My Closet” (Angel Haze – 2012) → “Til It Happens To You” (Lady Gaga – 2015) 

Tori Amos released “Me and a Gun” in 1991, that recounted the details of her violent rape at the age of 21. “Me and a Gun” transports audience members directly to the crime scene where Amos was raped at knifepoint after a performance one night in Los Angeles. Although “Me and a Gun” was not an overnight success, overtime Amos and her song became a beacon of light for other survivors. Through sharing her extremely personal account, Amos was able to comfort listeners who also experienced similar trauma. Thirty years later, the message of “Me and a Gun” remains pertinent to today’s efforts to promote sexual assault awareness and remove the stigma.

Five years after the release of  “Me and a Gun,” Fiona Apple followed Amos’ approach to speaking out against sexual violence through her song “Sullen Girl.” This song provides direct exposure into Apple’s personal account of her rape when she was only 12 years old. The title “Sullen Girl” is derived from the feelings and reactions that Apple experienced after initially speaking out against her rapist. The song explores the sense of numbness Apple encountered after being raped at such a young age. Although the story told in “Sullen Girl” is somewhat abstract, the blunt and raw nature of Apple’s delivery most certainly parallels Amos’ unfiltered narrative told five years earlier. 

Three years prior to the release of “Til It Happens To You,” Angel Haze released “Cleaning Out My Closet” in 2012. Angel Haze’s graphic, yet emotional lyrics address specific instances of childhood incest, as well as the trauma of having to experience sexual violence from multiple abusers. The personal account provided in “Cleaning Out My Closet” addresses the devastating psychological impact that Angel Haze has faced as a product of recurrent sexual abuse. 

Similar to “Til It Happens To You,” each of the songs mentioned in this first lineage recount personal experiences that have provided other survivors with the courage and support to tell their stories. Although each of these narratives are intense and painful, they possess the capacity to encourage other survivors to speak out and share their narratives. Additionally, the songs throughout this lineage illustrate the societal push toward the destigmatization of “victimhood” towards survivordom. Although all of these songs were written to educate the masses on the enduring trauma of sexual assault, there is an apparent progression away from sadness toward anger and an overwhelming desire for effective communication. 

For the second lineage I wanted to emphasize the theme of non-survivor naivety addressed throughout “Til It Happens To You.” The different verses in “Til It Happens To You” discuss how non-survivors’ attempts to empathize with survivors generally does not amount to much since sexual assault is not a lived experience for them. The song’s lyrics function as a form of critique regarding society’s inability to understand the life altering effects that sexual assault has on the lives of survivors. In an attempt to call upon survivor empathy, the lyrics explicitly declare that “Til it [sexual assault] happens to you, you don’t know how I feel.” Throughout their song, Warren and Gaga are advancing a call for survivor empathy, which also encompasses the need for non-survivors to understand that they will never truly know what it is like to be a survivor of sexual assault. The following songs address the importance of respecting survivor empathy through accepting and supporting whatever the survivor wants to share and never providing unsolicited advice:

“His Story” (TLC – 1992) → “Til It Happens To You” (Lady Gaga – 2015) → “Her” (Gracie and Rachel – 2018) 

Released in 1992, “His Story” by TLC addresses the societal tendency to acknowledge the man’s viewpoint on sexual assault over the woman’s lived experience. It is crucial to acknowledge that “His Story” advances the narrative that women are survivors, but as we know men and other identities are also survivors and have experienced the traumatic effects of sexual assault. This being said, TLC was attempting to speak out against the unjust treatment that far too many survivors encounter when they are reporting sexual violence. The message of “His Story” directly relates to the issue of victim-blaming addressed throughout “Til It Happens To You” and The Hunting Ground documentary. The sad truth is that when survivors speak out, they are often judged by non-survivors who either do not believe their story, or are simply unable to empathize with the situation at hand. 

In response to the hearings of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Gracie and Rachel wrote the song “Her” to address society’s tendency to victim-blame. Similar to both “His Story,” as well as “Til It Happens To You” Gracie and Rachel felt the need to advocate for sexual assault survivors who have not been provided even the slightest sense of empathy. More often than not, society is quick to defend an abuser while they pick apart every word spoken by the survivor. “Her” touches upon the injustice that sexual assault survivors often experience when they finally muster up the courage to seek justice. Gracie and Rachel’s song truly epitomizes the need for society to listen to “Her” because everyone’s truth deserves to be heard.