Yelling at the radio: Animals Edition

M Tapper Goldman
Feb 23, 2015 · 10 min read

Animals by Maroon 5

Yelling at the radio is my own cheap therapy for the low-grade assault on humanity that is pop lyrics about ladies. I have no actual expectation that pop songs will make sense. MEGA TRIGGER WARNING

There’s a reason that simile is the most maligned of the literary devices, blurring the two worlds that text inhabits—separate from ours and then unseparate. Or is it? Who knows? Who cares?

Like a poet, Adam Levine reveals himself in verse. But less like a poet, what he reveals is literal, almost preverbal, like the grunts and howls of an animal. His hit single, Animals, has a great beat and high earworm factor. It was recirculated constantly on the radio all fall and has been in my head for days, including intimate time when I’d have preferred some more privacy.

Baby I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals
Like animals
Like animals-mals

Initially, this sounded like a nice offer to someone affectionately called “baby”. But it is perhaps not a good offer, even coming from Adam Levine. Let’s suppose this is meant to be sexy, like sexy preying and hunting and eating someone alive. I get it. Cool, Adam Levine. We’ve all got our weird shit.

The song is either about sexy role playing or about talking women out of believing it’s in their power to say no to being murdered by a predator animal. Or sex?

Adam Levine, prolific songwriter and frontman for pop rock act Maroon 5 also plays the role of resident Hot Guy on NBC’s reality singing show, The Voice. According to his music and People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, women cannot resist Levine’s advances, but not because he is violent or like an animal that eats other animals alive. Rather, it’s because of something inside of women.

Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals

Are we sure she’s into this? I don’t know if Adam Levine is aware, but this is an actual problem, both in the animal kingdom and in women’s America. What’s the safe word in this song?

So what you trying to do to me?
It’s like we can’t stop, we’re enemies
But we get along when I’m inside you

I’m continually surprised by literal descriptions of sex on the radio, ones that would never fly on network TV.

Yet here we are, on the FM dial during carpool o’clock, and Adam Levine is singing about being a frenemy “inside [me]”.

You’re like a drug that’s killing me
I cut you out entirely
But I get so high when I’m inside you

Is this an “I have an illness and it’s terrible” kind of addiction, or an “I can’t help it, so I get to do whatever” type of thing? Is this supposed to be a compliment? I remember at the turn of the millennium when Maroon 5 had their first hit, exploring their persistent concern: absence of self-control when it comes to sex and love. Back in 2002, there was no fancy producer. It was just Adam Levine, some notes on a keyboard, and a slate of lyrics about having no choice and keeping a woman coming every night.

Let’s be clear, I’m not the moderation police. I’ve seen my refrigerator. But this man has a problem, and he needs to stop singing about it because I’m beginning to feel like an enabler.

Yeah you can start over, you can run free
You can find other fish in the sea
You can pretend it’s meant to be
But you can’t stay away from me

False! Ladies: you can stay away from Adam Levine.

Can’t we have more songs about staying away from people who act like menacing animals? Where are the producers signal-boosting that message with sick beats?

I’m finding this sexy-predator meets sexy-prey thing more and more unsettling. Is this supposed to be social commentary, like that Police song about stalking someone, or that other Police song about Humbert Humbert? For that, we’d need to know where the character’s voice is situated, a fixed mark on the map to triangulate some other relationship between Adam Levine and the narrator (and us).

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Do I know Adam Levine to be a champion of women in a culture, including a music culture, that daily normalizes violence against us? Do I assume him to be kind and decent because not all men are predator animals, although the actual words that he wrote are about being a predator animal? I’m not saying that artists should be mashed up with the characters they depict, or that they should avoid writing about violence. But it’s on them to make it clear whether they’re saying that violence is cool or awful. The nature of violence is not something we all agree on.

When do we assume violence is a metaphor? To whom do we offer that benefit of the doubt?

Is Adam Levine playing a sexy sex game or commentating on the world of guys who walk around like they own the place, telling women what it is we want and where we can’t escape to and what biological imperatives we’re stuck with?

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I don’t think this song is supposed to be about violence against women—not the easy-to-spot kind, anyway. It’s a run of the mill “I’m lovesick and suffering, so you’re gonna suffer, too.” Where suffering means having sex that you don’t (part of you doesn’t?) want. This song doesn’t sound like the cry of someone truly, paralyzingly terrified of what a lovesick ex might do to make him suffer. But in truth, I don’t know that about Adam Levine, just like I don’t know that he’s not a predator, nor that he is.

When it came to light that Canadian radio star Jian Ghomeshi may have violently assaulted scores of women, he jumped nimbly to his own PR-savvy defense, claiming that the allegations were a perversion of the light S&M play he and his partners mutually enjoyed, and that he was the true victim for having his kink exposed and reviled.

One of the women described her ordeal on the radio (TW). She kept saying how she hadn’t liked being thrown to the floor and hit repeatedly the first time she was invited into Ghomeshi’s apartment. But a nagging doubt riddled her retelling. Even these years later, she wondered whether she’d expressed to him clearly enough during that first hook-up that she wasn’t “into it” — it being getting thrown to the ground and struck over and over on the skull until she bled. All these years later, her voice quivered, and she didn’t sound sure if she’d made it properly clear that she preferred not being pummeled to being pummeled, like that was her job.

Adam Levine hasn’t made something properly clear.

People-as-animals is a deadly trope that’s been used to justify slavery and brutality all through the past and up to our present second. All that is in the mix when you write a song like Animals, to be consumed by a diverse pop music audience, reaping megabucks while topping the charts. In a sense, pretending we’re not all animals is more dangerous than identifying our membership in the animal kingdom while we do our best to contain our natures (some doing a better job than others)—lurching along, demolishing our breakfasts, returning again and again to the immediate pleasure of pop songs that debase us, like puppies shoving our snouts into a moldering squirrel carcass.

It is in sex that we can be most like the tremendous animals we are: lumbering, idiotic, free. And thank God for that. The question of whether we are animals or are like animals will never be answered, least of all by Maroon 5. Are we more than simple collections of reflexes? Can we stay away from Adam Levine?

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If the words of this song make you uncomfortable or fully triggered, definitely do not watch the music video where Adam Levine plays a butcher who stalks a blond socialite, takes secret naked pictures of her, and sneaks into her bed. I’m gonna go ahead and assume that Adam Levine made this as capital-A Art and he’s not playing himself. Of course? Except that the stalkee is played by Victoria’s Secret Angel Behati Prinsloo, Adam Levine’s real-life spouse, so that makes it a little more confusing.

To recap, we’ve got a predator and some prey. Behati Prinsloo is the gazelle and Adam Levine is the lion. To be clear, this does not work out well for the gazelle, no matter what I yell at the National Geographic Channel.

Don’t tell no lies, lies lies lies
You can’t deny -ny -ny -ny
The beast inside

Wait, what? What exactly is the beast inside of the gazelle?

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Is it the thing where the prey actually wants to get torn limb from limb? Maybe so. One of the few strands of human experience more terrifying than physical abuse is the psychological hold that abusers have over their abused, the force that pulls people back toward danger and then recasts them, to an outside eye, as agents in their own destruction.

Levine suggests that the gazelle keeps coming back—she’s into it. God, let’s hope so.

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One time Shakira had this song about becoming a ferocious animal and preying on men at a bar. She forged a feminist anthem out of dancing semi-naked in a gold cage. Everyone loved that music video.

The Animals video starts with Prinsloo buying some meat at a butcher’s counter in an industrial warehouse. Bad idea, I can tell! Butcher Adam Levine hacks up some raw rib flesh with a cleaver, and there’s a bunch of blood. Gross.

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Cut to Adam Levine’s character standing in the rain at night and watching her like a creeper with murderer glasses (while singing along to this song). Adam Levine described the video as “really dark” and a “crazy idea” and “bizarre and weird and cool.”

Next we watch him alone in his darkroom developing photographs (still a thing?).

I’m wondering if Adam Levine knows that this actually happens and is terrifying, also illegal, and called sexual abuse?

Then he’s dressed as a Terry Richardson-style hipster snapping shots of her as she walks down the street before sneaking into her room and photographing her from her own ceiling.

Flipping back from amateur paparazzo to professional butcher on very bad behavior, he’s now in a meat locker doing pull-ups in one of those shirts that people call wife beaters. He’s squeezing blood out of some meat flesh in his hand and manhandling carcasses. Now he’s rubbing blood on his hard, exquisitely tattooed body. And now he’s hanging from one arm off a meat hook, topless and covered in blood.

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Now Adam Levine is stalking her in the club. Just shut it down.

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This one time, Beyonce sang about some effed up guy stalking her in the club. She described it as “a disaster.” She also made a video where she killed her terrifying, controlling boyfriend with poison. That’s not the same as this.

Baby I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals

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Now in his fantasy? her fantasy? they’re totally having sex naked. We know it’s a fantasy because he’s now beardless, and they’re suspended in mid-air while blood starts pouring down in buckets from above during a really deep mouth kiss. Mostly this scene is about watching Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo have naked sex, and then they look like pieces of actual meat. I can see why this video would sell a lot of ads.

Some of this is taking place in the psycho killer character’s mind, and some in Prinsloo’s character’s peaceful dreams. Hard to tell which are which, right? ‘Cause you know any lady wants what it is that Adam Levine’s offering. Like an animal?

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Then stalker Adam Levine is back to reality, lying in her bed with her while she sleeps. Don’t worry, nothing bad happens to Adam Levine.

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