In Song, the Eyes Have It

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Two visual artists, Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, have created a project called Fleshmap as a visual representation of desire – an easily digested way of showing how humans approach one another’s bodies. The site has pages devoted to the sense of sight, or touch, and a page devoted to the sense of hearing and speech. One page on Fleshmap is a mapping of body parts that shows where men and women prefer to be touched. No mammals will be surprised by what they find there. The surprise comes in the webpage devoted to the sense of hearing, which is called Listen.

Viegas and Wattenberg analyzed the lyrics to 10,000 songs in many genres, and found that the body part we most often sing about is… the eyes. The notable exception is hip-hop, where the butt, whether funky or not, reigns supreme. When you think of it, it makes sense that the eyes are the body part we most often sing about. After all, they’re the body part people most often talk about – “the eyes are a window to the soul,” “eyes never lie,” “your lying eyes,” and of course, “hey, my eyes are up here.”

But with hip-hop now the dominant musical style, it just seems that songs about posteriors are everywhere. (Almost a quarter of rap songs are about bottoms.) Now, I happen not to believe that rappers are any more focused on one body part than anyone else. It’s just a reflection of a growing frankness and openness about sex in our culture generally. The eyes are great for songs about romance, where you need to play it cool. But if the point of the song is to generate heat, lyrics now tend to head south. If songwriters could’ve gotten away with it 60 years ago, we might’ve heard Sinatra singing about a body part other than “Angel Eyes.” And you know, he probably could’ve made it work…

Gospel music, by the way, features the hands more than the eyes (and “bottom” in Gospel is just the opposite of “top”). Tell us: What do you think these different body parts say about these different types of music? Leave a comment.