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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Cheerleader" by OMI mean?

What does "Cheerleader" by OMI mean?

"Cheerleader" Lyrics Meaning

Ready for a summer of beaches and sunshine? Any pool-side party's going to need a soundtrack, and the music industry's going crazy trying to figure out exactly what it's going to be. Many (including Billboard.com) are putting their money down on OMI's single "Cheerleader" as the future sound of summer 2015. Considering its driving reggae beat and recent EDM remix, there's not much to stand in its way.

The reggae, Jamaican-based hit was originally released in 2012 along with a music video and a few slight differences from today's version. The current version of "Cheerleader" is focused mainly on drums and vocals with trumpet and piano throughout. But the older version relies almost exclusively on the simple voice and drum duet, which OMI's bio on his website calls an "allegiance to simplicity." Why the difference? In late 2014, German DJ/producer Felix Jaehn got ahold of the song and transformed it into an Electronic Dance Music style. The song is now much faster and feels more like something beach goers may prefer to dance to rather than to tan to.

The Meaning

"Cheerleader" consists of three verses, a pre-chorus, and a chorus; over the course of these five parts, OMI (a stage name for Omar Samuel Pasley) develops the state of his relationship with his narrator's girlfriend (and, it would seem, soon-to-be fiancee). The song starts with him feeling lazy: "When I need motivation"-a situation that doesn't last long. He sings, "My one solution is my queen / 'Cause she stay strong." His girlfriend is there for him and watches out for him. He sings, "She is always in my corner / Right there when I want her." He gathers strength from her presence and knows he can depend on her.

The rest of the first verse begins OMI's trek into contentiousness and what some are calling sexim: "All these other girls are tempting / But I'm empty when you're gone." OMI is attracted to these other girls. He thinks about them, but he keeps going back to the fact that when his GF is missing, he misses her, so he'll stick with her. This feeling keeps them together.

The pre-chorus has the "other girls" trying to lure him away from his relationship. They ask, "Do you need me? / Do you think I'm pretty? / Do I make you feel like cheating?" OMI replies, "And I'm like no, not really . . ." in an off-hand/you-have-no-hold-on-me-and-nothing-on-her sort of way. These girls try to flirt with him and while the reference to temptation may mean that he would answer "yes" to the second question (they are tempting after all), he's going to stay true to his GF.

His reason why? He transitions into the chorus: ". . . 'cause / Oh, I think that I've found myself a cheerleader / She is always right there when I need her." This girl is his biggest fan and always encourages him to do better. She's there to support him, and this emotional support he derives from her keeps him from cheating.

In verse 2, OMI begins hinting at the physical aspect of the relationship: "She walks like a model / She grants my wishes like a genie in a bottle." Perhaps the "cheerleader" reference is also related to the stereotype and common actuality of cheerleaders being attractive. As OMI sings the word "bottle" in the older music video he waves his hand to outline an hourglass figure, suggesting that his "wishes" could be of a nature related to her body.

The rest of the verse also supports this idea as he sings, “‘Cause I’m the wizard of love / And I got the magic wand.” He is claiming an unusually impressive sexual ability. He’s “the wizard” after all. Thus, while she provides emotional support, he is able to offer her good sex. The “magic wand” is a phallic reference, innuendo disguised so that it won’t keep kids from being able to listen to this song.

OMI finishes the verse with another reference to the “other girls” who “are tempting,” but still he’s “empty when you’re gone.” These lines sung right after the above two suggest OMI knows that while he can have any girl that he wants and that many girls want to have him, he prefers his GF over anyone. This seems to be his way of telling her that he loves her.

After another pre-chorus and chorus, OMI sings, “She gives me love and affection,” to add to the list of things his girlfriend does for him. To reciprocate, he professes his commitment to her: “Baby did I mention? you’re the only girl for me / No, I don’t need a next one.” He ends the verse by hinting at marriage and life together: “Mama loves you too, she thinks I made the right selection / Now all that’s left to do / Is just for me to pop the question.” This girl has been so wonderful to him that OMI plans to commit to and to marry her.

Is “Cheerleader” sexist?

Alex Kritselis wrote an article for Bustle.com that claims that “Cheerleader’s” “sexist lyrics are likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth.” He argues the song is sexist because it focuses explicitly on what the girl does for the guy. He explains that OMI doesn’t treat his GF as “a living, breathing human woman with her own thoughts and needs.”

While Alex asks, “How often do we hear women sing about men like this?” I’d say that we actually do hear women singing about men like this often enough. Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” comes to mind as a quick example; the singer talks about how she likes to “[p]ick up daddies at the playground” as a way to numb her own grief at having been left, possibly leaving wrecked marriages in her wake. Pop music is consistently about using others, regardless of gender.

But Kritselis’s question remains.

In the old music video, which depicts a bank heist, OMI’s GF seduces a male bank manager and leaves him locked in a vault while she and OMI make off with the money. In the updated music video, which takes place on an island, OMI sings about his girl while she and several other girls dance/twerk in the background or while a mixed-gender group plays soccer. The dancing is played up for its sexuality with camera shots, dance moves, and costumes meant to accentuate the bodies of the women dancing. Later in the video, OMI grinds on his GF.

Though OMI claims that his GF provides him with emotional support, the updated music video for “Cheerleader” speaks more of sexual support and minimizes other aspects of his GF’s personality. In fact, other than cheering him on during a soccer game, the GF in the newest video seems to play a primarily sensual role in OMI’s life.

This suggests that “Cheerleader” does, to an extent, objectify women, promoting a message that women are primarily sexual beings who can find identity in their ability to please men. However, I would say that OMI’s commitment shown by his desire to marry her means that he’s not just giving her sex; he’s willing to enter into a formal relationship with her.

Perhaps what’s more dangerous is the way this message could come across to younger girls who will be watching music videos this summer and who will be looking for a female role to follow in the video. They will see a woman who wears less, dances dirty, and continues to cheer on her boyfriend in spite of the lack of non-physical attention he gives her. In the movie and song, the GF is a giver and rarely a receiver; OMI only promises sexual pleasure. The way this could shape young girls’ expectations for themselves and their future romantic partners could be dangerous.

What did you think of “Cheerleader”? Did you think it was sexist/interesting/fun/relaxing/dance-inspiring?

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