King of summer 2015 The Weeknd released his newest single “False Alarm” on Friday as part of a buildup to his Saturday Night Live performance. A less moody, minimalist track than his previous work, the latest Starboy track embraces the form and sentiments of swivel-hip pop-rock while remaining soaked in the R&B crooner’s favorite subject: sex. Unfortunately, we’re not trafficking in psychological sophistication. The Weeknd quickly falls into a classic trap.
With his description of a woman with “high heel shoes with the open toes” and her “all red dress with the devil eyes,” the Weeknd is working with the same age-old cliches as a lot of tenured psychology professors. We don’t even know if The Weeknd has actually met the woman he’s talking about, but he’s convinced that her style and dress are the signs of a false alarm — she’s not in the club looking for love, she’s looking for cash and power. The only false alarm is his false interpretation of the situation.
The Weeknd reads way too much into what this woman is wearing. Decades of psychological research demonstrates that people make rash decisions because of the way strangers dress. A 1989 study is particularly demonstrative — the researchers found that there was a consistent negative bias against a woman wearing provocative clothing versus a woman wearing more conservative clothing. Both of the women in the study demonstrated the same behavior but when the researchers asked questions like “to what extent is this woman a flirt or sexual tease?” and “if this woman were married, how likely is it that she would remain faithful to her husband?” men and women agreed that the model in sexy clothes was flirt who wouldn’t stay faithful. In the second part of the study men also consistently thought women were flirting with them when they weren’t so perhaps The Weeknd is inferring to much to begin with.
It’s not just sexy clothes that convince people that they understand the motives of the wearer. Similar results have been found in settings ranging from the classroom to the workplace — people, men more so than women, perceive the stereotypes of the clothing as actual personality points. Compound this with the sexist and systematic belief that clothing perceived as “sexy” means the person wearing it actually wants sex, and you’ve got misinformation in the club.
Still, it’s a hot track.