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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

The state of female pop music

Susan Zhu
Susan Zhu

Girls and pop music are no longer here to arouse visions of pillow fights and sleepovers; they are here to arouse. The genre no longer pertains to tweens kissing posters of Jesse McCartney or people turning their Spotify profile to private whilst they “indulge” in radio singles. Pop music is becoming an all-encompassing genre as artists experiment with electronic synths, collaborations and contentious lyrics.

This discovery phase of pop music has artists bringing personal discovery to their music as both an outlet and vehicle to challenge conventions around female eroticism. Artists are addressing topics like female self-love and mutual pleasure in their verses and setting them to classically catchy but exploratory beats. As a result, these empowering self-mantras are getting radio rotation.

Five songs currently topping the pop charts, all by female artists, involve this process of self-discovery enabling self-worth and vice versa. Although each artist fittingly approaches this all-encompassing ideal in her own way, they all push the limits of what is “okay for radio.” It is easy enough to censor cuss words out of rap songs with deletions and homophones; however, deleting lyrics from these songs, not because they involve vulgarity, but because they are overtly sensual would be a controversy in itself. The climaxes of theses anthems require the necessary build-up and full address of their desires.

It’s sort of like Miley Cyrus — hot off the power move of dropping the surprise free album “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz” — deserted her “goody two-shoes” pop star persona to become a controversial and provocative pop star and the entire genre evolved with her into this stage of experimentation and boundary pushing.

Demi Lovato - “Cool for the Summer”

When Demi Lovato’s single was accused of ripping off Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” she responded perfectly.

“I think more than one female artist can kiss a girl and like it,” she tweeted, along with the winking face emoji.

The accusation and response show that although some may not be ready for it, mainstream pop music is venturing into new (yet not new) territory.

"There's nobody in the pop industry that says, 'Don't f**k with me,'" Lovato told Ryan Seacrest. "There's Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. Those two women, they're like, 'I'll kick your f*****g a**.' And that's the thing. I'm totally that, but in pop music. Not that they're not pop music, but it's just kind of a different world."

The mantra in "Cool for the Summer" of “tell me if it’s wrong, tell me if it’s right, I don’t care” encourages communication, mutual consent and the removal of embarrassment or offense at the idea of speaking up. It is empowering and a great message that should never have been called into question or thought of as “controversial” when singles like "Freak of the Week" frequent my local stations.

Selena Gomez - “Good for You”

“I’m 14 carat.” Selena Gomez does not mess around: she knows her self-worth and she straight up tells you she is precious gold. However, she will dress up and look good if she wants to. Not even Beyoncé can “wake up like this” and feel fulfilled everyday — there is value in celebrating your appearance if you should feel inclined to get gussied up. She wants to look nice, she wants to be admired and she wants to be wanted. She doesn’t need any of that, but she’s proud to be yours because, hey, you’re A$AP Rocky.

Hailee Steinfeld - “Love Myself”

“I love me,” Hailee Steinfeld belts out. She is not insecure or looking to others for approval, validation or even to get down. “I know how to scream my own name / Gonna love myself, no, I don’t need anybody else,” echoes the rallying cry of which every teen girl should take heed.

Lena Dunham acknowledged this in an Instagram post: “I love this song [...] and I wish it had existed for teenage me. It would have eradicated so much shame.”

Steinfield's mantra of not needing anyone else leaves room for her to want somebody, but also acknowledges her freedom to feel loved “anytime that she likes” — and that in it of itself is highly underrated. She also states that she is going to put her body first, something women don’t always feel like they can or should do — but is something they should always do.

The fact that her first single, hot off her role in “Pitch Perfect 2,” tackled female self-love shows where the industry is heading if it stays fronted by fearless, young pop stars like Steinfeld.

Fifth Harmony - “Worth It”

“Give it to me I’m worth it.” The motto. The group's music video depicts the five women in a Spice Girl-esque fashion. They are all staged in separate locations with one man who acts either as an equal or their shoe shiner, assistant, driver, etc. This is interspersed with cuts of all five members dancing to the "I'm worth it" chorus in front of scrolling stocks on a Wall Street tele-screen because they can.

The lyrics echo the empowerment they feel from their recognized sense of worth: “I might give me to you,” “I don’t wanna waste my time,” and “I’ll tell you what to do." These girls are it. Follow their lead.

Carly Rae Jepsen - “Run Away With Me”

Jepsen repeats, “Oh baby, take me to the feeling,” repeatedly during this song, demanding what she desires. She also lets us know, “I’ll be your hero, I’m winning.” Which is true and also speaks to the state of pop music. Whereas “Call Me Maybe” was over-played and over-parodied, Pitchfork awarded Jepsen’s recent release — collaborated on by the likes of Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, Sia and Jack Antonoff — a 7.4 and The Observer's Scene writer Matt Munhall’s current bio reads, “Carly Rae Jepsen and ‘Inherent Vice’ are the only things he likes.”

In an important move, I took all the lyrics I pulled from each song and formed this gloriously empowering conglomerate:

“Tell me if it’s wrong, tell me if it’s right, I don’t care. I’m 14 carat. I LOVE ME. I know how to scream my own name. Gonna love myself, no, I don’t need anybody else. Give it to me, I’m worth it. I might give me to you. I don’t wanna waste my time. I’ll tell you what to do. Oh baby, take me to the feeling. I’ll be your hero, I’m winning.”

YAS. We’re ALL winning.