Friday, 30 March 2012

Passive Aggressive Pop: The New Frontier

So the other day I was sitting around in my pyjamas watching music videos (I work in the industry! It’s RESEARCH) and was somewhat taken aback by the opening lines of One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. The song, which won the 2012 Brit award for Best single, begins "You're insecure...." and goes on to tell the unfortunate female that she's attractive, because she thinks she isn't. Apparently the number one trait that 15-year-old boys look for in girls is low self esteem. If you want to bag a mini pop star, ladies, just "smile at the ground".

Maybe Harry got annoyed at her for being too darn happy and confident.

Bruno Mars had a huge hit with Just the Way You Are; ostensibly a really sweet, romantic song about thinking his girlfriend is perfect. "I know, when I compliment her she won't believe me, and it's so, it's so, sad to think that she don't see what I see...." It is sad, Bruno, and we appreciate the effort you're making here. But isn't it also sad that a million squealing girls can so easily relate to lyrics about a girl who hates her own laugh?
It's a bit like those magazine spreads which show pictures of celebrities on their fat / ugly days. It's meant to make us feel better: "See how awful they look! Not so perfect without the airbrushing!" but actually, it's just a toxic message which basically points out that, even if you look amazing 99% of the time, you can never be good enough.
Songwriters may think they're benefiting the youngsters listening to these lyrics; "You're insecure? Even girls who date superstars are insecure!" but it just makes it seem NORMAL to hate yourself. Teenagers generally don't need anyone's help to do that.
At least some lyricists are trying to be constructive. In contrast, a N.E.R.D track features Pharrell's description of a woman with "Nice long hair, Nice ass lips, I know insecure, When I pointed out the size of her hips." Which is lovely, isn't it? What a gentleman.
If neg hits aren't your thing, you might enjoy the other end of the spectrum – all the biggest female names have had great success telling fans they're pretty much flawless. You could see this as a cynical attempt to cash in on the self-doubt of the young, but at least they're trying to have a positive impact, rather than telling kids "Stay anxious! It makes boys like you!" 
India Arie was doing it years ago with Video
"My worth is not detemined by the price of my clothes," indeed.

Christina Aguilera told us "You are beautiful, no matter what they say," Lady Gaga created an anthem for "the religion of the insecure" with Born This Way. Pink points out "you're so mean when you talk about yourself," before pleading with us to believe that we're perfect. Katy Perry gets in on the act, telling us "You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine" in Firework. Kelly Clarkson has made a career out of power anthems, the most recent being What Doesn't Kill You (Makes You Stronger), and Jessie J assures us that "tears don't mean you're losing" and "It's ok not to be ok" in Who You Are.
Some people blame lyrics like this for the kind of entitlement freaks who turn up on audition shows with their self-belief set in stone. However, I would suggest that over the top "I'm brilliant, me!" proclamations never come from a deep sense of self-assuredness. If you're ever "accidentally " channel hopped over to "Snog Marry Avoid" you'll have noticed that every make-up plastered, drag queen-esque female who starts off by saying "I look great, I don't care if you think I look like a skank" will, within minutes, say that she doesn't want to scrape off the slap because she thinks she's ugly. It happens every.single.time. (So don't tell me that trash TV isn't a brilliant school for human behaviour, because it's very nearly an open university psychology degree.)
In other news, may I just say that I find Tulisa's video for Young irritates me, with its shameless promotion of her fragrance "The Female Boss." I find it unbelievably sad that a 23-year-old woman would come up with this name, obviously still stuck in the 1950s mindset that if she'd just called it "The Boss" that would mean "male boss" by default. Because female bosses are just SO unusual! Get with the programme, love.
We can see you're female. Now start bossing and salute no-one!

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