What Happened To The Feminists In Music?

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…Hormones racin’ at the speed of light,

But that don’t mean it’s gonna be tonight

baby, baby….

Genie In A Bottle – Christina Aguilera, 1999

…I’m dancing alot and I’m taking shots I’m feeling fine

I’m kissing all the boys and the girls

Someone call the doctor cause I lost my mind…

Not Myself Tonight – Christina Aguilera 2010

At its basic definition, feminism represents equality and fair representation for women. Long fought battles in the 1960’s and 1970’s took women out of the kitchens and bedrooms and into the boardrooms of America, setting precedence for the rest of the World to follow. Women have always been portrayed as submissive and super horny in the media, and in music in particular. The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a wave women singing and rhyming about self-control and safe sex, while still maintaining undeniable party and radio friendly vibes. The stories they told were thought-provoking interpretations of a world that wanted to relegate them to the backseat instead of driver’s seat. Their strength was their convictions, and the added sexual element was the icing on the cake and not the batter from which the cake was made. Along the way, all that feminism was morphed into women somehow becoming mini men- hard liquor drinkin’, one night stand cruisin’ self serving righteous gluttonists. At its core feminism is the FREEDOM of being whatever you want to be, but the current state of music begs the question, what is it that women want to be?

Image is everything. Hip Hop music specifically, has maintained a love-hate relationship with female rappers. MC Lyte’s talent made her one of the boys and Queen Latifah’s non wavering Ladies First attitude made them both household names, even as platinum plaques eluded them. Salt N Pepa talked about sex, and TLC never left home without the Trojan man. Rappers like Yo Yo and Nicki D wrote narratives about how lacking self-control can put you into jams with careless punks. These women were always aware that their personal conduct had to be different from men because they were women. Da Brat’s platinum success was not so much based on a feminine stance, but because of undeniable skill. Women rappers began stealing the show from the men as Lil Kim, Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliot, Foxy Brown, and Lauryn Hill routinely outshined the male counterparts they were paired with. These mid 90’s rappers were the golden era of women in hip hop, diversifying what the young female experience was about in even more profound detail. They were able to merge Salt N Pepa’s femininity with MC Lyte’s lyrical prowess into a hybrid of new female emcee. No matter the story told, it was absolutely female. Then blatant sexual overtones and carefreeness somehow began to overshadow the genre all together. Now it seems the only thing the female rapper has to offer is blow jobs for shots at the club.

Pop music used to be sprinkled with sexual innuendo, carefully blended with coy tongue in cheekness and hypnotic grooves. Janet Jackson, the underrated queen of pop music launched her Rhythm Nation in 1989, calling for unity, peace, and understanding. The ambitious record was Janet’s most commercially successful album, bringing topics like education, racism, and sexuality to the forefront. There was deliberate consciousness to confront ignorance and violence in Rhythm Nation 1814, the most fitting follow-up to the pro woman stance of her Control masterpiece. Madonna coupled her Like A Virgin antics with the pro-choice anthem Papa Don’t Preach, showing a more complete picture of what the modern woman’s life was really like.  Mariah Carey was then known for powerhouse singing instead of ass and titty bearing. The evolution of artists like Christina Aguilera went from sugary pop flirtations into full-blown dirty limericks. Christina’s signature song Beautiful, started a trend of female pop singers singing deeply personal records as Pink sang about abuse and depression. The trend the Beautiful started quickly evaporated, as Beyonce and Destiny’s Child were left as the sole bearers of feminine substance, singing about being independent women, not being Federlined in the hit Bills, Bills, Bills and embracing their curves with Bootylicious. Very few female artists could maintain visibility and talk about female issues on such a grand scale since the hey day of these artists, as once again the sexual overtones and blatant objectification ran all the positivity out of pop music. Classic tales like Unpretty and Waterfalls by TLC have been replaced with songs about kissing girls, Daisy Dukes and bikinis, and brushing your teeth with Jack Daniels. By the way, these songs were recorded by women.

It is a slippery slope to define women singing about sex as unfeminist. Women CONSTANTLY singing about sex is unfeminist. The current state of women in music is appalling as even talented women that sing about love like Corrine Bailey Rae can barely chart, let alone women who take on the subject matter of feminism. Women have allowed their place in music to be in the bedroom and the club instead of the minds and souls of their listeners. I can definitively say if I didn’t grow up in the 1990’s with TLC, Janet Jackson, Salt N Pepa, Lauryn Hill and many other female representers I would not be the woman I am today. Although these artists have integrated sex in their music, they have always exacted balance on what they represent. Will we look back on this era of female music as the exploitation era? I wonder what the culture of Ke$has, Mileys, Nickis, and Katys will breed in the young women of America. I hope they realize the world is watching.

History hidden from me
To hide my identity
So I’d never feel
I am somebody
You’ve gouged my eyes
I see more clearly
You’ve tried to rub me of my humanity
My spirit you tried to break
My soul you tried to take
There’s no need to be afraid
“Cause I won’t do unto you now
Amen
All that we’ve been through
Our time has come to rejoice
A new agenda’s due
Amen
It’s time to know the truth
Our time has come to rejoice
A new agenda’s due
Because of my gender
I’ve heard “no” too many times
Because of my race
I’ve heard “no” to many times
But with every “no” I grow in strength
That is why
African American women
I stand tall with pride
You want to know what it takes
To rid yourself of me now
There’s nothing you can do
Accept me for who I am now..

New Agenda – Janet Jackson From the Janet Album, 1993

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