Compare and contrast:
TLC‘s “Unpretty”. Madonna‘s “Human Nature”. Ani DiFranco‘s “Not A Pretty Girl”. Salt-n-Pepa‘s “None of Your Business”. Pink‘s “Don’t Let Me Get Me”. India Arie‘s “Video”. Tori Amos‘ “Cornflake Girl”. No Doubt‘s “Just A Girl”. Destiny’s Child‘s “Independent Women”. Meredith Brooks‘ “Bitch”. Queen Latifah‘s “U.N.I.T.Y.”. Christina Aguilera & Lil Kim‘s “Can’t Hold Us Down”.
Each of these nineteen selections are empowerment anthems performed by female artists. This is a fact, no matter how you feel about these particular songs, their relationship to the very concept of “empowerment” or the singer’s intention in releasing them. Someone, at some point, has felt empowered by these songs. Undeniable. Fact.
For the most part, the second list was inspired by the It Gets Better movement and similar “anti-bullying” campaigns. These tracks act as a celebration of the self, shouting in your face, “You are beautiful, no matter what they say!” They confront the people who try to tear you down, whether it’s a specific individual or some abstract idea of the “bully”.
The songs on the first list, however, attack a much larger issue—the injustices of society which lead to one’s insecurities, the reasons why there’s so much hateration in this danceree. They put the “power” in empowerment. They rebel against double standards. They don’t just sit around and tell you you’re great. They tell you why everything else sucks, which thereby enables you to throw your middle finger up at the world and truly embrace who you are.
And then, of course, there’s Elle Varner. The up-and-coming R&B star has mentioned in several interviews that she was severely bullied through most of her life. Yet instead of writing some empty “You go girl!” anthem, she wrote a little jam known as “So Fly”.
The song initially finds our narrator longing to exist in a world where she has “no cellulite, big breasts and pockets real wide”. Eventually, upon further reflection, she comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t need that other crap. She already embodies the very definition of “fly”.
Okay, so the theme may be a bit cheesy. The lyrics may not be as strong as those offerings from the first list… But this is still a throwback to that era of empowerment. Varner lashes out at the media/society for demanding she live up to some impossible standard of beauty. We’re not hearing enough of that in today’s pop music.
Which begs the question, why? These are issues young people (regardless of their gender) still face today, and they’re rarely addressed head-on like they used to be. Why? Does this idea, for whatever reason, feel outdated or more sickeningly sincere than an episode of Glee? Is our collective mentality so focused on escapism that we don’t want to directly deal with these problems?
Just something to ponder! Of course, while you’re thinking (or rolling your eyes), perhaps you should go download Varner’s free mixtape Conversational Lush. It might not bring you any answers, but at least it’ll provide a fresh soundtrack for your thought process.
“WTF” and “Go” are also highly recommended (despite the fact that I didn’t just waste multiple paragraphs failing to explain their greatness).