Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Pop Music Project: 2009

2009 was a year full of breakup songs, which is appropriate because I would like to break up with 2009.  There was much, much more bad than good, so this list might be a little skewed.  Musically, this year was interesting, but lyrically it was anything but.  Let's just get going because I have plenty to say.

Bad Song: Don't Trust Me by 3OH!3
I admit I'm a little biased with this one.  Yes, it's a gross song in general, but there are really two lines that just get me every single time I hear it.

I vividly remember the first time I heard this song.  I was in my mother's car--pretty much the only place I heard pop music before I started doing this--and at first I didn't think it was bad.  The lyrics were interesting, it was catchy, I could bob my head to it.  And then this happened.

Shush, girl, shut your lips
do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips

and I wanted to rip the radio from the console and throw it off the side of Mt. Washington.  Understand that I take offense to this on two levels.  First of all, as a woman--"shush girl, shut your lips?" No thanks, asshole--and as a disabled person.  I am blind in my left eye and have limited vision in my right, and as I grew up I saw Helen Keller as an inspiration.  Not to mention the fact that Helen Keller could speak, an incredible feat considering she was blind and deaf.  This line popped up everywhere on the Internet and has stayed the main thing associated with Helen Keller by douchebags everywhere.  And it makes me just as angry today as it made me that first time.
Of course, the rest of the song was even more misogynistic.  "Don't trust a ho, never trust a ho"?  Was this song engineered to ensure these guys would never get laid again?  This song is the epitome of douchebro culture.  Well, at least I thought so.  We'll see later on in this list if that's true.

Good Song: Miss Independent by Ne-Yo
Now for a palate cleanser.  There are a few hit songs by women titled Miss Independent, and that's fine, but this is special because a man wrote and performed a song about how much he loves a woman because she can do things for herself.  Progress!

Her favorite thing to say, don't worry I got it,
and everything she got best believe she bought it,
she's gonna steal my heart, ain't no doubt about it,
you're everything I need...
She got her own thing, that's why I love her,
Miss Independent, won't you come and spend a little time?

He talks about how he loves that she's the boss and that she doesn't need his help.  He even says that he looks at her and he's proud!  I think this represents the attitudes of more than a few men, and it's great that there's a song for them.  It could be said, of course, that it's sad that this song had to exist in the first place, but at least it's something, right?  

Bad Song: Blame It by Jamie Foxx and T-Pain
You know what's a dick move?  Getting a girl drunk to have sex with her.  If you can't get girls to sleep with you unless they're falling-on-the-floor wasted, the problem is you.  I like to call this one the Date Rape Song.  

Now here's a thing that is important to distinguish: there is a huge difference between drunk sex and rape.  If you have consent before you start to drink, or if your partner is lucid enough to give consent, whatever.  Not to say that anyone can't change their mind about consent midway through.  If they are so absolutely plastered that they're nearly unresponsive, that's rape.  There's no two ways about it.  Especially considering, legally, someone intoxicated over the legal blood alcohol content threshold cannot actually give consent.  If you are intentionally getting someone drunk to have sex with them when you are not certain whether they would have consented before, you are committing a premeditated rape.  And maybe I'm taking this seriously, but I should!  This is a HUGE problem with our culture, especially with young people, and this song is only furthering the impression that alcohol is the way to get a woman to fuck you.  Real men--and women--don't need to get someone plastered to seduce them.  Let's look at some lyrics.

Fill another cup up
feelin' on your butt--what?
you don't even care now, I was unaware how fine
you were before my buzz set in.

Ew, right?  And he also talks about how this girl says she usually doesn't, but he can tell she wants it and is just saying she won't have sex with him because she doesn't want to seem easy.  Which is kind of slut-shaming AND rapey.  There is something wrong with just about every line of this song so I strongly recommend you read the lyrics.
Good Song: Womanizer by Britney Spears
Don't think for a second that I'm saying this is a GOOD song--musically it isn't fantastic at all, and most of Britney Spears' songs are terrible from a feminist perspective.  Though I still don't know how to feel about the one about threesomes.  But anyway, this one has some awesome lyrics.

Lollipop, you must mistake me for a sucker
To think that I, would be a victim, not another
Say it, play how you want it
But no way I'm never gonna fall for you, never you, baby
Womanizer, woman-womanizer, you're a womanizer

This is a song about a woman who runs into one of those guys who thinks he's got game and calls him on his shit.  I love these songs!  And this is a fairly cleverly written one, too.   All those guys who think they can get in your pants with a smooth line and a smile?  That's not typically how it goes, fellas.  And as we can see from the previous song, getting women super drunk isn't the correct course of action either.  Maybe if we all just tried to be genuine we wouldn't need these songs anymore.

Bad Song: Good Girls Go Bad by Cobra Starship and Leighton Meester
Apparently 2009 was the year of the douchey frat boy.  This is a song about seducing innocent girls and turning them "bad", because sex is a naughty naughty thing that you shouldn't do unless it's with this guy.  I especially like the touch of having a woman sing a verse on this song indicating that he was right, she just wants to "go bad" with him for one night.  Nice!

I know your type, boy you're dangerous
you're that guy I'd be stupid to trust.
But just one night couldn't be so wrong,
you make me wanna lose control.

Someone that you can't trust isn't just someone who can make you "go bad", or want them, they're someone you could be putting yourself in a dangerous situation by being around.  And this guy, who refers to this woman as "Daddy's little girl" is definitely creepy.  He's in it for the game, not for the interaction.  This is the guy who's standing at the bar leering at every person thinking that he has the touch to make any woman want him.  Guess what?  You don't have the magic, dude.

Bad Song: Every Girl by Young Money
Like I said, good songs were hard to come by this year.  And I hate to keep picking on Lil Wayne because there are so many rappers that say terrible chauvinist shit but this is just beyond anything else I've heard so far.  There is not a single line in this song that is not reprehensible.  

I mean, the chorus is "I wish I could fuck every girl in the world."  No joke.

I refuse to post long excerpts of lyrics from this song because, frankly, I don't want to have half that stuff on my blog.  Let's just say that Drake implies that every girl is into nothing but partying and fashion, Lil Wayne says that he's going to "filet mignon that pussy", and they're both really really into group sex.  And watching girls have sex with each other.  And there is a line that is seriously just "pussy pussy pussy".  And Drake says that every time he considers settling down his girlfriend brings over one of her hot friends and he reconsiders.  Another of the rappers on this track says that his idol was Wilt Chamberlain, and another says that hoes are "God's gift like Christmas."  But my favorite is probably at the very end..."And Hillary can Rodham too."  

All I'm gonna say is that these guys will never meet their goal of fucking every girl in the world.  They will always come up one short because I would not touch these fuckers with a ten foot pole.  

Bad Song: I Love College by Asher Roth
Story time.  I live in the most college-y neighborhood in Pittsburgh and right across the street from me is a house so full of douchebags I'm convinced it must be an unofficial frat.  It seems to be a perpetual party and on most Friday and Saturday nights there are young men and women streaming in packs down the street going to this house.  One night I was sitting on my porch when a group of young ladies walked past the house across the street and I heard one of its residents yell "Hotties drink for free, fatties keep walking!"

My boyfriend had to hold me back, no lie.

And maybe that's what upsets me about this song.  It isn't so much the song as the people it represents.  Am I having fun as a college student?  Hell yes.  Do I drink plenty of beer and go out and buy cheap takeout late at night?  Fuck yeah.  I love that, too.  But I don't drink and smoke weed every night and make it my aim to get guys naked every time I'm anywhere.  Is it good that he "learned the lesson" to not have sex with a girl if she's "too gone"?  Yes, but why did he need to learn that lesson and not just know it because he's a decent human being with common sense?  I mean, he got into college after all even if he clearly isn't learning anything (as he says himself in this song).  And why are you wearing two condoms?  You know that actually increases the chance of them breaking or slipping off, right?  

My point is that this song represents a creepy and problematic culture that has sprung up.  it's a culture full of date rape, underachievement and Dave Matthews Band.  College IS a time to have fun, but it's also a time to feel out who you are and who you want to be.  Maybe I just don't get this, and maybe I'm humorless.  But I've seen too many people hurt by guys who hold this kind of attitude to enjoy this version of postsecondary education.  

Bad Song: Diva by Beyonce
I wrestled with this one for a really long time.  In one way I totally want to groove to this song.  I want to jump up and down to this.  Because she's a woman and she's making a brag song like a guy!  Good, right?  Well.

Diva is the female version of a hustler
Not so much.  Now, I'm all for equal.  Not so much for separate-but-equal.  If I'm a woman and I want to be a hustler I'm gonna goddamned call myself a hustler because I don't need another name for myself.  I don't need to play the same games and do the same things to be equal, I just need to d my thing because that's what male privilege gives men the ability to do.  She does standard brag song stuff in here--talks about how much money she has, how many records she's sold, and how badass she is.  That's okay.  And then there's the line where she says a guy can't hit on her unless he has "a six-pack in the cooler."  Meaning, of course, his abs.
Listen ladies, we don't need to do exactly the same stuff that the men do to play the game.  We don't need to take the crappy parts of brag rap songs and spin them on their head.  It's a nice little exercise but it doesn't do anything but perpetuate some negative parts of our culture.  While I give this one a hesitant thumbs-down, I do it nonetheless.  

Good/Bad Song: If I Were A Boy by Beyonce
I came across the Male Privilege Checklist the other day, and I thought of this song.  Is it true that if men were women we would be able to roll out of bed in the morning without going through a complicated beauty regiment in order to be considered attractive?  Yep.  Is it true that men are not judged to nearly the extent that women are when it comes to promiscuity?  Hells yes.  Is it less acceptable for women to be unfaithful in relationships?  You bet.  And these are all really good points.  Buuut.

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man.
I’d listen to her
Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
Cause he’s taken you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed 
It's a love song.  Really?  This could have gone so many places and instead you decide to stereotype the entire male gender and assume they are incapable of actually loving a woman correctly?  This hurts everyone because it, again, gives the impression that women are the loving, nurturing gender who are always hurt and that men are callous and insensitive and only in relationships for the sex.  This helps no one.  And it's such a shame because a song like this is really, really a great thing.  We need songs like this--things that turn gender roles on their heads.  But for a purpose other than talking about love and just for the purpose of being critical about the world we live in.  Sorry, Bey, I'm usually on board but this wasn't a great year for you.

Some General Thoughts on the Top 100 of 2009
  • 41 of the top 100 songs were by female artists or male/female collaborations.  6 of the top 10 were by female artists or female/male collaborations.
  • I realize I only featured nine songs for this year but guys, this was just a terrible year for music.  Maybe not terrible as much as mediocre.  There were plenty of bad songs to choose from--as you noticed--and barely any good.
  • This was a HUGE year for Lady Gaga, and I might have to do a post on her alone because I'm still trying to make sense of her lyrics.  I know a lot of people think that her songs have some deeper meaning but I'm not sure that's true.  I also don't think she's as empowering as a lot of people think she is.  But, like I said, a different post for a different day.
  • Taylor Swift had another two hits that were on utterly different ends of the spectrum in 2009.  There was "Love Story" which was a song where she compared her relationship to Romeo and Juliet (not great role models).  The refrain was "It's a love story, baby, just say yes."  Then there was her other hit, which talked about love not being Hollywood and full of white horses and knights in shining armor.  I'm getting mixed messages here.
  • There was a song called "Birthday Sex" this year.  No lie.
  • A lot more rock songs were in the top 100 this year than in the two following it, which is interesting and I suspect will be a continuing trend as I go further back.
  • I realize doing this in reverse chronological order is going to cause a few hiccups here and there but it seemed like the best way to do it.  I will have to straighten some things out in the end but I'm going to do one or more wrap-up posts at the end of this whole thing so we'll examine everything then.
2008 was a big year!  I started college, Barack Obama was elected President and Katy Perry kissed a girl--and she liked it.  We'll see if it was a better year for music.  For now, it was nice knowing you, 2009, but I'm moving on.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Pop Music Project: 2010

2010 interesting year for pop music.  The highs in 2010 were higher than those in 2011 but the lows were definitely lower. There isn't a whole lot of variety in my choices this time around, and I apologize for that, but honestly the majority of rap songs made in 2010 were run-of-the-mill brag songs with a few misogynistic lines thrown in.  Not that that's a good thing, but there were enough standouts in other categories that I ended up avoiding the rap hits.

Good/Bad Song: Love The Way You Lie by Eminem and Rihanna
BEFORE YOU LISTEN TO THIS SONG: I am throwing up a TRIGGER WARNING for strong language about physically/emotionally abusive relationships.  If you struggle with that kind of stuff, I recommend you skip this part of the post. 

 I think it really says something that this song happened at all, and especially that it was so successful.  For those of my readers that don't know, Rihanna is a very successful pop singer who was brutally beaten by her boyfriend and fellow pop star Chris Brown in 2009.  Photos of her battered face were plastered over tabloids everywhere.  It was truly tragic.  Eminem, on his end, publicly admitted that he was physically and emotionally abusive in the past to significant others.  So there's nothing disingenuous or postering about this--these are two people that have been in these relationships and these positions.  It's admirable that they wrote and performed a song about it.  This could really be a PSA in a song, and that's fantastic. It brought light to something that isn't always spoken about, and that's really amazing.  Especially because it's so shocking:

I just want her back, I know I'm a liar
if she ever tries to fuckin' leave again
I'mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.

Now how can you hear that and not see how fucked up it is?  Unfortunately, not everyone saw that.  In some ways I guess this song could be seen as glorifying abuse if you take the chorus without context (when you're in the throes of an abusive relationship, you DO think that you want it and that the person standing there hitting you and calling you names just does it because they love you so much).  However, this is NOT a relationship situation to strive for.  In some small way, I have been there--I have been in an incredibly emotionally abusive relationship and it is very much how this song sounds, and just as damaging.  
But when this song came out I was seeing it pop up on Facebook and Twitter, lyrics from the chorus with little hearts after them.  I don't know if people thought this was supposed to be a happy song--I don't know how--but it looked that way.  I know that people develop their own interpretations and artists can't be blamed for that but it does factor in when determining whether this song was a net positive or negative for awareness.  I guess we can just hope that it opened a few peoples' eyes, and go from there.  Onward!

Good Song: Rude Boy by Rihanna
So Rihanna had a good year. In 2011 she would release a bunch of vapid pop hits and one song about S&M that would come off far too fake to be empowering, and more for shock value than for actual enjoyment.  But this song is an honest-to-God awesome sex anthem.  This song is basically saying "oh, you think you can do me right?  Okay, let's see it."  She's going after what she wants, she's gonna take control if she doesn't like what you're doing.  And that's pretty badass.

I like the way you touch me there, I like the way you pull my hair,
if I ain't feelin it I ain't fakin' oh no.

You go girl!  After listening to songs full of rappers talking about how they can lay it down like no one else it's nice to see a female artist call them on their bluff.  This is a good anthem for us ladies, we SHOULD demand quality from guys who brag and we SHOULDN'T have to fake it to preserve their ego.  We SHOULD take control if that's what we want.  I'm totally on board with that sentiment.  
Bad Song: Sexy Chick by David Guetta and Akon
I cannot find a single lyric in this song that I don't want to tear apart, so I'm just gonna go bit by bit here.  

Yes I can see her, 'cause every girl in here wanna be her.
She's a diva, I feel the same and I wanna meet her.

Again with the everyone-else-is-jealous thing.  As it turns out, girls don't spend all of their nights out looking at other girls and hating their guts.  Some women actually are okay with themselves the way they are.  But that's fairly mild, right?
They say she low-down, it's just a rumor, I don't believe 'em.
They say she need to slow down, the baddest thing around town.

Well, the people saying those things are assholes and need to mind their own business.  And why is that pertinent anyway?  I don't even know what it means that she's "low down", but I'm assuming from context that it means she sleeps around.  And isn't that what you're looking for after all, you creeps?

She's nothing like a girl you've ever seen before
Nothing you can compare to your neighborhood whore.
I'm tryin to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.

Well, it looks like you've already lost that battle.
The way that booty movin' I can't take no more
had to stop what I was doing so I could pull her close
I'm tryin to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.

Once again, looks like you lost before you started there.  I'm pretty sure "respectful" went out the window when you started talking about the way her booty moving.  And if you hadn't, you definitely did with...
Damn, you's a sexy bitch.

Yeah, that whole respect thing?  Just don't bother.  You're disgusting.  
Good Song: King of Anything by Sara Bareilles
Dear God do I love this song.  I must admit that I love Sara Bareilles in general, both musically and lyrically--she wrote a great song called Fairytale that you should check out all about how she doesn't WANT a fairy tale romance because that's all bullshit.  This song makes me want to scream out the lyrics.  It's all about her telling a guy to stop trying to rule her life, make her decisions for her and tell her she's wrong.

Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me, who made you king of anything?
You dare tell me who to be?  
Who died and made you king of anything? 

She talks in the bridge about how she's tried to always make everyone happy and it's hurt her so she's done doing that now.  Awesome.  I think a lot of women can relate to this, not just with their significant others or their friends but even just random people in the world.  And it's about time someone put it into song.  
Bad Song: Blah Blah Blah by Ke$ha and 3OH!3
This is a song by all the douchey pop artists with unnecessary punctuation in their names.  Ke$ha (you have no idea how it pains me every time I have to type that) had a big year in 2010--her anthem for people who brush their teeth with whiskey was the number 1 song of the year and she had four other songs in the top 100.  This was the worst of them.  Maybe it's because of 3OH!3, who you will be hearing about in the 2009 list, but Ke-dollar sign-ha herself kind of makes this one terrible.  It is basically a song about how a guy is talking too much and she just wants to fuck him but he won't shut up.  

Don't care where you live at,
just turn around boy let me hit that,
stop bein' a little bitch with your chit-chat
and show me where your dick's at.

Typically I like to know a few things about a guy before I peg him (as the second line there would imply she wants to?) but I guess Ke$ha isn't all about that.  It gets worse in the second verse where she declares "I wanna be naked and you're wasted."  Is it just me or does that come off a little rapey?  Anway, onto 3OH!3 here...

You be delaying,
You always be saying some shit
You say I'm playing,
I'm never laying the bitch
Sayin' "blah, blah blah"
'cause I don't care who you are
In this bar
It only matters who I is

The sad grammatical battlefield that is this verse aside, Jesus Christ does this guy sound like a jerk.  He's accusing her of being a tease which...well, Ke$ha is many things but I wouldn't say that's one of them.  NOT THAT THAT WOULD BE A BAD THING ANYWAY.  Also saying that it doesn't matter who she is and only matters who he is...well, okay, I think the two personas in this song deserve each other.

Good Song: According To You by Orianthi
This is another song I just want to pump my fist to.  It's about a girl who's with a guy who does nothing but put her down all the time, and then she finds a guy who thinks she's great for who she is.  And at the end she turns it on the first guy.

According to you, I'm stupid, I'm useless, I can't do anything right...
but according to him, I'm beautiful, incredible, he can't get me out of his head.

 This is great because I can guarantee, ladies, for every person out there who doesn't appreciate you there's one that can appreciate you for exactly who you are.  And you should absolutely not settle for the former.  
Bad Song: Today Was A Fairytale by Taylor Swift
I hate to pick on Taylor Swift, it feels like picking on a kitten poking its head out of a basket full of flowers.  She had a song that came out in 2010 that I actually quite liked.  And that's because that song was not an entirely unrealistic portrayal of relationships.  This, on the other hand, is flat-out ridiculous.  I mentioned earlier that Sara Bareilles wrote a song called "Fairytale" about how fucked up the idea of those stories are.  Well, this is the opposite of that.

Today was a fairytale
You were the prince, I was a damsel in distress,
you took me by the hand and you picked me up at six.

You don't always need to be the damsel in distress.  Relationships last because neither person needs saving--you are your own individual selves and that nurtures and deepens your connection..  THAT IS GOOD.  It's good to work out and have problems, that's what makes us human.  Looking at everything as a perfect storybook is only going to make it harder someday when you see what comes after the happy ending.  And giving the expectation that everything is going to be perfect all the time is just as unhealthy as believing love isn't possible.  It seems that Taylor Swift has matured somewhat in the past two years, and I can only hope that continues.
Good Song: Mine by Taylor Swift
So this is the song of Taylor Swift's that I liked from last year.  This is a semi-mature love song.  There are real-life problems here!  This couple has bills to pay, they have fights, and that scares this girl because her parents split and she is afraid that love "never lasts."  And this guy convinces her otherwise.  They have a fight, she expects him to end it, and he doesn't!  Imagine that!

I'll admit that I'm probably a little biased because I'm pretty sure I'm in this relationship right now.  And this song isn't perfect--"You are the best thing that's ever been mine" isn't the best line in the world, and the love-conquers-all message might be a little dubious.  But there's stuff like this.

Flash forward and we’re taking on the world together,
And there’s a drawer of my things at your place.
You learn my secrets and you figure out why I’m guarded,
You say we’ll never make my parents’ mistakes.
But we got bills to pay,
We got nothing figured out.

Yes, that's realistic.  And it's not totally chaste the way Taylor Swift songs are--she has a drawer at his place.  This seems like a functional young couple.  Again, we don't see what happens after the happy ending and there's a chance that this couple would fail.  But at least this is a pretty realistic portrayal for a happy love song, and it's not inane or overly sappy.  That's a step in the right direction, Taylor Swift.
Bad Song: Hey Daddy by Usher
This is so gross.  This is a song about Usher meeting a girl--or being in a relationship with a girl, it's hard to tell with these songs sometimes--and just wanting to do her all the time.  He wants her to literally wait around for him to get home so he can have sex with her.  And when he GETS home he wants her to say "Daddy's home!"  I mean, seriously, it literally says that.

And I won't knock or ring no bells
You just poke that bottom up in the air
I'll get you hot, I know you oh so well
And when I'm walk in, all that I wanna hear
Is you say Daddy's home, Daddy's home for me
And I know you've been waiting for this love in your day

He also does some of the standard "I can sex you like no one else can" stuff, and then there's this:

Poke it on out poke it out right there
I'm a fall back let you work that chair
Do that damn thing all I wanna hear

I had to use my imagination to figure out what he's talking about here, and I'm going to assume it's a lap dance?  I really don't know.  Besides being incredibly degrading, this song completely infantalizes the woman he's speaking to in a way that is not only pervy but really insulting.  He asks all the ladies in the club to yell "Hey daddy!" and...I haven't been in a lot of clubs but I think that's the last thing most women in them want to yell.  This song is the opposite of an aphrodisiac.  This song is your partner rolling around in dog crap before they try to seduce you. 
Some General Thoughts on the Top 100 of 2010
  • 43 of the top 100 were by female artists or male/female collaborations, and 7 of the top ten were by female artists or female/male collaborations.  
  • It's interesting that the majority of the soft rock/country hits in 2010 were relegated to the bottom fifth of the list, whereas in 2011 they were sprinkled throughout.  Hopefully this is a sign of progress.
  • Here's the thing I don't get about brag songs (I am seriously looking at you, Drake): if you're all bragging about being the best, doesn't that mean that no one's the best?  And don't you guys get bored with MAKING these songs by now?  
  • There is a song by Miranda Lambert called "The House That Built Me" that seriously made me cry.
  • 2010 was a big year for Lady Gaga and after looking at her lyrics I think that they may be sliding on the side of not-so-feminist if anything.  
I am going to try to tackle 2009 in one big chunk tomorrow, so there might be a new post this weekend.  We'll see how it goes.  All I know is, 3OH!3, I'm coming for you.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Pop Music Project: 2011

This is the beginning of a project I've been building up to for a couple months.  It'll be a series of posts and will probably take quite a while, as I have 21 years to cover here.

It all started in the beginning of March when I was in the car and "I'm Just A Girl" by No Doubt came on the radio.  It got me thinking about pop music, and about some of the amazing tunes made by women back in the '80s and '90s that were pretty daring and actually feminist.  Then I started thinking about pop music today and a question formed in my head: Do they make pop music like this anymore?

So I decided to empirically answer that question.  First, I looked at the Billboard Top 100 songs for every year from 1990 to 2011 and counted how many each year were made by female artists.  I made a spreadsheet and everything!  Then I decided I was going to have to go deeper and look at content.  So I embarked on the sometimes interesting, sometimes mind-numbing, and surprisingly exhausting journey of listening to and reading the lyrics of every single Top 100 song for the past 21 years.  I'm going to compile my findings bit by bit here.

I'm going to start with 2011 today.  For every year I'm going to post some interesting thoughts, along with ten songs that I feel are exceptionally good--or bad--from a feminist perspective.  I'm trying to be objective because, frankly, the majority of the stuff from 2011 is truly awful.  There are also a lot of dimensions you could examine in these lyrics, but I'm going to attempt to stick with misogyny, at least in these deeper analyses.  So let's get started.

Bad Song: If I Die Young by The Band Perry
This song clocked in at number 35 on the Billboard charts.  It's one of those pop country songs that has become so popular over the past few years, though it's a bit more depressing than your average Taylor Swift ditty.  It is sung by the female vocalist who basically sings her will--"If I die young, bury me in satin, lay me down in a bed of roses."  That's creepy enough, but then there's these lines.

And I'll be wearing white when I come into your kingdom
I'm as green as the ring on my little cold finger
I've never known the loving of a man
But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand.

So that's about dying a virgin and going to Heaven.  And I'm fairly certain that the second line here references a purity ring, which is not surprising but still pretty gross.  I understand that the very religious idea of women only staying pure through their virginity has really caught fire over the past few years, especially in younger people who would be listening to this kind of country-pop music, but this is blatant.  Even more blatant than in Lady Antebellum's "Just A Kiss" or in "Don't You Wanna Stay", a duet between Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean.  These are both songs with both male and female voices who talk about how they want to wait to have sex because this could be true love and they don't want to ruin it (from the latter song, "I don't wanna just make love, I wanna make love last").  Apparently this is becoming a trend.

Good Song: Fuckin Perfect by Pink
There were a lot of you're-special-and-shouldn't-get-down-on-yourself songs this year, very much in the vein of "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera.  We had "Firework" by Katy Perry and "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga.  I promise I picked this for a reason, and not just because I can't stand Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.  First of all, Pink has a pretty good track record of being genuine and positive.  This song is no exception.  This song isn't some generic placating song about being special and awesome, this is a song about actually wading through shit and coming out the other side smelling like roses.  It's about telling people that even if they don't appear amazing to themselves they are, and I honestly believe that Pink feels this way from the way she sings this.  Maybe I'm biased--I've been a Pink fan ever since she was belting out songs telling men that she wanted them for how they treated her and not for their money.  Is this another inspirational pop song aimed at hormonally-imbalanced teenagers?  Sure, but for once I believe this one may actually get through.

Bad Song: E.T. by Katy Perry

 Now I'm going to explain to you why I do not like Katy Perry.  This song.  This song is...creepy on so many levels.  Basically, it's a song talking about a skilled lover and her infatuation with him using the metaphor of being an alien.  Unfortunately, Katy Perry takes it too far.  And if Katy Perry takes it out of this world, Kanye West takes it out of this galaxy.

The chorus here actually includes the lines "Take me, wanna be a victim, ready for abduction."  THE CHORUS. The first verse also includes lines about how everyone is telling her to be afraid of this guy because he's weird and possibly dangerous, but she can't stay away.  I have been there, ladies and gents, and that is never a good sign.

But if that's blatantly bad, it gets worse--these are the last lines of Kanye West's verse:

Tell me what's next
Alien sex,
I'mma disrobe you
Then I'mma probe you
Yeah, I abducted you
So I tell you what to do.

If anyone ever says those words to you, scream and run away.  Please.  Pepper spray him, if you have it on you.  Ick.  Apparently, not enough people know that that SHOULD be the response to those words, because this song was the number 4 song in 2011.  Think about that for a minute.
Good Song: The Show Goes On by Lupe Fiasco
There were a lot of club songs last year.  There were a lot brag songs last year, too.  There are a lot of songs in rap in general that talk about coming up from nothing to being a star.  And this is all three of those, and none of them at the same time.  Again, it's about being genuine.  When I listen to the lyrics of this song, I hear him actually telling kids in the hood to stand up and keep going.  And there's a line about teachers!  And the Gaza Strip!  How often do you hear that?

But this list is about women, and their place in these songs.  But here's the thing about this song: it doesn't mention women once.  Not in a completely ignoring them way, just in a not singling them out to be objectified way.  Most brag songs aren't just about how much you drink or the cars you drive but how many women you've slept with.  There is absolutely none of that in this song at all.  And that makes it exceptional!  I know that is a low expectation but I promise you every single other brag song that made the top 100 last year had at least one line about fucking lots of women.  That, mixed with the positive message of this song, earns it a pretty good grade in my book.

Bad Song: Bottoms Up by Trey Songz and Nicki Minaj
Only part of this song is on this list, so if you're going to watch this video skip to 2:25.  

I wanna talk about Nicki Minaj for a moment.  She's a big deal these days, and it's awesome that there is a really talented female rapper hitting it big.  But her lyrics are often problematic.  They go beyond bragging into woman-on-woman hating:

If a bitch try to get cute I'll stomp her
throw a lotta money at her then y'all fuck her
fuck her, fuck her, then y'all fuck her
then I'mma go and get my Louisville Slugger

I'm not quite sure what is happening here, but I'm fairly certain that she's talking about beating the shit out of a woman.  To add a cherry to that crap sundae, she follows this with "Excuse me, I'm sorry, I'm really such a lady."  At the end of her verse she inexplicably applauds Anna Nicole Smith and then goes back to talking about drinking.
Here's the thing about Nicki Minaj: I want so badly to like her and some of her verses are good (check out her verse in the Kanye West song "Monster" for a good example) but she seems to have a major case of Special Snowflake Syndrome.  She had two other big hits this year, "Super Bass" and "Moment 4 Life", and in both of them she referenced "jealous hos".  And in the beginning of 2012 she released a song called "Stupid Ho".  Not exactly Girl Power-y.  Let's hope for better in the future.

Good Song:   Best Thing I Never Had by Beyonce
There are a lot of great breakup songs made by women, and Beyonce has made them into an art form.  This one is no exception.  I suppose this isn't technically a breakup song, since it's more about realizing that a guy is a total asshole before getting too involved.  This is one of those songs that you can dance around your bedroom to, drinking a beer after a bad heartbreak.  She's pretty empowered here--she realizes that she can do so much better and that she doesn't feel bad for this guy's hurt feelings after he hurt her.  It's a shame this one only made it to number 86 because I think it's pretty damn relateable.

Bad Song: 6 Foot 7 Foot by Lil Wayne
This song is just...gross.  Like I feel like I have to take a shower after I listen to it.  It's just a brag song but it has some of the most disgusting lines I've read in looking at all of these songs.  I'm just going to leave them here for you, without comment.  There's not much more to say.

Two bitches at the same time, synchronized swimmes,
got the girl open 'cause she open when I twist her,
never met the bitch but I fucked her like I missed her.
Life is a bitch, and Death is her sister.

Then, later...
Had my heart broken by this woman named Tammy,
but hoes gonna be hoes, so I couldn't blame Tammy.

Good Song: Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars
This song does not contain a sentiment that is new. In fact, the title is straight-up ripped off Billy Joel.  But it's refreshing to hear this these days as so many pop songs by male artists are either degrading or condescending towards women.  But here, Bruno Mars tells the girl he loves that she's great as is.  What a novel idea.

When I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change
'cause you're amazing just the way you are.
And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for awhile
'cause, girl, you're amazing just the way you are.

This song ISN'T perfect just the way it is--most of the things that he compliments are physical traits and not, say, her intelligence or her interests--but at least he's saying that he would never ask this girl to change and that he thinks she's perfect, right?  It's a breath of fresh air amongst all the "I don't fall in love, I just fuck" pop songs of recent history.

Too bad he had to just go ahead and blow up all that good will with a...

Bad Song: Grenade by Bruno Mars

It's really just such a shame.  But this song is terrible, and I'll tell you why.  I haven't mentioned the concept of the "Nice Guy" on here yet, so allow me to explain.  "Nice Guys" is a misnomer, because guys like this are actually jerkoffs.  They are the kind of guys who believe that if they do enough nice, sentimental, sweet things for a girl she will reach a point of saturation and be obligated to have sex with them.  And when she doesn't, she's a bitch who only dates assholes.  They see girls as giant sex vending machines and throw temper tantrums when they don't get their way.  And this song is their anthem.  

I'd catch a grenade for ya, throw my hand on a blade for ya,
jump in front of a train for ya, you know I'd do anything for ya,
I would go through all this pain, take a bullet straight through my brain,
yes I would die for you, baby, but you won't do the same.

First of all--and this is not an original observation--these are some pretty extreme lyrics and there are very few circumstances under which a guy would actually have to do any of these things for any constructive purpose.  Secondly, if you have the feeling that you like a person this much and they don't like you at all, it's probably time to just move on and not tell her that she's a "bad woman" or say that she's from Hell.  That doesn't really help matters.  But this song charted up at number 6 for the year, so maybe I'm alone in seeing this.
Good Song/Bad Song: Rolling In The Deep by Adele
So here's the thing about this song.  I want to be able to put it as a good song because it was the NUMBER ONE SONG OF THE WHOLE YEAR and it was by a woman singing powerful lyrics and doing it with a lot of talent.  Unfortunately, that would be hypocritical because this song is, in many ways, the female equivalent of Grenade.  It is about a woman after a breakup who is incredibly angry and honestly just wants a lot of revenge.  And she gets it by tearing this guy to shreds in this song.  I don't think I'm okay with that, even if it is a "Yeah, tell him!" kind of song that we've all felt at some point.  

Turn my sorrow into treasured gold
and pay it back in kind, you reap just what you sow.

So I conclude the best--and worst--songs from 2011 with a toss-up.  Which is fair.  Lyrics are a form of poetry and poetry is never black-and-white.  Maybe we'll see some more stark contrasts in 2010.

Some General Thoughts on 2011's Top 100
  • 44 of the top 100 songs were by female artists or collaborations between male and female artists.  Six of the top ten were either female artists or female/male collaborations.  
  • If you haven't figured this out yet, that really catchy Foster The People song, Pumped Up Kicks?  With the whistling and the kinda indie-rock feel?  Definitely about a kid bringing a gun to school.  We all on the same page with that?  Cool.
  • I found a Lady Gaga song I like!  It's called You And I and it is absolutely nothing like the rest of her work.  She has such an amazing voice and she actually uses it in this song.
  • Chris Brown is a disgusting human being, both musically and in reality, though I'm sure this isn't news.
  • There were a lot of electronic dance jams this year, and that wasn't something exclusive to male or female artists.  In both cases they used the opposite sex like props--Ke$ha (I hate typing that) talks about hitting on dudes hard while they drink and almost every male dance jam talks about women as if they are giant asses walking around the dance floor.  I kind of hope this trend ends.
  • As much as I want to like Black and Yellow by Wiz Khalifa I can't, there are some really terrible lines in there.  Could he rep Pittsburgh without talking about how women love him because he sleeps with their best friends?
  • I couldn't include this song in the list because I don't think it goes one way or another on the feminist thing, but everyone please go listen to Fuck You by Cee Lo Green.  It is an amazing song, I promise you won't regret it.
The 2010 list is coming soon!  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do The "Twilight" Films Pass The Bechdel Test?

Brace yourselves, everyone, I'm talkin' Twilight.

In the midst of my apparent finals psychosis I decided to, over the past two days, watch all four of the Twilight films (whilst studying, naturally).  If it makes you feel any better, I only watched them with the Rifftrax, which were amazing and surprisingly insightful at times.  Now, these films were straight-up awful.  I have not read the books, nor will I ever, and I know a lot of feminist writing has been done on them.  I'm not going to cover the books today, I just want to talk about the Golden Rule of feminist cinema: The Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test is really simple on first glance, but not so simple when examined in the context of actual films.  All it requires is that "1. It has to have two (named) women in it, 2. they talk to each other, 3. about something other than a man."  Sure, that sounds like a good rule, right?  I'd like to see some characters I could relate to onscreen!  But exactly how far does "talking about a man" extend?  For example, does Iron Man 2 pass the Bechdel test because Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff talk to each other about business?  Or does it not count because they talk about the business that is owned and run by Tony Stark?  It's a question of the subtlety of our culture and the patriarchy entwined in it.  I ran into this same problem looking at the Twilight films.  Let's break it down film-by-film.

Obviously, there are spoilers for all four films in here, and if you had any interest in seing them I would recommend that you don't but I would also recommend that you not read this post.

Now, there is a bit in the beginning here when the main character (Bella, ugh) and her mother talk about how Bella likes living in a new town.  To be fair, by the end of that conversation the mother has asked her daughter if there are any cute boys in school.  Then, at the end of the film, the mother and daughter have a conversation about Bella's EXTENSIVE INJURIES when she's in the hospital after being attacked by some vampires.  There are several examples of two female characters being onscreen simultaneously but for the most part they are talking about who is taking them to prom, or explaining Edward (the other main character, even more ugh) to new-in-town Bella.  I'm going to give this one a pretty solid thumbs-down on the Bechdel Test front because the majority of it--as has been pointed out on countless other web sites before--is just the two main characters staring wordlessly and acting-lessly at each other for two hours.  "Favorite" part of this film: when Edward says that he is dangerous to her and wants to leave Bella (true story) and she immediately flips shit and starts yelling at him that he can't do that and she'll die without him, etc. etc.  That's the message about relationships we want to send our teenage daughters for sure.  Moving on.

New Moon
I'm not gonna lie here, this was one of the most boring movies I've sat through in a very long time.  And there is no point in this film where Bella speaks to another female character without it being about a man, at all.  Because the entire film is pretty much summed up with Edward leaving her and her literally going crazy (SHE ACTUALLY HAS NIGHT TERRORS).  She doesn't talk to other female characters more than a couple times in this film because she is SO ALONE and SO SAD.  And then Jacob (the werewolf-slash-other-love-interest) comes along and oh my God is he boring.  Seriously.  Anyway, she talks to some of the members of his "pack" that are female but mostly just about Jacob and their being werewolves and shit.  It's the worst.  Seriously, do not watch this movie.  Bella tries to kill herself (she claims she just wants the danger but c'mon, let's call it what it is) like four times so she can SEE EDWARD AGAIN and then he thinks she's dead and goes to kill HIMSELF and then his sister (female character...opportunity for non-man conversation!) shows up and tells Bella all about Edward going to commit sparkly vampire suicide (opportunity lost!).  Then they go to Italy and there are a few members of the Vampire Dementors (they're like the vampire leaders I guess?) that are female but Bella, once again, only talks to them about her Twu Wuv with Edward while they try to kill him.  I seriously don't know how I wasted two hours of my life on this.  "Favorite" part?  When Jacob tries to kiss Bella and she punches him and her father congratulates Jacob on trying.  WHAT THE HELL, DAD?  But more on that in...

I'm pretty sure this is actually a movie about the love-hate relationship between Edward and Jacob with Bella kind of thrown in, but whatever.  Anyway, Bella is being hunted by this vampire who is mad because Bella had her boyfriend and his family kill HER vampire boyfriend in the first movie (sorry I forgot to mention that earlier, it was so boring).  So Jacob and Edward fight a bunch at the beginning and then team up to protect Bella (who is surely such a peach that she deserves it) against a horde of bloodthirsty vampires.  To the credit of this film, there are some incredibly mediocre fight scenes with some fairly badass female parts.  And then there's the part where Bella wants to bone Edward and he's all "Here's a sparkly engagement ring instead to distract you!" because PREMARITAL SEX IS BAD, KIDS.  Now here's the thing--I was sitting through this film thinking "this is the exact opposite of the Bechdel Test--there are almost never even two female characters onscreen at once, let alone talking."  But then, Bella's mom comes in to sort of save the day again.  There is a bit at the very beginning where Bella and Edward go to visit her mom in Florida.  She and her mother DO have a conversation while Edward hovers out of the sparkle-making sun staring at Bella protectively.  And it is about their relationship and Bella graduating high school, which is cool, but they don't go the whole conversation without talking about Edward, so I'm still fairly certain that doesn't count.  "Favorite" part of this movie would have to be perhaps one of the most openly WTF things I've ever seen earnestly done on film.  Jacob and Edward are outside Bella's father's house about to start fighting with each other when Bella's wonderful father comes outside and yells at them, "Hey guys, come on, my daughter's not worth it!"  I just don't even know.

Breaking Dawn Part 1
This is where it gets tricky.  And disgusting.  In this one, Bella and Edward get married (it should be noted that, during their wedding, Bella has constant I-just-sharted face) and then go on their honeymoon.  They go ahead and break the hymen (and the bed!) and then continue on to attempt to have the most sexless honeymoon ever because EDWARD GAVE HER BRUISES the first time they had sex.  Finally they are overcome with the pure eroticism of the game of chess they're playing and do it once again.  And then Bella discovers she's pregnant.

I want to pause here for a second because we need to have a quick anatomy lesson.  I did the math on this immediately and I call so. much. bullshit.  So, we all know how the menstrual cycle works, correct?  You start your period on Day 1 of your monthly cycle and then ovulate sometime between Day 14 and Day 17, typically.  Your cycle usually lasts 28 days, so that's between two weeks and eleven days before you start bleeding again.  Now, when Bella realizes she's late they have been on their honeymoon for ten days.  Typically, you don't worry about being late until at least five days after you expected to get your period (even the most regular woman can have her off months, and for women who are less regular you really shouldn't start worrying until it's been more than a week).  This would mean that Bella would have been five days away from getting her period the first time they had sex.  I am by no means saying it is impossible to become pregnant when you aren't ovulating, but it is highly unlikely.  Someone out there is goign to say that Edward has super-sperm that chewed its way through her cervix and journeyed up into her fallopian tube to GET TO THAT DAMN EGG.  No, just no, absolutely not. Not to mention, they really should have practiced safe sex if she didn't want to have a vampire spawn growing inside her.  But I digress.

So Bella gets pregnant, somehow, with a half-vampire-half-human demon baby that apparently grows like twelve times faster than a normal kid.  And then come the choice questions.  My boyfriend and I had quite a debate about this because Edward wants her to terminate the pregnancy but she insists that she wants the baby.  Boyfriend was quite certain I would be up in arms by this, but I shrugged it off and said, "Choice is about both choosing to have an abortion and choosing to keep a baby, the important thing is that the woman makes that choice."  But he had a good point in saying that Bella was putting her life in danger by keeping the vampire baby.  This is true, but I have to admire that Bela's character stood firm against everyone else and decided to keep the child.  Her character certainly didn't make any other decisions through the other three films.  Anyway, then it gets gross and Bella starts drinking blood because the baby craves it and then the baby gets too big too fast and shatters her spine, yadda yadda yadda, they start to perform surgery, Edward bites the baby out of Bella's uterus (dude, there were a bunch of scalpels like RIGHT THERE), baby comes out, Bella starts to die, Edward starts biting her all over her body to turn her into a vampire.  Movie ends.  Oh, and Jacob immediately decides that Bella and Edward's baby is his soul mate and "imprints" on her (when Boyfriend realized what was happening he was yelling obscenities at the TV for like three minutes, it was awesome).

Sigh.  No.  This movie is complicated because female characters DO have conversations but they are almost always about the baby, and that's where it gets complicated.  Does talking about the baby mean talking about Edward as he is the father of the child?  I'll allow that one to be left up to you.  Also, a lot of this film consists of Edward (a man) trying to get other male characters to convince Bella to get an abortion, which is very much not cool.  "Favorite" part of this movie?  I cackled hysterically when Edward bent down to bite the baby out of Bella's uterus, then stood back up and wiped his face on his sleeve.  Oh my God, it was the most ridiculous image I've ever seen.

In conclusion, no.  These movies do not pass the Bechdel test, not even a single one of them.  And the majority of the messages they send are horrifically negative ones about women, strength, power, and relationships.  At one point Edward takes the motor out of Bella's car so she can't go see Jacob.  That is the moment you know to get out, not accept an engagement ring.  I am highly concerned about what this series is doing to a generation of teenage girls who now expect this to be love.  And it makes me sad to realize that our blockbuster films aren't really doing any better at all when it comes to having fleshed-out, interesting, strong female characters.

I guess I could be mistaken, though.  I'll have to wait for Breaking Dawn 2: Vampire Fetus Boogaloo.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An Open Letter To The Guys Sitting In Front Of Me At The Avengers Last Night

I am going to put an anti-spoilers alert on this one: I promise that I will do everything in my power to avoid spoiling any part of this film so that if you haven't seen it yet you can still read this.

Dear douchebag dweebs sitting one row down and two seats over from me,
I know you noticed I'm a woman, and that one of the two people I was with at the midnight opening was a woman, because you had a conversation with us about an hour before the movie started.  That conversation also happened to be about how packed the theater was, so you had to notice how many other women were there, too.  And unless you read this POS article and believed it, you HAVE to know that there are girls who are fans of superhero movies and comics, right?

So can you cut us a little slack?  I saw just as many women as men in that theater last night but do you know how many women I saw on that big movies screen?  Three, and one of them was Pepper Potts so that really doesn't count.  Do you know how many men I saw?  A lot.  Now, I've seen a lot of movies--especially superhero movies--at midnight openings.  And I've seen all of the Marvel origin films leading up to this film.  Guess which Avengers got their own films?  Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk.  What did Black Widow get?  A little sidebar in Iron Man 2.

Now let's widen the net a little to all superhero movies.  When is the last time a good superhero film was built around a female superhero?  Can you remember?  I can't.  Now let's try another angle: when was the last time you saw a strong woman in one of the male-centered superhero movies?  Some claims could be made, surely...a case could be made for Peggy Carter in Captain America being a strong female character, but in the end she kind of ends up falling into damsel-in-distress category.  Same with Pepper Potts in Iron Man and even Jane Foster in Thor.  Mary Jane in the (now old news) trilogy of Spider-Man films is even worse.  We are left to hope that Anne Hathaway can bring something good to Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises this summer.

And let's talk about what they gave Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff to do in Iron Man 2 in that time that he character was introduced.  Did she kick some ass?  At times yes.  Did we see her in tight business outfits, leather catsuits and at one point in her underwear?  Naturally.  When she fought, did she get down and dirty or just kind of kick and punch while making some very sexy poses the whole time?  I think that one can be rhetorical.  That is one thing I will say for The Avengers (without saying too much)--at least they don't relegate her completely to sexy-fighting in skintight leather.  Now, what does it say about this genre that I have to be happy about THAT?

There are a lot of female fans of comic books and superheros, a really surprisingly large amount.  We don't see much to relate to on that screen.  We want to feel like we can kick ass, too, but that's not what the entertainment industry is telling us most of the time.  Sure, we can be the love interest or the token character without any superpowers, but we can't be the chick weilding the giant hammer or the woman in an awesome titanium suit.  We end up as pretty, pretty window dressing that's the backdrop to a bunch of explosions and manly fighting.

So could you please, please, PLEASE not make sexual innuendos and loudly guffaw at each other every time Scarlett Johansson is on screen?  Do you think you could give us the opportunity to enjoy our one measly female character without you obnoxious dudebros high-fiving about how much you want to bone her one row down?  I'm not gonna lie, there was some nice eye candy of both genders on that screen.  But you didn't hear me howling "yeah, baby!" every time one of the male leads was onscreen.  Us ladies, we don't get to have a lot of role models in superheros, and you get to have pretty much all of them.  A lot of us would like that to change, but it's certainly not guys like you that are leading the charge for powerful--and maybe even non-sexualized---female leads in these films.

So maybe just keep those thoughts to yourself until you can get home later tonight and bring them back up with a bottle of lotion and a few Kleenex, okay?  I certainly don't need to hear it.
Thank you.

By the way, everyone, The Avengers was amazing and please for the love of God go see it, you won't regret it.  It surpassed expectations and Joss Whedon did a truly amazing job, as he almost always does.  I have another post for you later today--I know, shocking after a month and a half of nothing!--and it's another entertainment post, so enjoy!