Women are always being put into categories. Virgin/whore. Jackie/Marilyn. And as Clover Hope writes for the Village Voice, pop music has its bad girls and good girls. And a woman in charge makes people nervous.
While the Scorned Woman archetype has always fueled pop, few have been successful (and believable) at selling aggressive sex as performance art. The few: Madonna, Janet, and the way more warped Lady Gaga, who, in 2009, was accused not just of being ballsy, but of secretly possessing a penis.
Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga played "audacious," "ballsy" and "emasculating" characters in pop music in 2009, while Taylor Swift was the "innocent schoolgirl." Hope calls Swift "straight from the school of Mad Men's Peggy Olson." (Does that make Lady Gaga a Joan?)
The question is, though, which "works" for a woman in the music biz: The femme fatale or the child-like empress? Rihanna had big hits when she started out all island-sunny, holding an umbrella. She may feel more at home in her new fierce, battle-armored persona, but her new album isn't doing so great. Meanwhile, Forbes ranked Taylor Swift 2009's 69th-most powerful celebrity, earning $18 million; and Taylor has sold over 24.3 million digital tracks.
Though she shuns pants, Lady Gaga is not overtly "bad," and would rather that we all just dance. Is that why she's sold over eight million albums and 35 million singles digitally worldwide?
There's a thin line between dangerous and domineering: Gaga straddles it, Rihanna crossed it, Mariah's just happy to be there, and Taylor has no use for it. (Yet.) A woman in control of her surroundings shouldn't be jarring, and yet she inevitably is: We're all still apprehensive, whether she's a villainous pop queen or a harmless-as-a-LOLcat country star (or a First Lady as feisty as her husband).
Well maybe we're not apprehensive… but what about the public at large? Seems like women with sexual energy are accused of trying too hard; women with brains are just not likeable, and women with both are annoying. Which means all we have left are girls — just one facet of the many things a female can be — and that means we all lose.
Bad Girls Gone Worse: Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and Lady Gaga [Village Voice]