Selena Gomez released her new last week for her song "Slow Down." While it's doubtful the video will stir up anywhere close to the amount of controversy her video for "Come & Get It" did (there's no real cultural appropriation here), it's just the latest addition to the work of young female pop stars attempting to "edge" up their image by going to extremes: Either masculinizing themselves or upping the femininity factor.
Gomez told MTV that "Slow Down" is "a little bit harder" than her last video, and has "darker themes," prompting MTV to describe her latest album Stars Dance as one that "celebrates the singer's growing maturity as an artist." Gomez says:
It's not something just wanting to make a statement. It's just kind of acknowledging the fact that I'm turning 21 and that I am becoming a woman. And, it's beautiful for me to kind of apply that to my music.
There's is almost nothing that is "darker" about "Slow Down," except perhaps that it is literally darker; the lighting is terrible. Gomez is in Paris, taking a town car to a nightclub. She wears a lot of black. She stomps along wet, rained on streets. She bares her midriff and rocks some Britney-lite dance moves. There are men crowding around her. It's pretty boring.
Perhaps it's her prenaturally young face, but it's hard to feel as though Gomez has grown up much. That's because of who her company is in the pop music scene right now: as Jon Caramanica notes in the New York Times, Gomez hasn't pushed the envelope, so to speak, as much as someone like Miley Cyrus. Gomez is trying to change her image and sexualize herself in a very traditional way, ala Britney Spears, whereas Cyrus, with her culture appropriation of black culture, is one step ahead of her in terms of figuring out a creative and new way to "edge up" her image.
We've written extensively about Cyrus's recent revamp, which has been considered skeptically across the media because of her attempt to change her image without truly recognizing or respecting where all her inspiration comes from. That's apparently a critique her peers have as well; just ask Lil Debbie, a white female rapper who used to be part of Kreayshawn's White Girl Mob. Lil Debbie has a lot of issues with Cyrus, which is interesting, given that in her video, she's doing exactly the same thing as Miley: surrounding herself with dancing black women whose most important and notable character traits appear to be their literal assets.
In an interview with Frank151, Lil Debbie hates hard on Cyrus's new look, essentially claiming that Cyrus and Gwen Stefani are trying to copy her but that she's the real deal:
Miley loves a little Lil Debbie in her life. I was a little upset at first. It was a domino effect. The director who did “Ratchets” hit me up and said, “You know Miley Cyrus and Gwen Stefani pulled your video to show me for inspiration. They said they wanted to do their next music video ‘ghetto.’” He didn’t want to work with them because you can’t contrive ghetto. It is what it is.
After that, the person who helped style “Ratchets,” he was sending his boss, who styled Miley Cyrus’s music videos, pictures of everything I was wearing in the music video. I feel like people can easily look on my Instagram or look at my videos and look at things I’ve done in the past, and they rip off what I look like, but nobody wants to give me credit.
I make fun of Miley Cyrus all the time. I’m like, I can’t wait to see her ‘cause I need my check. But at the end of the day, I can’t do anything about it. But people can tell when you are something you’re not. People can tell when it doesn’t come natural. This society, and the population were in right now, especially in this music industry, people know and can tell what’s contrived. And that’s why I don’t really care about the Miley Cyruses and Ke$has and the Chanel West Coasts, because it’s all really contrived and you can tell.
Watching the video for "Ratchets", which was released in early April, it's hard to feel like Lil Debbie has much of a leg to stand on. She clearly thinks she is more "legit" than Cyrus and considers herself closer to black/hip hop/rap culture, or even such an integral part of it that it's acceptable for her to stand around in her video, surrounding by large-assed black women shaking it and sing "I got bitches, you got bitches, tell them bitches come over." This is the culture she identifies with, and Lil Debbie doesn't believe that Cyrus could feel the same. That's funny, given that Lil Debbie and Cyrus have both placed themselves in the same power position: They've taken a role traditionally reserved for black rappers in big booty videos and just plugged themselves in.
It's the growing popularity of female pop stars edging up their looks that is perhaps why a Disney star like Selena Gomez's current "makeover" falls so far flat: it's just an outdated version of what cool female power in pop music looks like right now. Once upon a time, Britney Spears's abs were the most sexy, intoxicating thing about her; now, they're covered by pretty but demure dress as she sings a song written for the Smurfs 2 movie. Even Madonna – the woman all women in this article have modeled themselves after in some way, whether they acknowledge it or not – has based her recent iterations more heavily on rap and hip hop culture; just today, she posted an Instagram photo of herself with the caption "Brushing my Grilzz Before I Booty Pop. A Woman's work is never Done!" (Two weeks ago she posted a close-up shot of her mouth, with the grill, with the caption "Life is Precious! Never Forget!") It won't take long for Gomez to realize that it's going to take more than Spring Breakers and a video shot in Paris to register as edgy as Miley Cyrus. Whether or not she'll be able to keep up with the trend remains to be seen.