Dumb And Frothy Pop Will Always Win

Rock music is, for the most part, the domain of men; pop music is female-dominated. What does today's pop music say about women right now?


The number one song in the USA right now is Katy Perry's "California Gurls," in which she breathes:

One you party with us
You'll be falling in love
California gurls, we're unforgettable
Daisy dukes, bikinis on top
Sunkissed skin so hot we'll melt your popsicle

Tale as old as time: Love me; I'm pretty! Her cupcake boobs and suggestive frosting-licking are campy fun, though disappointing on some level, since the only message seems to be: I am here for your consumption. Eat me.

But you know, if it's catchy, and you can sing along on the radio, where's the harm in it? Not every pop song is a classic, just as not every rock song is a classic. "Like A Virgin" caused a stir in 1984; now it's been covered on Glee.

As Feministe's Sarah writes in "How How I Learned To Stop Caring And Admit I Love Pop,"

I am learning gradually to stop talking about songs as guilty pleasures or to feel silly buying certain music that is not "serious."

Sarah is 30 years old "and a committed feminist" who believes that a pop idol is just as powerful and important as a rock star.

On the other hand, Neil Kulkarni's piece on The Quietus is an extensive exploration of how disappointed he is in pop music. Especially what's being made by women:

And girl-pop itself, infuriatingly makes me feel like lecturing it, teach it something unmannered, get that strap back on its shoulder, learn it hard that its mistaking 'attitude' for style and assemblage for creativity…
Look at what pop's women are wearing. Even in Gaga's orbit of influence, it's so fucking dull out there…

I hear no shattered women on the radio right now, no one swallowing men like air or devouring worlds or commanding the cosmos or even telling the truth. Only empty-headed little girls skweeming and squeaking about what rockstars they are.


Kulkarni wonders why "drippy bitches" like Ke$ha "think they deserve to be famous."

Kulkarni asks: "What real female figureheads are there for girls to idolize, aspire to, learn from in music right now?" And moans: "In a pop world in which female 'presence' is in glut/spreadthin, it's startling… how so many of the supposed 'divas' in modern pop have nowt to offer young minds bar money-hunger, man-dependence and just-dumped aggravation."


Kulkarni looks to an artist called Envy, proclaiming: "This is the pop our daughters deserve, not just feisty but furious, not just witty but mind-blowing, not just realistic or dreamy but real and fantastical."

But Feministe's Sarah looks to Robyn:

Because she makes me happy and makes me dance and girl can SING. And those are accomplishments as worthy as any indie rock record.

What do these two have in common? Lyrics with some substance. From Envy:

on stageshows im sure to still stand my station.
then stand waitin unstable like a psychiatric patient.
and if ur asses aint leavin your seats to clap it
then i'll pay someone to take em and thank you for your standin ovvation.
i've got bad manners im brazen man, breakin the buildin blocks of the game
with enough brain to break a man
so bring the biggest the baddest the bashiest
i'll catch em bang to rights you aint gonna bang tonight im blazin and...
I take it tit for tat i'll take your tacit consent
to turn the taliban to take over your town attack your men


From Robyn:

Fresh out the box the latest model
Generator running on full throttle
can I get a fuel up? hit the bottle
I got a lotta automatic booty applications
Got a C.P.U maxed out sensation
Looking for a joy to man my station
I've got some news for you
Fembot have feelings too


These two may not be wordsmiths on Maya Angelou's level, but at least they seem to have something to say. But neither have anything close to a number one single at the moment. Guess the American public likes it better when a woman keeps things light, intellectually — but can ejaculate whipped cream from her nipples.


Fembots Have Feelings Too [Feministe]
Givin' It To The Homegirl: The Trouble With Kelis [The Quietus]



This debate just makes me think of the comment by Ian MacKaye I read over the weekend. In a book about the American punk/indie movement of the 1980s, MacKaye is quoted as taking issue with the complaint that American hardcore punk was male-dominated. According to him, this is simply untrue. This is all well and good except, that it istrue.

In fact, outside of pop, most music movements are dominated by men. Or, to put it more succinctly, most music movements of substance are dominated by men — probably because male angst and anger are romanticized while female angst and anger is seen as a threat and unattractive. Hence, the stereotype of the angry Lillith Fair songstress in a long prairie skirt, hair unbrushed, singing a song about how a man wronged her.

The only female-led movement that I can think of that effectively straddled the line between frivolity and substance in a meaningful way was riot grrrl and even there, I would argue, there were problems. Otherwise, women who manage to do so are generally considered aberrations (Janis, Courtney, Joan, Liz, etc.).