I don’t think people give the Spice Girls enough credit.
Sure, they were a manufactured pop group from the late 90’s with relatively mediocre voices. But damn, they knew how to sell that Girl Power package. And it was a good package. I bought it when I was 10 and I’d buy it again now, seventeen years later. They were five women in crazy, amazing outfits singing simply composed pop songs with brilliant messages. Girl Power, as defined by the Spice Girls, encourages young women to be strong, happy, and creative individuals. They wanted to empower women of their own accord. They wanted girls to be feel validated and strong for their own sake, not in comparison to men or even compared to other women.
Keep your friends close, they said. If your boyfriend doesn’t get along with your friends, it’s probably a sign that he’s not the best choice for you. Your friends have been in your life longer than that guy you just started dating and it’s okay, nay, it’s important that you continue to nurture your friendships.
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, they said. If a guy is moving too fast, you can tell him what it is that you want out of the relationship, freely and without malice. You don’t have to berate him. You don’t have to make him feel like a jackass. Just put it out there and if he doesn’t listen, then you’re free to go your separate ways.
They even had a number of songs – hit songs – that had absolutely nothing to do with relationships. “Spice Up Your Life” was a completely nonsensical dance song, but it was FUN. “Who Do You Think You Are” is about being superstar but remembering to stay true to…well, who you are.
In other words, most if not all of their songs came from a female perspective which promoted friendship, thoughtfulness, and strength. Additionally, they did not feel the need to tear men down in order to promote their own values of self-worth. A noble cause in pop music if ever there was one.
I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but somewhere post-Spice and pre-Gaga, that viewpoint became twisted. These days, it is almost impossible to find a song by a female artist with a clear female perspective. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when this shift started, I believe you could see a glimmer of it in 2000. That’s when Britney Spears dropped “Oops, I Did It Again.” A song about how funny it was that she led on some poor, unsupposing chap. This was her “breakout” song or whatever. That bizarre rite-of-passage song in which female pop artists suddenly have to show the world that they’re “real” adults (e.g. Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” Miley Cyrus and whatever she’s doing now). Somehow, that song was supposed to mean that Britney was an adult. She was free. She does what she wants. In other words, leading a man on is a gateway to empowerment and establishing a girl in her journey towards becoming a woman. Later, it turns out that you can also gain empowerment from a break-up. Which leads us to…
Kelly Clarkson. I think the next big distortion of girl power came with with 2004’s “Since U Been Gone.” Again, this was supposed to be an anthem of empowerment. However, that empowerment, like Britney’s, comes after a failed romantic encounter with a man. Why couldn’t Kelly “get what she wants” before? Why is only now possible after this encounter with this man? Why didn’t she know what she wanted before on her own terms? All in all, it is a fairly positive song and sort of has a female perspective, but this is where things really start to get tricky. Girl power in pop music is now accepted as something that happens after a guy is really, really mean to you. This song would not exist without the character of the douchebag male, solidifying the idea that in pop music, you only become a strong woman after some man messes with you or after you mess with some man.
Girl power became completely unrecognizable in the 2010’s at the hands of several pop stars…particularly one Taylor Swift. “You Belong With Me”seems innocuous enough and even seems to have a girl power vibe to it. Taylor’s character clearly doesn’t want to compromise her style in order to attract a man. She seems comfortable with who she is…and yet she is pining away for someone who clearly is not into her WHILE tearing down his current girlfriend for her style and interests. I think a lot of people have been sucked into the idea of telling young women “well, if he doesn’t like you then he’s stupid/doesn’t deserve you because you are wonderful and smart and beautiful, blah blah blah.” It is completely and totally okay to tell young women (and men!) that if someone does not like you, all it means is that you are not a good fit. No relationship works until one does. You don’t need to tear anyone down to make yourself feel better. You also don’t need a guy to finally notice you to have validation. Once again, empowerment comes after some man has messed with you. Furthermore, Taylor only ever describes relationships in terms of the man and never in terms of what she wants. In “Love Story,” she sits around, seemingly abandoned and helpless, until the guy randomly shows up and wants to get married. In “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” once again she is singing about all the heartache that befell her thanks to some guy and how she’s so much stronger now. Same old song (Britney, Kelly, etc.), same disappointing concept.
I’m not trying to tear down pop’s princesses. I just don’t understand why the music industry machine insists on churning out songs with negative messages for women wrapped in a distorted image of “girl power.” I know relationships and heartbreak sell records and not every relationship is healthy, but why do so many songs about relationships have to be such a disaster? Furthermore, how is that suddenly a moment of triumph? That shouldn’t be normal for a person. If every relationship you have ever had has ended in a hot mess, well, there’s one common denominator in that pattern, isn’t there? Get some help! And we know that truly positive and healthy messages DO sell. They did before. Can’t we get there again?
Hi ci ya, hold tight!