COLUMN: Move Over, 1D: The Rise Of The Girl Band
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 23:09
Any day now, One Direction will discover that their original producer, X Factor’s Simon Cowell, has all but actively chucked them under the bus. Cowell was quoted by MTV saying that the next-big-thing in pop music is “girl bands,” since the boy band craze is wearing off. “Everything comes around in a circle,” he said, in reference to a recent resurgence of the decades-old Spice Girls model. Neo “girl bands” are younger, and producers have made sure to tone down the sass-o-meter, keeping everything squeaky clean. Groups like Little Mix and Fifth Harmony (both of whom have been firing off No. 1 hits across the pond for the last year) got their starts from X Factor, which is basically like vacuum-sealing your pop music to hold in all of that made-for-TV goodness. Mm, mm, mm ... unoffensive!
But I talked about the effects of age-regression for pop music last year when One Direction took the boy band mantle from the Backstreet Boys before them. I’d like to go in a different direction (pun vengefully intended). What I’d rather talk about today is, for lack of a better phrase, “girl power.”
Alright, I probably could have found a better phrase. I just wanted to say that.
Robin Thicke raised an interesting issue (that he knows nothing about) over the summer with his controversial “Blurred Lines” music video: how exactly does feminism in music work? The hyper-sexualization of hip-hop, rap, and adult pop have unfortunately resulted in a great deal of material that objectifies women or is, in some way, demeaning to the female sex. I understand that sex sells, but it’s pretty obvious the type of sex that’s being sold, and it’s not always fair. Some artists (rappers in particular) are coming out against the sexist trends they see running rampant in their genres, but reform is a slow process. The supposedly “feminist” Thicke video I mentioned seemed like a confused attempt at best: if your idea of combatting objectification in pop music is to have a harem of size-two models dance around you topless, well ... don’t hold your breath for that Pulitzer, dude.
As we all know so well, treating women like people instead of sex-objects can be a real stumper. Heck, even when Akon was trying his best to describe his feelings “without being disrespectful,” the title of the song was still “Sexy Bitch.” This respect stuff is so hard! Won’t somebody please consider Akon’s minimal capacity for decency? Have a heart, femi-nazis!
But seriously, going back to Cowell’s “return of girl bands” prediction, what sort of tidings does this spell out for an already uneven playing field? Are we better off as a culture if our female performers are young, tame, and un-provocative? Sure, it’s probably a better example for pre-teen girls than the art coming from musicians or producers taking the opposite approach: take Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” video, an uncomfortable three and a half minutes of the former-Disney star experimenting with how unsubtle you can make a phallic symbol before the world implodes. While it’s well within Cyrus’s rights as an artist to make that video, I can’t help but think there’s a better path to female empowerment in pop.
Let’s take a look back at the ’90s, the authoritative “girl band” decade. Just think about Destiny’s Child or TLC. Weren’t there sexual elements to their songs and stage presences? Didn’t they appeal to a wider, more adult audience with hits like “Survivor,” “Say My Name,” “No Scrubs,” and all that? Beyonce Knowles deserves some credit for the way she has handled not one but two separate instances in the past year wherein creepy dudes in her audiences have tried to grab her inappropriately in the middle of her act. When some weird shirtless man in Brazil tried to pull her off-stage last week, she pulled a sick evasive maneuver, told him to chill out, and even forgave him after the show. I’m not always her biggest fan, but if anybody in the industry represents “girl power,” it’s her.
Obviously, this issue is more complicated than can be adequately summarized in a 750-word column. If you take anything away from this column, though, let it be that gender equality in pop music is a work in progress. Where the industry will go from here, well, let’s just hope Robin Thicke has nothing to do with it.
Oh, and never, ever, trust Simon Cowell.