Britney Spears is Leading the Charge in Feminist Pop Music
After a summer filled with music that flirted with misogyny, female musicians are striking back, and doing so on their own terms.
Leading the charge is none other than Ms. Britney Spears, whose recently released track, "Work Bitch," says it all: you want to be on top of the world, and to do so, you’ve got to put in blood, sweat, and tears.
Yes, her lyrics are campy and overtly materialistic. But Britney is in full control of her career, her life, and her success, and she wants the world to know. Her strength isn’t built on the desire to prove a former flame wrong, nor is she pining for the attention of a man. She’s in the game for herself, driven by the desire to be the best and have it all.
Britney isn’t the only female pop musician emphasizing independence and success. In her most recent smash single, "Applause," Lady Gaga is no longer singing about bad romances. Instead, she "lives for the applause," recognition from her Little Monsters, and being the best at what she does.
Noticeably absent from "Applause"? Any mention of a man. That’s because Lady Gaga is her own woman. Her success comes on her own terms. Her career, her fans, and her art are what matter to her.
What’s impressive and also refreshing about Britney and Gaga’s change of pace is that they’ve rewritten what it means to be a successful female in the mainstream music industry. Though they may come across as shallow and materialistic, the two pop stars champion hard work for the benefit of one’s personal gain in the "workplace." (Granted, the stars' workplace is quite different from most women’s.) If anyone is qualified to talk about working her way to the top, it’s Britney. She just signed a $30 million deal for a two-year residency in Las Vegas. Not too shabby for a former Mouseketeer.
Even when she’s singing about a man, the modern female pop star is championing her own cause, rather than her struggle with overcoming the loss of a man. Case in point: Katy Perry’s "Roar," an emphatic female empowerment anthem if ever I’ve heard one. It’s fitting that Perry's MTV Video Music Awards performance was boxing themed. No one can keep her down.
Britney, Gaga, and Perry have all reinvented themselves through these songs. If you look at the three artists' previous major hits — say, "Toxic," "Bad Romance," and "Teenage Dream," to name just one per singer — you notice that the lyrics focus on the affection or sexual attention of a man. The songs fall in line with patriarchal expectations for success; at best, a woman is longing for a romantic partner, and at worst, she's reduced to a sexual object. Not so, anymore. Now, the man doesn’t matter, if he’s even there. Fame, success, and recognition are what the ladies of pop thrive on these days. The men? Well, let’s just say they could learn a thing or two from these women.
Aside from Miley Cyrus' recent work, the most buzz-worthy music being produced by female pop stars is vastly different (read: more ambitious) than the songs put out by the boys. While Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are singing about chasing girls and having a good time at the club, having a man is so 2012 for the ladies (cough, cough, Taylor Swift).
Instead, it’s all about world domination. And while Britney may seem to be an unlikely source for empowering messages — after all, this is the woman who kissed Madonna on stage at the Video Music Awards — her latest song serves as a new, empowering voice of feminism. I bet you never thought you would hear that, did you?