By: Yalda Mahmoudi, Canada
Young girls all over the world idealize the women in music. They see these individuals as the ones that have it all; money, fame, looks, power and freedom. Free in every aspect of life, in what they say, what they do and what they sing. Young girls, whose identities aren’t completely shaped and formed, yet, see these “ideals” and they make a conscious effort to look like them.
There are so many bad examples out there for them, that one can only hope that would get attracted to the few good ones. The one that are courageous, ones that don’t advertise, “more skin more popular”, they are trying to pass on an important message through their music to open the eyes and the minds of the young ones that listen and idealize their music.
The popularity of rap music in the 1980’s saw the rise of politically conscious music by female rappers like MC Lyte, who wrote about the effect of crack addiction on women in the inner city, and Salt ‘N’ Pepa, who rapped about the strength of women in “It’s a She Thing”.
Queen Latifeh also demanded respect for women like Aretha had done 20 years earlier. Latifah’s songs, “Ladies First” and “U.N.I.T.Y” challenged the sexist songs of Dr. Dre and other “gangsta rappers” (Trying to make a sister feel low / You know all of that got to go). She also defied the narrow standards of beauty by not being a size 0 and having the women in her videos wear African kente cloth, not bikinis.
In the 1990’s, black feminism in music was commercialized as rappers, like Lil’Kim and Foxy Brown claim that using men for their personal gain and wearing designer clothes, when they were wearing clothes, were feminist actions. The solo album, debut by rapper/singer Lauryn Hill, was a return to the real political activism of music. In “That Thing”, Hill encourages women “Don’t be a hard rock, when you really are a gem” and calls on men to be more responsible “stop acting like boys and be men”.
Today, rapper and producer Missy Elliot has started a foundation to help battered women, and Eve’s song “Love is Blind” deals with the physical abuse her friend endured at the hands of a boyfriend. Eve said is an interview that she considers her songs to be feminist, because her songs are about women being independent, like she is.
Singers Jill Scott and India Arie are comfortable with them and defy the MTV/BET standards of beauty. As Arie sang in her hit songs, “Video”, “I’m not the average girl from your video/ and I ain’t built like a supermodel/ but I learned to love myself unconsciously/ because I am a queen”.
Before the tragic death of member Lisa Lopes, TLC also had a song “Un-pretty”, about the pressure women go through to look perfect. Breakout star Alicia Keys doesn’t have songs as political as other female P&B singers, but does emphasize her talent over her looks. Even manufactured girl groups like Destiny’s Child proudly proclaim to be feminists and have hit songs like “Independent Women”.
Moving a step away from the black singers to the whites, it is ready hard to miss the influence that Shania Twain had with “That Don’t Impress Me Much” or “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” She was the perfect example of a girl, who is from a working class family, who makes it to the top due to the love of music she had. Her image is empowering for young girls, as she does not get her image and fame by flaunting herself to the public. She is embodiment of a strong woman, who does not get “impressed” easily, who goes after what she believes and tries to achieve all her goals.
Another artist that I think has changed her personal since she started in the music industry in Christina Aguilera. Even though I don’t agree with the image that she represents, I do believe that the lyrics to her songs are mostly very powerful, especially to the ears of the young ones. “Beautiful”, “Loving me for me”, “I am OK” and Fighter” are all among songs that encourage the act of being independent. Believing in who you are, what you are capable of, and mostly being proud of what and who you really are. In one of her music videos, she has the overweight girl dancing with her, imitating her every more, but she is presented in a very positive light. That one does not have to look or attempt to look like Christina or like her.
I think that, female musicians are becoming very much aware of the impact that they all have on the minds and behaviors of the younger girls, and they are trying to set up as much of a positive example as possible. There are still many contradictions, as in the case of Christina Aguilera, her lyrics are powerful but her self-presentation, I think, is very poor. Most of her music videos are in the category of soft porn and I don’t agree with that.
But, on the other hand, there are many others perform such as KD Lang, Tracy Chapman and Lauryn Hill, whom I think, set a much stronger example. They don’t demean men to make women better, or make excuses as to why women are being treated the way that they are or have been. They got the message across that being different is not a bad thing, being overweight does not mean that one is ugly.
As this message gets repeated through the media, more girls will realize that there is nothing more beautiful than being oneself.