Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

How can you tell a good feminist pop star?

by Imogen , November 20, 20124 Comments

 

Photo credit: Osei (Ozzy)

After I wrote my first-ever Killings piece – in which I argued that the booty-shakin’ queen of pop wasn’t very feminist in her video for ‘Run the World (Girls)’ even though she kinda tried to be – I spent the following months terrified that Beyoncé would actually read the post and never want to be friends with me when I become an Academy award-winning, Hollywood-screenwriting billionaire.

Shattered dreams aside, I still hold to what I wrote. But the question remained for me: can I really be a feminist and love pop music? Or to be more succinct – can I remain both a feminist and a pop music fan? Can I still obsess over people whose lyrics I sometimes disagree with? Can I support women who seem to promote the objectification of other women? Is this even something I should be casting judgement upon? Let me elaborate by describing the examples that caused me the greatest mental anguish.

I like Taylor Swift. There: I said it – publically. When she’s on the cover, I buy the magazine. When I see Taylor Nation (her regular e-newsletter) in my inbox, I get excited about receiving discounts on blankets bearing her face, dressing gowns sporting her signature, and these things – whatever they are. But the thing is, T-Swizzle (yes, I can call her that, because T-Pain did, and he’s cooler than I am) sings so much about being a princess, being rescued, and being happy once she finds a man that even I’m like, ‘hey sister, pass me the sick bucket before I spew glitter and rainbows over all my friends who don’t even think it’s ironically cool for me to be into you’. Because even though Tay Tay’s been writing her own lyrics and guitar parts since a young age, and even though she dresses somewhat counter-culturally for the pop-music world (she rarely shows cleavage and never has a fake tan) and even though many interviews and documentaries show her to be spirited and feisty, suggesting that her loud and proud determination has facilitated her rise to fame, I still can’t imagine letting my daughter (should I have one, someday) listen to her songs without bleeping out the princessry and sparkle-arkle as if they were expletives.

I’ve already commented on why I love Beyoncé, but admiring an artist like Nicki Minaj opens a whole new can of scantily-clad worms. Not that scantily clad is necessarily a problem, but I still can’t get past Minaj squeezing bright pink viscous fluid across her bulging breasts in her ‘Superbass’ video. No matter which way I cut it, the action seemed objectifying and gratuitously hypersexualised. Nevertheless, no-one can argue that the girl’s not talented. Only Amy Heidemann of Karmin can rap better than Nicki can, and only in this cover. Plus, Minaj has multi-coloured hair and wears Dr. Martens, just like me (and I refer to the boots, not the weaves).

So the questions that arise when gazing at the stars in my personal hall of female-pop fame include: Am I erring on ‘slut-shaming’ when I say I don’t like Minaj’s visual tactics? Am I taking lyrics too literally when I criticise Beyoncé’s rhetoric of girl power, when I should just be going with the vibe of the thing? Should I just be thankful that there are successful, young women out there, no matter what they sing? Should I admire them based on talent alone, or is it okay to get sucked into the mass-visual appeal of gals like Lady Gaga? Am I committing a crime for wanting a perm to look more like Taylor Swift? (No seriously, am I? I need an objective opinion).

Deep down, I know that if I love a celebrity enough, I’ll find a compelling way to argue in favour of their feminism. Because feminism is about freedom, not rules, and trying to fit people I don’t even know into a paradigm I can’t even clearly articulate all the time seems a fruitless, self-righteous exercise for the most part. But the above questions don’t have easy answers, despite the apparently superficial nature of their origins, because they are about how I personally (or we, as a society) form our values, and highlight a potential disconnect between the values we may claim to espouse and the values we actually support and pay money to see or hear.

Julia Tulloh is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

 




4 thoughts on “How can you tell a good feminist pop star?

  1. Didn’t like where this started, but u made the full circle.

    Perhaps this suggests that we live in a post-feminist society. Because you’re right, female expression can take many forms and the only rule is that of self determination. So if one chooses to be an object of sexual desire – that too is a valid expression.

    In a strange irony, the most vocal people who slut shame are the people who purport to be feminists themselves.

    Nice one Jules.

  2. Dang, that last paragraph is spot on. I’ve been a feminist and a pop-star apologist for a long time now. I adore Gaga, Minaj, and even Brit-Brit. I’ve argued for Lana Del Rey’s feminist validity (and stand by it).

    You’re right when you say that we all find a way to justify our love – I’m guilty of that – but I think that’s a positive, given the anxiety this type of conversation provokes. Feminism IS about freedom – it’s easy to forget that. Thanks for the read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

9781863956932

Carody Culver

Charmless lives: Helen Garner’s This House of Grief and Erik Jensen’s Acute Misfortune

How do narrative non-fiction writers who dare to dissect the darker aspects of humanity keep their readers engaged, rather than simply horrified? Read more »

KrissyKneen_credit_DarrenJames

Carody Culver

‘As if the top of my head were taken off’: The digital possibilities of poetry

‘When Emily Dickinson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” I can’t help but think she would be stupefied by the possibilities of digital literature.’ Read more »

tumblr_n9hftkebsr1tfwx0xo1_1280

S.A. Jones

‘Fool the Axis, Use Prophylaxis’: World War II’s anti-venereal disease posters

Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II gives a fascinating insight into one of the ways the United States ‘managed’ servicemen’s sexuality: through poster art. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Clara and Doctor

Julia Tulloh

Doctor Who’s gender dynamics: a mid-season evaluation

In some ways, Peter Capaldi was a problematic choice for the newest regeneration of Doctor Who. How on earth were the producers going to pull off a successful friendship between a middle-aged man and a twenty-something woman, without it seeming at best patriarchal and at worst creepy? Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

Whiplash-Damien-Chazelle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Whiplash: bloody fingers and broken drumsticks

Whiplash is one of the year’s most exciting and electrically charged films. Admittedly, that’s a large claim to make for a little movie about a New York music student, his abrasive teacher, and a whole lot of banging and yelling in band practice. Read more »

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck-Rosamund-Pike-Entertainment-Weekly-cover

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Marital Crises: Gone Girl and Force Majeure

You can share your body, your bed, your bank account, and even your toothbrush, with another human being. But each mind contains a private world that can never be fully understood or examined, let alone shared with another. Read more »

theskeletontwins1

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Suicide, Laughter and The Skeleton Twins

Even the best parents can inflict some form of lifelong damage upon their children. But when parents are outright mad, bad or dangerous – or in the case of the funny, bittersweet comic drama The Skeleton Twins, so depressed they commit suicide – the damage can feel impossible to bear, even decades down the track. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

6289302147_38e8035680_z

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Jacqui Lambie and the limits of Remix Culture

The combination of Google Image Search, Photoshop, and Facebook is a powerful one, providing web users with the ability to seek out swaths of copyrighted visual material, rip and manipulate these pictures so the original source is obscured, then share the freshly “remixed” images to a broad audience with no real fear of legal action. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

9780062211194

Danielle Binks

Nepotism, bullying and stalking: When online reviews go bad

The tangible power author Kathleen Hale wields, evinced by her numerous connections and Guardian platform, enabled her continued harassment of her book’s 1-star reviewer. The vocal support and defence put forward by Hale’s influential friends and family appears to be a case of privilege feeding narcissism. Read more »

nonaandme

Danielle Binks

Race, growing up and Nona and Me

Nona & Me beautifully explores female friendship amid cultural and political upheaval. It’s a tender portrayal of two girls who have so much in common, but are worlds apart. Read more »

7183815590_de3f64bca6_z

Danielle Binks

‘YA-bashing’: sexism meets elitism

Another month, another critic who doesn’t read YA literature but still feels superior enough to dictate to those who do. And with this latest instalment of ‘YA bashing’ comes critique of the critics – as many start pointing to a patriarchal undercurrent that runs beneath such articles that claim young adult and children’s fiction is unworthy. Read more »

PEREZ_3©yann_morrison-546x364

Chad Parkhill

The not-so-universal language of mankind

Music is, demonstrably, not the universal language of mankind: if that were the case I could make myself understood in Paris’s cafés and boulangeries by carrying around an iPod full of songs titled ‘A Coffee, Please’ or ‘A Baguette With Duck Rillettes To Go, Thanks’. Read more »

homepage_large.9419e472

Chad Parkhill

The music of exhaustion

The War on Drugs new album Lost in the Dream is the startling sound of exhaustion – both a personal exhaustion and a broader cultural exhaustion – transformed into art that is thrillingly and paradoxically vital. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »

images

Stephanie Van Schilt

How To Talk Australians and the rise of web series

How To Talk Australians has deservedly garnered widespread praise both locally and internationally. With close to two million views worldwide, it could be deemed our first truly successful locally-produced web series. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »