Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

How can you tell a good feminist pop star?

by Julia Tulloh , 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.

 




  • Uhila

    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.

  • http://twitter.com/tara_skye Tara Cartland

    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!

  • Pingback: My Sister and Female Pop Stars | Opinion | Lip Magazine()

  • Pingback: End of year good tymz « julia tulloh()

22454066

Jacinta Halloran

Medicine as Art: An interview with Terrence Holt

Internal Medicine turns on its head the commonly-held wisdom of power and control in the doctor-patient relationship. Holt’s doctor-narrator is conflicted and questioning, often exhausted and confused. His writing aims for something less slick than the sanitised television offerings of medical melodramas, where ‘what entertains usually falsifies.’ Read more »

2303400407_d25f8d8b8a_o

James Tierney

What Australian Literary Conversation?

I am concerned about the absence of a performative aspect of criticism in the public domain, which doesn’t necessarily assume specialised knowledge or recognised allegiances, but is prepared to discuss what criticism is. Read more »

9781847086273

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks

Is your to-read pile looking particularly uninspiring at the moment? Or maybe you’ve just finished a novel and aren’t quite sure what to read next. Never fear! The staff from Readings bookshop have your back. Here they share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »