In our sex-saturated society it’s easy to wonder where all the positive female role models in pop music have gone; tweens and young women are bombarded with images of barely-clothed women writhing around on the floor, or, oddly, humping foam fingers.
Sometimes, even the few female artists who donít have hyper-sexualized public imagesólike Sky Ferreiraóprove, in other ways, to be poor role models for young, impressionable females. Ferreira was arrested earlier this year for ecstasy possession, surely something that is not encouraged for those who wish to maintain a clean record.
Though some feminists might say it is unnecessary for there to be female role models at allóespecially since they seem to be put under a microscope and picked apart by the media more frequently than their male counterpartsóthey are important because they provide young women with hope in the face of a society that so often seems to discourage strong women. Put simply, established and influential women are inspiring.
Role models also offer women a sense of belonging. As a teenager, there was nothing better than listening to a female artistís lyrics and identifying with her, feeling like I wasnít alone in whatever I was experiencing in life at that moment.
Although the female pop starís public appearance often muddles the message of her music, especially if itís as controversial as Cyrusí or Ferreiraís, it is their messageóeven if itís simply to ìbe who you want to be and have fun while youíre doing itîóthat is most influential on developing women, and not their image.
For example, I grew up in the age of the boy band, the mid-90s invasion of Brit-pop, and, most importantly, the Spice Girls. Starting from the age of five or six the Spice Girls were pretty much the only music I listened to, and I believed them to be goddesses.
In retrospect, itís obvious how sexualized the Spice Girlsí image was: Ginger Spice regularly stepped out in skin-tight ensembles with her cleavage pushed up near her ears, and Baby Spice was undoubtedly the result of some sort of perverted fetish.
Nevertheless, it was the Spice Girlsí message that was always clear to me: girl power. It was their mantra, and it became mineóand has remained so to this day.
So, when I see a female artist asserting her opinion in an interview, or subverting the culturally acceptable ënormí in some non-destructive way, I tend to gravitate toward her.
Although many people automatically assume that female pop artists are entirely manufactured and controlled by some male Oz-type character behind-the-scenes, this assumption is a bit too simplistic. Whoís to say she doesnít have the power to choose what she wears, or what she does on stage? Havenít things changed a bit since the ë60s, when men engineered female pop? The reality is that with more and more female pop artists participating in the writing and production of their own songs, thereís no doubt that some of their opinions feature in their music.
There are, however, some female artists whose messages are not obscured by their images, and are therefore, easier for feminists, and forward-thinking men and women who may not identify as feminists, to get behind.
Lorde (aka Ella Yelich-O’Connor), the 17-year-old New Zealand indie-pop sensation is undeniably one of those artists: she always appears fully clothed on stage and purveys a female-positive message. But Lorde is still young, and it’s difficult to predict how her personal style and sound will evolve over the next few years.
Lily Allen also maintains an unsexualized image, but her recent video for “Hard Out Here” features images of the same sexist female objectification that its lyrics, which include a re-appropriation of the word “bitch,” denounce.
No matter what, contemporary female pop artists are anything but boring, and the conversation they inspire about feminism is perhaps the most important and influential thing about them. As long as feminist discourse continues in a constructive way, it can only be a good thing. Hopefully weíll soon stop looking only skin deep and shift our focus to what these women are in the spotlight for: their music.