My Anaconda DO

Fuse, MTV, VH1…they all used to be the places to go for your music video fix. But just because they’ve died down doesn’t mean music video culture has as well- in fact, music videos are more popular than ever, thanks to YouTube. Especially when it comes to pop artists- particularly female pop artists- we’ve seen a niche brand of music videos. Stylized choreography, dramatic vignettes, and flashy outfits. And more often than not, our diva herself wearing hardly anything or something skintight, completely and utterly sexualized. Recently, our pop stars have been fighting back against this very paradigm.

I hadn’t even thought about Miley Cyrus since Hannah Montana’s primitive seasons on Disney Channel. But there was absolutely no avoiding her my first month at college- that’s when the music video for Wrecking Ball was released. Fully immersed in my alternative/indie persona, I’d sworn off pop music. How edgy. But I was also a budding music journalist, so I decided to give the video a watch. I giggled with my friends as she nudely swung past, bright red lipstick the only color in the otherwise stark scene. But introspectively, I couldn’t help but consider what this meant for me.

A song about confusion, submission, and heartbreak, “Wrecking Ball” quickly made its way up the charts, carrying the controversial video along with it. It starts off seemingly innocent- a single tear tracks its way down her pallid face. Then we see her licking hammers. And finally, she’s nude, riding past our eyes atop a wrecking ball. “What the heck, Miley?!” the world cried in disbelief.

Not only is her nakedness a metaphor- for being completely naked in front of a person in a relationship, not just physically but emotionally, mentally. But it’s also a power symbol. We’ve all watched little Hannah Montana transform into a grown woman, and Miley chose this particular song and video to embrace her newfound maturity, both in her sound as well as performance. She’s unashamed of how she’s grown- physically, musically, and especially mentally. After shedding herself for another person- the unnamed lover and subject of the song- she’s taking ownership, and complete control by showing herself completely naked on top of a huge, heavy, destructive device.

And then there’s Nicki.

A year later, Nicki Minaj put out this vaguely familiar song and a booty bumping video to accompany it, featuring Drake. And it’s an absolute feminist masterpiece. I know what you’re thinking- how could that possibly be true, with the myriad scantily clad women, and the shining, bouncing bottoms?

Well…that’s exactly it. Nicki knows exactly what she’s doing and she’s proud of it. Lady Minaj has shown the world that she’s here, she has a huge ass, and she’s not afraid to show it off- under her circumstances. We see a lot of imagery of male arousal throughout the video- the coconut dripping in the beginning, the wine glass spilling over the sides, spreading whipped cream all over her chest, the bananas spinning around on the turntable…yet when in contact with an actual male in the video- Drake- she doesn’t surrender her ownership of herself. She slithers all over him, snake-like, wrapping herself around him in the most enticing way possible. But as soon as he reaches out for a taste of his own, she retracts. No, no, Drake.

There’s also something to be said regarding her sample choice- clearly borrowing from Sir Mixalot’s Baby Got Back. Though catchy, “Baby Got Back” has clear footholds in the concept that women’s bodies are objects for men to admire and drool over. In fact, in the spoken intro, one of the female characters states, regarding the fictional woman whose butt is the subject of the song, “She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.” They go on to claim that people only talk to her because she looks like- wait for it- a prostitute. The intro closes out with an even more horrifying line- “She’s just so…black!” As if all black women are good for is having big butts.

“Anaconda” is reclaiming the male gaze and transforming it into something under feminine control. It’s also fun to dance to.

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And more and more female artists are catching on. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video showcases her essentially mocking the now popular notion that all she does is date guys, who eventually break her heart, leaving her to write another hit song about them. Beyonce has too many to count. Not to mention the countless other artists you may not even know about who are out there making empowering videos, embracing their womanhood. This is an important step for female musicians to take. It’s allowing them creative control over their music videos, and more importantly, the male gaze that’s commonly present behind them. As I mentioned in a previous post, the people working behind the scenes in the music industry are predominantly male. And whether it’s conscious or not, there’s been a clear sexualized skew in female pop musicians music videos.

So pull up those high-waisted shorts and dance along with them. You deserve it, and you look great doing it.

Down With “Girl Bands”

Damn them! Damn them all straight to heck! Er…the term, that is. Notice the quotation marks?

Actual girl bands are the coolest thing in the world. A group of girls, or a group with a predominant girl, who like to get together and jam? I’m all about that. Without them, we wouldn’t have Sonic Youth, or the Spice Girls, or the Fugees, or Destiny’s Child, or…you get the picture. But the term “girl band”? Therein lies the problem. Out damn spot.

While we’ve had our fair share of “boy bands” with the likes of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, we’ve also had our fill of “girl groups”, such as the ones mentioned above. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s a problem. But breaking down the terms a bit sheds some light on it: when we hear the term “boy band”, we get a specific image. Frosted tips, over-gelled hair, sequined jumpsuits, disgustingly catchy pop songs. And their era is basically over, save for maybe One Direction. Albeit they’re a different brand of boy band. But I’m getting off topic- let’s picture a “girl band”. Why, any number of groups can come to mind. Each of them shares one thing in common: they have at least one predominant member who’s female.

So why is that a problem?

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Born out of rage and a shared love of Riot Grrrl music, Sleater-Kinney emerged as one of the most iconic “girl bands” of their time. Breaking back into the mainstream with No Cities To Love just this year after an eight year hiatus, the world was reintroduced to their feisty, guttural sound and equally so personalities. After getting to know guitarist Carrie Brownstein via her very funny spot on Portlandiait’s no surprise that she’s packed full of fury. In an interview with the cast members of the raunchy, refreshingly female comedy Broad CityBrownstein relayed what exactly is the issue with the term “girl band”:

“No one’s ever asked the question, ‘Why did you decide to be in a band with all men?’”

With the Riot Grrrl movement being the embodiment of this very sentiment, Sleater-Kinney make for the perfect poster child (children?) for speaking out against “girl bands”. And this isn’t the first instance of the Washington based trio showing off their angst- they use their music as a vehicle for political and social messages similar to this.

In a track titled “New Wave” off their latest album, paying close attention to the explosive lyrics, it’s evident the song is an homage to the most recent incarnation of the feminist movement, New Wave. (Or Third Wave, as it’s also referred to as.) It’s a song battling against the very label they’re best known for. (It also has a cute Bob’s Burgers video to accompany it.)

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And they’re not the only ones who are frustrated. Sister trio HAIM have also taken it upon themselves to reject the term “girl band”. In an interview with Telegraph, youngest sister Alana had this to say on constantly being referred to as such:

I would always look up to Stevie Nicks and Blondie – they are dope female musicians. So I just see us as a band. When people call us a girl band, I take it as an insult – being a girl in a band shouldn’t be a thing. It seems so medieval.

Alana Haim put so eloquently what Carrie Brownstein angrily propels into her music. She also highlights something important- that her idols growing up were highly talented female musicians.

While no one necessarily recognizes Fleetwood Mac for being an iconic girl group, they certainly know Stevie Nicks and Christie McVie for the fantastic female talent they bring. Fleetwood Mac is simply known as a great group, sans the unnecessary gender assignment to their title as a band, and with proper emphasis on individual members. I take no issue with properly recognizing female musicians for what they bring to the musical table, it’s that we continue to alienate groups solely based on their gender composition that’s problematic. A group like HAIM or Sleater-Kinney shouldn’t be impressive because they’re all girls who are good at making music. They’re impressive because they’re good, regardless of gender.

 

Who Run The Industry?

Sadly, unequivocally, and unsurprisingly: men. Whether you’re scanning the Top 40 list, or searching for the names of the people in charge of your favorite record labels, you’re more than likely to read an overwhelming amount of male names. We have our lady diva pop stars, sure. And there are people like Michele Anthony and Julie Greenwald– but the thing is, women on top are few and far between in any industry. And these two aren’t even the head honchos- they’re assistants to them. “How progressive,” said Peggy Olson.

Billboard cultivated the Women In Music awards as well as a series of articles on their website in 2007 in order to shed some well-deserved light on the female musicians, executives, and everyone in between in the industry. You’d recognize Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and others who have won the award- but skimming their list of the 50 Most Powerful (Female) Executives from last year, after first being blindly impressed, you begin to realize something terrifying- you’ve never heard of any of these people.

Okay, perhaps you’re a little more well-versed in music industry businesspeople than I am and you do recognize them. But chances are, each name is equally unfamiliar and frankly disturbing in this right. But it’s easy to rattle off the names of Brian Eno, Quincy Jones, Mark Ronson, and so many others.

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That’s why organizations like Women In Music are so important. We need more females not only stepping up as musicians, but on the business side of things as well. Started in 1985, Women In Music is a collective of women in all fields of the music industry, working to make what they do seem more attractive and plausible. They host events such as workshops and panels to encourage girls to break into the industry, no matter how off-putting it can be.

Although, it’s worthwhile to note the growth we’ve seen in the past few years. With pop powerhouses like Beyonce and rap queens like Nicki Minaj promoting feminist ideals (more on that in another post) in their music, and heartwarming singer songwriters like Taylor Swift proving that girls can pick up a guitar and make a song just as catchy as any flannel-clad, horn-rimmed glasses wearing guy can, this past decade has certainly seen lots more girl power. Not that girl groups or female-fronted groups haven’t been present in the past- each decade has certainly been host to some talented ladies. It’s just that we seem to be on the cusp of an estrogen fueled revolution in the music industry, as well as the world. There’s recently been a noticeable influx of these female artists, and certainly more of them stepping up in business.

And we can’t lose momentum. Billboard took a step in the right direction with their awards, Women In Music is a beautifully empowering organization that only has room to grow and everything to gain, and there are emerging publications like She Shreds that showcase some talent that might not get picked up in Rolling Stone. More and more ladies are picking up the microphone, the guitar, the drum sticks, you name it. But we need more. We need to keep going until Queen Bey is satisfied, and the industry, and maybe some day the world, is run by girls.

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Prince Royce The Next Latin Crossover King?

We all know the main Latin king and Queen of crossing over to the English pop world and that is Pitbull and Shakira. Now, Prince Royce says he is ready for change and wants to be Latin’s next crossover king. The Bronx/Dominican star Prince Royce known as making his bachata tunes, Darte Un Beso and his rendition of B.B. kings Stand by Me is ready to change his voice (literally) and is officially up for the challenge. Meeting his vocal coach Mauli B. who has worked with Katy perry and Boyz II Men tells Royce to change every syllable with “nay” on his new single with Snoop Dogg, “Stuck on a Feeling.” Coach says, “and put your finger right here,” while Royce presses the tip of his nose.

Royce Rojas first language is English but is famous among spanish people and has four No. 1s on Billboard’s latin songs chart as well as being voted among the most beautiful by People in spanish. He has done all this and more, by singing bachata which is a Dominican folk style filled with acoustic guitars and lots of romance. This April coming up he will be releasing his first English language Pop album with his new label home RCA. He has confirmed to be involved with Chris Brown and Magic singer Nasri and al though a risky move that could upset loyal falls and fail to capture pop lovers, its one he is willing to take. “What i put out in English, that’s who most people are going to think I am – that’s why I’m being so careful,” said in a recent Billboard interview. “I love hip-hop, R&B, techno and Latin,” Which is what Prince Royce grew up listening to and what the album has an overall combination of.

People didn’t always agree with him starting off with Bachata as people warned him that singing pop and doing English joints was the way to go, but he didn’t listen and that was the best thing he could have done. He was first signed to Indie Imprint Top Stop by the Salsa legend Sergio George, who co- produced his first self titled album in 2010. His cover “Stand by Me,” racked up more than 70 million youtube plays and 471 million clicks for his single “Darte un Beso.” He knows crossing over wont be easy, and although artists like Ricky Martin have had a smooth transition going from Spanish pop to English pop, for Royce it’s a different rhythm and a different language which makes it twice the challenge for him.

RCA president Tom Corson knows the risk but he says, “You have to bring them along with you in that journey. Some artists can do it, some can’t – We’re convinced he can.” As far as I see it, he’s doing great so far as his new single “Stuck on a Feeling” is #17 on mainstream Top 40 chart. As a latin woman I am excited to see him on the rise as he begins his journey as an international global star and can’t wait to see what else he does in the near future!

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Check out his latest single here