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Opinion

Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift sing a new message of girl power

In July I drove 1,800 miles with only the radio to keep me company. What struck me were the overarching themes of female empowerment sung over the airwaves. Pop music is singing a new tune. Are girls taking the message to heart?

By Justin D. Martin / November 25, 2011



Orono, Maine

In July I drove 1,800 miles in a moving truck from Florida to Maine, and as my minimalist Budget rental had no iPod adapter, I spent dozens of hours listening to radio stations along the eastern edge of the United States

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I had just spent more than two years prior living in Egypt, where I was less exposed to western pop. One thing dawned on me, other than my resolve to promptly take my own life if I hear Bruno Mars’s “The Lazy Song” one more time. What struck me were the overarching themes of female strength and resilience sung over the airwaves. They seemed to air one after another and were impossible to miss.

Much of the music of Pink, Lady GaGa, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Sara Haze, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift told listeners, “Like everyone, I’m flawed. Deal with it. I’m good enough and worthy of respect.”

IN PICTURES: Lady Gaga's fans

I’ve taken days-long trips across the US before, but I don’t remember such a recurring musical announcement of female self-worth. Songs titled “Born this Way,” “Lovely,” and “[Expletive] Perfect” glorify self-acceptance. This latter song, by Pink, croons “You’re so mean when you talk/ about yourself, you are wrong/ Change the voices in your head/ Make them like you instead.”

Female empowerment through music isn’t new, of course. Madonna built an empire by asserting her independence. But her tone was different. Her songs “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” communicated that she likes expensive things and time in the sheets.

Granted, the messages of today’s female pop stars aren’t always the stuff of enlightened self-respect. Katy Perry’s song “Last Friday Night” celebrates vaguely recalled, alcohol-primed flings with multiple partners.

Similarly, the artist Rihanna seems to celebrate her libido much more than any self-efficacy she possesses. Esquire magazine wrote in November that her sensuality is such that “Rihanna doesn’t really dance,” but rather how she moves on stage “amounts to choreographed oozing.” Rihanna is Esquire’s 2011 “Sexiest Woman Alive,” and she didn’t lure this laurel by being profound.

Still, it seemed during my drive to New England that there was less of the bubble gum of Brittany Spears and Jessica Simpson on the radio. There was some nourishment over the airwaves.

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