From “I don’t want no scrub” to “you don’t gotta go to work,” it’s safe to say the morals and values portrayed in Top 40 songs has evolved throughout the years. A concept that has also flourished with time is the third-wave of feminism. This wave follows the belief that women shouldn’t have to conform to socially constructed “feminine” stereotypes and measures put in place that ensure men will have a say in what women do with their bodies.
On paper, the ’90s and its proceeding decades are all categorized under the concept of “third-wave” feminism. However, it’s widely believed that there’s an obvious divide in the values of young adult females from the ’90s to now.
Where ’90s girl groups like Salt N’ Pepa made slightly aggressive lyrics pertaining to female rights, more recent girl groups like The Pussycat Dolls thrived on using their sexuality to make a statement.
Are pop-culture’s kweens of Top 40 music still re-enforcing the third-wave of feminism that began in the ’90s, or has the battle shifted focus? In our very first segment of She Said, She Said, let’s explore both sides of this argument.
Brianne: Music created by female artists today completely diminishes what female musicians in the ’90s worked so hard to build. TLC’s “No Scrubs” was an anthem that empowered women to step away from patriarchy and set standards for themselves. “No Scrubs” reminds females of their worth. To me, “No Scrubs” is saying, “I don’t need a man because I’m a boss ass bitch, but if I absolutely have to have one, he has to be a man who has an ambition to match mine.”
In comparison, I consider Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” to be a song that’s artificially feminist. On the surface, Trainor strongly promotes female body image, but when you listen to her lyrics more carefully, what you really hear is, “ladies, you’re only a boss ass bitch if men think you are. Your worth is determined by a male’s judgement.”
Andi: Artists of today don’t necessarily diminish the work of the powerful girl groups of the ’90s—they build on it in a new way. Female musicians in the ’90s still used sensuality and sexuality to make sales. On the topic of TLC, “Creep” is about cheating on your man because he isn’t giving you as much attention as he usually does. “Red Light Special” is also a very sexual song and video. While they’re dressed in baggy clothes, they’re also doing suggestive gestures and the song itself is all about giving their partner the prostitute treatment.
Artists of today cut out the suggestiveness and talk openly about being sexual beings. Beyonce’s song, “Flawless,” explains this perfectly when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recites, “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” Female musicians are giving a big middle finger to the patriarchy by saying, “We own our bodies, we can do whatever we want with them and we can be just as sexual as men because we’re all human at the end of the day.” Whether you show your skin like Beyonce or keep it covered like Adele, both artists are viewed as positive influences for women and are arguably more powerful than their male counterparts.
Brianne: In the ’90s, girl groups were on the come-up. The Spice Girls said it best, “If you wanna by my lover/you gotta get with my friends/make it last forever/friendship never ends.”
While, yes, there are prevalent Top 40 girl groups in today’s society (and by “girl groups” I mean ONE. Hey, Fifth Harmony, Hey), they don’t create the same bonds of sisterhood that girl groups did in the ’90s. Instead, in today’s society when a female releases an album about her cheating husband, the most prominent line to spread is, “You better call Becky with the good hair.” Society places more blame on Becky than it does on the cheating husband. How does that make sense?
Andi: The Spice Girls were full of great girl power messages, but not all ’90s acts were. Destiny’s Child said in 1999’s “She Can’t Love You,” “There’s no way her love’s as good as mine. There’s no reason for you to waste your time.” That’s some major female vs. female crime that’s, like, against the rules of feminism!
The sisterhood in girl groups have to be stronger today because of social media and how easily things can spread. Last year, when Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui’s ex-boyfriend spoke negatively about her to the press, her bandmates were quick to stick up for her on Twitter and shutdown the rumour mill.
In regards to Lemonade, Jay Z didn’t walk away unscathed and now has a negative view among female audiences. A few other prominent lines from that song include, “I’m not sorry” and “boy, bye,” which have since been constantly tweeted by love-torn women worldwide. Whether that has an impact on his bank account shall be left for a future She Said, She Said, because this can go on for another 10,000 words.
Brianne: The sad thing about being a female in the music industry is that in order to make Top 40, you have to in some way subject yourself to the male gaze. While that has always, always been the case, I believe that females in the ’90s were on the cusp of shying away from that notion.
While 702’s music video for “Where My Girls At?” did flaunt the occasional midriff, the ladies were nowhere near as scantily clad as, say, the ladies of Girlicious. In the ’90s, it seemed like the focus was more on the music than the body.
Andi: Adele’s a testament that you don’t have to show it all to be successful in Top 40. After its release, 25 became the fastest-selling album in the 21st century and the first album to sell over three million copies in a week. She did all of this without showing any part of her body or sexualizing herself, proving that talent can be the deciding factor at the end of the day.
Saying women are “scantily clad” is following the idea of rape culture and that women “deserve” what’s coming to them by the way they dress. This is what the third-wave of feminism is fighting against. Whether a women wants to show her skin or not is her prerogative because it’s her body. Work it, own it and don’t let the haters stop you from doing your thang.