There is a trend amongst all musos which I have railed against before, that dismisses any musician not male, playing an instrument or performing a ‘serious’ genre of music as inconsequential shit. This attitude is rife in comment sections across the internet; or top 100 countdowns by most publications and across pub tables throughout the land. Those who take themselves and their music choices incredibly seriously, can be some of the most unforgiving snobs going, and if you like Little Mix or Stormzy you can prepare to be thrown on the ‘basic bitch’ scrapheap.
Every genre of music has its own traditions, its own place and significance in the general musical landscape and disregarding pop, dance, rap etc. as not as noteworthy or as serious as rock and its offshoots is incredibly narrow minded. I think music such as pop has just as an important part to play in our lives as any other genre and I think it is no coincidence that the genres of music most liked by teenagers and in particular teenage girls are the ones least likely to gain any credibility or respect. That is because, teenage girls get little credibility or respect. They are regarded as synonymous with giggling, hysterical, shallow, pink-adorned daydreamers who would not know credibility or emotional range if it was written in fake tan on their foreheads.
But the above is obviously utter bollocks. Teenage girls are one of the most culturally invested groups around- powerful and vociferous consumers of every creative industry- fashion; music; TV; film and art. They are active and vocal; fickle and loyal; intense and passionate. They have power to make or break a cultural trend and yet they are often completely unaware of this power- because society spends a lot of time gaslighting and disempowering them, hiding their true potential and refusing to validate their opinions. *Full rant here* It also goes without saying that they are not a homogenous group and their interests; likes; styles and choices differ just as much as any other demographic. Having said that, there are some artists who are popular primarily with the young female crowd and it is these artists that I am going to defend in this article.
I am confident that some of the most popular female artists of the moment are a worthy group of role models to this generation of young women, despite not always getting the kudos for this they deserve. Here are some of the key, influential figures at the current popular music scene and why they are inspiring:
Taylor Swift- Taylor Swift is an actual phenomenon. A brand. An unstoppable creative juggernaut who at the age of 30 is on top of the world. She has a loyal army of fans, a record-breaking career (she is the first female artist to have six different albums sell over 500,000 copies in a single week, amongst other things) and an enormous amount of influence in the music industry. I will lay my cards on the table now- I’m not a fan (as such) of Taylor Swift. I have never really taken the time to get to know her music and that is probably not going to change. But despite some elements of the Swift-ian persona that I cannot relate to at all (Am I too old? Too alternative? Too cynical?) I actually think she is a great inspiration for young women. Despite her often being lumped in with the ‘teeny bopper’ cohort, Swift is more Paul McCartney than she is Justin Bieber. She writes her own songs and judging by her lyrics, she is an incredibly good wordsmith, able to turn her hand at many a theme. She seems to exercise a large amount of control over her career and her personal life and I think it is this fact that people find so utterly threatening. And her personal life is the other thing which actually makes me like her- I have found myself defending Tay-Tay for years against criticism for her dating history- a criticism which so clearly highlights the persistent double standard that plagues women in the dating world. Think about all the so-called (male) rock stars and their often quite vulgar exploits with fans and young women alike and how they are lauded as hilarious macho legends. Taylor Swift has a few pretty-boy boyfriends and she is some kind of man-eating slut. Despite these kinds of innuendos that have plagued her career, it hasn’t stopped her totally winning at the music industry and I say more power to her.
Inspirational for: Work ethic, ambition, talent, confidence.
Billie Eilish– I was obviously going to talk about Billie Eilish. She is THE biggest thing right now, smashing sales figures and topping charts all over the bleedin’ place- she is so big that even an old fuddy duddy like me could pick her out of a line up. Again, I’m not going to insult her actual fans by claiming to know loads about her, or pretend that I’m not vexed by her aversion to capital letters BUT she is another new artist that I think makes a great role model for young women. She is young, creative and successful, carving out a niche and producing her own original music on her own terms. Her look; her sound; her cavalier attitude to traditional grammar…. I think she is pretty exciting and original. She won 5 Grammys at this year’s ceremony and instead of revelling in her deserved success, she spent the night being self-deprecating and trying to downplay the scale of her achievement- by making comments such as she feels like the ceremony invited her by mistake and that Ariana Grande should have won instead etc. I feel like the fact she felt she needed to react in this way is partly due to the snidey backlash she has had since gaining fame. Those who like to take music so seriously and gatekeep what can be afforded professional respect surely couldn’t bear to find themselves endorsing or supporting someone that a teenage girl could like as this just makes her lame. And when she said she didn’t know who Van Halen were, the older muso set’s heads exploded in righteous indignation. Not that this has made any difference to the trajectory of her success so her haters can swivel.
Inspirational for: Originality; humility; success; lexical rebellion.
Dua Lipa– Dua Lipa is in the midst of her incredible success and fame and her laid back, stoic performing style is something that quite appeals to me. Dua Lipa’s music may be fun and catchy pop songs about the usual topics of love, make ups and break ups but outside of her lyrical content, she is pretty politically active and encourages her fans to be too. During the run up to the 2019 general election, Dua Lipa broke down the policies of the Labour and Conservative parties and posted on her Instagram page to her 44 million followers. She made publicly endorsed the Labour Party for that election but encouraged her UK fans to make up their own minds and vote calling it the ‘most important election of a generation’. In 2016 she set up the Sunny Hill Foundation that raises money for citizens of Kosovo (where her parents are from). She hosted her own festival in Pristina, Kosovo which led to The Mayor of Pristina, Shpend Ahmeti awarding Lipa the Key to the city, the first time such an honour had ever been granted. She has also raised money for the victims of the Grenfell fire of London by releasing a charity single- a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic Bridge Over Troubled Water. In 2018 she was nominated for 5 Brit Awards which was the first time a female artist had received that many nominations in one year.
Inspirational for: Political engagement; activism; philanthropy.
Ariana Grande– Ariana Grande is a bit of an adopted national treasure for the UK after enduring the ordeal of being in the centre of the Manchester Arena attack which occurred in May 2017. This has created a bit of a reciprocal kinship between Grande and the city of Manchester, and the UK more generally. Grande has released 5 studio albums and amassed impressive commercial success with all of her albums being certified platinum or higher. She has won a Grammy; a Brit; 2 Billboard Music Awards, 5 MTV Video Music Awards and broken various world records. Some of the more impressive figures relating to her career come from social media- she has amassed over 50 billion streams on You Tube, Spotify and Apple Music. She is also the most followed artist on You Tube and has over 73 million followers on Twitter and 183 million on Instagram. Despite this success, Ariana has not been without her detractors and a lot of the judgements of her are not related to her phenomenal career- but instead about her personal relationships. Because again, the first thing women are defined by is their relationships rather than their professional achievements. I have already written about the subject of women being held responsible for men’s fragility *The blame game: why do women always have to take responsibility for men’s feelings?* and that article was inspired by the antagonism towards Grande after the death of her ex-partner Mac Miller. Grande has often eloquently responded to questions about women and sexuality and has some thought provoking quotes which considering the scale of her platform, will surely reach the ears of many young fans:
“I’m tired of needing to be linked to a guy, I’m not Big Sean’s ex, I’m not Niall’s new possible girl. I’m Ariana Grande.”
“Gloria Steinem published an article in 1969 titled ‘After Black Power, Women’s Liberation’ and 46 years later … we’re still not quite there yet! If a woman has lots of sex (or any sex for that matter) … she’s a ‘slut.’ If a man has sex … HE’S. A. STUD. A BOSSSSSS. A KING. If a woman even talks about sex openly … she is shamed! But if a man talks or RAPS freely about all the women (or more commonly used ‘bitches’/‘hoes’ … how lovely) he’s had … he is regaled. If a woman is seen with a friend with a penis, there is immediate assumption of romance or sex and she is labelled!!! If a man is seen with a woman, his status is elevated/celebrated.”
Inspirational for: Feminism; gender equality; challenging sexism.
They may not be MY role models or icons, but I can absolutely see the appeal of the above artists. There are lots of issues facing young women at the moment in terms of positive representation and diverse role models and there are few artists who are completely unproblematic. However, dismissing this current generation of pop divas as having nothing meaningful to contribute to the world of their young fans is completely inaccurate and I can only conclude, influenced by the fact that they are young women. You do not have to be a fan of any of these artists yourself but respect the fact that many other people are. And anyway, for what its worth, I think Van Halen are rubbish so Eilish- you’ve not missed much.