ARTICULATING FEMINISM AND POLITICS

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ARTICULATING FEMINISM AND POLITICS:
THIRD WAVE FEMINISM IN POP MUSIC
by
THAILAN PHAM
(Under the Direction of Jay Hamilton)
ABSTRACT
This study examines pop music in context of third wave feminism. The songs
selected as material text are: Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman,” Avril Lavigne’s
“Sk8er Boi,” Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down,” featuring Lil’ Kim, and Missy
Elliott’s “Work It.” The songs and corresponding music videos were analyzed for their
responses and solutions to the issue of gender inequality. The songs were also
examined for contradiction among songs and in relationship to third wave feminism.
Results indicated similarities along ethnic lines and visual displays of sexuality rooted in
patriarchal gender construction.
INDEX WORDS:
Pop music, Third wave feminism, Contradiction, Songs, Music
videos, Sexuality, Patriarchy
ARTICULATING FEMINISM AND POLITICS:
THIRD WAVE FEMINISM IN POP MUSIC
by
THAILAN PHAM
B.A., The University of Georgia, 2003
A.B.J., The University of Georgia, 2003
A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of The University of Georgia in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree
MASTER OF ARTS
ATHENS, GEORGIA
2005
© 2005
Thailan Pham
All Rights Reserved
ARTICULATING FEMINISM AND POLITICS:
THIRD WAVE FEMINISM IN POP MUSIC
by
THAILAN PHAM
Electronic Version Approved:
Maureen Grasso
Dean of the Graduate School
The University of Georgia
August 2005
Major Professor:
Jay Hamilton
Committee:
Christine Harold
Anandam Kavoori
DEDICATION
For my grandmother
Nelle Morgan Burton
August 10, 1917 – February 21, 2005
who taught me strength, love, and laughter
My parents
Dr. An Van Pham and Lienhoa Pham
who have always demanded the most and expected absolutely nothing less
My brother
Binh Pham
who has always offered a sympathetic ear and valuable advice
even from halfway across the world
iv
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Jay Hamilton for his overwhelming
support and guidance. Countless times over the past two semesters, I arrived at his
office feeling confused and anxious and always walked out with an invigorated sense of
direction. His keen insight helped me to expand my understanding about the issues I
sought to explore, thereby improving this project tenfold.
I would also like to thank Dr. Christine Harold for taking on this project with such
enthusiasm and an open mind. Her suggestions guided me to sharpen my focus and
deeply evaluate my topics of study. I am grateful to Dr. Andy Kavoori, whose fresh
perspective has always been a source of rejuvenation. His support has strengthened
me on both a personal and academic level. I owe the utmost gratitude to Dr. Susan
Thomas for sharing her insight with a student who had minimal experience researching
and writing about music. Her challenging questions helped me ultimately to build a
stronger project.
And of course, a huge thanks to Denise, who didn’t kick me out into the rain
when I issued a “no talking, no noise, no people” mandate in our apartment. Also, to
Kevin, Scott, Brandy, and Adam, for contributions of food, tech support, and the
knowledge NOT to ask questions about my thesis. Thank you for understanding my
need to sacrifice so much time and energy for the sake of this project. Last, but never
least, to the ladies of Southhampton Pointe, who have always supported me with their
immeasurable love, confidence, and optimism.
v
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ............................................................................................... v
CHAPTER
1
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................ 1
2
LITERATURE REVIEW................................................................................... 4
The Development of Third Wave Feminism ................................................ 4
Music and Pop Culture................................................................................ 7
Analyzing Pop Music................................................................................... 9
Sexuality and Empowerment in Black Rap Culture ................................... 13
The Technique of Contradiction ................................................................ 14
Conclusions............................................................................................... 16
3
THEORY AND METHODOLOGY ................................................................. 17
Theoretical Framework ............................................................................. 17
Research Questions.................................................................................. 22
Process of Analysis................................................................................... 22
Materials Examined................................................................................... 25
4
ANALYSIS..................................................................................................... 29
“Redneck Woman”: Utopian Community................................................... 30
“Sk8er Boi”: Androgyny in Rebellion ......................................................... 36
“Can’t Hold Us Down”: Stand Up Like a Man ............................................ 42
vi
“Work It”: Originality Exceeds the Opposition............................................ 49
Analysis of Results.................................................................................... 55
5
CONCLUSION .............................................................................................. 60
BIBLIOGRAPHY ........................................................................................................... 66
APPENDIX .................................................................................................................... 71
vii
CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Feminism...has always focused on popular culture because feminists are interested in
the impact of modern life on women. But if there have been general agreements over
the importance of popular culture to mapping ideologies and desires around modern
women, there have been just as many heated debates internal to feminist analyses of
popular culture.
--Catherine Driscoll, 1999
This quote captures the complex relationship between feminism and pop music,
which I have sought to explore in undertaking this study. The concept for this study
originated from an interest in the cultivation of feminist perceptive among young girls. In
my research, the girls traced a path to third wave feminism, the feminists proclaimed
music as a site of activism, the activist musicians made me reevaluate pop music, while
the pop musicians fascinated me with their own “feminist” messages.
Exactly 30 years ago, McRobbie and Garber (1975) noticed a conspicuous
absence of girls in the area of youth subculture research--girls were not recorded in
ethnographic studies, pop histories, personal accounts, or journalistic field surveys.
Their discovery marked a beginning in research devoted to understanding the inner
workings of girl culture. McRobbie and Garber addressed the ways in which young girls
created a distinctive culture among themselves. One such example of this was the
commodity-oriented “teenybopper” culture, which was invested in the safe fantasy of
young male pop stars (McRobbie & Garber, 1975). The authors deemed the
teenybopper to be an “active” personality type, distinguishable from previous
1
perceptions of girls as wholly “passive.” The teenybopper expressed activity both in her
role as a consumer and through her self-definition.
As culture climates changed, teenyboppers came to embrace female pop
musicians as sources of fantasy and emulation. When the music video made its debut
in the 1980s, the new pop music mainstream that developed in North America was
geared toward the audience of teenage girls, thereby creating a new wave of
teenyboppers (Straw, 1993). In girl and pop culture studies, teenybopper culture
became often cited as a “conformist mode of resistance” (Driscoll, 1999: p. 177).
Driscoll (1999) describes this culture as exhibiting “a strangely unsettling conformity
which carves out a space of excess within limitations on girl-life; within the good girl’s
life” (p. 177).
This girl type--presumably wealthy, characterized by her contribution to
consumer society--was once identified as an example of empowerment and agency.
Ironically, characteristics of the teenybopper have been portrayed as undesirable in
recently released pop songs such as Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” and Gretchen Wilson’s
“Redneck Woman.” Observing this bizarre relationship between star and fan has raised
questions about the characteristics of current female pop musicians. This group’s
diverse race and genre preclude any simplistic comparisons, although a number of
artists appear to distinguish themselves through songs of female empowerment or ideas
of solidarity. Whether simply confident, overtly sexual, or aggressive, the pop musicians
observed presented a variety of perspectives on the female experience.
Perhaps because the messages of these artists appeared at times to be
inconsistent or potentially problematic, I became interested in studying them in context
2
of third wave feminism. Third wave feminism attracted me with its “messiness”--its
universal, inclusive solidarity, its self-proclaimed “contradiction,” and its struggles fueled
by emotion. As mentioned above, third wave feminist writing claims music as a site for
activism. The Riot Grrls were part of a group of punk rock bands who musically
represented the tenets of the third wave. They are significant because their presence
as radical feminist musicians likely paved the way for the eventual integration of such
messages into mainstream society. Furthermore, their work as musicians provides an
interesting avenue for comparison with current female pop artists.
The decision to study music and video texts from American popular music
implies a general familiarity with the developments of popular music studies. Though
the artists and songs selected will be considerably different from each other in genre
and style, their broad categorization as “pop” implies subtle similarities in structure,
sound, or presentation. The terms “pop music” and “pop culture” themselves connote
varying associations, from “tools of hegemony” to “forum of enterprise.” Considering the
political positioning of pop culture and feminist theory, this study could be summarized
most basically as an examination of dominant and marginal culture and the way that
interaction changes them. On the other hand, the similarities between pop music and
third wave feminism serve as a reminder that both social structures have evolved most
recently from within the same cultural climate. This subversion of “dominant” and
“marginal” establish the potential problems of using dichotomy as a guide to
understanding the mobile, cyclical nature of discourse.
3
CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
This literature review aims to give a cursory, though expansive, background to
topics that are pertinent to a complete understanding of the context of the present study.
The project not only reaches the subject areas of feminism, pop music, and popular
culture, but it also depends on a multicultural perspective on each of these complex
areas. The first section will cover the development of the third wave of feminism, with
reference to the accomplishments of previous feminists. The second section
addresses the relationship between music and popular culture. The medium of the
music video is discussed, as well as its depiction of female expression. The third
section analyzes the structural components of pop music, followed by references to
recent studies that have employed a feminist perspective on pop music by female
artists. The fourth section addresses the struggles of female rappers emerging from
within black rap culture, focusing on their use of sexuality. Last, the fifth section
discusses the use of contradiction in previous studies, establishing it as a primary
technique for the current project.
The Development of Third Wave Feminism
Though the success of the 19th amendment is now embedded in the nation’s
collective memory of feminist activism, the face of feminism has altered and expanded
over the last 40 years. The very definition of “feminist” has been subjected to
4
interrogation and re-definition. The second wave of feminism of the 1960s and 1970s
was characterized by the attempt to gain full human rights for women. Dicker and
Piepmeier (2003) summarized some of its demands as “equal opportunities in
employment and education, access to child care and abortion, the eradication of
violence against women, and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment” (p. 9).
Within the past decade, a third wave has developed from criticism of the last
wave, which argued against the assumption of a white, middle-class, heterosexual
subjective women. The third wave has produced literature and ideas with a focus on
individualism and multiplicity of women. According to Dicker and Piepmeier (2003), “the
third wave operates from the assumption that identity is multifaceted and layered. Since
no monolithic version of ‘woman’ exists, we can no longer speak with confidence of
‘women’s issues’; instead, we need to consider that such issues are as diverse as the
many women who inhabit our planet” (p. 10).
In Third Wave Agenda, Heywood and Drake (1997) characterize two previously
published third wave feminist anthologies (Listen Up and To Be Real) by their use of
personal anecdotes to describe definitional and argumentative strategies. The writings
are described as “autobiographical and experiential, giving the insiders’ ‘view from the
heart,’ a glimpse of the social preoccupations and problems facing this ‘next generation’
of feminists” (Heywood & Drake, 1997; p. 2). Barbara Smith described the “multi-ethnic,
multi-issue approach” that should define feminism, emphasizing the idea that “Feminism
is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class
women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women--as well as
5
white economically privileged heterosexual women.” (Smith in Dicker & Piepmeier,
2003: p. 8).
In 1992, Rebecca Walker (editor of To Be Real), Amy Richards (co-author of
Manifesta), and others started the Third Wave Foundation, the only organization
devoted to feminists between the ages of fifteen and thirty (Dicker & Piepmeier, 2003).
In doing so, they set a precedent of activism that would come to characterize the third
wave. Literature is abundant on the activity of the Riot Grrrls, a “young, protofeminist
movement” that grew from the early 1990s punk scene in Washington state. The Riot
Grrls, found a way to “breathe new life into feminism by marrying it with…the youth
movement known as punk rock” (Baumgardner & Richards, 2000; pg. 80). The Riot
Grrrl movement was characterized by an anti-media stance, which peaked with their
press blackout in 1993 in response to repeated misrepresentation of their community
(Kearney, 1997). According to Kearney (1997), the early Riot Grrrl rallies of womenonly shows and mosh pits were generated to draw awareness toward the problem of
sexual abuse. The “Girlies” were another group that developed during this time. They
celebrated formerly disparaged characteristics of girl culture and femininity that had
become culturally divorced from the last generation’s construction of feminism, such as
“knitting, the color pink, nail polish, and fun” (Baumgardner & Richards, 2000; p. 80).
They also created countless “’zines,” such as Bust and Bitch, which satisfied young
women’s desires for edgier publications that represented their lives in ways that other,
older magazines could not (Dicker & Piepmeier, 2003).
Young feminists have grown up benefiting from the results of second wave
activism, almost without realizing it. As Baumgardner and Richards (2000) explain, “For
6
our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it—it’s simply
in the water” (p. 17). Therefore, their greatest hurdle to this era of feminists will come
as a task of reconciliation, as they face a world that will argue the death of feminism
despite such inequalities as women’s dramatic “underrepresentat[ion] in decisionmaking, power-broker positions” (Dicker & Piepmeier, 2003; p. 4). Kinser (2004)
asserts that the current generation will be forced to confront a “schizophrenic cultural
milieu which on one side grants that they have a right to improved opportunities,
resources, and legislative support, and on the other side resists their politics which
enable to them to lay claim to, embody, and hold onto same” (p. 133, my emphasis).
Music and Pop Culture
A depth of scholarship exists on the impact of musicology and feminism (Villani,
2001; McClary, 1993). Pop music, in particular, holds a substantial share in the
cultivation of popular culture, with its increasing strength due to expansion into
multimedia outlets, such as music television, the recognition of musicians as celebrities,
internet downloading, and online videos in addition to the old-fashioned radio. Music
has become a uniquely influential force due to its ability to pervade multiple media
outlets. As the popular music industry has inundated society, critics have
acknowledged its role as a significant contributor to the construction of popular culture.
According to McClary (1993),
[U.S. musicologists] tend to assume although popular music is unquestionably a
commodity, it isn’t just a commodity but is also a public medium that helps shape
our notions of self, feelings, gender, desire, pleasure, the body, and much more.
Thus, instead of focusing exclusively on the exploitative dimensions of the
7
industry, we also discuss what is being articulated through the performative and
musical aspects of the enterprise. (para. 18)
Villani (2001) quoted an American Academy of Pediatrics 1996 policy statement,
which reported that although there were no studies documenting a cause-and-effect
relationship between sexually explicit or violent lyrics and adverse behavioral effects,
“there is ample evidence given the content to be concerned about desensitization to
violence, promotion of sex-role stereotyping, and acceptance of risk-taking behaviors”
(para. 27). Thus, the lyrics and messages encapsulated within songs of the popular
music genre are critically linked to concepts of gender, sexuality, and identity in its
target audience, the American youth.
The multiple outlets of music must be addressed to help account for its
importance. Music television, including MTV, VH1, BET, and CMT, provide
associations of images and their lyrical counterparts. According to McClary (1993),
MTV has also become the source of a thriving area of study within the past decade,
because it is “crucial to know what images circulate, how they are articulated, and how
fans interpret them” (para. 19). Since music videos have become mainstream, they
have also become inextricable from the song itself.
Consequently, a scholarship on music video analysis has emerged within the
past couple decades. A behavioral approach notes purported effects: Martin’s (1993)
survey of 247 high school students reported that 74% of girls prefer pop music to 71%
of boys’ preference for hard rock music. This statistic establishes the primary gender of
the audience who are actively consuming the types of music addressed in this study.
Another approach based on film theory and also highlights the gendered nature of pop
8
music. In her study of female address on MTV, Lisa Lewis (1993) describes “access
signs” as
those in which the privileged experience of boys and men is visually
appropriated. The female video musicians textually enact an entrance into a
male domain of activity and signification. Symbolically they execute take-overs
of male space, the erasure of sex-roles, and demand parity with male privilege.
In this way, the video texts challenge assumptions about the boundaries which
gender, as a social construct, draws around men and women. (p. 136-137)
To a degree, the fans exemplify the second textual sign described by Lewis (1993),
“discovery signs,” which “reference and celebrate distinctly female modes of cultural
expression and experience” (p. 137). Thus, women shown rejoicing in uniquely female
leisure and cultural expression is intended to set a tone visually celebrating female
resourcefulness and cultural distinctiveness (Lewis, 1993).
Analyzing Pop Music
Definition and structure
Popular music studies continuously seek to examine the relationship between
pop music and pop culture. Inherently, theorists have been forced to acknowledge the
difficulty in defining a subject matter that, as a whole, has had so much impact and
influence on society. Shuker (1994) addresses the criticism he received for his prior
use of the term “rock” as shorthand for the diverse range of popular music genres
produced in commodity form toward a youth market. As he notes, “fans of genres such
as rap, techno, and reggae would hardly equate their preferences with ‘rock’” (p. ix).
The use of any shorthand phrase appears problematic, as it inevitably neglects some
9
portion of the broad range of popular music. Hesmondhalgh and Negus (2002) address
the issue that popular music is “impossible to define coherently, because of the many
conflicting meanings clustered around the word ‘popular’” (p. 2).
However the need to establish a definition becomes less important when one
focuses on structural similarities of pop music. In his studies of pop music videos,
Goodwin (1992) addresses the “modes of address deployed in video clips” as reflecting
“highly ordered generic conventions.” He further examines commonalities in the
musical patterns themselves, identifying three types of closure that are characteristic of
pop music: repetition, structural closure, and harmonic closure. These elements are all
prevalent to some degree in all of the songs analyzed in this study in form of the
repetition of the chorus, song pattern of verse and chorus, and instrumental pattern and
eventual softening or alteration to signify the resolution of the song. Goodwin (1992)
delineates properties of pop song structure, originally articulated by Adorno: “the title will
usually be contained in the chorus; the chorus and/or bridge will be the most ‘catchy’
part of the song...; the verse will lead up to a chorus (or hook), which generally appears
within the first twenty-five seconds of the song; and the chorus (containing the song
title--i.e., the name of the product) will be repeated at the end of the song” (p. 82,
original emphasis). All of these elements combined ultimately reveal the formulaic
predictability of the pop song. The chorus, structural focal point around which the song
revolves, then becomes significant in the analysis of the song.
10
A feminist perspective of pop music
Pop music’s political potential can be seen in everyday life. Lowe (2003)
examined “tweens” and their complex relationship with Britney Spears. At the mention
of the singer’s name, she describes their reactions: “’Slut,’ ‘Whore,’ and ‘Slore’ (an
elision of slut and whore) were the first words out of their mouths” (p. 124). Lowe
references a study by Cowie and Lees, conducted in 1981 on young girls in workingclass London, in which the use of epithets was also addressed. As Cowie and Lees
recognized, labels such as “slut” and “slag” were constructed within a discursive
dichotomy used to describe all female behavior, with words such as “virgin,” “pris,” and
“drag” on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Lowe concurs with Cowie and Lees’ point that the girls’ subscription to such
behavior perpetuates the discursive process within which they work. As the girls
illustrate the persistence of the virgin/whore dichotomy within such a young generation,
they enforce limiting notions upon the constructs of “femininity.” With such simple
identification of what is “good” and “bad,” the girls prevent more complex female
personalities from emerging.
In contrast to Lowe’s efforts to identify sparks of potential feminism in response
to a primary pop musician, Shugart, Waggoner, and Hallstein (2001) used a textual
analysis to examine pop culture icons Alanis Morissette, Kate Moss, and Ally McBeal in
context of third-wave feminism and postmodern media techniques. They argue that the
“sensibilities of third-wave feminism are appropriated in context of postmodern media
such that they are commodified, reinscribed, and sold to audiences in a hegemonic
fashion” (p. 196). In an analysis of Alanis Morissette’s album, Jagged Little Pill, the
11
authors note that her collection of songs centers on the narrator’s personal exploitation,
which is “profoundly significant in the fact that this theme never occurs in isolation of the
attendant theme of aggressive confrontation, entirely reflective of third-wave
sensibilities” (p. 199). Thus, Morissette and artists who engage in emotional revelation
primarily associated with anger concurrently express anger as a right or as
characteristic of a “strong woman.” Furthermore, Shugart, Waggoner, and Hallstein
juxtapose overtly angry lyrics and those that present traditional stereotypes as valid and
desirable, such as, “You treat me like I’m a princess / … You held your breath and the
door for me,” from her song “Head Over Feet.” Morissette projects anger associated
with a seemingly vindictive, vengeful, and unstable female source, thereby becoming a
weak representation of feminist-motivated, productive anger (Shugart, Waggoner, &
Hallstein, 2001). In summary, their claim suggests that her tactics are reflective of
feminist nature and intentions, but they backfire in their lack of restraint.
As the above studies suggest, the analysis of music is quite pertinent to feminist
study, because third wave feminists have specifically addressed music as a valuable
medium in sharing the feminist perspective. Heywood and Drake (1997) describe music
as a “potent motivator [that] can be used effectively as a political tool in the
contemporary context because of the communities and frameworks of meaning it seems
to offer in a social and cultural context in which lives can often seem devoid of meaning”
(p. 203). Anger in music is acknowledged in its success in inciting empathy from
likeminded feminists, when they feel the need to know that their “sense of reality is
valid, that [they] have a place, that there are people out there who feel like [they] do” (p.
204).
12
Sexuality and Empowerment in Black Rap Culture
Also pertinent to this study is an examination of the ways that empowerment has
been articulated by female musicians in rap music and hip-hop culture, a culture
evolved from strong patriarchal roots. Women rappers have faced the need to
emancipate themselves using the same musical and topical tools of expression.
Shuggart, Waggoner, and Hallstein (2001) state that “Being empowered in the thirdwave sense is about feeling good about oneself and having the power to make choices,
regardless of what those choices are” (p. 195). Forman (1994) covers such choices
that women in rap made in voicing their oppressed perspectives, specifically regarding
their use of sexuality. She states,
Though rarely considered as such by the predominantly male writers who work
the Rap “beat,” the music also provides an important medium through which
women’s sexual desires and fantasies can be defined and shared, disrupting the
often recurring scenario where women are cast as passive objects of an active
masculine libidinal drive. (p. 42)
The vocal use and reference to sex, then, is seen as an active extension of the politics
of the sexual revolution. Forman’s validation of the use of this tactic grows from the
apprehension that sexual frankness has become the defining characteristic in the
popular conception of “feminism.”
Rose (1994) identifies the three central themes predominating the works of black
female rappers to be “heterosexual courtship, the importance of the female voice, and
mastery in women’s rap and black female public displays of physical and sexual
freedom” (p. 147). Shelton (1997) summarizes this historic conflict: “African American
13
women in rap music find themselves in a unique position in terms of the production of
music and image; they must struggle for control and expression in a predominantly
white and patriarchal culture industry on one hand and a system of management
controlled predominantly by African American males on the other” (p. 107). Perry
(2003) cautions against the weakening of a feminist message among those women who
become more frequently “presented in visual media as objects rather than subjects” (p.
140). Frith questions girl culture activities (such as dance and dressing up) in their
ability to transgress beyond social objectification: “All this female activity, whatever its
fun and style and art as a collective occupation, is done, in the end, individually, for the
boy’s sake. It is the male gaze that gives girls’ beauty work its meaning” (Frith in Lewis,
1990; p. 38). Such deliberation over the significance of the sexual display of a woman’s
body will be addressed in this project. The use of sexuality has become a complex
issue considering feminist perspectives, and it is used in varying ways within the context
of the materials analyzed.
The Technique of Contradiction
Previously, Shugart, Waggoner, and Hallstein stated contradiction to be a
weakness in the musical message of Alanis Morissette. Their selection of the
contradiction technique is significant due to the specific embrace of contradiction within
third wave feminist literature. Heywood and Drake (1997), editors of Third Wave
Agenda, argue that “contradiction—or what looks like contradiction, if one doesn’t shift
one’s point of view—marks the desires and strategies of third wave feminists” (p. 2).
Specifically, they highlight the contradictions encapsulated within the third wave,
defining it as a movement that “contains elements of second wave critique of beauty
14
culture, sexual abuse, and power structures while it also acknowledges and makes use
of the pleasure, danger, and defining power of those structures” (p. 3). Shugart,
Waggoner, and Hallstein (2001) quote an essay by Lamm (1995) from the collection,
Listen Up: “And I know a hell of a lot of what I say is totally contradictory. My
contradictions can co-exist, cuz they exist inside of me, and I’m not gonna simplify them
so that they fit into the linear analytical pattern that I know they’re supposed to” (195).
Although the girls in Lowe’s focus group had presumably minimal feminist
training, their wide range of reactions to Britney Spears provided a study of
contradiction. Despite their initial reactions degrading the singer, Lowe concludes
eventually that the girls have “tremendous respect for her and her accomplishments” (p
129). Furthermore, the girls’ dialogue extensively covered their speculation of Spears’
breast enhancement, explaining that “by ‘bouncing’ around, showing off her ‘fake boobs’
and body, Britney Spears is sending a terrible message to the young girls in the
audience” (p. 132). In a later portion, the girls acknowledge and do not condemn the
choice to use one’s sexuality for empowerment. The girls in the focus group also
appear to take issue with “a clash of two personae,” or the overuse of the virgin/whore
dichotomy to point of confusion. According to Lowe, they appear overwhelmed by
excessive and overt contradiction, yet they are products and representative of the same
idea.
This study aims to use contradiction as a key point in examining the relationships
between articulations of feminism within selections of pop music, as well as in relation to
third wave feminism as a movement. As shown, contradiction has been employed as a
useful technique in studying complex relationships. The problem with contradiction is
15
that adherence to one side seems to weaken conviction to another. On one hand, the
use of contradiction appears to be less viable as a feminist tactic when used in pop
music due to the limitations of the medium. In order for songs to be considered “pop,”
they must appeal to a broad audience and therefore exhibit some generic similarities in
structure. Thus, the limited explanatory power of several collective verses and
choruses implies a greater need for listener interpretation, and therefore potential
conflation of details that appear contradictory. On the other hand, contradiction can
also be seen as resourcefulness and versatility, thus a source of strength and
empowerment.
Conclusions
As these previous studies have shown, feminism has become unevenly
integrated into pop music and popular culture, and in doing so, it has developed a
variety of voices. This variety is reflective of third-wave feminism. Understanding the
types of feminist messages that have emerged within pop music can be valuable in
grasping the breadth of feminism itself. As mentioned previously, the tool of
contradiction is one that is embraced by third-wave feminists. Identifying the use of
contradiction and its effects within pop music may also provide an indication to the
potential success or failure of alternate political tactics when implemented within pop
culture.
16
CHAPTER 3
THEORY AND METHODOLOGY
As established, this project seeks to examine contradiction among articulations of
feminist agency in pop music selections, as well as collectively between these
productions of pop culture and the social movement of third wave feminism. In this
chapter, I will address theoretical and methodological frameworks that will provide a
systematic study of these issues. In the “Theoretical Framework” section, I will cover
three types of analysis commonly associated with popular music, with a focus on textual
analysis. Next, I will describe Hall’s (1980) theory of “encoding/decoding,” essentially
detailing a method of semiotic analysis in mass communication research. Last, I will
address Hall’s (1982) theory of articulation, which is pertinent to the development of my
research questions. The “Process of Analysis” section addresses concepts pertinent to
the study of pop music, including “voice,” authenticity, and the significance of genre. In
describing the “Materials Examined,” I will outline the factors involved in selecting the
materials for this project.
Theoretical Framework
Tagg (2000) states, “It is clear that a holistic approach to the analysis of popular
music is the only viable one if one wishes to reach a full understanding of all factors
interacting with the conception, transmission, and reception of the object of study” (p.
78). Swiss, Sloop, and Herman (1998) list the three primary categories of analysis that
17
scholars of popular music have emphasized. Institutional analysis, the first type, is
situated among the production of popular music and its political economy. According to
Swiss et al. (1998), work in this area may cover “political-economic and organizational
analyses of the music industry,” including technological aspects, government policies, or
musicianship itself (p. 4). Textual analysis, the second type, has been most useful in
my present study of pop music. This analysis concentrates on “the structure of popular
music, interpretation of lyrical content, or the examination of the visual iconography of
music in the form of music video” (Swiss et al., 1998: p. 4). Ethnographic analysis, the
third type, deals primarily with a focus on the fans—essentially, focusing on the
determinate moment of decoding in order to understand the communicative process.
Works using this analysis study the “rituals of everyday life through which popular music
is interpreted and used” (Swiss et al., 1998: p. 4). This work delves into the musical
scenes and subcultures and their active creation of meaning or identity (Swiss et al.,
1998). For a study that aims to assess the presence of contradiction in pop music in
relation to third wave feminism, a textual approach has the most to offer. What remains
is the linking of such an approach to a theoretical framework that makes sense of the
relationships between meaning and social life.
The theoretical framework I will employ in my analysis of contemporary pop
music is based on Hall (1980) . The original 1974 version of this study established the
development of reception studies in mass communication research (Alasuutari, 1999).
Hall’s work critiqued prior research that viewed mass communication as a process
through which messages are sent and received with certain effects. His contributory
significance lies in a shift to a semiotic approach. According to Hall (1980), the
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communicative exchange takes place in a series of “moments,” such that the moments
of “encoding” and “decoding” are considered “relatively autonomous.” As Alasuutari
(1999) summarized, “the idea that a message is encoded by a programme producer
and then decoded (and made sense of) by the receivers means that the sent and
received messages are not necessarily identical, and different audiences may also
decode a programme differently” (p. 3). According to Hall, after the message is
“appropriated into meaningful discourse,” it must then be “meaningfully decoded” in
order to have any effect, regardless of the degree to which the resulting effect reflects
the message originally intended by the producer (p. 130).
Integral to the encoding/decoding construct is the potential asymmetry of each
respective code, providing space for degrees of understanding and misunderstanding in
the communication exchange. Hall addresses the ways by which direct symmetry might
fail to occur, specifically regarding the interpretation of televisual codes and signs. Each
insight provides an explanation for polysemy, the recognition of complexity and
contradiction in all signs. A denotative level of understanding, once combined with a
receiver’s given connotative associations, has the potential of producing any number of
results from determinant decoding moments.
To organize thinking about polysemy and its social implications, Hall identifies
three hypothetical positions from which decodings of a televisual discourse may be
constructed. The first is a dominant-hegemonic position, through which the viewer
distinguishes the connoted meaning and “decodes the message in terms of the
reference code in which it has been encoded” (p. 136). From this position, the decoding
process operates within the hegemonic structure of the dominant, or global, code. The
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second position is the negotiated code, which “contains a mixture of adaptive and
oppositional elements,” meaning that the viewer may develop an understanding based
on some elements from the dominant ideology, other extractions may come from “local”
or “corporate” positions (p. 137). Significantly, decoding via this negotiated version of
ideology may likely lead to contradiction, as the viewer may express conflicting
inferences at different levels. Hall suspected that “the great majority of so-called
“misunderstandings” arise from the contradictions and disjunctions between hegemonicdominant encodings and negotiated-corporate decodings” (p.137). The third position is
the oppositional code, which occurs when a viewer perfectly “understand[s] both the
literal and the connotative inflection given by a discourse” but continues to “decode the
message in a globally contrary way” (p. 137-138, original emphasis). Through this
code, a viewer still manages to understand the message in the preferred code, but
asserts the will to adopt “some alternative framework of reference” (p. 138).
The use of television in his study relates to my study of music in both visual and
audiovisual forms. Based on Hall’s explanation, the apparent contradictions that arise
from attempting to decode pop music actually result from a conflict of dominant and
corporate logics. Furthermore, the analysis of multiple messages—encoded
individually—traveling among multiple overlapping pathways may produce a great
number of varied interpretive possibilities.
The usefulness of a broadly semiotic approach to feminist research has been
noted by Franklin, Lury, and Stacey (1991), among others, who state that such an
approach has “provided important critiques of some kinds of reductionism and
essentialism, and facilitated the analysis of contradictory meanings and identities” (p. 9).
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However, some recommend supplementing with various cultural theories based in
psychoanalysis in order to address the reproduction of patriarchal relations, which
according to Franklin et al. (1991), “provide an account of how difference is fixed as
inequality through the acquisition of a gendered identity” (p. 10).
My study inherently draws on an understanding of “articulation,” as established
by Hall (1982). This theory was based within a Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, and it
is used to explain the processes of ideological struggle. Summarized by Storey (1996),
Hall’s use of ‘articulation’ plays on the term’s double meaning: to express and to
join together. He argues that cultural texts and practices are not inscribed with
meaning guaranteed once and for all by the intentions of production; meaning is
always the result of an act of ‘articulation’ (an active process of ‘production in
use’). The process is called ‘articulation’ because meaning has to be expressed,
but it is always expressed in a specific context, a specific historical moment,
within a specific discourse. Thus expression is always connected (articulated to
and conditioned by) context. (p. 4)
The current project will actively examine the articulation of feminism in the current
historical moment, as captured in pop music songs. A methodological emphasis is
placed on the context of the materials examined, which aims to effectively draw
meaning from these products of pop culture.
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Research Questions
The resulting purpose of this study is to assess how contradictions regarding
agency are articulated in pop music in relation to third wave feminism. In order to
adddress this purpose, my main research questions are:
1) In what specific ways is contradiction regarding feminist agency articulated in a
selection of current pop performances?
2) What patterns exist in this articulation within the performances chosen?
3) What are key implications of the articulation of contradictions for the progressive
potential of third-wave feminism?
Process of Analysis
I will use the techniques of textual analysis to examine the articulation of signs of
contradiction in relation to feminist agency. I plan to first identify key signifying elements
of each performance (recorded song, lyrics, and video). Such elements can consist of
observations about the music (fast or slow tempo, loud or soft, presence/absence of
specific instruments), the vocal performance (loud or soft, high pitch or low, precise or
loose phrasing), the lyric content (first-person or third-person, formal or colloquial), and
about the video visuals (direct address or indirect address, placement of sets, actions
taken, framing, and camera placement).
Although I intend to employ a textual analysis to analyze pop music, I will first
acknowledge the institutional complexity of pop music production. I am aware of the
nature of pop music, which produces icons and songs that are rarely (or never) pure in
individual agency. Considering the extent of pop music production, the process of
identifying the exact origin of encoded meaning structures becomes increasingly
22
complex. However, the search for “origin” arguably irrelevant in the analysis of pop
music, and for the purposes of this study, I will consider the limited authorship of the
artists in context of their articulation of feminist agency. Doing so reflects pop culture’s
traditional cultivation of the star identity. Shuker (1994) broadly defines “auteurs,”
authors or creators who enjoy respect for their professional performance, and “stars,”
who enjoy wider public interest and public fascination with their personal lives. As
Goodwin (1992) notes, “pop culture itself continues to celebrate authorship and to
promote cultural products through the parallel discourses of stardom and
auteurism….More so than any area of popular culture, pop and rock music is explicitly
involved in the consumption of auteurism, through the foregrounding of the artist /
singer” (p. 108-109).
The four pop artists examined—Gretchen Wilson, Avril Lavigne, Missy Elliott, and
Christina Aguilera—were selected in part because each of them either wrote or cowrote the majority of songs on their last album. Feminists have historically attempted to
assert a voice, message, or perspective into dominant discourse, and this concept of
“voice” is paralleled in pop music. Hennion (1990) observes, “Having a ‘voice’ in pop
music terms does not mean possessing a vocal technique or systematically mastering
one’s vocal capacities. Instead, a voice is an indication of one’s personality….it is not
the voice for its own sake that matters but its expressive power” (p. 109).
The multimedia nature of music video provides additional creative space for such
expression. Straw (1993) disputes the argument that the video “enacts a dispersion of
the authorial voice or performer identity,” but rather adds depth to the song’s meaning in
the way it “displaces and reconstitutes the voice” (pp. 11-12). He uses Madonna’s
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“Open Your Heart” video to illustrate “the disjunction between a verbal narration which is
first-person and the specularization of that narrator within a particular fictional space” (p.
11). Goodwin (1992) expands on this complex characteristic of the music video in
explaining that “the break with a ‘realist’ system of address is not aesthetically radical, it
is a convention of pop performance” (p. 76, original emphasis). Understanding the
properties of narrative and perspective in pop video necessitates an awareness of the
technical methods used in order to convey a direct mode of address, such as “when
singers and musicians look into the camera and perform directly for us” (Goodwin,
1992: p. 77). My formal analysis of song and video involves these techniques as one
among many ways that feminist messages are conveyed.
Clusters of signs help constitute a genre, which is also an important signfier.
Brackett (2002) describes the use of genre as a way to categorize popular music so as
to create a connection between musical styles, producers, musicians and consumers,
noting sample labels such as ‘pop’, ‘rock’, ‘R&B’, ‘country’, ‘hip-hop’, ‘alternative’,
‘techno’, etc. The boundaries of American pop music have grown to encompass music
from multiple genres, so that noting the generic roots of the songs helps explain their
significance. According to Brackett (2000), “By trying to understand individual musical
texts (songs, recording, performances) in the context of genres and their relationships to
one another, one places the meaning of an individual song within a larger field of
meaning” (p. 66). Genres are inherently associated with connotations about music and
identity, and they may encode a variety of social characteristics including race, class,
gender, place, age and sexuality (Brackett, 2000).
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Both mediated signs and genre constitute important points of observation and
analysis. Lacey (2000) addresses the relationship between genre and semiotics,
reading genre as as a connection between the sign system of iconography and the
paradigmatic repertoire of elements located within the given texts. He also describes
the development of the genre as a response to the auteur position, articulating the
inherent conflict of the ideology of genre and the “limiting” analytical perspective of the
auteur theory. This work intends to use the techniques of both types of analyses in a
complimentary way, focusing on the cultural and social history from which individual
musicians and their musical genres have derived.
Materials Examined
For this study, I selected four female musicians with relatively diverse styles:
Gretchen Wilson, Avril Lavigne, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, and Christina Aguilera.
These four female musicians were selected based on their relative diversity in the
popular music field, in addition to the salient personas and messages promoted in each
of their songs. Each of the musicians is a woman who has either publicly identified as
feminist or who has produced music that supports the freedom of activity or voice
among women.
Each of these artists and their songs have produced high rankings on Billboard’s
pop charts within the last two years. Billboard’s year-end charts are determined from
the same specific data used to produce their weekly lists--primarily sales measured by
Nielsen SoundScan and radio information culled by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems
(BDS) (Mayfield, 2004). Lavigne ranked 7th on Billboard’s 2004 “Top Pop Artist –
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Female” music chart, and Wilson ranked 9th. On the same chart for 2003, Aguilera
ranked first, followed by Lavigne at 4th, with Elliott at 9th.
All of the songs chosen clearly reference gender inequality in some fashion. At
the same time, they are indisputable pop music commodities; products of the highly
structured pop music marketing “machine.” The products of such a formulaic
international industry would conceivably be the last place one might find a message of
any political value. Thus, in undertaking a project that seeks specifically to examine pop
music songs, I hope to emphasize the significance of my analysis of these songs and
their responses to sexual inequality.
As mentioned, the four artists selected have produced music with relatively
disparate origins. Two of the artists selected occupy space in both pop music and
another genre. A song or artist of a divergent genre that gains popularity on the
mainstream pop chart is deemed a “crossover” (Sernoe, 1998). Wilson ranked first on
Billboard’s 2004 “Top Country Artist – Female” chart in addition to placing in the top ten
as a female pop artist. Her song, “Redneck Woman,” which won “Best Female Country
Vocal Performance” at the 2004 Grammys, became a crossover hit on the pop charts as
well. In the same year, she ranked 4th on Billboard’s “Top New Pop Artist” chart. While
Wilson’s roots are planted firmly in country music, Elliott characterizes herself as a hiphop artist. In 2004, Elliott ranked 9th on the “Top Hip-Hop/R&B Female Artists” chart
after ranking in the same position one year earlier on the “Top Pop Artist – Female”
chart.
While Aguilera and Lavigne cannot be placed entirely in other genres in addition
to pop, their styles show a marked diversity within the pop genre itself. A comparison
26
between Aguilera’s self-titled first album, released in 1999, to her 2002 album, Stripped,
reveals a clear gravitation from traditional pop music toward R&B. In an interview with
Rolling Stone magazine, Aguilera said, “I wanted the first record to be a little bit more on
the R&B side, but [the producers] wanted to keep it pop….. It would drive me insane,
because [my executive producer] was always saying, ‘Stick to the melody, keep it pop.’
So the second album will be my time to let loose, finally” (Aguilera in Strauss, 2000).
Lavigne’s music has also been located within the pop arena since her emergence. Her
music and style appear to be punk-inspired or punk-pop, despite the fact that she does
not claim to label herself punk. In an interview with CanWest News in Vancouver, she
identified the source of the misnomer: “It's the media who said that. Maybe people see
an edge. I mean, I'm not the typical bubble-gum pop girl and my music's a bit harder, so
people labelled me that way” (Lavigne in McCoy, 2003).
In selecting the songs that would receive the most intense scrutiny, I based my
decisions on several factors. First, I selected recent songs that had been released
between the years 2002 and 2005. Among these, I focused on songs that appeared to
promote a feminist message or songs that included lines referencing gender
comparisons or some form of female empowerment.
For the purposes of this study, I have chosen to scrutinize one song by each
artist. Music videos were used as primary source materials in addition to the songs
themselves. I have determined to foreground the narrative arcs of the music videos in
my analysis of these songs due to their pertinent visual treatment of gender conflict and
perceived oppression. Lyrics to all songs analyzed were readily available at a free
online website: <www.lyrics.com>.
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As addressed in previous sections of this study, music videos have become
inextricable visual counterparts to songs, adding a complex analytic dimension via the
projection of iconic visual signs (Hall, 1980). The analysis of the music video has
spawned an extensive area of study unto itself. Initial attempts to read the music video
adopted concepts of film and television studies with necessary modification with regard
to the video’s musical function (Shuker, 1994). Vernallis (2004) emphasizes the unique
“language” of the medium due to its multimedia nature, stating that “music, image, and
lyrics each possess their own language with regard to time, space, narrativity, activity,
and affect” (p. 13). Considering that the video and song work together to create a form,
an analysis of pop music that neglects the music video would be incomplete (Vernallis,
2004). I am able to access the videos online at <www.music.yahoo.com>. The digital
video archives allowed me to select and play the videos at no extra charge beyond an
internet connection capable of transmission.
Thus, I will analyze the music of four pop musicians whose musical styles reflect
relatively diverse backgrounds in terms of genre. One song will be chosen from each
musician; the music video and the song itself will be assessed using a textual analysis.
I will primarily employ Hall’s semiotic approach to the materials, with acknowledgement
to pop music’s emphasis on “star” and “auteur” theory. Using these methods, I intend to
assess the complexity of contradiction regarding the articulation of feminist agency in
these four samples of pop culture production. I ultimately hope to use these
articulations to draw conclusions to the political potential of third wave feminism.
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CHAPTER 4
ANALYSIS
Pop culture of the last decade has developed in an environment informed by
feminist influence and progression. The female pop musicians included in this study
convey in their songs responses on the issue of gender agency and its relationship to a
political movement. The four performances I will analyze are: Gretchen Wilson’s
“Redneck Woman,” Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us
Down” featuring Lil’ Kim, and Missy Elliott’s “Work It.”1
The analysis proceeds from Hall’s semiotic understanding of polysemy. The
intention is to detect and analyze the articulation of contradiction regarding feminism
and politics. Each performance will be assessed in the following manner: An overall
interpretation of the song’s relationship to gender politics will be addressed first in
context of the song’s genre. Next, I will conduct a diachronic analysis of the music
video’s plot in conjunction with the song’s musical elements. Then, I will implement a
synchronic analysis of the primary oppositions that are addressed in the performance.
Last, I will draw connotative conclusions from the elements that have arisen from these
analyses. Addressing musical interpretations of feminism in context of third wave
feminist conventions maintains a necessarily critical eye on the constitution of
difference, opposition, and empowerment.
1 Parenthetical reference to songs will be cited after only the first appearance of corresponding lyrics in this chapter.
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“Redneck Woman”: Utopian Community
Gretchen Wilson’s anthem for the “redneck woman” reconciles the struggles of
such women by focusing on their individual actions. The women of the video and in the
lyrics utilize pride and self-assertion as an expression of power. The individual
ignorance or behavior of men can be escaped with a simple reprimand. Thus, even a
woman in a relationship divided by traditional or unequal gender roles can attain a state
of liberation if she can cultivate a sense of pride in herself and her actions.
Gretchen Wilson’s success as a both a country and pop artist has established
her as the most recent addition to a long line of country crossovers. According to Starr
and Waterman (2003), three general styles of country music developed during the
postwar era: country crooners, who specialized in a smooth, pop-oriented style,
bluegrass musicians, who focused on the adaptation of traditional southern music in a
package suitable to the times, and honky-tonk musicians. The last was described as a
group who “performed in a hard-edged, electronically amplified style, and wrote songs
about the trials and tribulations of migrants to the city and the gender roles and
male/female relationships during a period of intense social change” (Starr & Waterman,
2003: p. 182). Starr and Waterman (2003) emphasize the close association of country
and western music to live recording and performance. The song analyzed here is
recorded specifically to highlight the aspects of live performance. The video reflects the
same goal, and the song features sounds of a cheering crowd.
“Redneck Woman” opens with an electronically amplified guitar, “fiddle,” and
piano. The beat of the cymbals is prevalent throughout the entire song, reflecting
honky-tonk music’s “percussive, insistent beat (sometimes called ‘sock rhythm’) well
30
suited to dancing” (Starr & Waterman, 2003: p. 185). Honky-tonk music’s synonyms of
“hard country” or “beer-drinking music,” reflect the history of the venues themselves as
drinking establishments that multiplied after the end of Prohibition (Starr & Waterman,
2003).
“Redneck Woman” follows a pattern of verse 1 / chorus / verse 2 / chorus /
chorus. The repetition of the chorus indicates an emphasis on the message in the
chorus while confirming the pervasiveness of the pop music song structure. In addition
to repetition, instrumental techniques are also used to distinguish the chorus. The
duration of Wilson’s pitches becomes longer, and its final line is highlighted when most
of the instruments pause, drawing focus on the vocal message. The chorus includes
women voicing their solidarity via “Hell yeah!” as a part of the hook in response to
Wilson’s: “Let me get a big hell yeah from the redneck girls like me / Hell yeah!” (Wilson
& Rich, 2004, track 2).
The “Redneck Woman” video opens with a shot of Wilson enthusiastically “offroading” on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). She rides through a creek and “mud-bogs”
(speeds through muddy ground) in a truck. These scenes, which feature Wilson
dressed in ripped, mud-splattered jeans, and large aviator sunglasses, establish the
initial outdoorsy image of a tomboy. Her long hair is under a baseball cap, and large
hoop earrings and heavy eyeliner are the only indicators of femininity. As soon as
Wilson’s vocals begin, she is shown in the foreground of the mud pit singing directly
toward the camera as the action continues in the background.
As the chorus begins, however, the scene shifts literally with a swish of her hair.
A more glamorous Wilson is performing on stage at a honky-tonk. The oversized t-shirt
31
from the rugged outdoor scenes is now a fitted shirt, and her ponytail is loosened into a
flowing mane. The spotlight focuses on Wilson while the band and audience in darker
hues. Accompanying her onstage in addition to musicians are the exotic dancers who
flank her, one behind chains and the other in a cage. Other members featured are the
front-row female groupies singing along to “Hell yeah!,” the title, and primary line of the
chorus. The featured group of female fans is generally young and attractive; one is
wearing a midriff-revealing fitted t-shirt and another wears a trucker hat with a stylish tilt.
Tanya Tucker is acknowledged with visual/aural synchronization when her name is
mentioned.
At the second chorus, the viewer returns to the everyday life of other “redneck
women,” who are engaged in domestic work. These women are less attractive, clad in
overalls, bandanas over their hair, and baggy camouflaged clothing. They are shown
gathering their kids on the streets, hanging laundry on the clothesline, or sitting in a car
in front of small-town shops. The shots end when the women face the camera, with
arms raised, to join in at the hook:
I'm a redneck woman
I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raising
I say, “hey y'all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
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So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big 'hell yeah' from the redneck girls like me, hell yeah!
(Wilson, 2004, track 2)
The “redneck women” who are shown outdoors exhibit a diversity of body shape and
appearance, whether pregnant, overweight, or youthful.
Viewers then see Wilson return from her muddy outdoor activities to a messy
trailer home. Thus begins the section in which her two personas—one outdoorsy and
masculine, the other glamorous and feminine—begin to weave together. She discovers
a slovenly Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr., seated on the couches, watching television.
The two men greet her with mock intimidation, but she reprimands their behavior by
removing Kid Rock’s feet from the coffee table, picking up empty beer bottles, and
confiscating Hank Williams, Jr.’s cigar. She then slips into a back hall toward the
laundry machine. The scene becomes shadowed, as she undresses in the laundry
room with her back turned. The camera follows the items of clothing as she removes
them and places them into the washing machine, finally unhooking a colorful bra. At
this point, the final chorus begins and the venue shifts back to the packed bar. More of
the active members—Wilson, the musicians, the exotic dancers, and the group of
women—are featured together in the same shots toward the end. The crowd becomes
more rowdy, raising their beers, as the men in her house join other audience members
coming to light. More males are specifically shown in the crowd at the end, as the entire
audience once again sings along with the hook.
“Redneck Woman” presents an opposition between the social and economic
class associated with a “redneck woman” and that of a “high class broad.” This
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distinction is reflected in lines such as, “Well, I ain't never been the Barbie doll type / No,
I can't swig that sweet champagne, I'd rather drink beer all night.” Through “Redneck
Woman,” Wilson lyrically and visually expresses two very different sides of herself. The
bright, outdoor scenes of rugged activity contrast starkly with the dark, indoor concert.
Her physical appearance while outside is dirty and unkempt, as opposed to her more
glamorous presentation as a performer. She is among male friends when riding through
the mud on her ATV, while the audience members featured in the bar are initially a
supportive group of young women. The “redneck women” featured outside and on the
streets are not nearly as trendy as the young women in the bar.
Wilson introduces her first persona in muddy jeans and a baseball cap. She
expresses her preference for spending time drinking beer in a “honky-tonk or on a fourwheel drive tailgate.” Her second persona is characterized by confidence in her sexual
and social abilities regarding men. Outdoors, she is “one of the boys,” on par in activity
and attire with her male counterparts. Indoors as a performer, she is significantly more
feminine. Her use of sexual appeal onstage is heightened through her provocative
dance movements. At a point during the song, she joins one of the dancers in a cage.
In the second verse, she sings,
Victoria's Secret, well their stuff's real nice
But I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price
And still look sexy, just as sexy as those models on TV
I don't need no designer tag to make my man want me.
Her lyrical desire to manipulate her “man’s” sexual attraction affirms her sexual
presence as in the bar scenes, especially in elevated position as the primary performer.
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The diachronic resolution at the end, men joining women, works with the
synchronic remapping of men’s space and women’s space. In taking part in mud
sports, she redefines sex roles by taking over traditionally male space, “demand[ing]
parity with male privilege,” (Lewis 1993). However, her shift from the outdoors to the
inside of her home marks a parallel shift in the assumption of sex roles. In her retreat to
the laundry room, locus of domestic work, she appears in a state of undress that recalls
the sexuality of her performance persona. Wilson’s confidence with men, her direction
over the audience in the bar, and the command of her music video audience are all
linked through the use of sexuality. Ultimately, the opposing parts of herself become
united. The chorus itself reflects an aural interpretation of female community. The
emphasis on the caller / response of the “redneck women” at the chorus of the song
issues an active call for the literal and figurative unity of women’s voices.
Wilson has also integrated herself into men’s culture as “one of the boys.” The
transition between her masculine and feminine selves reflected in the video comes
across as an attempt to reconcile the types of power associated with each. Instead,
The need for collective political action is bypassed in favor of the pervasive harmony of
the closing scene. The presence of men becomes more recognizable in the bar, as
both men and women alike join in repeating the chorus, “Hell yeah!” The visual folding
of men into the crowd heighten the energy and social unity. The bar’s utopian
community is presented as a microcosmic success story, absolving the need to
deliberate inequality between gender.
“Redneck Woman” is a rally to build individual pride in women. The
presentation of two personas, in addition to he lyrics, acknowledges the process by
35
which such women may attempt to reconcile the assumption of gendered duties through
individual fortification. By the end of the song, the strong emphasis is on the benefit and
possibility of collective unity. The struggles of women can be overcome through
individual initiative and action. If women simply stand up for themselves, the divisions
and oppositions noted in a feminist critique can be bridged if everyone can simply unite
in harmony.
“Sk8er Boi” : Androgyny in Rebellion
“Sk8er Boi” focuses primarily on the conflict between groups of different
lifestyles, associating one with authenticity and the other with the superficiality of
consumer culture. In context of this song, gender struggles are defined within
interpersonal relationships, thus, such struggles are less important than a degendered,
subcultural resistance against a dominant social group. In the song, an upper-class
teenage girl refuses to publicly admit her attraction for a “punk.” In the video, Lavigne
and her band invade the physical space of the pervasive “authority” that abstractly
appears in the form of a looming helicopter. Thus, the issues of gender are largely
absent compared to the ongoing of struggle of an androgenous group with a
depersonalized authority.
Lavigne’s music evades convenient categorization, having developed a niche
within pop music. She has received some amount of backlash from critics and other
hardcore punk fans who dispute her image as a “punk-pop hero” (McCoy, 2004). As
previously mentioned, she resists definition, particularly the label “punk.” Despite the
fact that she did not emerge directly from the rich history of punk culture, her music and
style nevertheless contain immediately recognizable references to such culture.
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Starr and Waterman (2003) inform that “punk was as much a cultural style--an
attitude defined by rebellion against authority and a deliberate rejection of middle-class
values--as much as it was a musical genre” (p. 346). Punk developed during the 1970s,
when America was embroiled in the Vietnam War, women and gay rights movements
were underway, and newspaper headlines were consumed by the Manson family
murders (Raha, 2005). The mainstream music hits of the time were primarily composed
of “soft rock and folk acts,” which gave birth to a genre characterized by “revulsion at
the success of one-dimensional music and its hesitancy to deal with pressing issues of
poverty and urban decay” (Raha, 2005: pp. 4-5). Punk’s active disdain toward the
studio dependence of pop music manifested in early artists’ determination to record
songs in one take to create the experience of a live performance (Starr & Waterman,
2003).
The relatively harder “edge” of Lavigne’s music in context of pop is one
characteristic that has spurred comparisons with punk. Even the spelling of her song,
“Sk8er Boi”--an intentional deviation from the English spelling--creates an immediate
link to the subversive roots of punk. Traditional pop elements are just as prevalent on
her album, however, as evidenced in the soul-searching ballad “I’m With You” and the
melodic verses of “Don’t Tell Me.” The verse and repeated chorus of “Sk8er Boi” falls
into a satisfying pop pattern. “Sk8er Boi” opens with an energetic combination of
electric guitars, backed by a heavy beat on the drum set.
From beginning to end, the video depicts energy and youthful rebellion derived
from punk culture. Although punk may oppose the standards of traditional commercial
fashion, “it was also a fashion system in its own right, with a very particular look: torn
37
blue jeans, ripped stockings, outfits patched with ragged bits of contrasting materials,
and perhaps a safety pin through the cheek” (Starr & Waterman 2003). Lavigne’s
variation on traditional punk fashion parallels her musical compromise between punk
and pop.
The video performance of “Sk8er Boi” opens with a pile of spray paint cans on a
city street, flanked by tall buildings. The scene moves toward the boy who has freshly
painted a message on the side of a building of Lavigne’s illegal street concert: “7th &
Spring / NOON.” The graffiti is completed by a large red anarchist star, also painted on
the street itself. A rapid montage of images reflects both the determination of the
teenagers involved and the energetic pace of the song. The scene shifts to a boy’s
room in an apartment directly facing the painted building, his computer monitor
revealing the same red star now imprinted on the building and on fliers. Teenagers and
college-age kids are shown at a variety of locations, gluing posters on walls, sliding
down manholes in the middle of the street, sending the announcement through their cell
phones, and covertly passing the message on coffee cups for unknowing customers. A
couple on a bike are throwing handfuls of fliers into the air as they ride through a large
arcade.
The title character appears as soon as Lavigne’s lyrics introduce him:
He was a boy, she was a girl
Can I make it anymore obvious?
He was a punk, she did ballet
What more can I say?
He wanted her, she'd never tell
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Secretly she wanted him as well
But all of her friends, stuck up their nose
They had a problem with his baggy clothes
(Lavigne, 2002, track 3)
We see him riding a skateboard alongside a convertible, intently recording the blond girl
driving with a digital video camera.
Lavigne jumps into a chair when her vocals begin. She wears heavy eye makeup, a trucker hat turned backwards, black forearm bands with metal spikes, a striped tie,
Converse high-top shoes, striped knee socks, and baggy pants. Her bright green t-shirt
and eye-catching attire distinguish her from the rest of her all-male band. She and her
band are in constant movement, traveling together on skateboards down tenement
stairs and through a parking garage. They stow instruments in the trunk of a car and
pile into the back seat, presumably heading toward the corner of 7th and Spring.
At the street intersection, workers plug in massive speakers on the street, park
old cars side by side to form a makeshift stage, and throw backpacks of equipment and
rope from the tops of tall buildings. When Lavigne’s performance begins, (picking up
and staying in synch with the video’s music track,) people form a crowd, which quickly
becomes a mosh pit. Residents lean out of windows from surrounding tall buildings to
watch the commotion. Briefly flashing on the screen is an elevated street sign, “Fashion
District,” from which a boy is hanging. The boy who had earlier sought the upper-class
girl approaches Lavigne at the foot of the car she is standing on, recording her with his
digital camera as she briefly directs her attention toward him. The mosh pit surrounding
Lavigne becomes more dangerous, as people are shown being nearly trampled. Police
39
cars arrive on the scene and begin arresting a few rowdy individuals, one of whom is
presumably the aforementioned, upper-class “ballerina” of the lyrics. Lavigne smashes
her guitar on the windshield of the car she stands on. The sound of a helicopter
hovering overhead consumes the final scene, as Lavigne looks upward at it, unflinching,
but not challenging.
Lavigne in this video is a central member of an impromptu, energetic
organization whose identifying symbol connotes resistance to authority. By contrast,
the primary oppositional force has no face, but instead appears in such forms as the
looming helicopter and the policemen. This opposition emerges as also between
generational classes and lifestyles. The members involved, who appear to be no older
than their mid-20s, express their revolt by means of a rock concert. Communication of
the event is dependent on modern technology--computer graphic design and text
messaging. An arcade, a meeting place common among kids, is a location at which
fliers are visually distributed. Lavigne establishes a clear distinction between the skater
boy, representing the young punk community, and the ballerina, who belongs to a
presumably elitist clique. The girl’s physical beauty is addressed with an accusation of
superficiality: “Does your pretty face see what he’s worth?” The hook, “He was a skater
boy / she said see ya later boy / he wasn’t good enough for her,” establishes a
hierarchical division. The chorus is repeated three times before its final melodic
variation, which emphasizes a shift from third-person to first-person narration:
Sorry girl, but you missed out
Well tough luck that boy's mine now
We are more than just good friends
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This is how the story ends
Too bad that you couldn't see
See the man that boy could be
There is more than meets the eye
I see the soul that is inside.
The success of the narrator’s relationship with the boy is pitted against the ballerina’s
lack of depth, a small-scale representation of the faceless oppositional force.
“Sk8er Boi” posits a criticism on a lifestyle that is preoccupied with materialism.
The music video amplifies the message of the song by adding a layer of visual meaning
(Goodwin, 1992). The video addresses a lifestyle and culture conflict at a metropolitan
level, while the lyrics to “Sk8er Boi” address the same issues in context of a grade
school relationship. The song provides a personal anecdote illustrating the failings of
superficiality, while the video depicts, in effect, the teamwork, planning, and execution of
a grassroots revolution.
The high school conflict between the ballerina and the jilted skater boy portray
the female as materialistic and the male as unpretentious. However, the song places
less emphasis on linking characteristics by gender than it does by lifestyle and social
group. Lavigne presents herself in a generally nonsexual manner, compared to most
other women who appear in pop music videos (such as in this project’s other musical
selections). The most musically distinct verse of “Sk8er Boi,” quoted above, captures
the moral message of the song: “I see the soul that is inside.” The song’s depiction of
resistance via an expansive group—rather than a lone graffiti artist, for example—
necessitates the de-emphasis of gender. The song and video forego the use of
41
sexuality or detailed gender differentiation in order to accentuate class and generational
differences expressed through popular culture. The image of the overwhelming crowd
is effective in its unity. Thus, the androgenous crowd, not men against women,
struggles for equality and power in “Sk8er Boi’s” depiction of subcultural resistence.
“Can’t Hold Us Down” : Stand Up Like a Man
“Can’t Hold Us Down” originates in a recognition that gender struggles constitute
the daily, ever-present reality of women. Women must combat an outdated mentality
that requires them to be “seen and not heard,” thereby stunting their potential for
individual growth. The song rallies women to respond to this ongoing struggle by
uniting against men, establishing a strong presence, and standing their ground. Women
must challenge the male assumption of privilege by organizing resistence in a collective
form. The gender battle takes place on the terrain of culture and expression, visualized
via a dance competition that pits men versus women, each group challenging the other
to execute a more impressive feat. The resistence of women strengthens as they adopt
traits of men, matching and surpassing mens’ actions and sexual insults.
Aguilera’s early music was produced to reflect a traditional pop sound. Her most
recent album, Stripped, contains songs that reflect a stronger rhythm and blues vibe
through instrumentation and vocals, such as “Can’t Hold Us Down.” The video places
Aguilera in a black neighborhood, engaging in a breakdance “battle,” an activity rooted
in African-American hip-hop culture. Aguilera’s music refers to black culture not only
musically, but also through the issues addressed, and through the perspective that is
assumed in the treatment of these issues. Thus, a cursory examination of the history
and associations of R&B is pertinent to the analysis of this song.
42
The term “rhythm and blues” was coined in 1949 to refer to music that was
marketed primarily toward African-Americans (Rye, 2005). The term is also applied to a
characteristic African-American musical style that developed around the late 1940s and
1950s. According to Rye (2005), “Critical opinion has never coalesced on whether
rhythm and blues in this sense is a genre of jazz or of blues, a hybrid of the two, or a
separate musical idiom” (para. 2). The bands of the early 1940s that spawned rhythm
and blues developed with an increasing emphasis on an “insistent beat, on blues and
blues-ballad vocals, and on solo work emphasizing overt emotion and rhythmic
excitement” (Rye, 2005).
One of Aguilera’s most distinctive musical characteristics is her use of melismatic
style, which extends several notes on a single syllable of text. Her use of melisma and
improvisation at the repeated chorus of “Can’t Hold Us Down” illustrates her vocal style.
Improvisation is a technique that is a principal component of jazz, a precursor to R&B.
A common improvisational solo typically consists of a “single chorus or a continuous
succession of choruses during which the player improvises on the harmonies (maybe
also to a greater or lesser degree the melody) of the theme” (Kernfeld, 2005; para. 1).
In this way, the soloist is given the opportunity to demonstrate “the freedom of invention,
virtuosity and ornamental elaboration,” (para. 1). In the final repetitions of the chorus in
“Can’t Hold Us Down,” Aguilera vocally alters the melody, thereby emphasizing the
message of the refrain.
Powers (2005) addresses the trend of the late 1990s that involved young AfricanAmerican singers who have sought to merge the rhythms and tough attitude of hop-hop
with the vocal technique of the 1970s’ soul. She describes such woman as
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“individualistic, more confrontational….in their songs they tangle with [the hip-hop
genre’s] cold-blooded male pronouncements” (p. 496). With Lil’ Kim as an ally, Aguilera
confronts the emotional cost in the battle as a “sexual warrior” (p. 496). In reference to
the treatment of sexuality in pop music, black music has “frankly celebrated love’s
sexual side,” giving artists a way of confronting the sexual stereotypes that racism has
created” (p. 496).
The video “Can’t Hold Us Down” is set in a recreated, somewhat stylized 1970s
black inner-city neighborhood. The individuals in the neighborhood are modeling a
modern spin on the clothing and hairstyles of the 1970s. The action takes place
outdoors on a bright, sunny day. Brick walls and surfaces are covered with colorful
graffiti; such as on a particular wall that reads, “Crack is Wack.” The volume of people
in the street suggests a bustling and active community. Children jump rope on the
sidewalk, use disposed mattresses as trampolines, and play among fire hydrants that
are spewing water. A group of women sit on the steps of a building, talking and
grooming each other, while men mingle on an opposite street corner.
Aguilera emerges from the group of women on the steps and struts down the
street. She is dressed in tiny pink shorts, knee-high socks in heels, a form-fitting top,
and heavy gold jewelry. She wears dark eye make-up, and her curly black hair is pulled
up under a purple hat. A man, wearing no shirt and matching red hat and pants, heads
toward her on the street. As they pass each other, he harasses her by grabbing her
behind, which sparks her indignation and the beginning of the song: “So what am I not
supposed to have an opinion / Should I be quiet just because I'm a woman?” (Aguilera
et al., 2002, track 2).
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As the conflict between Aguilera and the man intensifies, women and men join
each respective side until the genders begin a figurative dance “battle,” marked by the
large “boombox.” The group of women are diverse in size, dress, and skin tone, though
all (except Aguilera) appear to be African-American. In contrast, the men are generally
thin and athletic. The men perform breakdancing moves as a challenge to the women,
who respond with both choreographed and individual dances. The facial features, head
movement, posturing, and hand gestures of the women reflect the tone of the song’s
title. As the confrontation between the men and women continues on the street, other
women in the vicinity take notice--a woman who is hosing down a street peers toward
the commotion as other women lean from fire escapes.
The men respond initially with a mocking attitude, exemplified by one character
who holds out a hat for tributes to their performance. Lil’ Kim arrives and immediately
removes her draped covering to expose a bikini. A man incorporates a grab to his
“package” as he does a one-armed handstand, explicitly emphasizing sexual
dominance. The structured distance between the groups collapses when Aguilera
positions a garden hose between her legs, spraying the men. A side camera angle of
both men and women compares the physicality of the groups, showing women with
hands raised and men beginning to disband.
In the last segment, Aguilera struts away, physically rejoicing. The action behind
her is shown in shadow, as she walks down a bright street. A large woman, featured
earlier taking interest in the commotion, is now walking down the street with a baby in
one arm. She mouths, “You go, girl!” toward Aguilera as she raises her hand in similar
triumph.
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Both the video and lyrics of “Can’t Hold Us Down” illustrate a primary opposition
between men and women. The video depicts a nonviolent confrontation between
genders, through which the forum for debate is that of a dance “contest.” In this
context, members of both genders are able to physically express challenges, replies,
and rebuttals. The song’s chorus projects a rally cry emphasizing female unity against
men:
This is for my girls all around the world
Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth
Thinking all women should be seen, not heard
So what do we do girls?
Shout out loud!
Letting them know we're gonna stand our ground
Lift your hands high and wave them proud
Take a deep breath and say it loud
Never can, never will, can't hold us down.
A significant inversion takes place at the end of the video, with women becoming
more individualized as well as more masculine. Men’s characteristics are essentialized
through such lines as, “When a female fires back / Suddenly big talker don't know how
to act / So he does what any little boy will do / Making up a few false rumors or two.”
The song addresses a lying, disrespectful type of man who expects women to be quiet
and submissive. The response to such men is repeated in the call encouraging girls to
“Shout out loud!”
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Such an inversion is an established part of hip-hop culture, as Shelton (1997)
notes that even women rappers who have achieved financial stability and autonomy
continue to express an “inevitable, inextricable relationship with men and define
themselves by their ability to be integrated into a man’s world” (p. 111). Aguilera and Lil’
Kim make multiple references to gender equality, exemplified in their desire to be as
sexually promiscuous as men without receiving social punishment. Aguilera sings, “If
you look back at history / it’s a common double standard of society / the guy gets all the
glory the more he can score / while the girl can do the same and yet you call her a
whore.” Lil’ Kim opens her solo with a perplexing quandary: “Here’s something I just
can’t understand / If the guy have three girls then he’s the man / He can either give us
some head, sex her off / if the girl do the same, then she’s a whore.” To listeners with
cheating partners, Lil’ Kim suggests an “eye for an eye” solution: “do it right back to him
and let that be that / you need to let him know that his game is whack.” They are
attempting to gain equivalence with men on a personal level by matching behavior and
action.
The styles of dance that each group employs is indicative of their gendered
perspectives. The men are generally athletic, and their solo dance moments are
frequently ostentatious displays of skill. They exhibit advanced breakdancing moves
that involve balance and significant upper body strength. In contrast, the women dance
in a way that is sexual, but not seductive. They are also aggressive, but more
contained, in their movements. The camera allots more focus on the women’s faces
than on the men’s, highlighting their resistant attitudes and facial expressions. These
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distinct styles of dance reflect the men’s assertion of traditional male privilege and the
women’s determination to stand their ground and to offer fair responses and challenges.
Self-confidence and variety in color and shape are exemplified in the members of
Aguilera’s female posse. The type of dance movements they showcase, coupled with
facial expression and attitude, illustrate McRobbie’s (1984) description of dance as an
activity of control, pleasure, and sensuality for girls. The confrontation ends as the
women rejoice in the street, reflecting an “appropriation of the street as a reworking of
the ideological stance of male privilege” (Lewis, 1993). Lewis (1993) notes that
“females are socialized to avoid streets for fear of harassment and rape, to expect to
become objects of the male gaze if they make themselves too visible by loitering or
even walking slowly” (Lewis, 1993: p. 137). Thus, Aguilera’s triumphant exit via an
inner-city street punctuates a deliberate subversion of expectation and behavior
associated with gender.
From the moment Aguilera steps foot onto the street, she uses her clothing and
body movements to display her sexual confidence. Her sexual appeal is magnified by
the sweeping camera movement that pans over her body, especially at the moment
when the man grasps her behind. Lil’ Kim and Aguilera both remove clothing at points
during the song to expose their bodies. Sexuality is used strategically in “Can’t Hold Us
Down”; Aguilera and the other women exercise agency in the presentation of their
individual sexual appeals. In claiming their own sexuality as a tool, the women suggest
that they can diminish the subordination of the male gaze by controlling its direction.
Women’s bodies attain full potential when they are completely designed, displayed, and
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removed by the determination of every individual woman. Power, then, is tied to the
creation and manipulation of the object of sexual attraction.
“Can’t Hold Us Down” draws another connection between sex and power, aside
from sexual attraction. Both in the lyrics and video, the men and women draw
comparisons between sexual dominance and gender dominance. Twice, a man grabs
his penis as an affront to the women in a visceral reference to sexual virility. The
women respond by making gestures to imply that he is insufficiently endowed. As
verbalized in Aguilera’s lyrics: “So you're just a little boy / All you'll do is annoy / You
must talk so big / To make up for smaller things.” In implying that the man she
addresses is deficient in size and thereby unsatisfying as a sexual partner, she instantly
strips him of masculine pride while revealing the insecurity of his aggressive demeanor.
While the early verses refer to men’s moral integrity, the last verse of the song shifts to
primarily sexual insults. The video illustrates the women’s manipulation of gender roles;
Aguilera’s phallic positioning and use of the garden hose ultimately breaks the tension
between both groups, causing the men to run away. In this final action, she enforces
her commitment to match men’s actions stride for stride. In effect, “Can’t Hold Us
Down” suggests that by “becoming” men—engaging in the same activities and adopting
a dominant perspective on sex—women can eliminate social hierarchy and any remnant
of male privilege.
“Work It” : Originality Exceeds the Opposition
“Work It” suggests that although gender differences can help constitute a ground
level of experience, they can be creatively refashioned into composite expressions that
exceed binary frameworks. Thus, an examination of the topic becomes less important
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with a holistic re-evaluation of the song as a multimedia work of art. One of the most
salient characteristics of “Work It” is its creative manipulation of sound and image. The
song itself is not simply an original product, but an example of the escape from society
into private artistic innovation. Art, then, is portrayed as a place of refuge.
Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, like Lil’ Kim, is an artist producing from within the
boundaries of black hip-hop and rap culture. Rap is based on principles ultimately
derived from African music and verbal traditions (Starr & Waterman, 2003). “Work It”
exhibits features that are characteristics of African American music, including, “an
emphasis on rhythmic momentum and creativity; a preference for complex tone colors
and dense textures; a keen appreciation for improvisational skill (in words and music);
and an incorporative, innovative approach to musical technologies” (Starr & Waterman,
2003; p. 408). Hip-hop culture, which emerged in the 1970s in New York City, included
distinctive styles of visual art (graffiti), dance, music, dress, and speech (Starr &
Waterman, 2003). Each of these elements are present in the videos of “Can’t Hold Us
Down” and “Work It,” which portray hip-hop culture in a stylized fashion.
“Work It” opens with instantly identifiable rap music techniques, such as the use
of multiple underlying melodies and sampled beats that highlight the rhythmic pattern
and movement via “breaks and points of musical rupture” (Rose, 1994: p. 67). At some
points, she incorporates lines of unrecognizable words, which draw attention to the
rhythm and rhyme of the song. Many of these parts resemble the linguistic tools of
onomatopoeia--words imitating sounds--and scatting, a type of vocal improvisation
honed by jazz musicians of the 1930s (Starr & Waterman, 2003).
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Elliott offers a unique musical perspective as a female rapper and producer.
Black women rappers have assumed the social responsibility of interpreting and
articulating the fears, pleasures, and promises of young black women whose voices
have been relegated to the margins of public discourse (Rose, 1994). The women
musicians who have emerged from rap music have attempted to balance “rap music’s
track record of sexism and misogyny” (Pough, 2003; p. 239). Just as Queen Latifah
and Erykah Badu have begun to connect third wave hip-hop feminism and black
feminism through their music, Missy Elliott’s “Work It” exhibits characteristics that
similarly push the boundaries and issues addressed in rap music (Pough, 2003).
The video to “Work It” is composed of many scenes and brief visual story lines,
each with accompanying wardrobe changes, characters, and digital enhancements.
The song lacks a continuous plot, but is instead composed of independent scenes.
“Work It” opens with a man at a pay phone, calling a radio DJ. Elliott’s manicured hand
reaches for a record covered by bees, as the shot segues into a surreal image of her
behind a DJ turntable and microphone. Her face is impeccably made up, yet half of her
head is covered by swarming bees. She literally slides into the next scene, a dark
desert playground, in an extended horizontal position. She is centered between male
dancers amidst desert plants and playground equipment. The third scene introduced is
in a dark downstairs lobby. Part of the floor is covered in a polished black and white
checkered linoleum, on which several breakdancers are practicing. Elliott, wearing a
light blue jumpsuit, is shown suspended with her feet in the air, in a diagonal position.
The visual imagery shifts to correspond with the images that are described in the lyrics.
51
For example, at the verbal cue of “water,” a hand comes from the left of the screen,
offering her a glass.
The fourth scene is introduced when Elliott sings, “If you a fly gal, get your nails
done / Get a pedicure, get your hair did” (Elliott & Mosley, 2002, track 4). Elliott stands
in the foreground of a beauty salon, clad in an orange and black Adidas track suit.
Hairdressers sporting Afros are behind her, attending to a row of seated women with
long, straightened hair. In the fifth scene, Elliott is on a nice dinner date. Her hair is
short and styled, and her date is wearing a suit. As she sings, “Don't I look like a Halle
Berry poster / See the Belvedere playin' tricks on ya,” the blurry image of Halle Berry
appears in her date’s glass tumbler. The scene shifts after he faints out of his chair,
illustrating that she is “hot as Las Vegas weather.” In the sixth scene, she is in a
parking garage, with body diagonally tilted toward a man in a convertible to illustrate the
message, “I’m not a prostitute, but I could give you what you want.” In another part of
the parking garage, she appears in the center of female dancers. The camera focuses
on her dancers’ highly sexualized movements as she sings, “Keep your eyes on my
bum-bum-bum-bum-bum.”
After the break, the video shifts between a montage of brief illustrative scenes
coordinated with the lyrics: a row of ethnically diverse young men, herself as a dunce in
a corner, a “drummer boy” dressed in American military gear, a depiction of a slave and
his master, and Elliott on a table with a Prince impersonator. The latter portion of the
video is dance-intensive, as she returns to the breakdancers on the checkered linoleum.
The desert playground is also revisited, this time with children as back-up dancers
instead of men. The final scenes feature the original man at the pay phone, followed by
52
Elliott alone, turning her back after a dismissive hand gesture. The performance is
structured not only on gendered lines, but also in terms of real/surreal.
As shown, “Work It” introduces multiple personas with every shifting scene. This
video is distinguishable from the others addressed in this project, due in particular to its
visible lack of a continuous plotline. In addition to the displays of visual manipulation,
“Work It” interjects various sounds, such as the sound of an elephant or high whistles.
Elliott also uses words creatively, inserting invented words or onomatopaeia: “This the
kinda beat that go bha ta ta / Ra ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta / Sex me so good I say blah blah
blah.” Several times, she plays a spoken line backwards so that it sounds
unrecognizable, such as when she directs her audience to “Listen up close while I take
it backwards,” prior to the digital backwards feed of the line. Elliott’s stylistic choices
enforce the song’s absence of traditional binaries. Rather than addressing forces of
opposition within the video, the composition of the video itself reflects an emphasis on
multiplicity and individuality. Thus, the song’s presentation and treatment of issues
differs from the other videos.
Elliott manipulates her image in the “Work It” music video in creative and visually
engaging ways. Through digital technology, she shows herself in realistically
impossible physical positions and situations: in a diagonal handstand, sliding vertically
for an extended period, or covered by bees. At one point, her jaw extends to catch and
swallow a miniature Lamborghini. Scenes within the video are continuously changing,
whether they are focused on Elliott herself in color or black and white tones, showing
brief role-playing to illustrate the music, or showing full-body shots of Elliott with
dancers.
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Throughout, Elliott is depicted as dominant compared to men. “Work It” contains
many references to sex, whether preparatory maintenance (“Phone before you come / I
need to shave my chocha”), physical exertion (“Work it, I need a glass of water”), or
scheduling (“Gimme all your numbers so I could phone ya / Your girl actin’ stank then
call me over”). Other references indicate pride in sexual skill or the ability to command
attraction: “You won’t find a bitch that’s even better / I make you hot as Las Vegas
weather.” She describes herself as divorced from the emotional component of sex, to
the point that the pleasure of the act supercedes commitment to fidelity. Her overt
sexuality is expressed as a tool of power, which is illustrated in her physical posturing
and response to male characters in the video. The man at the dinner table faints from
his chair. The man in the convertible appears unsure and indecisive as she leans
toward him, singing, “I’m not a prostitute but I can give you what you want.” The Prince
impersonator mimics the action of licking her, but her attention remains focused on the
camera.
“Work It” is an expression of Elliott’s individuality as a creative artist. The video
illustrates a retreat into individuality, through which she shares a continually changing
sense of self. Elliott’s experimentation with appearance, style, and fashion reflects the
creative agency used by girls to assert individuality (Lewis, 1993). The parallel
projection of both her sexual skill and her creative agency indicate a mutual reenforcement of both sites of power. The video to “Work It” is by far the most stylized
and unconventional of the four analyzed. Although the video depicts no continuous
narration, Elliott is depicted as the song’s DJ, and the video closes with her literal exit
from the scene. Between her entrance and exit from the video, she adopts multiple
54
changes in persona and wardrobe. As the central character, she maintains eye contact
with the camera for most of her time onscreen. However, as the video’s engaging
visuals simply illustrate Elliott’s retreat into the authorship of her art, it therefore neglects
to offer a solution to the issues it addresses. The visual presentation of Elliott’s dance
sequences indicate a tone of reconciliation; her back-up dancers are first men, then
women and children. Dancing in this video is portrayed as an activity of harmonious
expression, and the montage of dance clips toward the end indicates Elliott as the
center of a community. Thus, “Work It” offers no viable resolution to the issue of gender
oppression or inequality.
Analysis of Results
Third wave feminism and current pop music have developed in a multicultural
and multi-dimensional environment that uses tools of sexuality and emotion to express
relationships. “Third wave feminists often take cultural production and sexual politics as
key sites of struggle, seeking to use desire and pleasure as well as anger to fuel
struggles for justice,” and some of these sites of struggle are similarly expressed in the
selections of pop music (Heywood & Drake, 1997; p. 4). All songs analyzed express an
association of sexuality and power in some form. Rose (1994) asserts that “works by
black women rappers that place black women’s bodies in the spotlight….affirm black
female beauty and yet often preserve the logic of female sexual objectification” (p. 147).
Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman,” Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” Christina
Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down,” and Missy Elliott’s “Work It” each offer very different
responses to the issue of gender inequality addressed by third wave feminism. The
songs articulate responses that are diverse and sometimes contradictory, due
55
necessarily to the fact they originate from within different social, generational, and
cultural contexts. At the same time, some of these responses also exhibit similarities in
their methods of mediating sources of oppression. These similarities most likely result
from American society’s patriarchal traditions, which have naturally influenced the
construction of gender within its subcultures.
The political solutions to gendered oppression posed by each of the four
musicians can be understood along racial and ethnic lines. Wilson and Lavigne, both
Caucasian, each reflect musical genres that have been rooted in white communities.
Both videos and songs present resolutions involving unity or androgyny—resolutions
that de-emphasize perceptions of difference between genders. Through “Redneck
Woman,” Wilson encourages women to stand up for themselves, drawing strength from
individual initiative. Wilson initially assumes two different personas in the video to
convey the internal tension of a woman’s domestic duty and her engagement in
masculine activities. The close of the video marks not only a uniting of selves at the
point of her disrobing, but also a joyous gathering between men and women alike. The
most significant point of “Redneck Woman” is centered in the way that it negotiates
closure. The communal bar scene at “Redneck Woman’s” conclusion offers a
convenient scenario in which gender inequalities no longer exist. Such an ending is
problematic in that it erases the need to negotiate gender difference.
As discussed, “Sk8er Boi’s” primary conflict is between the superficial and the
authentic. The song critiques a dependence on commodity, represented largely by the
center of the “Fashion District.” The ballerina in the song is condemned for being
materialistic, in contrast to the morally rewarding actions of the narrator. The song’s
56
lyrics express an aim to unify the lifestyle choices regardless of gender, while the
video’s imagery depicts men and women only as parts of a collective movement.
“Sk8er Boi” forgoes the issue of gender equality in attempting to conquer the threat of a
lifestyle that is focused on image rather than character. Thus, the only solution it offers
involves an implicit promotion of androgyny.
In contrast, “Can’t Hold Us Down” and “Work It” express perspectives that
assume a strong sexual demarcation between men and women. Both musicians
deliberately define themselves strongly in terms of gender and sexuality; Aguilera and
Lil’ Kim present themselves in physically provocative attire, while Elliott’s lyrics articulate
her feminine power via sexual prowess. Elliott’s depiction of her sexual confidence
parallels the attitude that male rappers have exhibited toward sex and women. While
male rappers have been traditionally understood as uniformly sexist, female rappers
have been touted for their “sexually progressive, anti-sexist voices” (Rose, 1994; p.
146). The cultivation of this delicately balanced relationship has produced voices that
indeed combat rap’s historically limiting images of women as merely “bitches, hos, or
scantily clad” (Pough, 2003; p. 237). However, in attempting to level the ground with
men, these musicians still create works rooted in an essentialist perception of gender.
The video to Aguilera’s song depicts a physical conflict and challenge, with no
mediating force between the two. Instead of dissolving tensions, sexual differences are
capitalized in their use as insults. The lyrics to the song rally girls to unite against a
presumably eternal battle against men; the exuberant woman and baby featured at the
end indicate a generational continuance of the struggle for superiority. The tension in
the video is dissolved only when Aguilera sprays the male group with water from a
57
garden hose positioned between her legs. Her physical enactment of essentially
becoming a man for this purpose implies first a desire to be dominant, rather than equal,
and second, that the primary route toward domination is through manhood.
Whether they are suggesting androgyny or sexuality, harmony, eternal
confrontation, or a retreat into individuality, each of the songs offers personal
perspectives on the current and desired position of women in society. The songs
inherently reflect contradictory ideas about feminist agency, due particularly to the
nature of oppression they define and the responses that they offer. The songs derived
from hip-hop, working within an assumption of patriarchy, contrasts vividly with the other
two songs’ conceptions of unity and androgyny.
An analysis of pop music has offered cultural responses from songs set within
the rural South, a young punk subculture, a 1970s black inner-city neighborhood, and
Missy Elliott’s imagination. The fact that all of these songs can be labeled “pop”
indicates, on a small scale, the diversity that characterizes American popular culture.
However, as elements of pop culture, the songs are pertinent to third wave feminism in
the ways that they articulate how feminism may be articulated to agency in the broader
culture.
As mentioned, all of the songs offer limiting solutions to the questions of gender
inequality posed by third wave feminism. Integral to the core belief system of the third
wave is an emphasis on activism; feminism is defined specifically as “a movement,
meaning a group working to accomplish specific goals….Those goals are social and
political change—implying that one must be engaged with the government and laws, as
well as with social practices and beliefs” (p. 56). The songs generally exhibit a lack of
58
emphasis on collective, political confrontation and solutions to patriarchy. The current
American cultural climate is one that has brought forth a feminist movement based in
the following assumption:
A third wave goal that comes directly out of learning from [diverse] histories and
working among these traditions is the development of modes of thinking that can
come to terms with the multiple, constantly shifting bases of oppression in
relation to the multiple, interpenetrating axes of identity, and the creation of a
coalition politics based on these understandings--understandings that
acknowledge the existence of oppression, even though it is not fashionable to
say so. (Heywood & Drake, 1997)
While the songs successfully acknowledge and reference oppression, they fail in
creating a “coalition politics.” Thus, the articulations of feminist agency are inherently
contradictory to third wave feminism due to the fact that several of the songs assume a
patriarchal perspective and none of them offer viable political solutions.
59
CHAPTER 5
CONCLUSION
The purpose of this study is to examine the articulation of third-wave feminism
and political agency through an analysis of four ostensibly feminist pop music
performances. Contradiction is identified not simply within songs or music personas, but
between and within specific performances and their textual conceptions of feminist
agency.
My examination of the articulation of feminist agency centers on an
understanding of pop music in the current historical moment, as well as the goals of
third wave feminists. Thus, a valuable contribution of this study is that it seeks to
explore relationships bridging the fields of media studies, feminism, and popular music
studies. It contributes to media studies through its use of pop music to assess specific
ways that feminism is articulated to politics. In doing so, it addresses multifaceted
articulations of feminism. Such an understanding is pertinent to feminism for its
exploration of the significant ways that this social movement coincides and makes use
of popular culture.
In order to address the purpose, I established three research questions to guide
my study:
1) In what specific ways is contradiction regarding feminist agency articulated in a
selection of current pop performances?
2) What patterns exist in this articulation within the performances chosen?
60
3) What are key implications of the articulation of contradictions for the progressive
potential of third wave feminism?
In order to answer these questions, I selected one song each by four current
female pop musicians: “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson, “Sk8er Boi,” by Avril
Lavigne, “Can’t Hold Us Down” by Christina Aguilera, featuring Lil Kim, and “Work It,” by
Missy Elliott. These four relatively diverse songs were used as materials on which to
conduct a textual analysis. I applied a semiotic approach to the song and its music
video, including an assessment of the song’s musical genre and style, a diachronic and
synchronic analysis, and an interpretation of the ways in which each text articulates
feminism with political agency.
Through this process, I was able to identify and compare each song’s
uniqueness, which directly addresses the first and second research questions.
“Redneck Woman” addressed the eventual union of a woman’s two personas—one
engaged in outdoor masculine activity, and the other as a sexualized stage performer.
The video reconciles the two spheres—and the gendered division in society—by
representing an overwhelming sense of community between men and women. The
spheres in conflict in “Sk8er Boi” are, by contrast, along lifestyle choices, specifically
between a middle-class consumerism and DIY youth/punk culture, which is portrayed as
more supportive and authentic. The conflict between these two spheres isn’t resolved
as much as it is portrayed as a perpetual standoff between youth and an amorphous,
faceless authority. In terms of feminism and political agency as articulated in the
youth/punk culture, there is an assumed androgyny within which gender inequalities
cannot emerge. “Can’t Hold Us Down” rallies young girls, encouraging them to “stand
61
their ground” against dishonest or disrespectful men. The song also portrays an ongoing
struggle between genders, presenting the means for women to assert their political
agency by assuming masculine characteristics. “Work It” asserts a woman’s sexual
confidence as a response to male sexual dominance. The expression of sexual agency
is correlated to creative agency, suggesting that only art can be a refuge from
patriarchy. I identified similarities by ethnic class, noting that the two songs rooted in
African-American musical styles articulate feminist agency with strong patriarchal
assumptions. Collectively, none of the performances clearly articulate third-wave
feminism to political solutions.
Specifically, third wave feminist response to sexual inequality includes the
celebration of differences rather than the intent to reconcile them. All of the
performances assessed portray reconciliation to some degree by using unity to solve
the problems that they present. “Redneck Woman” depicts a harmonious reconciliation
between the narrator’s personas and between men and women. “Sk8er Boi” illustrates
the active formation of a group with the purpose of social change, and “Can’t Hold Us
Down” portrays reconciliation respectively among men and women in opposition to each
other. “Work It” also reflects a tone of reconciliation, although its advocacy of
individualism and creativity distinguishes it as the performance most aligned with the
tenets of the third wave. However, the four songs collectively contradict third wave
feminism in their use of reconciliation.
The use of this technique within the selected performances can be linked to their
success in the pop music market. As mentioned, popular music songs generally
assume common stylistic patterns that make them more palatable to broad audiences.
62
The depiction of reconciliation is one among many characteristics that distinguish pop
songs from those that are geared toward niche markets. The pop industry’s obvious
aim is to develop and promote performances that maintain a thriving market; therefore,
the industry’s influence on the production of songs is an undeniable factor in the
analysis of these songs. The portrayal of a performance that is reconciliatory in nature
is one that is likely to appeal to a mass audience due to its optimistic or motivational
undertones. Thus, the pop music industry’s impact becomes evident in distinguishing
the types of feminist messages it produces in comparison to those of third wave
feminism.
Despite the songs’ appearance in conveying “feminist messages,” they contradict
third wave feminism as an activist movement specifically in their retreat into individualist
“solutions,” emphasis on reconciliation, or refusal to address the existence of gendered
inequalities. However, the analysis of these four pop performances provides an
illustration of four diverse feminist perspectives. Reading pop music and pop culture as
indicators of political thought and action, this project’s analysis of these songs is
additionally useful considering its emphasis on multiculturalism. An examination of the
historic developments of conflict within black rap culture and youth subcultures, for
example, indicates a more complete understanding of the articulation of feminist agency
that emerges from these cultures. Thus, third wave feminists can become more aware
of competing versions of feminism in pop culture while becoming better equipped to
respond to them.
I selected to conduct a textual analysis of the songs and videos. A future project
comparing the relationship between feminism and pop music could focus on the
63
institutional aspects of the industry, assessing production and political economy (Swiss
et al., 1998). Such work might include political-economic and organizational analyses,
as well as considerations of the technologies of musical production, government policies
toward musical production, and the practices of musicianship itself (Swiss et al., 1998).
Alternately, an ethnographic analysis might determine the presence and/or awareness
of these codes among various audiences (Alasuutari, 1999). This type of study could
involve focus groups or interviews of young girls, such as the one conducted with
“tweens” on the “colliding feminism” of Britney Spears (Lowe, 2003). At the heart of the
relationship between power and girlhood are the elements of commodity and consumer
power. This topic has been covered in detail in context of the Spice Girls, although a
comprehensive study would establish the degree of pop music’s current effect on
consumption and behavior.
As previously established, this study has drawn useful connections between
feminism, popular music studies, and media studies. The project’s selections of pop
songs illustrate the depth of explanatory power that pop culture products can offer. The
relationship between pop culture and radical social movements has been discussed in
other studies at great length; in this study, the four pop songs selected indicate the
ability of a movement such as feminism to impact pop culture. The effect of the feminist
movement on music is largely evident in the strides women have made in the field. This
project suggests how pop culture continues to produce different, culturally-based,
sometimes contradictory articulations of third wave feminism. The songs analyzed have
provided four different articulations of feminist agency, including a utopian community,
androgyny in rebellion, an eternal “stand-off” between men and women, or an escape
64
into individuality. Each articulation poses potentially vast implications if applied as
political action, thereby illustrating the significance of this study’s focus on media’s
varied articulation of feminism.
65
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APPENDIX
“Redneck Woman”
Well, I ain't never been the Barbie doll type
No, I can't swig that sweet champagne, I'd rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky-tonk or on a four-wheel drive tailgate
I've got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait
Some people look down on me, but I don't give a rip
I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip
CHORUS:
'cause I'm a redneck woman
I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raising
I say, 'hey ya'll' and 'yee-haw'
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big 'hell yeah' from the redneck girls like me, hell yeah
Victoria's Secret, well their stuff's real nice
But I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price
And still look sexy, just as sexy as those models on TV
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I don't need no designer tag to make my man want me
Well, you might think I'm trashy, a little too hardcore
But in my neck of the woods I'm just the girl next door
CHORUS:
I'm a redneck woman
I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raising
I say, 'hey y'all' and 'yee-haw'
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big 'hell yeah' from the redneck girls like me, hell yeah
CHORUS:
I'm a redneck woman
I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raising
I say, 'hey y'all' and 'yee-haw'
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every ol' Bocephus song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big 'hell yeah' from the redneck girls like me, hell yeah…I said hell yeah
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Hell yeah, hell yeah
Hell yeah
I said hell yeah!
“Sk8er Boi”
He was a boy
She was a girl
Can I make it any more obvious?
He was a punk
She did ballet
What more can I say
He wanted her
She'd never tell
Secretly she wanted him as well
But all of her friends
Stuck up their nose
They had a problem with his baggy clothes
CHORUS:
He was a skater boy
She said see you later boy
He wasn't good enough for her
She had a pretty face
But her head was up in space
She needed to come back down to earth
73
Five years from now
She sits at home
Feeding the baby she's all alone
She turns on TV
Guess who she sees
Skater boy rockin’ up MTV
She calls up her friends
They already know
And they've all got tickets to see his show
She tags along
Stands in the crowd
Looks up at the man that she turned down
CHORUS:
He was a skater boy
She said see you later boy
He wasn't good enough for her
Now he's a super star
Slamming on his guitar
Does your pretty face see what he's worth?
CHORUS:
He was a skater boy
She said see you later boy
He wasn't good enough for her
74
Now he's a super star
Slamming on his guitar
Does your pretty face see what he's worth?
Sorry girl but you missed out
Well tough luck that boy's mine now
We are more than just good friends
This is how the story ends
Too bad that you couldn't see
See the man that boy could be
There is more that meets the eye
I see the soul that is inside
He's just a boy
And I’m just a girl
Can I make it any more obvious?
We are in love
Haven't you heard
How we rock each other’s world
CHORUS:
I'm with the skater boy
I said see you later boy
I'll be back stage after the show
I'll be at the studio
Singing the song we wrote
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About a girl you used to know
CHORUS:
I'm with the skater boy
I said see you later boy
I'll be back stage after the show
I'll be at the studio
Singing the song we wrote
About a girl you used to know
“Can’t Hold Us Down”
[Christina Aguilera]:
So what am I not supposed to have an opinion
Should I be quiet just because I'm a woman
Call me a bitch ‘cause I speak what's on my mind
Guess it's easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled
When a female fires back
Suddenly big talker don't know how to act
So he does what any little boy will do
Making up a few false rumors or two
That for sure is not a man to me
Slanderin' names for popularity
It's sad you only get your fame through controversy
But now it's time for me to come and give you more to say
76
This is for my girls all around the world
Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth
Thinking all women should be seen, not heard
So what do we do girls?
Shout out loud!
Letting them know we're gonna stand our ground
Lift your hands high and wave them proud
Take a deep breath and say it loud
Never can, never will, can't hold us down
Nobody can hold us down
Nobody can hold us down
Nobody can hold us down
Never can, never will
So what am I not supposed to say what I'm saying
Are you offended by the message I'm bringing
Call me whatever ‘cause your words don't mean a thing
Guess you ain't even a man enough to handle what I sing
If you look back in history
It's a common double standard of society
The guy gets all the glory the more he can score
While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore
I don't understand why it's okay
The guy can get away with it and the girl gets named
77
All my ladies come together and make a change
Start a new beginning for us everybody sing
This is for my girls all around the world
Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth
Thinking all women should be seen, not heard
What do we do girls?
Shout out loud!
Letting them know we're gonna stand our ground
Lift your hands high and wave 'em proud
Take a deep breath and say it loud
Never can, never will, can't hold us down
[Lil’ Kim:]
Check it - Here's something I just can't understand
If the guy have three girls then he's the man
He can either give us some head, sex her off
If the girl do the same, then she's a whore
But the table's about to turn
I'll bet my fame on it
Cats take my ideas and put their name on it
It's aiight though, you can't hold me down
I got to keep on movin'
To all my girls with a man who be tryin’ to mack
Do it right back to him and let that be that
78
You need to let him know that his game is whack
And Lil' Kim and Christina Aguilera got your back
But you're just a little boy
Think you're so cute, so coy
You must talk so big
To make up for smaller things
So you're just a little boy
All you'll do is annoy
You must talk so big
To make up for smaller things
This is for my girls...
This is for my girls all around the world
Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth
Thinking all women should be seen, not heard
So what do we do girls?
Should out loud!
Letting them know we're gonna stand our ground
Lift your hands high and wave 'em proud
Take a deep breath and say it loud
Never can, never will, can't hold us down
This is for my girls all around the world
Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth
Thinking all women should be seen, not heard
79
So what do we do girls?
Should out loud!
Letting them know we're gonna stand our ground
Lift your hands high and wave 'em proud
Take a deep breath and say it loud
Never can, never will, can't hold us down
Spread the word, can't hold us down
“Work It”
{*scratching*} DJ please, pick up your phone
I'm on the request line {*scratching*}
This is a Missy Elliott one time exclusive
(C'mon, c'mon)
Chorus:
Is it worth it, let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
If you got a big [elephant], let me search ya
To find out how hard I gotta work ya
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
I'd like to get to know ya so I could show ya
Put the pussy on ya like I told ya
Gimme all your numbers so I could phone ya
Your girl actin' stank then call me over
80
Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa
Phone before you come, I need to shave my chocha
You do or you don't or you will or won't ya
Go downtown and eat it like a vulture
See my hips and my tips, don't ya
See my ass and my lips, don't ya
Lost a few pounds in my waist for ya
This be the beat that goes ba ta ta
ba ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta
Sex me so good I say blah-blah-blah
Work it, I need a glass of water
Boy, oh, boy, it's good to know ya
CHORUS:
Is it worth it, let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
If you got a big [elephant], let me search ya
To find out how hard I gotta work ya
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
If you a fly gal get your nails done
Get a pedicure, get your hair did
Boy, lift it up, let's make a toast-a
Let's get drunk, that's gon' bring us closer
81
Don't I look like a Halle Berry poster
See the Belvedere playin' tricks on ya
Girlfriend wanna be like me, never
You won't find a bitch that's even better
I make you hot as Las Vegas weather
Listen up close while I take it backwards
(Watch the way Missy like to take it backwards) [backwards]
I'm not a prostitute, but I could give you what you want
I love your braids and your mouth full of floss
Love the way my ass go bum-bum-bum-bum
Keep your eyes on my bum-bum-bum-bum-bum
And think you can handle this gadong-a-dong-dong
Take my thong off and my ass go vroom
Cut the lights off so you see what I could do
CHORUS:
Is it worth it, let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
If you got a big [elephant], let me search ya
To find out how hard I gotta work ya
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
Boys, boys, all type of boys
Black, white, Puerto Rican, Chinese boys
82
Why-thai,-thai-o-toy-o-thai-thai
Rock-thai,-thai-o-toy-o-thai-thai
Girl, girl, get that cash
If it's 9 to 5 or shakin' your ass
Ain't no shame, ladies do your thang
Just make sure you ahead of the game
Just 'cause I got a lot of fame supa
Prince couldn't get me change my name papa
Kunta Kinte a slave again, no sir
Picture black sayin', "Oh, yessa master"
Picture Lil' Kim dating a pastor
Minnie Me and Big Ren can out last ya
Who is the best, I don't have to ask ya
When I come out you won't even matter
Why you act dumb like "Uh, duh"
So you act dumb like "Uh, duh"
As the drummer boy go ba-rom-pop-pom-pom
Give you some-some-some of this Cinnabun
CHORUS:
Is it worth it, let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
If you got a big [elephant], let me search ya
83
To find out how hard I gotta work ya
{*"I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" - backwards 2X*}
To my fellas, ooooh
Good God, I like the way you work that
{*scratching: "Peter Piper" featuring Jam Master Jay*}
To my ladies, woo
You sure know how to work that, good God
84

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