Feminism has not always been a word that sits easily with our female pop superstars, but the last few years have seen a clear turnaround as female artists resoundingly speak up about issues of power and inequality. Among those getting behind movements like #metoo and #timesup, is it true that Taylor Swift – perhaps the biggest star of all – has been noticeably absent? Or is it time we reappraised where she stands, without the media’s all-consuming obsession with her personal life standing in the way?
WORDS. Matthew Paroz
Pop music is many things to many people: escapist, euphoric, erotic. A few lyrics strung together with an infectious melody can perfectly encapsulate a sentiment or trigger a memory. The songs that stay with us have an uncanny way of capturing some commonality of the human condition. That’s the beauty of pop: we can take from it whatever we hear, and whatever speaks to us.
Yet for some reason we expect more than catchy tunes from our idols. We like to imagine pop can change the world. Music is an undeniably powerful platform for women: think of Aretha Franklin demanding R.E.S.P.E.C.T. in the ’60s and Loretta Lynn celebrating contraceptive liberation with ‘The Pill’ in 1975. Then came Madonna and ‘Express Yourself’ in 1989, and the Spice Girls championing “girl power” in the ’90s, and ever since it’s become de rigueur for female artists to coat their careers in a veneer of sisterhood. Until recently, however, most stopped short of using that most controversial of f-words: feminism.
Denying feminism was once almost a rite of passage for mainstream female pop artists with an eye on the big time. Distancing themselves seemed compulsory to secure a continued rise on the charts, a kind of insurance policy that the public demanded to keep buying their records and admiring them, and to make it safe for men to desire them. For women trading on sex appeal to strive for mass-market domination, even the merest suggestion of a strident, man-hating stereotype – however improbable– had to be avoided.