One of many popular and consumer-driven domains in our society, the music industry has been associated with social biases and greedy motives for a very long time. One particularly disturbing issue in the music world is the creepy way in which young female pop stars are portrayed. They are supposed to be sexy, but only in a cute and innocent way. They can talk and sing about boys, but not sex. And they should never reveal anything about themselves that might taint their image.
Essentially, young starlets are not allowed to be real people with real problems because they’re too busy acting as lucrative puppets for the teams of people behind them. For some reason, this behavior has been deemed normal. Fortunately, however, a growing number of talented, rule-breaking pop stars have been gaining more and more mainstream exposure in the past several years, and their willingness to talk about sexism in the world of music as well as real feelings and issues is slowly beginning to crack the pop star mold that has long complicated the lives of artists as well as the young fans that idolize them.
Grimes, also known as 24-year-old Claire Boucher, has been making music for a few years now, but gained an much larger following with the release of her acclaimed album Visions in 2012. The versatility in her music –– she combines elements of traditional pop with IDM, noise-rock, R&B, etc. –– is complemented by her choices in fashion, as her personal style is a bit like a gothic yet playful anime character. Grimes is somewhat of a rarity in the industry, as her image and music are both so personal and expressive of herself as an artist. She also writes, produces, directs videos and plays her own instruments.
She’s revealed that she is a feminist and has openly talked about feeling exploited by the male-dominated industry. In an interview with Spin Magazine, she spoke of the problems associated with being objectified and/or infantilized as an artist, and how it can overpower the quality of the music. In the same interview, she talked about being an assault victim and how that became the inspiration for the song ‘Oblivion’ and its accompanying video, which ironically puts her in the middle of a bunch of hyper-masculine scenarios. When asked about the importance of the meaning behind ‘Oblivion,’ she responded:
“I needed to make this song. I took one of the most shattering experiences of my life and turned it into something I can build a career on and that allows me to travel the world. I play it live every night. The whole process has been positive — engaging with that subject matter and making it into something good.”
20-year-old singer and songwriter Sky Ferreira also combines pop music with more experimental sounds, and has made similar remarks about both the industry and haunting past events. In an interview with Rookie Mag founder Tavi Gevinson, she proclaimed:
“And the thing is, every woman is supposed to look like a little girl now, which I find so weird and disgusting, because I never thought of being a teenager as sexy. I never felt that whole Lolita thing, but [adult female pop stars] are way past the age to be singing about it…it’s sick.”
Ferreira also opened up about being sexually abused (and how she was blamed for being quiet) and later said:
“It’s fine. I’ve come together with it. It didn’t define me. I kind of had this year to think about it while I was writing this record, just thinking about how people are treated. People expect things to just define you. Like, ‘She was raped, that means she’s a victim forever.’ Or ‘She should be ashamed.’ Obviously it’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s not something I’m gonna hide for the rest of my life.”
Tragically, sexual assault occurs all the time, and one of the most upsetting things about it is how so many young women keep their stories and feelings hidden because they are too embarrassed to admit that it happened to them. The lifelong stigma that comes with being a victim of sexual assault can seem almost as traumatic as the abuse itself; young girls don’t want to feel ashamed or have to bear the ‘sexual assault victim’ label. It’s pretty incredible when young stars aren’t afraid that their admissions will corrupt their images or compel the general public to view them differently. The two aforementioned women help communicate that sexual assault doesn’t define you as a person and that you can eventually make use of painful experiences in a positive way, so it’s interesting to think about how much of that stigma could be erased if more young stars began to speak out.
Grimes and Sky Ferreira might be two of the most popular musicians to have recently talked about feminist issues and the music industry, but there are several other rising stars whose disregard for becoming a ‘traditional’ pop star is admirable. Up-and-coming lesbian stripper-turned-rapper Brooke Candy dropped her first single ‘Das Me’ last October, and it included the line(s) “‘Slut’ is now a compliment / A sexy-ass female who running shit and confident.” Many other rising pop stars like Charli XCX exude raw Girl Power, and “queer-rap” icon Mykki Blanco (who is actually a male who raps in a wig and refers to him/herself as the “Illuminati Prince/ss”) is achieving a cult following for blurring gender roles in the rap world.
In a society that’s so fixated on maintaining outdated and biased archetypes in something as large and supposedly diverse as the music industry, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the individuals that refuse to adhere to stereotypical roles –– the ones who put themselves out there and incite individuality among their fans. Perhaps, by supporting their endeavors and watching their continued successes, the traditional pop star mentality could either morph into a more positive one, or simply go away forever.
Written by Nicole Woszczyna