Music in the twenty-first century, often considered to be at the forefront of popular culture, comes with more political weight than you would assume …
It is a popular question to ask who truly runs the world, and who better can you think to answer it than the music industry’s leading lady. Lets, for example, ask Beyoncé! I am sure she has a highly diplomatic answer that encompasses her role as the true feminist icon she outlines in ‘***Flawless’. After all, as contemporary feminism argues, sexes should always strive to be equal, sharing privilege and promoting values without depreciation of one gender. Well, in 2011 Beyoncé answered all of our questions, providing the well-evaluated and truly nonpartisan answer to who runs the world … girls. Perhaps not quite the most diplomatic response from such a strong ‘feminist’ figure that should (in theory) promote nothing but gender equality.
This is not meant as a hate segment to Beyoncé, she is an icon of our generation, and I myself have her albums and have seen her in concert. It is rather the irony behind messages like this in music that are the focus of this criticism. How can you possibly be an advocate for feminism and then release a song that favours one gender over the other? Flipping the coin, for example, one can already hear the scathing hisses of the radical left-wingers at the mere thought of Robin Thicke’s next hit, ‘Who Runs The World? (White Males)’.
‘The demonization of the working class’
Unlike many other industries, the music world at present provides scope for those of both advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds to make it big. For our Atlantic neighbours, success stories like that of Nicki Minaj remind us of how a person plagued with childhood difficulties, including a drug-addicted father who burnt down their house in Trinidad, can overcome boundaries to become the most successful female rapper of all time. On our side of the pond we have people like Cheryl Cole, brought up on a mixture of council estates in the North East, finding a passion for dance and eventually paving a path towards the nation’s hearts as part of one of the country’s most successful girl groups in history.
In 2014, Suzanne Moore wrote an article for the Guardian claiming that the demonization of Tulisa Contostavlos during her cocaine trial was to do with her being branded a ‘chav’ by the media. The article claims that her upbringing and family background (including her mother’s battle with depression) was somewhat and somehow responsible for the media’s insistence that Tulisa was not a ‘good girl’. Perhaps Ms Moore selectively chose to forget about the popular two years that the star spent on the X Factor UK, being welcomed into the viewers’ hearts for mentoring future global successes such as Little Mix to victory — not to mention Tulisa’s own number one hit back in 2012. Therefore as appealing as the article’s argument may be, perhaps negative public perception of Tulisa arose more from her two accounts of assault or her arrest after a drink-driving collision.
Whereas the article may have claimed that Tulisa’s fate came as a result of the demonisation of the chav stereotype, the successes of many others who could fit into Moore’s working-class bracket quite clearly show this to be an arresting notion. Maybe it is more a case of certain people demonising themselves rather than society doing it for them?
Ageism — would you perform after being yanked down a flight of stairs?
Some artists simply never know when to hang up the towel (or, shall we say, cape), sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
Madonna is perhaps the most striking example of this. A truly iconic figure, she has made history throughout her career by pushing cultural, religious and social boundaries. Her semi-rebirth with the release of her Confessions album seems to be where she had started to pick up criticisms relating to her age; after the clock struck 45, she unleashed the revealing leotard-clad ‘Hung Up’ video on the world. Since then criticisms have poured in thick and fast insisting that Madonna should stop what she’s doing, and become more conservative for her age … because that’s how Madonna has always sold records, right?
Don’t get me wrong, no one needs to see her purposely-exposed nipple live on stage or watch her flashing her arse cheeks on the red carpet of the Grammys, she owes herself and her career more than that. Then, however came the Brit Awards 2015, a visual representation that, actually, Madonna can do whatever she pleases, and far better than most. Anyone who can be pulled down a flight of stairs in front of the O2 Arena’s five million viewers in Britain, with the rest of the world’s social media watching, only to proceed to get up, complete the performance and blame it on the Armani Empire is almost certainly entitled to do whatever she pleases at whatever point in her lifetime. Surely this goes to show that ageism is a redundant idea.
But please, Madge, put your nipple away.