Pop music often gets criticized for being sexist. However, female artists are increasingly dominating the music scene. With this comes new perspectives on what it means to be a woman. Without further ado, here are 10 feminists songs of the past decade.
1. Rihanna – Unfaithful
Rihanna Unfaithful: This early single from RiRi turns the cliché of the philandering boyfriend/husband on its head. Now, it’s the woman who relishes in taking sexual agency, relationship be damned. Rihanna flips the lame excuse guys use in these kinds of songs: “As he reluctantly asks if I’m gonna be out late. I said won’t be long. Just hanging with the girls,” and the ironic admission-of-feeling-guilty-as-excuse motif: “Story of my life. Searching for the right. But it keeps avoiding me.” Originally titled MURDERER, the song’s violent metaphors illustrates the power of the female in this relationship. Interestingly, the intersection of love and murder would be explored again by RiRi in MAN DOWN, 4 years and 3 albums later.
2. Aaliyah – Never No More
Aaliyah Never No More: This heartbreaker from Aaliyah’s self-titled album is about a woman who’s found herself stuck in an abusive relationship. At first, her man just twists her arm. Aaliyah tells her abuser, “you better not touch me again” and pledges to leave if it happens again. However, the abuse continues, gradually devolving to the point of Aaliyah getting choked. She knows that this is unacceptable, admitting, “that this treatment is way out of line.” However, she then rationalizes it, thinking, “You know I’d rather give you your space. Cuz I just don’t know. What, to or not to say. Stay out your way or get in your face.” By taking the blame for the violence, Aaliyah resigns herself to her ordeal, repeating the song’s tragic chorus in her head like a broken record. Never No More stands as a powerful testament to the cycle of abuse that many women become trapped in.
3. Destiny’s Child – Independent Women
Destiny’s Child Independent Women Pt. 1: The breakout single from the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack was about being “always 50/50” in relationships with men. That is, when an Angel desires one. If Bey’s feeling like early-2000s Jay-Z, she may, “Only ring your celly when I’m feelin’ lonely. When it’s all over please get up and leave.” Otherwise, it’s all about working for the Benjis, since, “Bragging on that cash that he gave you is to front. If you’re gonna brag make sure it’s your money you flaunt.” Big pimpin’, indeed…
4. Nelly Furtado – Promiscuous
Nelly Furtado Promiscuous: The Canadian crooner’s magnum opus is about the dynamics of hookup culture and its double standards. After Timbaland hollas at Nelly, she inquires, “You expect me to just let you hit it. But will you still respect me if you get it?” The rest of the song is focused on Nelly’s conflicted feelings about potentially hooking up, yo-yoing from, “Boy, I’m tired of running, let’s walk for a minute,” and “Promiscuous boy, you already know. That I’m all yours, what you waiting for?” In between trading playful barbs with Timbaland, such as “Chivalry is dead, but you’re still kinda cute,” she also voices her reservations, like, “What kind of girl do you take me for?” in response to Timbaland’s smooth talking, and admissions of vulnerability: “I’m a big girl I can handle myself. But if I get lonely I might need your help.” In other words, it’s all about the nuances of hookups not explored in most sexy pop songs.
5. Beyoncé – Irreplaceable
Beyoncé Irreplaceable: This Beyoncé canon classic is about staying not only strong, but proud after the end of a bad breakup. When Beyoncé’s ex tells her that she’ll never be able to replace him, she defiantly boasts, “I could have another you in a minute. Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute, baby.” Too often, women stay in messed-up relationships because they feel like they’ll never find another man who will love them. Women don’t need to rely on men for self-worth or net worth, either; as Bey reminds her former boo, “it’s my name that’s on that Jag.”
6. Katy Perry – I Kissed A Girl
Katy Perry I Kissed a Girl: To fully appreciate Perry’s breakthrough single, one must put it into the context of her upbringing. She grew up with not one, but two pastors for parents. All through her childhood, Katy Hudson, as she was known then, devoted her heavenly voice to singing God’s praises. When she was 16, she even released a self-written, self-titled gospel album, to critical acclaim.
Seven years later, Katy rebranded herself completely, changing her name to Katy Perry and her lyrics to the polar opposite of what she had been writing as a devout Christian child. The song relates an actual experience she had when she, “got so brave, drink in hand,” in glorious detail. It’s both a celebration of bi-curiosity and an examination of her conflicted feelings about the kiss that “felt so wrong, it felt so right.” Her religious upbringing, and society in general, has her feeling that the same-sex smooch is, “not what good girls do. Not how they should behave,” but at the end of the day, she realizes it “Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent.” Besides, “Us girls we are so magical. Soft skin, red lips, so kissable. Hard to resist so touchable.”
7. Fergie – Fergalicious
Fergie Fergalicious: This delicious single is proof that a woman can write a song that’s sexually confident without also being sexually gratuitous. Ms. Fergalicious makes, “the boys go loco. They want my treasures, so they get their pleasures from my photo.” You can have fun with Fergie’s photos, but not Fergie, as she, “ain’t promiscuous.” Or, as she puts it, “You can see me, you can’t squeeze me. I ain’t easy, I ain’t sleazy.” Fergalicious is an anthem for women who refuse to allow themselves to be objectified by their sexiness.
8. Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone
Kelly Clarkson Since U Been Gone: Kelly Clarkson’s biggest hit resonated with audiences for its story of triumph after a bad breakup. While Kelly was with her man, “all you’d ever hear me say. Is how I pictured me with you.” After the Breakaway, however, she realizes that the relationship, “was cool, but it was all pretend,” and that her ex, “put me on. I even fell for that stupid love song.” Now, she’s ready to move forward with her life: “But since you been gone. I can breathe for the first time. I’m so moving on, yeah, yeah.”
9. Evanescence – Call Me When You’re Sober
Evanescence Call Me When You’re Sober: Based on lead singer Amy Lee’s breakup with the front man of Seether, Shaun Morgan, the song is about the power that a woman maintains after a relationship. When her ex keeps drunkenly asking her to take him back, Amy mulls over whether she, “Should I let you fall? Lose it all?” She decides on a clean break, since, “Can’t keep believing. We’re only deceiving ourselves. And I’m sick of the lie. And you’re too late.” After all, “If you loved me. You would be here with me.” After leaving Amy, she points out that, “You can’t play the victim this time.” A woman owes nothing to a former flame; rather, she owes it to herself to look to a brighter future, rather than a troubled past.
10. Ciara – Like A Boy
Ciara Like a Boy: This song is literally about the double standards that exist in relationships and wanting to “switch up the roles.” “What if I had a thing on the side. Made ya cry. Would the rules change up? Or would they still apply? If I played you like a toy. Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy.” Enough said.
This concludes the list of 10 feminist songs of the 20 Double-O Decade. This current decade is almost over, so there will be many more songs of to come!
Featured image via screengrab of Unfaithful music video by Rihanna.