[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]
On the birthday of one of the most badass women I know, the less and more radical layers to a renaissance in badass women artists.
From Adele and Beyoncé to the ever-ubiquitous Taylor Swift (among many others of course), it’s fair to say that for some time now a high percentage of the biggest, most successful, and most influential pop music artists and songwriters have been women. Two of those three artists likewise dominated the pop charts and conversations across much of 2022—with Beyoncé’s Renaissance claiming the summer (make sure to read that awesome hyperlinked Guest Post on the album from my friend Hettie Williams) and T-Swift’s Midnights really really taking over the fall. (And for that matter, Adele had the first #1 song of 2022, so I guess it was a clean trifecta.) But based on my sons’ and my extensive research (listening to SiriusXM’s Hits 1 station in the car all year, that is), I would say that the 2022 pop music dominance of both women overall and badass women in particular went way beyond that longstanding trio of all-time greats, and that any narrative of the year in pop music would likewise have to include (again among others) Lizzo, Latto, Gayle, Leah Kate, Ava Max, Jax, Megan Thee Stallion, and the triumphant return of Nicki Minaj.
“Super Freaky Girl,” the first new single in many many years from that last artist, Nicki Minaj, reflects what I’d call the significantly less radical side of this focus on fierce females. To be as clear as I possibly can be (thanks for nothing as always, Ben Shapiro), I don’t have the slightest problem with highly, graphically sexual songs, of which Minaj’s is a particularly overt example (maybe even more so than the current leader in the clubhouse, “WAP”). And I get why women making such songs about themselves represents a step toward greater musical and artistic (and perhaps even social) equality, compared to the long history of male artists making songs that similarly sexualized women (something Minaj herself is at least partly commenting on by sampling Rick James’ “Superfreak” for her own song). But at the end of the day, Minaj’s song, like “WAP” and many others in this sub-genre, still defines badass largely through the lens of the effects that the speaker can have on men, and to my mind that’s a relatively limited and certainly more traditional vision of what it means to be a badass woman.
That’s one of a number of reasons why I’d join the chorus celebrating Lizzo and her particular brand of badassery (the fact that she can whip out and then rock out on a 200 year old flute in concert is another big reason). While it hadn’t been nearly as long since she had released new music, Lizzo did have a comeback album of her own this year; and the first single, the mega-hit “About Damn Time,” nicely reflects this distinct and more radical sub-genre. The song’s first two lines set that stage perfectly: “It’s bad bitch o’clock, yeah it’s thick-thirty/I’ve been through a lot but I’m still flirty.” Of course flirtation is part of this identity, as it is for just about any of us—but it’s one layer to a more overarching sense of hard-earned self-esteem, one for which the speaker continues to fight even in the face of the kinds of challenges that can temper even the most badass of us. Another repeated part of the song extends those ideas beautifully: “I’ve been so down and under pressure/I’m way too fine to be this stressed, yeah/I’m not the girl I was or used to be/Uh, bitch, I might be better.” I’m pretty sure in that final line Lizzo is calling out both herself and, y’know, every single damn thing in 2022, and modeling in the process what it means to be a badass artist, woman, and human. Now that’s a renaissance worth celebrating!
Next 2022 reflection tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?