There’s a little girl-on-girl rivalry brewing in the 20-something pop star world, and, for once, it’s actually a heartening sign. In one corner we have 17-year-old singer-songwriter Lorde, a synthy New Zealand sensation known for her authentic lyrics and a non-tarty persona positioned as the anti-Miley. (Check out her gorgeous, Fiona Apple voice on her wonderfully poppy single, “Royals.”) In the other, we have Selena Gomez, a former Disney star who has herself tried, of late, to transition to more “adult” themes in her music and a sultrier (if miles tamer than Miley) persona. The dust-up: Lorde took a shot at Gomez’s single “Come and Get It” for its anti-woman sentiments, as MTV.com reported. “I’m a feminist and the theme of her song is, ‘ When you’re ready come and get it from me,'” Lorde said. “I’m sick of women being portrayed this way.” Gomez responded in an interview with Flaunt magazine: “That’s not feminism. [Lorde is] not supporting other women. That’s my honest opinion, that’s what I would say to her if I saw her,” she said. “I actually covered her song in all of my shows that I’ve done so far… I’m not sure if I’m going to continue that.”
Yes, the latest controversy involving two female pop stars mentions feminism. Twice.
I can’t help thinking that this is the way I prefer to see pop stars prove how mature they are. Most who start out in the business in their teens end up struggling to transition to more grown-up personae, and they usually choose to do so by posing in photo shoots or appearing in performances nearly naked (“Look! I have adult parts now!”), singing about drugs or sex, and partying like rock stars with unlimited means (hi, Justin Bieber right now!) mainly because they are. Here, instead, we have an actually reasonable debate about what feminism means to each of these young women. No swipes at looks or bodies, no fights over boyfriends. It’s a very young-woman, Feminism 101 debate, of course: Is it “okay” for a woman to sing about being ready — and waiting — to give “it” to the guy of her choice? And is it “feminist” to speak out against such things? If this puts feminism into the consciousness of even one of their young fans, I’m all for it, every last bit of it. And thinking about such issues is a far better indicator of adulthood than writhing around seductively just to prove something.
Britney Spears has become the poster child for all that can go wrong in this transition, breaking down under the pressure of a sex kitten image she took on before she knew what she was getting into. And it’s taken her until, in my opinion, just this week — she’s 31 now — to show the first promising sign of growing up, for real. When I listened to her new single, “Perfume,” my first thought was: My little girl has grown up! (I have intense big-sisterly feelings toward Brit.) She actually sings, which is a nice development — even the most loyal of us Britney fans must admit that’s a departure. But more importantly, she shares what appear to be genuine emotions, and vulnerable ones at that, about either being the other woman or being cheated on: “So I, wait for you to call/And I try to act natural/Have you been thinking ’bout her or about me?/And while I wait, I put on my perfume, yeah, I want it all over you
I gotta mark my territory/I’ll never tell, tell on myself, but I hope she smells my perfume.” It’s unclear, but either way, she’s exposing herself beyond, you know, “You want a hot body? You want a Mazerati? You better work, bitch.” Not that I don’t love that song, but Perfume marks a point of real artistry. Britney even gets a songwriting credit on it.
It’s a small development in a monster, and at times monstrous, career, but it makes me wish we could let our pop stars grow up through their music, instead of through the weird hyper-sexualization routine that has become our modern coming-of-age ritual for young artists.
If you can’t tell, I really like this song: