As summer draws to a close, it's time to answer that burning musical question, once and for all: What is 2014's song of the summer? That's a tough question to answer. If you ask me, it's either Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" or Ariana Grande's "Problem" — but responses will vary from person to person. After all, there were a number of fantastic songs in contention for the title this year — many of them performed by women. And that's important.
It's pretty safe to say that the popular music of summer 2013 was dominated by dudes and the unwelcome, pungent stench of sexism and misogyny. Most of the season's biggest tracks were performed by male artists (Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," Imagine Dragon's "Radioactive," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Can't Hold Us," etc.), and the song of the summer was without a doubt Robin Thicke's ubiquitous "Blurred Lines," a disgustingly sexist and misogynistic track (with an equally horrific music video) that disguised its offensive lyrics with toe-tappin' beats and an infectious chorus. Yeah, summer 2013 wasn't exactly the best time for women in pop music.
So, did things get any better in 2014?
Yes and no. While female artists are definitely shining brighter in summer 2014, we're still dealing with songs that contain sexist and offensive lyrics (though no song has sparked outrage quite like "Blurred Lines"). As far as men and women sharing the charts goes, summer 2014 gets high marks. Otherwise, there's still a lot of room for improvement.
While last summer's biggest songs were probably Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," summer 2014's biggest songs are arguably Grande's "Problem" and Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" — a refreshing change. Male artists are, of course, still a force on the charts (I swear, if I hear Magic!'s "Rude" one more time . . .) but things have been considerably more equitable in 2014 — especially with the recent success of songs like Sia's "Chandelier," Charli XCX's "Boom Clap," Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass," Jessie J's "Bang Bang," Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda," and Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off."
In fact, on the most recent Billboard Hot 100 chart, seven of the songs inside the top 10 are performed by women. That's awesome.
However, casual sexism in pop music is, unsurprisingly, still a problem. Take Jason Derulo's "Wiggle" and Magic!'s "Rude," for example. While "Wiggle's" objectification of women is fairly straight-forward and, sadly, very familiar ("'Cause you know what to do with that big fat butt/Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle..."), "Rude's" sexism is a little less obvious.
"Rude" tells the story of a man who's asking his girlfriend's father for her hand in marriage — an antiquated practice that's arguably offensive on its own. When his girlfriend's father refuses to bless the union, Magic!'s lead singer boldly declares that he's "gonna marry her anyway," almost as if his girlfriend has absolutely no say in the matter. True, "Rude's" sexism may be more subtle than "Wiggle's" ridiculous lyrics ("Hot damnit, your booty like two planets . . .") — but it's no less problematic.
Beyond casual sexism, the songs of summer 2014 have a few other issues, as well. For example, Azalea's "Fancy" is so catchy, it's easy to ignore the fact that it contains some violent lyrics: "Slayin' these hoes, gold trigger on the gun, like . . ." The track also playfully uses the word "retarded" as slang.
Further, both Minaj's "Anaconda" and Trainor's "All About That Bass" are guilty of "skinny shaming." In "Anaconda," Minaj goes from celebrating women's bodies one minute to cutting them down the next, repeatedly chanting, "Fuck those skinny bitches!" Trainor does essentially the same thing in "All About That Bass," where she shifts from preaching total body acceptance to proclaiming, "I'm bringing booty back, go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that!"
There will always be people who say, "It's just a pop song — stop taking things so seriously!" But make no mistake: It's important to think critically about music, just like it's important to think critically about literature, television, and movies.
Let me put it this way: Pop songs with sexist, misogynistic, or otherwise offensive lyrics have the power to perpetuate inequality in the world today. They can normalize disrespectful attitudes toward women and reinforce all kinds of negative, damaging stereotypes. We need to be having these kinds of conversations about pop music and making our voices heard, because unless we demand better from artists and songwriters, nothing is going to change.
In the middle of her show-stopping performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé stood alone on stage for a moment, her silhouette illuminated by the word "FEMINIST" projected in bright lights behind her. It was a powerful statement, and the audience cheered — but clearly, we still have a long way to go before pop music becomes an inclusive listening experience for everyone. As someone who sleeps, eats, and breathes pop, I sincerely hope that we can continue to make meaningful changes.
Until next summer . . .