Salt-N-Pepa, Ciara, and 5 Other Feminist Artists Whose Anthems Can't Be Ignored
There is absolutely no doubt about it — 2014 has been The Year of Beyoncé. Feminist histories and timelines will remember it as such, and the iconic image of Beyoncé's VMA performance, in which her silhouette stood out in front of a giant sign reading "FEMINIST," will go down in history. Her status as pop-queen-extraordinaire-beacon-of-hope-for-the-women's-rights-movement is a very well-deserved title. Bey has been outspoken and consistent in creating art that seeks to empower and liberate women everywhere, especially women of color who've been historically left out of the conversation.
During such an exciting time filled with energy and new hope for the feminist movement, it's easy to forget about all the other female artists who have stood next to (or preceded) Bey in preaching feminist beliefs in their music and actions. Check out these seven rad ladies who have been pushing the movement forward, each in their own way.
We all know about Ciara's one-two steppin' and her "Goodies" (a song which has some shining feminist moments of its own) but in 2007, R&B artist Ciara released the song and video for "Like a Boy" which made a pretty powerful statement about gender and relationships. She starts off with a very matter-of-fact line: "2007. Ladies, it's time to switch roles" (cue swooning). The song questions the double standards that can exist in heterosexual relationships, and criticizes certain aspects of accepted masculine culture that condone things like cheating in a monogamous relationship, for example. The big question that runs through the song is one Ciara already knows the answer to, which is what makes the song so powerful: "What if I had a thing on the side, made you cry/ Would the rules change up or would they still apply?/ If I played you like a toy?"
2. Janelle Monáe
I've never heard a feminist anthem quite as powerful as Janelle Monáe's "Q.U.E.E.N.," where she pairs up with Erykah Badu and sings out her concerns and hopes on a five-minute track. The best part of "Q.U.E.E.N." is that it's strikingly unapologetic — Monáe details her quirks, loves, and strengths and declares "Even if it makes others uncomfortable/ I will love who I am." She condemns any type of judgment and celebrates the diversity in herself and the women around her. Like Ciara, Monáe asks an important question: "She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel/ So why ain't the stealing of my rights made illegal," but unlike Ciara, this time there isn't a clear answer. Her last line is a call to action, where she makes clear that, in her version of feminism and activism, it's crucial not to conform, and even more crucial to speak out on behalf of your beliefs.
Cheryl James and Sandra Denton are the American hip-hop duo who call themselves Salt-N-Pepa, and they were making music about feminism and equality back when it was pretty new for women to be prominent players in the rap scene. Their song "None of Your Business," which won a Grammy in 1995, is one of the best anti slut-shaming songs out there (which is really cool because the '90s weren't really a time when people were talking about slut-shaming to begin with). The track calls out double standards and defends a woman's right to do with her body as she pleases, plus it brings up the important idea of not being persistent after someone says no. So, in the immortal words of Cheryl and Sandra, "And if she wanna be a freak and sell it on the weekend/ It's none of your business/ Now you shouldn't even get into who I'm givin' skins to/ It's none of your business /So don't try to change my mind, I'll tell you one more time/ It's none of your business."
4. Sara Bareilles
This lady is all about keeping her songs honest and making music about things that she feels are truly important, which is what makes her song "King of Anything" that much more perfect. One thing Bareilles sings about that the previous ladies didn't is the Prince Charming / Damsel in Distress Trope. She says "I hate to break it to you, babe/ But I'm not drowning/ There's no one here to save." She is excited about being her own person but frustrated that someone else always seems to be calling the shots which, in the case of this song, is the "king," whose crown she asks to take at the end. She wants to know why other people (and I think it's safe to assume mostly men) feel entitled to an opinion about her and her behavior, and she's not afraid to shut them down.
5. Marina Diamandis
Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds is a fierce, Welsh pop artist who has a strong "Girl Power" theme to a lot of her music. This theme most clearly shines through in "Buy the Stars" which is all about self-ownership and body autonomy. Though the song has many themes, the most important message lies in her first few words. "You bought a star in the sky tonight/ Because your life is dark and it needs some light/ You named it after me, but I'm not yours to keep/Because you'll never see that stars are free."
6. FKA Twigs
There's a lot to be said for the complicated depiction of consent, control, and female sexuality in this music video for the song "Papi Pacify" by English singer-songwriter FKA Twigs (Tahliah Barnett). Most importantly, it's pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in terms of women expressing sexuality and desire. Though the video may initially seem violent and strange, it shows a clearly consensual relationship between a woman and a man where the woman is asking to be pacified as a means to clarify their love. In fact, it's the very raw and, for some, disturbing depiction of submission and dominance that makes this video so empowering and striking: even when she's submitting, she's in control. She calls the shots and she achieves her own pleasure.
7. Christina Aguilera
Christina has always been able to say it best. PLAY US OUT, GIRL! Though the music video undermines the strength of the message, I believe this is an excellent and empowering song.