Is "Pretty Girls" A Feminist Anthem?

by Alex Kritselis

After weeks and weeks of teasing, Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea's new single, "Pretty Girls," finally arrived on Monday. When I discovered in March that the highly anticipated duet was co-written by Little Mix — a popular British group — I hypothesized that its lyrics may hold an important message for listeners. After all, Little Mix has a history of penning tunes with inspiring and uplifting themes. So, was I correct? I don't get to say this very often, but... yes! Believe it or not, "Pretty Girls" is more than just a catchy pop song — I think it has the potential to empower women and spark necessary conversations about unwanted male attention and, as Bustle’s Kadeen Griffiths points out, male sexual entitlement. Could you call "Pretty Girls" a feminist anthem?

That's a good question — one that's bound to elicit a variety of different responses. Here's my take:

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: "Pretty Girls" characterizes men as slobbering dopes who only have “one thing on their minds” — women. "Wherever the girls go, boys follow," Spears declares on the first verse. It's a nasty stereotype to be sure, but it’s used to underscore just how unsafe and “targeted” unwanted male attention and male sexual entitlement can make women can feel in their daily lives.

For example, during the pre-chorus, Azalea describes pulling up to the club and being shamelessly ogled by the dudes waiting outside (their jaws are "on the ground"). Later, in the second verse, Spears makes a reference to being catcalled: "Every time I walk out of my house it's like, 'Hey, baby!'" she sings as a group of guys begin to "buzz" around her “like flies.” Gross.

But here's the twist: At times, Spears and Azalea are actually bragging about the attention they receive. They use their beauty and charm to manipulate men into giving them whatever they want (free drinks, bottle service in the VIP, etc.), laughing all the while. It’s almost as if they’re attempting to reclaim the power that's often stolen from women during these unwanted interactions, thumbing their noses at men and sneering: “You think you’re in control? Think again.”

The chorus says it all:

All around the world, pretty girls

Wipe the floor with all the boys

Pour the drinks, bring the noise

We're just so pretty!

All around the world, pretty girls

Jump the line, to the front

Do what we like, get what we want

We're just so pretty!

Fact: There are men in this world who believe they have the right to comment on women's bodies as they walk down the street. Fact: There are men in this world who believe women "owe" them positive attention — or even sex. Fact: "Pretty Girls" puts these deluded cretins on blast, mocking their destructive behavior and false sense of entitlement. That’s cool.

Now, whether or not women will find Spears and Azalea’s boasting about being able to control men with their looks empowering, I can’t say for certain — but the song definitely shines a light on some significant social issues (well, as much as a two minute and 44 second pop song can, anyway). I think there’s value in that. Still, I’m hesitant to dub “Pretty Girls” a feminist anthem. Why?

In the context of the track, all women aren’t moving up to the front of the line and getting whatever they want in life — just the “pretty girls.” I fear that when the music video drops, we'll be presented with a very limited conception of who can be a powerful, take-charge pretty girl. Does the term refer to all women, regardless of color, shape, or size? Or does it only refer to women whose physical appearances fall in line with Western standards of beauty? That, my friends, remains to be seen.

Images: Giphy; bbritney/Tumblr