I was listening to some tracks from Katy Perry’s new album when I was seized by a question about the current music scene: Where have all the smart girls gone?
There was a time when you could turn on MTV and see the likes of Suzanne Vega, Paula Cole, Sinead O’ Connor (hey, angry and crazy aren’t mutually exclusive from intelligence), Fiona Apple (ditto), Sarah Mclachlan, Bjork, Tori Amos, Lauryn Hill, Alanis Morissette, and other female singer-songwriters who actually dared to write about more than getting shitfaced or hooking up with a hot guy or how much it sucks to break up with that hot guy.
Who do we have now? Katy Perry (“Oh, I’m so nau~ghty!”), Ke$ha (“Oh, I’m so whacked out, which is so whack), Britney Spears (“Let’s dance and get slutty”), Christina Aguilera (“Hey, I can sing AND get slutty, too!”), Beyonce (“Oh, you WISH you were this fabulous!”), and Taylor Swift (“Love with a boy is so good, except when it’s so bad”). Hmm, okay. Remember, I’m not talking about the quality of the music here (superficial pop has more than its share of absolute gems), but the thematic variety and the depth of the songs.
The closest things to empowering female role models in current music are probably Lady Gaga and Pink. But as much as Gaga talks about art, philosophy, religion, sexuality, and whatever bullcrap she does in all those interviews, it’s pretty much all rehashed Madonna quotes that don’t change the fact that her songs are the same old pop cliches just with a plethora of killer hooks (Pink has the opposite, more serious problem: some real lyrical bite but without the hooks to pull you in). Gaga recently described her ridiculous “Alejandro” video as her homage to the bravery of gay men who are repressed by religious figures and blah blah blah blah blah, but come on, take one listen to the song and tell me it’s not just about being hot for a cute Latin boy.
So when I hear a song like Tracy Chapman’s seminal “Fast Car,” it’s hard to believe that there was a time when such a smart, unflinching song could not only be critically admired but also prove to be a popular hit. Hopefully, for all the young girls out there looking for someone to emulate as they bop their heads to their mp3 players, such a time will return.