Ann Powers has a piece running over at the L.A. Times music blog about the on-screen hug between Beyonce and Taylor Swift following the whole Kanye thing from the other night. She argues that, while the gesture itself painted a picture of two very powerful and successful women proudly and publicly supporting each other, the songs they’re most famous for at the moment do the exact opposite, in that that they subtly imply that the only road to female self-worth is through the approval of a man.
“Single Ladies,” she says, has become an anthem for the kind of women for whom “the ultimate satisfaction” is “to be made into an object, a glittery it” by a man. It’s an easy argument to make, because people who talk about how badly they want a piece of jewelry tend to be jerks, the worst of any gender. But if you look at some of the other lyrics, the message becomes empowering, if also completely, frustratingly contradictory: “Don’t treat me to the things of the world/ I’m not that kind of girl/ Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve.”
The real issue here, for me, is that Beyonce isn’t mature or smart or gutsy enough to put this sentiment—”don’t try to buy me, because i am better than that”—at the forefront of the song, choosing instead to hide it in the awful bridge that everyone sorta fast-forwards through anyway, while the only truly abhorrent line in the song steals all the spotlight and becomes a rallying cry for idiots everywhere. At her heart, though, the narrator of “Single Ladies” doesn’t sound like the kind of woman who needs anyone to tell her how valuable she is.
Powers seems to take less issue with Taylor Swift than she does with Beyonce, but she still complains that “You Belong With Me” does a disservice to women because it pits two of them against each other in competition for a man. This call for constant female solidarity at all costs, though, strikes me as being a bit much, and, frankly, far less important than a lot of other things. For a teenager (boy or girl), life is about using the clothes you wear, the music you listen to and the books you read to draw lines in the sand: between you and your parents, your teachers, and, most importantly, the other kids your age—even those with whom you share certain biological characteristics.
The other issue here is that Powers has created a situation where the very idea of writing a song about loving another person is problematic because it allegedly indicates weakness. Swift’s narrator, though, just like Beyonce’s, seems to be doing fine. She’s pissed off that a dude she’s in love with isn’t loving her back, of course, but unless I’m missing something, it seems to stop there. Even if she’s a mess though, and this dude choosing the cheerleader over her is really tearing her up, I’m pretty sure that’s ok, too: She’s already figured out what type of woman she wants to be, and because she hasn’t given even the slightest indication that she’s willing to change any of it just to get the guy, I can’t really see any problem with her character—or the young woman who created her.