When I was seven, my mom gave me her old copy of Spice, the first album by the Spice Girls. I had been too young to realize what that album had meant to the world and, more specifically, to girls. But as I grew up and as I became more aware of pop culture and media representations of girls, I found myself admiring the album on a whole different level than from when I was first given it. There is something so empowering about watching confident, talented ladies preach self-love and independence. In a world that is very much still stuck in the idea that a girl is only as good as the man she’s with, these groups are a necessary counterpoint.
Following the Spice Girls, though, there seemed to be a lull in girl power pop music. The mid-to-late-90s were a great time for this movement. We had groups like the previously mentioned Spice Girls as well as Destiny’s Child. They were distinct from other female performers of that era. For example, Britney Spears gained popularity as a solo artist around the same time as these girl groups claimed rises to fame. From the very beginning of her career, her sexuality was a huge topic. She had made a chastity pledge and yet appeared in her video for “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in a sexy school girl outfit. It’s the common double standard society holds women to: to be pure, but attainable. To be provocative but not “slutty”. On the other side of spectrum during this time were the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, who didn’t buy into the virginity movement and who realized that those types of things were their own private business and shouldn’t factor into careers. Most distinctly, the Spice Girls were, in fact, the group that popularized the phrase and the idea of “Girl Power”.
But as the boy band fad began to fade, so too did these girl groups. During that period, Cobra Starship broke into the radio-play mainstream with their song “Good Girls Go Bad” (released in 2009 and featuring Leighton Meester, of “Gossip Girl” fame). The song is repetitive and catchy, like any good pop song should be, but the lyrics leave a bit of sour taste in the mouth. The most repeated expression in the song seems to be “I make them good girls go bad”.
Well, girls are a lot more complicated than that. We don’t fit into two arbitrary categories. And even if we did, how do we define the difference between “good girls” and “bad girls”? Stereotypical “bad girl” traits seem to be things like “trashy” clothing, “bad company”, and number of sexual partners. And yet, there are girls out there who wear what society likes to think of as “trashy” clothing, dark red lipstick and stiletto heels with short skirts, for example, who aren’t interested in sleeping with anyone. The most conservatively dressed girl could also be the horniest. There is a distinct different between true behaviour and what society takes as an indicator of behaviour. People aren’t that simple. People, or girls in this case, are all unique. They all make their own decisions about fashion, what they desire, etc. Nobody fits inside a box. Furthermore, it’s not anyone else’s business what a girl does with her body. She surely doesn’t deserve flimsy labels like “bad girl” or “good girl” for her choices.
To cleanse your pallet, I suggest Miss A’s “Bad Girl, Good Girl (Bad But Good)”, which features lyrics that fight against these ideas we have about bad girls and good girls. We could consider this song, released a year after, a direct response to Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad”. The group sings, “outside I’m a bad girl / inside I’m a good girl / you don’t even know me that well,” an important message to all the girls out there who feel the weight of people judging them every day. Miss A seems to have started the reintroduction of girl power music into the Kpop scene. After the release of their first single came songs like 2NE1’s “I Am The Best” and Brown Eyed Girls’ “Sixth Sense” (for which I highly recommend watching the video, if for nothing but the symbolism and message behind it). Miss A has also stuck with that girl power image. Last year they released the single, “I Don’t Need A Man”, which starts off member Min introducing the song as being “for all the independent ladies,” in a way that’s reminiscent of Destiny’s Child’s hit song, “Independent Women”.
On that note, it’s safe to credit the return of girl power pop music into modern western music to Beyoncé. Her entire recent discography features songs meant to empower young women. The one that sticks out is obviously the 2011 single “Run The World (Girls)”. The song has since become a staple in fandom communities, related to any widely loved female character or groups of female characters. Additionally, with the return of boy bands, girl groups were bound to make a comeback too — contributing to girl power pop music becoming a common theme in mainstream music once again.
This is where the British band Little Mix comes in. The girl group are steadily becoming more and more popular after winning season eight of the “X Factor” (which had given us artists like Leona Lewis and One Direction) and are sure to make their U.S. debut any day now. Their first single was entitled “Wings” and was a powerful, poppy song about self-love, self-confidence and not letting labels (like “good girl” and “bad girl”) and other people’s perception of you get you down. The girls that make up the group seem very girl-power oriented, as well. They use boys as furniture during concerts. They frequently hold hands and talk about not needing boyfriends as long as they have each other. It’s refreshing. These are the girls you want all the little girls in the world to call their role models: girls who put themselves, and each other, above society’s perception of having the perfect life is — i.e., pleasing your significant other. These girls may just be the linchpin the music industry needs to see the triumphant return of true girl power pop music.
January saw the release of Little Mix’s new single. “Change Your Life“. The song is a beautiful ballad-esque track that revisits the theme of self-love, but also includes lyrics about having the inner-strength and the power to be able to make your life what you want it to be. These are the messages the media should be sending out regularly, not once every few decades. These are the messages that should be reaching little girls, young women and mature women, alike. In addition to the wonderful messages that come through their music, the girls themselves represent a wide demographic. Little Mix are one of the few groups where they number of women of colour dwarfs the number of Caucasian women. In addition, Jesy Nelson — a well-loved member of the group — does not represent society’s traditional views of what a girl should like. Nelson has curves. She isn’t stick thin but she’s still beautiful and not treated any differently than the rest of the girls. Because of these things, it’s easy for girls all over the world to identify with Little Mix and seek them out as role models and inspirations. These are the groups that can give girls the confidence to do what they like, when they like regardless of what other people think. And that’s empowering. Girl power!