A journalist once told me that the advent of blogging and the rise of amateur journalism led to a sloppy attitude to writing and a lack of thorough research. As a writer for Can You Hear This, I was reminded of these words earlier this week. On Thursday, there were misinformed articles about Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night and the singles record that she broke. She did indeed break a record of having the most Number 1s from a single album with Teenage Dream, singing her way past Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake’s 4 Number 1s from The Fame and FutureSex/LoveSounds. A considerable achievement but not the one to which most headlines alleged. Despite what many articles claimed, she has not yet tied with Michael Jackson’s record of 5 Number 1s on the Hot 100, only the Top 40 which is compiled through radio plays. In fairness, most of the articles have been adjusted and footnoted appropriately. And earlier this year, Perry did surpass a significant milestone as she became the only artist to spend an entire year in the Hot 100 Top 10; an impressive feat for a singer who many thought would simply kiss a girl and then retreat to one-hit-wonderdom.
“It’s an especially impressive feat for a singer who many thought would simply kiss a girl and then retreat to one-hit-wonderdom.”
It’s not out of the question that Perry will reach the King of Pop’s record, either with the airplay-gainer, Last Friday Night or another single from the deathless Teenage Dream. Circle the Drain seems like an option, or even the slower Not Like The Movies which she performed at the Grammys (although the most comparable of Perry’s singles, Thinking Of You underperformed.) The unreleased Peacock has also charted in the top spot on the Dance Charts and Part of Me (an unreleased, Kelly Clarkson-esque track that would surely be included on the inevitable Deluxe Edition Teenage Dream) ought not to be forgotten. In the midst of such misinformation, Rebecca Haithcoat from L.A Weekly proved a refreshing exception to the general rule of lazy online journalism. In her article, she asked how Perry had achieved such huge success.
Her explanation was both thought-provoking and insightful; two goals that every journalist wants to score. She quotes Genevieve Yue’s profile of Bonnie McKee (the songwriter with the golden touch) who claims that “There’s pleasure- and power too- [in] having a broader range of expression, an expanded sense of what woman can do, even if that means falling down drunk.” This may surprise anyone unfamiliar with Perry’s music or anyone older than the new generation of girls that Haithcoat’s article refers to. ‘These girls,” Haithcoat claims “are handling feminism far differently than any other generation.” According to Haithcoat they want to avoid being put on a pedestal, “not only because it’s too hard to balance up there, but also because it becomes an open-air cage.” In short, girls feel they aren’t allowed to “fuck up royally.” So far, so eye-opening. It’s always refreshing when someone takes a serious look at popular music instead of dismissing it instantly. And Haithcoat’s insight makes sense. In the cameo-laiden Last Friday Night, Perry takes shots, dances goofily and passes out in her clothes. Even though it’s set in the 80s, those are much more easily relatable to a teenager than most other music videos. Unlike Pitbull, we can’t all sit around in suits, surrounded by girls in bikinis. That only happens for me on days ending with ‘y’. And before any adult counters me, proclaiming that Perry and her peers are solely responsible for teenage boys and girls’ descent into an alcohol fuelled lifestyle, let’s not forget that Perry takes a similarly gung-ho approach to dealing with the consequences. You have to brush it off, and “do it all again.” Just with fewer shots. As teenagers, we can’t always be perfect. These years are formative, it’s a learning curve; as Perry tells us on Firework, “after a hurricane, comes a rainbow.” We make mistakes; there’s no point in pretending , to borrow Yue’s words, we don’t all fuck up royally occasionally.
Where Rebecca Haithcoat’s take becomes even more interesting is when she brings the big B into the equation. Coincidentally, I had been writing an article about female pop stars before I read Rebecca Haithcoat’s article that links into many of her ideas, and it would make much more sense to slip my thoughts in here. Haithcoat notes that whereas Perry laughs at herself, “would Beyoncé even be caught dead puking into a roller skate or discovering herself licking a guy’s stomach online the next morning (as Katy Perry’s character does in the video for Last Friday Night)?” Probably not, and although it would be naïve to think that Perry doesn’t play on her sexuality (after all, she did blast into the mainstream by kissing girls, liking it and hoping her boyfriend didn’t mind it), there’s no doubt that Perry doesn’t “intentionally give off an air of unattainability.” Before anyone accuses me of dismissing the escapism that Beyonce so magnificently produces, I’m not. I love Beyoncé (look out for my review of 4 soon) but sometimes don’t need a self empowering song, or a ballad. We want the gritty truth, no matter how many epic fails that entails.
“We want the gritty truth, no matter how many epic fails that entails.”
Part of me feels uneasy comparing Beyoncé and Katy Perry. Comparisons between female artists is often contrived; part of the media’s ongoing mindset that female professionals cannot get on with each other like their male counterparts. But while Beyoncé’s spectacle can make us feel fabulous, Perry plays on our faults. She kissed a girl, “just to try it,” her boyfriends “change their minds like a girl changes clothes,” and she targets the younger, social networking generation by tapping into a recent phenomenon: “pictures of last night,” she sings on Last Friday Night, “ended up online. I’m screwed.” Quite, and her reaction is typically nonchalant: “Oh well.” Elsewhere, Haithcoat reminds us that ‘when Perry plays dress up, (for her E.T video, currently the year’s biggest single) ‘it’s not in a bra, hotpants and knee-high boots; she’s in breastplates and ballgowns.’ In a world run by geeks, Rebecca Haithcoat’s suggestion that ‘Perry’s secretly the sorta nerdy girl reading sci-fi novels’ is a powerful thought.
Recently, following Beyoncé’s awe-inspiring performance at Glastonbury, Sarah Vine also compared female pop stars with a startling, but unfortunately widespread opinion. Vine claims that Beyonce is “sexy without being slutty,” and merely ‘suggestive’ while Rihanna displays ‘submissive tendencies.’ This is both ill-qualified and irritating. Can we really compare Beyoncé and Rihanna? They’re both popular, contemporary musical artists. They share the same skin colour. I suspect that the main point of comparison lies in one fact: they’re both not men. Rihanna recently named the leaders of the pop world, ‘There’s a pack. It’s me, Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé and finally …who else? Ke$ha, for sure.” Ah Ke$ha, forever a musical afterthought. But by the same logic, we could compare Pitbull and L’il Wayne who sit at 4 and 5 in the Hot 100, respectively. It wouldn’t make sense, they’re all individual musical artists, appealing to either different people. Or more accurately they appeal to our different moods. Beyoncé’s Halo is perfect for a joyous moment, as she proved at Glastonbury. But sometimes you need Alanis Morissette to remind you that the world can suck.
Vine’s comparison is further weakened as Rihanna and Beyoncé are in completely different stages in their career. Beyoncé has been gracing the airwaves since Destiny’s Child (where her apparent ‘suggestive’ qualities were riding high with Bootylicious). Beyoncé has 3 albums under her belt as Destiny’s Child and 4 as a solo artist. Altogether, Rihanna has 3. Beyonce’s a married woman; Rihanna single after a well-publicised and brutal break up. Here, too Sarah Vine displays surprising ignorance. She declares Rihanna’s latest single, S&M as ‘submissive,’ completely overlooking the fact that the attack of her then-boyfriend Chris Brown could have influenced the song as it did with Rated R (her previous album.) Apparently, female pop stars are only allowed to represent wholesome role models for young girls everywhere. In our culture, there is an alarming pressure for female pop stars (and any other position of fame) to act as teachers for the younger generation. Do female pop stars exercise influence over young girls? To an extent. Are we patronising this younger generation by not trusting them to find their own role models? Absolutely.
“Are we patronising this younger generation by not trusting them to find their own role models? Absolutely.”
By criticising Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga and anyone else who doesn’t portray a picture-perfect portrait of themselves, we risk putting the younger generation on a pedestal, from which they inevitably can only fall. Not every girl is born as a perfectly honed woman like Beyoncé, able to slip on their heels, leotard and dance like a goddess. More often than not, it’s Lady Gaga’s self-proclaimed insecurities, Perry’s hit-and-miss partying and Ke$ha’s inner animal that hit closer to home. You can’t always be Sasha Fierce. Sometimes, you need to puke in that roller-skate.