30 September 2013

Being teenager in the early '00s with the help of Avril Lavigne, Pink and Christina Aguilera

A bit off the blog track, I was listening to some 'old' pop hits from my teenage years and came to realise the aesthetic resemblance and honest tone in many of the songs and music videos. I'm not talking about plagiarism, but about a special air in the popular music genre during the turn of the millennium, more specifically among the 'bad' girls of pop, who perfectly illustrated how it is and was to be young. Whenever I hear those songs I recall not only my early youth but also the general music taste, the clothes, the idols and how the girls growing up in the '90s saw themselves and how society saw them. We didn't have Lady Gaga, Kesha, Rihanna or Nicki Minaj or some aesthetically outraged female role models in music - if you can call them that - but instead the more punky, pierced girls with greasy hair who jumped around in sneakers singing about skaterboys, being doubtful and hating the teachers, bullies and pretty pop girls like Britney Spears, while giving the finger to the camera. I guess that was provocative enough back then. The 'I don't give a fuck'-attitude could be understood as a facade as well as a coming-of-age-thing and thus nonetheless an image to be identified with by many young girls, including myself, though my teen years of rebelling were much less thrilling and pink-haired than theirs. But through them one could at least outlive some imaginative ass-kicking and yell a bit (I think we've all done that at one point, right?).

Other 'less controversial' female role models in  the late '90s/early '00s worth mentioning were seen in the R&B, hip hop and soul genres such as Destiny's Child, The Fugees, TLC, Alicia Keys and Missy Elliott as well as the grandiose voices of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. All black girls which I'm not sure is a coincidence. Of course, certain female black rappers didn't exactly hold back on the provoking vocabulary, but their images were still different from e.g. Avril's or Pink's. Maybe because of the music genre, maybe because of their skin colour, yet it's rather obvious that there's a ethnical difference between artists across these popular music genres, from the rhythmic to the more pop-like, but whether it's (still) a tabooed subject or not, I've yet to discover. But that's another story.

Furthermore, alternative rock bands like No Doubt, Garbage, The Cardigans, The Cranberries and Portishead all had female leads to define the '90s and '00s image of girls and women in music to cut through the dolled-up-pop-girl-singing-to-auto-tune image that especially Britney Spears conveyed. I don't think one could argue for Britney for quite reaching the level of depth or honesty that some of these other artists managed to convey. Not even the arguably more soulful songs like "Everytime" or "Stronger" can hold the ground next to singers in her own category like Avril, Christina or Pink, in my opinion. They're just better. Appearence-wise, they each had original character and diverted from the stereotypical ideas of female beauty: Avril and Gwen were small and boyish, Pink rather muscular, and none of them could hardly live up to the surreal breast size ideals we  have today, yet they didn't make a big deal out of it, such as trying to get plastic surgery or anything, and seemed relaxed about their own appearence. They wore boys' clothes, sporty or gothic clothes and when they finally tried to follow the more common 'undressed' look it just didn't work all that well. You could sense it when they tried too hard to please the standards of the pop industry and the male audience by exposing their body rather than focusing on their voice. And that gave a rather conflicting image of them as women. Christina  Aguilera, in particular, started out as a pretty pop girl like Britney, but later took a drastic turn for being rather unnecessary 'underdressed' in some of her videos (even in the more grounded "The Voice Within", see below), and though the quality of her voice and often song material couldn't be trifled with, it clashed with the vision of her more controversial look at times. Don't get me wrong: Womanhood is damn sexy and we should definitely show off our bodies and female beauty and strength for the sake of ourselves (don't men flash their torsos all the time without much controversy?!), but it can be done in many different ways. Showing off limbs has been done more classy over the years whereas others have failed to match their age with their clothing. I guess being a woman in show business has somehow always come down to the controversy of having something to say and having to show off skin to get it across or not. Some argues showing off limbs as well as brains empowers women, because she shows she has the freedom to do so, is proud of her body and that it doesn't have to be for the sake of the men. Others say it often isn't a free choice in a patriarchal world and that it shouldn't be necessary for women to have to show off skin in order to get your word across. After all, have men had to do that throughout history? No, because they have been the privileged. However, other critics argue that one cannot regard the subject in such black-and-white terms, if we [women] are to cross the barrier of gender inequality in all regards and globally. Women are not the only minority, after all, and we've come a long way since 19th century's standard, but it is still a frighteningly little considering we're  now in the 21st century. And remember, in the end, it's all about establishing equality among the sexes and/or genders (mind, not just men and women but all types of genders), and not a battle where one comes out a winner and one a loser.

But that's all a matter of opinion, I guess, and after all, it's not everyone that has the guts or experience to hold one's own against managers and the  merciless industry. Those young Disney stars all get the hate it seems, and I feel kind of sorry for them, because they try so hard, being so upstaged all the time, that I think it's a hard act to follow by themselves at times. To be insightful and contemplative are just something you can hope are qualities they possess despite their poor song choices. I'm not necessarily saying that Avril, Christina or Pink unquestionably possess those qualities or that music were better back then, but I saw it more often then than I do now. Yet, the times have changed and so have the artists. Christina definitely has and not to the better, in my opinion, even though we haven't heard much from her lately. I just hope she'll eventually find the right trail and make good use of that amazing voice of hers. Avril has been up and down, but still clings to her somewhat punky pop signature image - also in her music. Pink is basically the same, just grown older and more experienced - and it suits her and her music well.

However, if we are to talk about teenage insight on another level than certain young pop singers today, the songs below would be my picks of such exemplary material. Not saying that they never wrote bad songs too, but these I would consider some of their greatest pop rock ballads. Notice especially the honesty of the lyrics, the execution of the videoes and their focused, almost intimate connection to their listener/the camera rather than rubbing shoulders with some muscular dude, their constantly broken hearts or focusing on their own overdone hotness as in so many other cases. Just for once, some relatable and realistic diversity! Some REAL feelings! (Forgive me my indignation). And please leave a comment and tell me if you agree or disagree. I'm sure I've contradicted myself at some point.

Avril Lavigne, "I'm With You", 2002:

Christina Aguilera, "The Voice Within", 2003:

Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful", 2002:

Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me", 2001:

Pink, "Who Knew", 2006:

No Doubt, "Just A Girl", 2003:

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