Something’s going on in the UK, and it has nothing to do with the Queen.
British pop stars like the Pipettes, Lily Allen and Kate Nash are breaking the foundations of pop music. Once upon a time pop music was the primary domain of romantic ballads-of girl meets boy, falls in love and finds herself in a splendid world she never knew existed. Or ballads of unrequited love-girl meets boy and falls deeply for him, only to find that her feelings won’t be returned. Or, as of more recent (recent in relative terms), girl sees boy and she declares that he can do anything he wants with her (“Slave 4 U”)…
The current Billboard chart reflects the pop-ridden love song with songs like Alicia Keys’ “No One,” Fergie’s “Clumsy” and Rihanna’s “Hate That I Love You” (feat. Ne-Yo). Though each one could be judged on different merits, it can’t be argued that each is-in theme-a traditional romantic pop song.
Over in England, another type of pop song is forming. It’s not about falling in love. If the theme of these songs could be described by using lyrics, 7 Year Bitch’s “In lust we trust” would be adequate.
Pop in England has become a forum for women artists to declare their independence in a way that’s just a step further than Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Their independence isn’t just personal, it’s sexual.
Let’s start off with the Pipettes. The polka dotted trio includes Riotbecki (the self-confessed riot grrrl of the group), Gwenno and Rosay. Though the album was recorded and released in the UK in 2006, it didn’t come out to the US ’till fall ’07. One of the major tracks from that album: “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me” which (like all of the tracks on the album) has a 60s girl group sound with a distinctly different message. Also present on the album is the standout track “One Night Stand” (this is the track that makes the album worth the $10 you spend on it).
It’s message is clear from the beginning:
“I left you alone at four in the morning/
not a stitch to wear cuz you ignored my warning.” (cue the sha-la-las)
after a few “I don’t love you/I don’t want you” we get the stellar (not great, cool or awesome–it’s stellar) line about how this one night stand even occured:
“I saw you cross a crowded room
You smiled at me and made my heart go boom/
I looked at the score sheet and saw a 7
so I walked up to you and said
‘baby did it hurt when you fell from heaven?'”
Now anyone who hasn’t heard *that* pickup line from a guys mouth must be living under a rock, and to see that used in a song like that–amazing. With this song alone the Pipettes are making it clear that guys aren’t the only ones who are allowed to have fun in the sheets and *not* feel guilty about it.
Then comes Lily Allen. A pop star who combined several of the best genres and put clever lyrics behind the music, she proved to be more than the typical pop star. In her single “Smile” she proved that-when it comes to relationships-her partner should think twice before trying to screw her over. But two of her album‘s shining tracks are “Knock ‘em Out” and “Not Big”-both of these songs feature a sexual independence unheard of in most of the pop world.
“Knock ‘em Out” starts off with Allen talking in a very dry voice backed by a jazzy beat:
Alright so this is a song about anyone, it could be anyone.
You’re just doing your own thing and some one comes out the blue,
What ya saying,
“Yeah can I take your digits?”
And you’re like, “no not in a million years, you’re nasty
please leave me alone.”
The song continues in that vein as Allen’s lyrics recount a club encounter where she keeps refusing to give out her number (“can’t knock ‘em out/can’t walk away/try desperately to think of the politest way to say/just get out my face/just leave me alone/and no you can’t have my number/cuz I lost my phone”). The theme of the song alone makes it unique, songs about creepy guys at clubs where a girl’s being annoyed aren’t exactly the fodder of mainstream pop music.
Then we’ve got the song “Not Big.” It starts off innocently, as a break up song (“Now listen I think you and me have come to the end of our time,” Allen says, pointedly. Then, continuing as if she were talking and responding to her partner (who was reacting rather badly) she adds, “Alright how would it make you feel if I said that you never made me come?” Allen’s lyrics are forward and don’t use fancy words to cover what she’s expressing.
“so you thought this was gonna be easy,
Well, you’re out of luck.
Yeah, let’s rewind, let’s turn back time to when you couldn’t get it up,
You know what it should’ve ended there,
That’s when I should’ve shown you the door.”
All of her songs are similarily straightforward.
Then there’s the new artist who people enjoy comparing to Lily Allen (though they are not the same artist and their music is different)-Kate Nash (who I featured last Sunday).
Her debut album, Made of Bricks, was just recently released this year and she’s already enjoying popularity in the UK top 40. The album opens with “Play”, the lyrics which can’t be misunderstood by most adults: “I like to play/I play all day long in my room/I like to play…”
Then there’s Pumpkin Soup, where Nash decries the relationship in favor of just kisses.
“I just want your kiss boy/
I just want your kiss”
“I’m not in love/
I just want to be touched”
Like the Pipettes and Lily Allen, Kate Nash is not afraid to use her voice. She’s explicit, yes. And she’s proud of it.
What these pop artists have done in the span of 2-3 years time has practically undone a lifetime of what was considered normal in the realm of pop music. And, additionally, it’s a step toward breaking down gendered expectations and double standards. For a woman to express her sexuality is still considered taboo, but with women like these being upfront (and admitting that yes, they have sex lives and no, they refuse to be the passive one in relationships) and honest, the double standard of men being players and women being sluts may well be on its way to demolition.
And if nothing else, these women may well have you singing along to their catchy tunes in a faux-british accent.
I hope yours is better than mine. :-)