It is beautiful. Yet, to apply a single description of It can present a challenge. Sometimes It stands alone, sleek and confident, but at other times it seems to squirm under the harsh light of fame. There appears something of the survivor in It’s story as we look into It’s past and discover that It’s hair had been ripped, screaming from the roots, to color the surface with whatever color suited the moment. At It’s best, It’s voice comes off high-toned and powerful, clear, resonating with a kind of glory. Other, less wonderful moments portray It too dainty to be taken seriously,. Most hauntingly to me is when It’s trussed-up in the costume for the amusement of the masses and yet It has mysteriously maintained something of itself.
Firstly, both of these things are not an “It”. Watching Ariana Grande’s new acapella video of “Dangerous Woman” the similarities between her and feminism popped into my mind unwillingly. Grande, dressed in the uncomfortably reflective homogenous costume of femininity made ridiculous by the ears, and disturbing by the half-masked face, at first felt off-putting. I was immediately ready to proclaim myself above the showy display, the lurid attention seeking and the discomfort I was sure to feel.
And yet, Grande surprised with solid gold, song-bird talent. I never particularly warmed to Grande previously, finding most of her music a bore. Frankly I felt her productions stale. Others encouraged me to watch the viral video of the once-upon-a-time-Disney star in an amateur Youtube video singing in the voice of major female pop stars. I was told she sings as well as Mariah Carey, high-praise which her voice it seems capable of delivering when at its best. Like feminism itself, she was quite simply overwhelmed by more impressive, less glitzy voices and her attempt to mimic other stars only served to portray her as a crème puff lost in the mellifluous buffet table of pop music.
Feminism seems lost as well in the abundance of voices clamoring to be heard. Some tediously nonsensical reasoning argued Playboy, and creator Hugh Hefner among the leading voices of early feminism. As if a male role model needed to guide women to inhabit their sexuality through the intricacies of expressing individuality through baby-doll pink and black lace negligees of the “girl next door”. Others denounced men altogether as inferior to the might and perfection of women as if we are not all human beings striving and frequently failing. The particular man-hating brand of “feminism” traces its lineage to the bra-burning days, but fails to recognize the relationship as a thin-blooded third cousin to feminism. Most prefer to strike out alone to proclaim their own brand of women’s rights, labeling it what they wish.
Grande too appears in her new video to stand alone. Yet covered in the trappings of a the typical pop star appealing to the baser level of attraction (her boobs are clearly defined by the wave of the black patent pleather material of her corseted dress) and the hint of raunch suggested by the bunny ears, her voice and nervous twitchiness kept me watching. The formation of something raw, a “new thing”. Even if predicated on the old standbys present something of interest for us all, so long as we have interest in the future.
The lyrics, written by Ross Golan and produced by Johan Carlsson and Max Martin, paint with broad brush strokes on the female gender. The song reads “all girls wanna be like that” suggests the potential inside every woman exists to test limits and take control, to take on what is desired even when made to feel the “shouldn’t” of societies gaze. Ariana makes us feel that discomfort by displaying the public nature of women’s personal wants.
In the current climate of what makes for feminism today, women’s wants are made a matter of the public in the court houses, magazines and videos. Society presents a view of what constitutes justifiable wants. Grande presents these discomforts perfectly as she twists and twitches her moment upon the screen. She wants what she wants and while she may be uncomfortable with it, she has chosen to say it out loud anyway.
This girl’s trilling voice impresses best when left alone. Grande’s voice soars, falls down and reaches for more unhindered by air filled with other sounds, other tunes, other voices. Like feminism itself, perhaps the best way to find a voice is to simply stand alone and proclaim it even if the idea of facing the world with just your voice makes you feel like a little girl, awkward and shy and trembling to be genuine. It may make some uncomfortable, some will only see the costume, the gender of the individual standing before them, but you can hope that a few will have the patience to see what AND who you are together.
Grande is not a perfect symbol of feminism. In the words of the song she sings one hears the plea to view her in pleasant terms despite her refrain of becoming a “dangerous woman” she spirals both lyrically and rhythmically into a single desire to be desired. And of course there’s the giant bunny ears flopping across her head making her appear not only unbalanced, but ever so slightly anonymous as it takes over the upper half of her head (her brain) with a mask. Yet she holds on, confident in her own voice, and even embracing the awkwardness (filling in silence with vocal guitar riff almost resulting in a fit of giggles). And if for a moment I thought of judging her, I reminded myself that none of us is a perfect feminist, just as none of us can be a perfect woman.