Post by Tabatha Lewis
There is no doubt that Ariana Grande is an insanely talented singer. She has proven her vocal prowess on Saturday Night Live, imitating singers such as Shakira, Céline Dion, and Rihanna. However, I would argue that her song lyrics and music videos are lackluster and cliché. She leaves the audience wondering whether she is empowering women’s sexuality or inviting them to have sex with her through their computer screens.
One of her hit songs last year was “God is a Woman.” With such an enticing title, there is a hope that the song will empower women to some extent, as it plays with the idea of God being historically viewed as a male entity—depending on the religion and one’s own perception of gender, what does God having a gender even really mean? Yet the way the audio and visual effects of “God is a Woman” are interwoven makes me feel as if I’m watching a blurred out porno. In one of the scenes we see Ariana slathered in paint, conveniently covering her nipples. In all her sexual prowess, why does she insist on conforming to society’s discomfort about seeing female nipples, when masculine nipples are a common sighting. I feel much more empowered as a woman watching Cardi B’s “Money” music video in which women’s breast are unashamedly shown, and Cardi B herself is shown breastfeeding in the music video. “Money” promotes women’s sexuality and power more than “God is a Woman” by bravely straddling the line of what it means for a woman to show her body as it is, rather than as a sexualized object, waiting to be viewed on the internet.
Additionally, the lyrics in “God is a Woman” mirror the artistic vision of the music video. The lyrics produce this message that women draw their strength from their ability to please men/women. Exemplified in the opening line, “You love it how I move you, You love it how I touch you,” and another lyric,“have it any way you like.” Each sets up the dynamic of Ariana pleasuring another, which is a misguided attempt at showing off a female/male’s prowess. As someone who identifies as a female, my strength doesn’t come from my ability to pleasure a male, it comes from my ability to succeed at any task I put my mind to. My sexual appeal is an amalgam: of looks to an extent, intellect and character, but certainly not the way I can make a male feel with my body. Properly worded, this song could have empowered women yet by focusing on pleasuring another being it made woman the physical equivalent of a sex doll.
Her newest music video “Thank u, next”, was hugely popular. While amidst this massive crossover of the most well-known “Chick Flick” films available, Ariana Grande relates a positive message of thanking, not bashing on, her ex-boyfriends for the things she’s learned from and experienced with them. The use of iconic, albeit basic, movies in the music video certainly helps broadcast its message as it attracts the attention of its target audience. While the message is clear, and is one that modern day youth should process, the writing of the lyrics itself leaves much to be desired; most of them are unnecessary and repetitive. Half of the lyrics are the song title itself, some name drops and then a few lyrics regarding lessons about patience and love. Making popular music with simplistic lyrics is an insult to many other great artists, like one of my personal favorites, Twenty-One Pilots, who have complex lyrics and themes behind their songs.
The importance of lyrics in music varies in magnitude depending on the genre. For example, in electronic dance music (EDM) or classical music, the lyrics are not essential to the music, whereas the beat and all of the accompanying sounds are placed at the forefront. On the other end of the spectrum is rap, where lyrics are crucial to the song. Pop music falls somewhere in the middle, making it a little more difficult to navigate. Artists can choose to have meaningless lyrics and tell their fans to “Shake it Off”, or produce something quite personal and profound, like admitting to the fallibility of the human condition and the inability to break an addiction. That is the artist and their team’s choice. Choosing the former, however, forgoes the artist’s ability to shape society’s perception of important issues, while the latter can be a tool to aid society in looking at a particular topic in a different light.
All in all, Ariana Grande’s music and music videos conform considerably to pop cultures entertainment standards, as do many artists. However Ariana Grande is arguably a more talented vocalist than those artists. In my opinion, her voice belongs on Broadway where she can fully showcase her talent, not in music videos that falsely make women feel empowered when they are, in actuality, just being portrayed as objects used for pleasure. While she has incredible vocals she is not the best song writer, making a strong case for the idea that being an amazing singer does not a good writer make.