All-female billboard top five bad for women?

Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass is currently number one on the Billboard charts.

Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass is currently number one on the Billboard charts.

Last week the planets aligned, the stars were crossed, and the Billboard Hot 100 featured an all-female Top 5 for the second week in a row. At the top spot sat Meghan Trainor, followed by Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora, and Jessie J., Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.

The last time a cosmic event of this variety occurred was the week of March 3rd, 2012, and prior to that, March 20th, 1999, with a power-ballad heavy spread spearheaded by Cher's Believe. While this pop-cultural comet might not have a particularly consistent orbit, it's always a welcome visitor.

So, in honour of the human female's march on the pop charts, I'm shaking the dust off my music critic form and plugging it back into my feminist commentary persona, like a really half-assed Voltron that has only two body-parts, to offer you a keener reading of the Top 5. 

1. Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass

With a refrain that rings "Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top", Meghan Trainor's debut single comes pre-packaged as the perfect spring anthem for body-positivity. But while on the surface Trainor's anthem might seem ready to explode as a 21st century feminist theme-song, in couplets like "My mama she told me don't worry about your size/She says 'Boys like a little more booty to hold at night'," it is about as revolutionary as Spinal Tap's Big Bottom.

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In truth, All About That Bass has about as much depth, in terms of a true dismantling of body ideals, as a Dove campaign. It's hard to shake the feeling that songs like this have been assembled in a think-tank where questions like "How can we put together a Feminist™ hit that will also play well in Urban Outfitters stores?" were written on the dry-erase board. Beyond all that, the song features the sort of irritating qUiRkY neo-jazz beat that I thought we'd left behind in 2010 with Eliza Doolittle's last shred of relevance. 


2. Taylor Swift's Shake It Off

Taylor Swift hits remind me a bit of the notion that glitter is "craft herpes": they are very slick and shiny, stick around way too long, and eventually become incredibly annoying. Shake It Off has the unique honour of skipping straight to the "incredibly annoying" phase: its unholy mangling of white-bread-ified trap beats (lest we forget this special moment in history), non-threatening EDM and bland uplift is one of the most infuriating confections she's come up with.

There has always been a thread of disingenuousness in Swift's "gee whiz" dork routine, and this reached its final form with the dance-heavy Shake It Off video, in which T-Swift objectifies twerking black bottoms and makes fun of finger tut maestros in order to throw feminism under the bus to make a point about how she's just a fun-loving goof (or something).

This made her recent feminist awakening all the more pointed. For a palate cleanser I recommend watching the i-D/Diesel viral, A-Z of Dance: it features Le1f's Wut (whose beats Swift's canny production team surely "borrowed" from) and a diverse range of dancers celebrated - not sent up - for their skills. And yes, twerking and finger tut are skills.

 
3. Nicki Minaj's Anaconda

Speaking of twerking, the video that elevates the form to something approaching transcendence. Repurposing the Sir-Mix-A-Lot classic Baby Got Back (and, most triumphantly, turning that song's white-girl interlude, "Oh my gosh [Becky], look at her butt" into a battle cry), Minaj's latest isn't her finest, so it's the video that really "makes" Anaconda.

Featuring a troupe of virtuoso twerkers, a cooking-show-esque castration metaphor/fantasy that made me whoop with glee (key to understanding Minaj's work is appreciating her signature sense of humour), and a distinct lack of men (apart from poor Drake, RIP), it's a tour de force de butt. And you know what? As a former Skinny Bitch in recovery, I do not give one flying fart about that "F-ck those skinny bitches" moment. Plus, as Carmen Rios wrote of the song and video, "Making a video about her own ass might seem contradictory to the values of feminism, but if you take a closer look, it's happening outside of and in defiance of the ideal beauty standards that hold women down and the male gaze that controls their bodies."

(The call of the booty has been answered this past weekend by Jennifer Lopez's dull club banger Booty, which comes packaged with an ass-tastic Hype Williams video and another regrettable guest spot by Iggy Azalea. The video is worth watching at least for schadenfreude-related reasons, because the now-45-year-old Lopez steamrolls Iggy in every department. It's entirely possible this video was Lopez's chance to play Cristal Connors to Azalea's Nomi Malone - she just better hope they don't find themselves on a staircase any time soon.)

4. Iggy Azalea's "Black Widow," featuring Rita Ora

Look, when it comes down to it, aside from her other (bountiful) transgressions, the artist formerly known as Amethyst Kelly remains one of the worst rappers to hit the charts in years. Black Widow, with its wince-inducing, clumsy rhymes (a generous term) such as "It's like I loved you so much and now I just hate you/Feeling stupid for all the time that I gave you", this is Dolly poetry on a grand scale.Couple this with a hollow Tarantino-aping video (for which the director somehow managed to rope in an apparently anaesthetised Michael Madsen and Brian Sorvino to debase themselves) and Black Widow is one of the grimmer hits of the past year. It's a boring beat, a boring rap, and a boring video. I wouldn't avoid this for feminist reasons as much as I would avoid it because I have eyes and ears.  


5. Jessie J and Ariana Grande's Bang Bang 

With shades of Lady Marmalade's 2001 Moulin Rouge iteration, three chart-toppers team up for this throwback take on the tried/tired and true "I'm better than your girlfriend" genre. Sounding like a mix between Abs' Stop Sign and a Sam Brown belter - dated, in other words - Bang Bang is a curious proposition.

Listen, I'm not necessarily anti the idea of "I'm better than her" tracks - MC Luscious' Miami bass classic Boom! I F-cked Your Boyfriend was the auto-playing song on my MySpace from around 2004-2008 - but I'm not sure what good packaging them as an upbeat party anthem does; perhaps I'm just getting old.

More than anything, though, Bang Bang feels like a song out of time; it has very little, apart from Grande and Minaj, of what seems to characterise the current pop music zeitgeist. Thank god, then, for Minaj, who once more - and in a nod, intentional or otherwise, to Lil Kim's scorching Lady Marmalade efforts - saves a so-so song by providing a rip-roaring verse.