Big news about pop music on MSNBC.com: Apparently songs like Kelly Clarkson’s new track “Mr. Know It All” (above), as well as older invective-filled songs like “U + Ur Hand” and “Before He Cheats” and “the not-even-that-big-hit “According To You”—songs in which wronged women sing about the men who broke their hearts— are proof that man-bashing is a surefire key to chart success. Apparently this is all an aftereffect of the riot grrrl movement, just another example of feminism ruining things for everyone. Or something like that! The piece is pretty muddled, with evidence coming in the form of one current hit, a couple of older ones, Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and a listicle from Vibe Vixen claiming that Ciara’s gender-bendy “Like A Boy” is actually a “male-bashing anthem.” (TLC’s “No Scrubs” is No. 1, in case you were wondering what to put on your next man-hating iTunes playlist.)
The piece trots out a couple of female music experts on the topic in order to bolster its thesis, although I do wonder how How Sassy Changed My Life author Marisa Meltzer and EW‘s Leah Greenblatt feel about being quoted in a story that puts a bow on itself with this doozy of a conclusion:
But according to Glenn Sacks, a men’s issues expert, the lyrics of songs by Clarkson and others are indicative of anti-male stereotypes found today in sitcoms, movies, and commercials, where men are seen as inept and foolish.
“I think it speaks to something larger in the culture,” Sacks said. “Where the man’s always wrong the woman’s behavior is never examined. I always found ‘Womanizer’ to be ironic because Britney had been married and divorced multiple times and is nobody to be pointing fingers about womanizing or being promiscuous or whatever.”
How dare the harlot pop stars not be questioned! Why, no male singers ever focus on women ruining their lives because they were cheaters; nor do they call women whores or reduce them to their holes, nor do they use the word “bitch” judiciously, nor do the visuals accompanying them ever treat women like pieces of meat or shame them for taking advantage of the opportunities the current male-female climate affords them. (And let’s not even get into the gossipsphere, which in its worst moments seems like a way to make pageviews off people in cubicles having hate-fuck fantasies about even the most minor celebrities. Thank God for Ke$ha, at least.)
Ugh and ugh. Look, the wronged-person trope is a common one in pop music, and it has been for a while—on both sides. (Can someone play Tony Sclafani—who, it should be noted, has bit of a thing for hanging his hat on the ever-more-tired trope of “women in rock”—that terrible Usher breakup record? Or, failing that, this?) The real secret of the current moment? Things are pretty lousy for everyone, no matter where they land on the gender spectrum. And yes, Clarkson takes on quite a few people who have wronged her straight-on on her new album Stronger—including crappy reporters who question her motives on the fiery “You Can’t Win”—but instead of blanketing an entire gender with her accusations, she takes on individuals (whether they’re real people or characters).
The album, by the way, is out today and it’s pretty fun if you’re a fan of rock-tinged pop with a few surprise twists (there is one musical bed that could conceivably be described as “chillwave,” swear to God, although Clarkson’s powerhouse vocals scotch that notion) and anthemic singalong choruses. It’s also a nice way to briefly cleanse your brain of the notion that hacky writers like the one responsible for this piece—scribes who are so desperate to create trend stories out of thin air and a few quotes from “experts”—exist. The fact that their trollbait will get pageviews merely because it’s inflammatory and, when it comes right down to it, wrong—but wrong in such a way that will only further heighten tensions on both sides of the battle of the sexes—is still there, but at least “I Forgive You,” which somewhat neatly disproves this piece’s threadbare notion as well, is too.