Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Big Freedia are all well known artists that have made their mark on the music industry. Currently, they are breaking barriers by influencing change within the category of breakup songs. These three singers incorporate sassy lyrics, confident gender presentation in their music videos, and an energetic beat in their breakup songs, leaving their female audience feeling empowered, rather than somber like the effect of many breakup songs in the past.
In my listening experience, most artists use breakup songs as an outlet for the emotions they are experiencing after a heartbreak, so this usually creates very slow songs with sorrowful lyrics. This type of music encourages its listeners to go through a mournful period of time post breakup in order to overcome their grief; for example, “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith and “Someone Like You” by Adele. But, this reputation is beginning to change with the recent releases of many upbeat and empowering breakup songs. The culture surrounding this genre of music is being shifted from depressing to inspiring. This includes beats that radiate energy and lyrics with attitude, giving women especially, an edge and a motivating tune to sing along to versus being grief-stricken.
Ariana Grande’s recent song “thank you, next” encourages women in particular to abide by high standards, while not perpetuating a message of cruelty. In the beginning of this song, Grande voices how grateful she is for her ex’s and how much she learned from them, ultimately making her a better person. She lets this be known my singing “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now, I’m so amazing” (Grande). This shows that “thank you, next” is not made to bash her ex’s; instead, she uses it as a way to show them gratitude. Although critic Amanda Hess voices this might not be exactly what her ex’s want to hear by saying “In “thank u, next,” Grande casts her exes as steppingstones on her path to greatness, men who taught her “patience,” “pain” and, ultimately, how little she needed them. There’s nothing harsher than having your relationship converted into a learning experience” (Hess). This does though inspire girls and women to learn from their past relationships and grow from them, rather than remaining bitter and filled with hate. However, Grande repeatedly sings “thank you, next” throughout the entire song, exhibiting that she is moving on from them. Many “Arianators” coined this phrase and use it frequently in their daily lives, especially when discussing inadequate men. Even on Davidson’s campus, this popular phrase is proclaimed by many women who are leaving a guy in the past. Just these few words repeated in Grande’s hit song have influenced women to not be afraid to be confident and ditching a man that is bringing them down, and now women everywhere have a fun phrase to say while doing it. Hess supports this claim by writing “The secret message of “thank u, next” is that women can dismiss men who sap their energies and undermine their success, and this is not an act of cruelty or a symptom of bitchiness. It’s a simple social nicety” (Hess). Ariana empowers women to not stand for men who treat them poorly, but still have gratitude for the lessons they taught you.
The motivating lyrics and upbeat nature of “thank you, next” are not the only things Ariana Grande gets spot on; the song’s music video utilizes iconic girl movies made years ago as a way to attract views and create an even more girl centered song. Scenes from Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring It On, and 13 Going on 30 Grande reenacted while singing along to her popular song. She encourages women to find fulfillment within friendships by incorporating movies that are friendship centric. The lyrics, pace, and music video compliment each other and create the ultimate girl anthem. This empowers women to learn to lean on their friends and grow from their past relationships.
Taylor Swift is known for her country tunes about men, particularly her emotional lyrics about how heartbroken she is. As the style of her music slowly changes to pop, her songs become more upbeat and confident rather than sorrowful. The release of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” really shows this transition in Swift’s career. Swift’s newfound self empowerment has not gone unnoticed; Billboard states “With “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Swift expands an already impressive songwriting range to incorporate a biting sarcasm within her deep-rooted confidence” (Billboard). In the song, Taylor voices her struggles in this particular relationship by singing “I’m really gonna miss you picking fights / And me, falling for it screaming that I’m right / And you, would hide away and find your peace of mind / With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine”(Swift). This shows the lack of appreciation this man has for Taylor and the unhappiness embedded within this relationship, all sung with attitude. In the middle of this pop hit, the music stops and we just hear Taylor talking on the phone with her now ex boyfriend responding to his insincere ‘I love you” by saying “We are never getting back together like, ever” (Swift). By stopping the music, Swift emphasizes her own strength and ability to speak for herself. This teaches women to stand up for themselves and never let a man constantly treat you poorly. Taylor’s growth and confidence inspire women to know their self worth and end relationships if they are not fully happy with their partner.
Swift’s music video to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” reinforces the possible power agency in a breakup. The setting of this video changes, but Taylor is with a tall brown haired man for most of it, singing the lyrics to this song basically in his face. At the end of the video, after it is clear that Taylor broke up with him for not treating her right, this mysterious man tries to beg for forgiveness one last time. Instead of Taylor giving in and being weak, she slams the door in his face without even listening to what he has to say. This power move truly shows her strength and sets an example for women everywhere to not be fooled by the sweet talk of men. After this rejection, Swift is shown joyfully dancing, as if a huge weight has been lifted off of her shoulders. Taylor appears bothered and upset throughout most of the video while she is still putting up with this man, so when the energy and mood change, it is apparent how dumping a toxic person can completely shift someone’s persona.
Big Freedia, also known as the queen of bounce, creates music that sparks energy into any situation, also using language that demeans men while building up women. “Rent” is a lively song that encourages its listeners to dance and enjoy themselves while making a point of being strong. The song itself is about Big Freedia kicking her partner out of her house because he did not pay his fair share of rent and was taking advantage of the free housing. She stands up to his lack of reciprocation within the relationship in both money and love by singing “It’s the first of the month / I said enough is enough / I committed to you / You should of paid me in love” (Big Freedia). She also displays her high level of confidence and lack of guilt by singing “I’m your landlord (uh huh uh huh) / Don’t got no remorse (nope nah not at all) / Pack your bags boy (pack em up pack em up) / You don’t live here no more (no more no more)” (Big Freedia). Big Freedia uses the term boy instead of the typically used word man as a way to make her significant other sound juvenile and subordinate. Musical Hype recognizes the positive impact of this song and commends Big Freedia by posting “Big Freedia isn’t playing around, delivering mad attitude throughout the course of “Rent.” The feistiness she exhibits – the sassiness – is the crowning achievement of the record” (Musical Hype). This artist goes against the norm by creating exciting music out of an unfortunate situation. She shows women that it is okay not to have a significant other if it means becoming free of maltreatment and encourages others not to be afraid to stand up for themselves.
The lively song “Rent” is paired with a confident and entertaining music video. This video begins by showing Big Freedia and her female friends barging into the house with chainsaws and other various weapons. The alleged man that is being kicked out of the house is relaxing on the couch being forced to watch as these women destroy his belongings.While some of these women are wrecking items in the house, others are dancing in this man’s face. Having these dancers twerk near him and his possessions being ruined displays him getting put in his place and knocked off the high pedestal it appeared he had been on before. It then films outside of the house showing Big Freedia dancing and singing while her friends are throwing his clothes out of the front window. Finally, Big Freedia drives a bus away from her home and drags him behind on a couch. It is apparent that Big Freedia realized that this man was using her for his own shelter and was not giving her the love that she deserved. Knowing that his toxic behaviors were holding her back, she puts an end to their relationship through the power move of humiliation.
These three inspiring songs, all sung by confident female artists, are incredibly important because they empower women everywhere to stand up for themselves and to not feel sorry about it. In the music industry, politics is beginning to play a role, especially recently. Feminism is on the rise and it is starting to show in music as more women are becoming empowered and independent. Females are still seen as objects in many songs, but these women artists are changing that by writing and preforming songs that uplift other women rather than degrading them. This shift is much needed in the music industry in order to help influence people through song that women are just as powerful as men.
“Ariana Grande – Thank u, Next.” Genius, 3 Nov. 2018, genius.com/Ariana-grande-thank-u-next-lyrics.
“Big Freedia, ‘Rent’ | Track Review.” The Musical Hype, 2 Apr. 2018, themusicalhype.com/big-freedia-rent-track-review/.
“Big Freedia – Rent.” Genius, 30 Mar. 2018, genius.com/Big-freedia-rent-lyrics.
Freedia, Big, director. Rent. YouTube, YouTube, 29 Mar. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch? v=FtU1zjRuTdU.
Grande`, Ariana, director. Thank You, Next. YouTube, YouTube, 30 Nov. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl1aHhXnN1k.
Hess, Amanda. “The Top 25 Songs That Matter Right Now.” The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, 7 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/07/magazine/top-songs.html?module=inline#.
Swift, Taylor, director. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. YouTube, YouTube, 31 Aug. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4iX5D9Z64.
“Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Genius, 13 Aug. 2012, genius.com/Taylor-swift-we-are-never-ever-getting-back-together-lyrics.
“Track Review: Taylor Swift, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’.” Billboard, 13 Jan. 2013, www.billboard.com/articles/review/1066894/track-review-taylor-swift-we-are-never-ever-getting-back-together.