Unscripted and Unstoppable: Girl power in music today
Today marks the International Day of the Girl Child which calls for awareness on the issues faced by girls worldwide, and recognises the empowerment and investment in girls.
In his message for 2019’s International Day of the Girl Child, UN Secretary-General António Guterres writes that girls all over are challenging stereotypes and breaking barriers with every passing day, and that they are proving to be “unscripted and unstoppable”.
And so in the spirit of celebrating the indomitable spirit of girls and women across the globe, and (to a lesser degree) in the spirit of Friday playfulness, we decided to use a combination of models to analyse song lyrics of today’s artists that are most resonant with younger girls — Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Willow Smith, Jaden Smith, Troye Sivan and Shawn Mendes, to see what power is in those songs.
We downloaded all the lyrics from their most recent albums, and ran them through our model that connects language use with personality trait. We have used this model before in an earlier post, and loved it so much we brought it back for an encore.
Our models noted two key things being imparted in these lyrics, which we represent in the axes below.
The first relates to how these artists engage with the world and others. This ranged from “Self effacement” to “Self assertion”.
The second relates to how these artists self express their inner world. This ranged from “creative quirkiness” to “passionate sensuality’.
When we plot each of the artists on this map, we note the following:
Overall, there is a trend (barring two outliers) towards self-effacement. This is reflective of the overall cultural zeitgeist — which prioritises “listening” over “asserting”. These are promises of being agreeable, empathetic, connected, and genial.
Within this, we note 3 interesting nuances:
SELF EFFACING YET EXPRESSIVE: Women artists are signalling creative quirkiness more in their content, as well as self-effacement. A new model of femininity — that does not draw attention to itself, but at the same time does not signal weakness. It is uncompromising, yet not aggressive.
SELF EFFACING YET PASSIONATE: Male artists are signalling “passionate sensuality” but in a gentler way. This appears to be a new formula for masculinity — that does not signal only aggression, but also soft and sensitive elements. About time, some may say.
QUIRKY AND ASSERTIVE: Both Willow and Jaden Smith — whose songs and personalities are both spoken about in the public domain — have understood that being “counter” is not only being “vocal” but also being creative, imaginative and expressive …
What does this tell us about the universe our daughters occupy? You don’t have to be aggressive to be heard. Listening is as powerful as speaking. And quirky is “in”. There is indeed an un-scripting of what it means to wield ‘girl power’ or strength in general — a cool message for me to take home to my quirky 9-year old daughter today when she asks me if I did anything useful at work.