“Pretty Girls” is completely out of step with everything we’ve come to expect from female performers in the past few years.
Sometimes, you see something so profoundly terrible on a foundational level that all you can do is close your eyes and pray that not only you, but that history, will forget this moment. That’s how I felt watching the hot mess that is Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls” video. It’s hard to know where to start assessing this abysmal joint venture, so heaped on is the crap it’s hard to see the undigested bits of corn for the shit. I suppose I can start by saying that possibly the worst thing about this abortive attempt at pop relevancy is how negligently it shirks any sense of self-awareness, assuming that viewers will take it as seriously as Britney or Iggy (who unsurprisingly “co-directed” the video).
I guess this is the kind of nonsense that happens when a group who call themselves “The Invisible Men” are tasked with co-writing and producing songs for women. Being that they’re invisible, they get to come along, write some humiliating, reductive lyrics, and sashay away to count their money while the women they work for wind up looking deeply foolish. It’s very Kevin Bacon’s voice in Hollow Man. I’m not absolving Brit or Iggy of responsibility or guilt: obviously they’re both complicit in unleashing this drivel onto the world, although their participation reeks of desperation in the wake of Britney’s failed Vegas residency and Iggy’s already flagging post-”Fancy” popularity. And desperation is easy to exploit.
Britney is a remnant of early noughties pop music. She came about at a time when highly manufactured, squeaky smiled girls with names like Britney and Christina were charged with the task of dismantling the boy band empire and alterna-girl dominion of the nineties. They didn’t have a message (until they did, in their own muddled way). They certainly, albeit at the behest of the machine that birthed them, set the stage for the female dominated landscape it is now. And, at the top of the charts, even with all the puppetry, they still managed to assert independent female sexuality in a delayed wave of Madonnafication, for instance, when Christna went from virginally lolling on the beach to wearing assless chaps and grinding on Redman.
We’re all also tragically aware of Britney’s unnecessarily public yet deeply personal, turbulent breakdown. I don’t want to mince my words on this: Britney Spears is a queen. She went from child star to a woman overwhelmed by the fame monster and she clawed her way back, and continues to be a the pop icon she deserves to be. Maybe it’s because I am old and so I grew up with Britney in her “Baby One More Time” and “Oops” heyday, but I feel weirdly emotional about her journey, because what happened to Britney was raw and awful, and the way the media and the public treated her is a more damning indictment on our society that makes our love of the Kardashians pale by comparison.
Unfortunately, “Pretty Girls” makes Britney look like Jenna Maroney’s mom in 30 Rock: a cloying stage mom desperate to share her young daughter’s spotlight in a tacky money grab. And Iggy plays the bored but painfully obligated daughter to perfection, barely mustering enthusiasm next to her overly tan Florida swamp person mom. At least the dead glassy eyes we’ve become accustomed to seeing on Britney are gone—she’s even got a little sparkle back, so excited is she that her teenaged daughter let her come down to set for the day. The dynamic throws me off entirely. Iggy should be worshipping at the altar of Britney, that such a goddess would lower herself to this peasantry. The only thing that makes me madder than this is Iggy’s SPEAKING PART IN A SCENE WITH DOM AND LETTY in Furious 7, because it should have been me.
“Pretty Girls” is completely out of step with everything we’ve come to expect from female performers in the past few years, and while it’s equally reductive to set any expectation of “how women should behave,” we can definitively say that there are some ways we no longer need to behave. Case in point: Women no longer need to sing songs are how pretty they are, and the advantages that gives them in life. Because we’re trying so hard to undo that exact notion. Women can be pretty, beautiful, sexy and we are, but women are also dynamic and interesting, and capable of subject matter far more compelling than singing about their looks. As Beyonce would say, “we're smart enough to make these millions/ Strong enough to bear the children/ Then get back to business.” Vapid is as vapid does, and whether or not you think pop music is frivolous, it’s undeniably impactful, and even if pop’s messages of empowerment don’t seem “authentic” to you, they’re still better than adult women boasting about how being pretty gets them to the front of the line.
It’s unnecessary for women to continue to declare that they’re resting on the laurels of their looks (even if they are). Because looks are luck, and we’ve got to pivot away from patting people on the back for winning the genetic lottery. There’s a communal responsibility all women have to re-educate the world around us to see women as valuable in diverse ways, and invite them unconditionally into a meritocracy based on skill, work and personality. Without even a hint of parody (it even falls flat in the mid-way skit, and when even the skit doesn’t read as silliness, then you’ve got some real structural issues) “Pretty Girls” is a waste of what could have been a wonderful satire. Imagine Britney going on a scathingly hilarious Amy Schumer-esque diatribe about the way “pretty girls” are treated—Khalessi commenting on how she’s been treated her entire career because she’s a pretty girl. But instead someone blew their nose, wiped the mucus on the soundboard, and whoever came in after shrugged and went along with it. And can we please stop calling grown ass women girls?
Kat George will happily discuss this subject with you on Twitter.