While male musicians often big up their squads in song, girls are only just getting round to singing about female friendship in all its forms.
The end of a friendship can be just as taxing as the end of a romantic tryst: so why aren’t there more songs about it? The release of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” made a pertinent point about the nature of female friendship and the value it’s given in pop culture. That is to say, not much. “Bad Blood” illustrates this not by making any particular point exactly, but by standing alone in a sea of music sung by women which fails to acknowledge that friendship can be a source of great joy or great vexation. Without sounding too much like soap-box feminist: men don’t ignore their friends in quite the same way. Quite the opposite, actually. In song, men frequently give their friendships glowing accolades, and even if it isn’t the main lyrical subject matter, bromantic expressions are dropped into verses with easy abandon.
I've been so impressed with women’s changing role in pop over the past few years, and to be honest, being able to ask questions like “Why don’t women approach friendship in song the same way as men?” is exciting, because it means we’re getting so much good stuff in other areas, like empowerment, independence, and resolve, that we can nitpick at the areas that still need work. And what woman doesn’t love to nitpick, AMIRITE? LOL! It truly is a great time to be a woman in pop, because pop music is constantly evolving and it’s evolving in tandem with the proclivities of the women who are commanding it, for the first time, en masse.
Whether intended or otherwise, “Bad Blood,” and its accompanying video, explores the nuances of a female friendship that for whatever reason, has broken down. Many times when women sing about other women it’s with regards to a man, as in the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” which makes love relational to friendship, but fails to notice the autonomy of friendship. Or the queen Dolly’s “Jolene” which, like many other songs sung by women, addresses conflict over a man. Interestingly, there’s no mention of men in “Bad Blood” which makes the song rather refreshing in the context of women relating to other women. And while the tabloids will press the issue that this song is about Taylor’s “feud” with Katy Perry over John Mayer, the theory doesn’t hold water when you look at all the hard work Tay’s been doing to put to bed her teenaged “boy crazy” persona. “Bad Blood” defines female friendship on the terms of the two women involved, and rather than reducing that relationship to the purview of a masculine third party. It allows them to address each other directly and independently. Which, unfortunately, is quite a new concept.
Considering that we’re still asking movies to pass the Bechdel test, maybe we should start applying the same standard to popular music. And speaking of films, Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 are currently making bank at the box office and these are two movies led by women which focus primarily on women’s interactions with each other, and/or subject matter that isn’t necessarily centered around a romantic male love interest. This, along with the popularity of “Bad Blood,” suggests that we’re not only ready, but absolutely gagging to see women covering more dynamic subject matter than which boys they like. Even Taylor Swift has quit scrawling initials on her notebooks and encasing them in cupid hearts.
Last week also saw the launch of Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj’s collaboration on “Feeling Myself” on Tidal, the spew-iest music streaming service known to man. An entirely different angle on empowerment, “Feeling Myself” is the current status quo: women asserting their sexual and financial autonomy. Which is great. But Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj never address their relationship to other women, only their relationships with their bodies, their bank accounts, and the many man falling at their feet. Other than Nicki declaring them “the poster girls for all this,” the sense is that at the end of the song they’ll separate, and go back to running their empires. Which is fine, but also doesn’t take into account that at some point Nicki is going to want to have a white wine brunch with her girlfriends because as much as we try to fight it, that stereotype is true—being white wine drunk with friends in the middle of the day is the best, OK? I’m still not convinced Beyoncé has friends (which has nothing to do with her being a woman and more to do with her potentially being a golem brought forth by the Illuminati), but I’m open to it.
It always seems to be so different for men. For instance: Drake started from the bottom now the whole team’s fucking here. Ain’t nobody fucking with Kanye West’s clique. Usher is basically always in the club with his homies, and even the Beatles got by with a little help from their friends. For all their grandstanding about not showing emotion, men have always been very vocal about their successes and experiences involving their friends, whereas for women, that appears to be distinctly lacking. Enter “Bad Blood,” where, for the first time, a woman is concerned about the cracks in her friendship, and cares enough about them to make them her predominant preoccupation.
It’s not like women have never sung about friendship before—Cher Lloyd recently had “Oath,” and Little Mix have “Always Be Together,” but these guys are tiny British artists and their songs are obviously not chart topper fodder like “Bad Blood,” or any of the aforementioned male led songs. The last tune I can think of about female friendship that was of great prominence is Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” and before that there was Bette Midler with “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Mariah with “Any Time You Need a Friend,” Cyndi with “True Colors,” and “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders. And yet, amidst these grand sweeping statements of loyalty and love, none quite possess the easy inclusion of friendship the way say, Usher drops his friends into a verse. And honestly, not even “Umbrella” manages to touch on what happens between two friends in reality.
These songs by women have one thing in common: they connect friendship by outlying factors. The relationship can be summed up as, if something bad happens, I’m here for you, and you’re there for me, so thank you. Men draw one another into their lives on a different level. They're out together, achieving together, growing and moving together. It’s so ingrained you barely notice—the way we’re subtly taught men are stronger when they run in packs, but women are out there alone, and their friendships are more about having someone to lean on when “real life” situations turn sour. A friendship, for a man, is about camaraderie. For a woman, it’s therapy. But women can be buddies too, and we’re exploring that more and more in the media, especially where shows like Broad City are portraying female friendship from a different, traditionally masculine, angle.
Taylor Swift asks us, “What happens when the friendship itself becomes fractured? What happens when our buddy isn’t our buddy any more?” It makes sense that Swift would introduce us to the concept of putting greater weight on female friendship. Her efforts in the past year or so have focused largely on building a world of women around her, and her endearing dorky awards show dances with Selena Gomez, her vacations with Haim, and the dedicated Karlie Kloss room in her TriBeCa pad are all part of the show of affection she’s making for her friends. It seems gal pal-ing around is Tay’s main concern, and unlike any other female archetypes in pop history, hers is build around a foundation of ovaries before brovaries. She is the literal Leslie Knope of pop music. And if anyone can elevate the importance of female friendship to an equivalence of romantic love in pop, it’s going to be her.
Kat is a writer in based in Brooklyn. We suspect she's a rather great gal pal. She's on Twitter.