When not performing in front of vague backdrops that leave the viewer completely clueless as to her message, Queen Bey is #ReadyForHillary. Meghan Trainor is all about body-positivity, or maybe not, and is definitely awful for wanting a husband or something. Speedy Ortiz just dropped “Foil Deer,” and it’s really a tremendous album, but lead singer Sadie Dupuis keeps feminism front and center. Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea are tackling gender stereotypes and the patriarchy with “Pretty Girls.”
Wait a minute, that’s not what they’re doing. At all.
If you didn’t make it through, here’s the chorus, which is the most relevant part of the poetry that is “Pretty Girls.”
All around the world
Pretty Girls wipe the floor
Pour the drinks, bring the noise
We’re just so pretty
To which I say, “Yes!” Although I don’t begrudge people for infusing some politics into their art, it gets tiring at times. And with the thumping summer anthem that is “Pretty Girls,” we definitely do not get politics. At least not directly. What we do get is a defiant rejection of the politics of the personal, a gyrating paean to biology, and a possible return of the once and future queen.
That’s right, baby. Britney Spears is back. For real this time. Unlike the busted comeback at the Video Music Awardss in ’07 or the busted comeback of 2013. Fresh on the heels of a contract renewal and raise for her wildly successful Las Vegas show, “Pretty Girls” has the potential to return Britney to her “Oops!…I Did It Again” heights. Well, probably not, but close enough.
The rollicking video, a tribute to “Earth Girls are Easy,” is a ridiculous ride that begs to thump out of the car windows of kids roaming the earth, seeking out idiotic decisions that will indelibly stain their permanent records. Laura Bradley, writing at Slate, natch, doesn’t know what to make of it. Never fear, Ms. Bradley, I’m here to help.
If, like me, you’re from the ’80s, you’ll wonder why, like me, Bradley thinks it’s a bad thing that the video mimics “Earth Girls are Easy.” Given that we live in a time when everything is a reboot or a remake, it’s kinda disappointing that it’s only a music video and not a complete overhaul of the classic Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum film. (Call me, Hollywood, we can make this happen.)
Back on Planet Earth
As to the song, Bradley opines that it sounds like the lyrics were written in a boardroom. She apparently inhabits a much more raucous business world than I. I wish my meetings revolved around hip-shaking sweeties and not performance goals and objectives. Dare to dream.
I mean, re-read the lyrics to the aforementioned chorus. Those simple words, along with the video, are what makes “Pretty Girls” pretty fantastic. Written in a boardroom? Please. That chorus is the exact opposite of execuspeak. Maybe if Britney and Iggy talked about leveraging their looks to elevate their position in the supply chain that point would have merit. Thankfully, they do not.
Bradley also wonders about the naked product placement of the Samsung Galaxy midway through the video. Why she waits for that moment isn’t explained. I mean, the video opens with product placement in the form of Matefit. Start there. Or notice that Britney and Iggy roll around in a Jeep, albeit without a prominent logo. They dance at a carwash featuring a panoply of German cars. Maybe we should be giving Britney some credit for inventing the concept of product placement, which certainly didn’t exist in the ’80s, while mildly scolding her for ruining the otherwise historical accuracy present in “Pretty Girls.” At least the abject horror that was the ’80s Ford Mustang was presented accurately.
Remember the ’80s
But historical accuracy isn’t what’s important here, so scolding isn’t necessary. Besides, the teased hair and denim are on point. No, what’s beautiful about this song is not the naked homage, the naked throwbacks, or the naked reminiscence of the booming economy that we ’80s kids got to enjoy.
What’s beautiful is the abject refusal to make an apologetic video or throw a bone to identity politics. Britney, sporting a toned midriff, and former model Iggy are openly embracing heternormativity and traditionalism, albeit a modern libertine strain. “We’re just so pretty,” they proclaim, while shaking what their mamas gave them. And for that prettiness they don’t expect boardrooms and leaning in. They want male attention. They want to be celebrated for their feminine wiles.
Granted, they flip the script. The car wash, normally a staple of double entendres aimed at men, doesn’t have Britney and Iggy working the sponges and bubbles. There is no Jessica Simpson washing the General Lee in character as Daisy Duke while the men gawk. In “Pretty Girls,” we get Britney and Iggy being gawked at by men washing cars, replete with more than a few visual double entendres aimed at men. See what they did there?
A Note on Iggy’s Rap Game
A quick aside, as we’re almost to the point in the song we knew was going to come—Iggy’s rap verse.
I have a friend. Let’s call him the Archivist. The Archivist is a staunch libertarian, not prone to trigger warnings and social justice nonsense. When the topic of Iggy Azalea comes up, because I brought it up, he concedes that in her case cultural appropriation may actually be a thing. In his words, “When she raps, I actually feel embarrassed for her.”
He’s not wrong. Although I never had any strong feelings about Britney, and I still don’t, I do celebrate this video as a modern triumph, a splendiferous and ridiculous jaunt across MTVs golden age But the fact that I have to celebrate something featuring Iggy Azalea doesn’t take me to a happy place, even as she does drop some truths in the obligatory rap verse. I suppose this is a time to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Bees to the Honey
What does take me to a happy place is how gloriously subversive this jam is. Perhaps it’s a bit too flagrant, gleefully embracing the notion that women are the gatekeepers to sex. In the case of “Pretty Girls,” it focuses more on the proliferation of thirsty men than of traditionalism and complementarity, hence my libertine traditionalist qualifier, but it still takes the notion that men want a pretty girl and begs to have that notion place its hands on undulating hips.
Iggy Iggs, who likes to say Iggy Iggs as frequently as possible, gets straight to the point, I think, in her rap verse: “See, enter in line between the beauty and a beast/Slim waist, thick cake, the whole world want a piece.” Of course, this is the simplified version of desire, but it isn’t incorrect. If it were, there wouldn’t be mountains upon mountains of scorching hot takes on the subject.
Fortunately for us, Britney and Iggy’s scorching hot take on the issue is a full-throated celebration of their desirability. They put complementarity on the forefront as they sing in the line just before the chorus, “Like bees to the honey.” Men are not monolith, but most of us do want a sweetie that exudes sexy while asking us to call her honey. Would that more women were willing to enthusiastically claim that title. Then we wouldn’t need calls to action like “Pretty Girls” to pull society back from the brink.
Okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic. The scorching-hot-take industry wouldn’t spend so much time haranguing women for being women if women would just get the message and stop it. ‘Til then, let us offer thanks and praise to those who push back against it, not with reasoned arguments and statistics, but thumping summer anthems full of ’80s synths and gyrating women. They’re the true heroes.