Bow Down Bitches: An Exploration of Confidence Expectations by Gender Through Billboard’s Top 50

KATE WEST (grade 11)

Billboard‘s Top 50, categorized by theme:

LOVE/SEX SELF-PRAISE OTHER
Shape of You, Ed Sheeran: “Although my heart is falling too

I’m in love with your body

Bad and Boujee, Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert: “fuckin’ on your bitch she a thot, thot (thot)

Cookin’ up dope in the crockpot (pot)

We came from nothin’ to somethin’ n•••a (hey)

Chained to the Rhythm, Katy Perry: “Turn it up, it’s your favorite song

Dance, dance, dance to the distortion

I Don’t Wanna Live Forever, Zayn Malik & Taylor Swift: “I just wanna keep calling your name until you come back home” Bounce Back, Big Sean: “Everything I do is righteous

Betting on me is the right risk

Rockabye, Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie: “She just wants a life for her baby

All on her own, no one will come

Closer, The Chainsmokers: “So baby pull me closer” Fake Love, Drake

Yeah, I know they wanna take my place

I can tell that love is fake

Heathens, Twenty One Pilots: “All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Bad Things, Machine Gun Kelly ft. Camila Cabello: “Don’t matter what you say

Don’t matter what you do

I only wanna do bad things to you

24K Magic, Bruno Mars: “Why you mad? Fix ya face

Ain’t my fault y’all be jocking

That’s What I Like, Bruno Mars:

“You and your ass invited

So gon’ and get to clappin’”

Starboy, The Weeknd: “I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy
Love on the Brain, Rihanna: “No matter what I do

I’m no good without you

And I can’t get enough

Scars to Your Beautiful, Alessia Cara: “No scars to your beautiful, we’re stars and we’re beautiful
Paris, The Chainsmokers: “Let’s show them we are better iSpy, KYLE ft. Lil Yachty: “I’m just like DeRozan, if I shoot it, it goes in
Don’t Wanna Know, Maroon 5 ft. Kendrick Lamar: “I don’t wanna know, know, know, know

Who’s taking you home, home, home, home”

T-shirt, Migos: “Bitches call me papi, ‘sace that’s my hobby”
Million Reasons, Lady Gaga: “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away

But baby, I just need one good one to stay

Congratulations, Post Malone ft. Quavo: “Balling since a baby, they could see it in my eyes”
Mercy, Shawn Mendes: “Take it easy on my heart Broccoli, D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty: “I got companies and Pesos

I got people on my payroll

Caroline, Amine: “Caroline, you divine

Mighty fine

Party, Chris Brown ft. Usher & Gucci Mane: “Pull up on your bitch, tell your man I’m sorry

Hundred on my wrist, jumpin’ out the ‘rari

Say You Won’t Let Go, James Arthur: “And I wanna stay with you

Until we’re grey and old

Moves, Big Sean: “I got the moves

I got the moves

I’m making moves

You gotta move

Side to Side, Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj: “And boy, got me walkin’ side to side…” Juju On That Beat, Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion Mccall: “I’m on a whole ‘nother level

If you compare me and you

There wouldn’t be no comparings

Can’t Stop the Feeling!, Justin Timberlake: “We’re flying up, no ceiling, when we in our zone Both, Gucci Mane ft. Drake: “Yeah, you think I need you but I don’t

Just left out Dubai with all my folk

All Time Low, Jon Bellion: “You’re the reason that I just can’t concentrate Deja Vu, J. Cole: “She fuck with small town n•••as, I got bigger dreams
I Feel It Coming, The Weeknd: “You don’t need a lonely night

So baby, I can make it right

Black Beatles, Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane: “Black Beatle bitch, me and Paul McCartney related”
Location, Khalid: “I don’t need nothing else but you”
Body Like a Back Road, Sam Hunt: “I know every curve like the back of my hand”
Let Me Love You, DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber: “I won’t give up, nah-nah-nah

Let me love you

Down, Marian Hill: “Come on, baby, catch me if you can

I know you don’t have any other plans

Water Under the Bridge, Adele: “The only thing that I want is your love
Issues, Julia Michaels: “Yeah, I got issues

And one of them is how bad I need you

Better Man, Little Big Town: “Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again”
Treat You Better, Shawn Mendes: “I just wanna give you the loving that you’re missing
This Town, Niall Horan: “Because if the whole world was watching I’d still dance with you”
Dirt on my Boots, Jon Pardi: “Might have a little dirt on my boots

But I’m taking you uptown tonight”

Starving, Hailee Steinfeld & Grey ft. Zedd: “I didn’t know that I was starving till I tasted you
Cold, Maroon 5 ft. Future: “How am I so far away from you?”
I Got You, Bebe Rexha: “I just wanna love you, I got you”
Make Me (Cry), Noah Cyrus ft. Labrinth: “I never needed you like I do right now”
Sober Saturday Night, Chris Young ft. Vince Gill: “I feel miserable, and I’m missing you and me”

 

THESE CATEGORIES, BROKEN DOWN BY GENDER:

Love/Sex Songs

Male artist: 17/31

Female artist: 10/31

Self-Praise Songs

Male artist: 15/16

Female artist: 1/16

Other Songs

Male artist: 1/3

Female artist: 1/3

Admittedly, this research was spurred by an overheard conversation dissing Beyoncé. Conceited was the word being stressed in this case, as these two girls next to me didn’t understand how insisting on one’s flawlessness could be a positive message. A further point mentioned was the irony in being a renowned “feminist” (said with sassy air quotes) while chanting “bow down bitches.” Now, this hurt. In that moment, I internally experienced a montage of memories of myself dancing to “***Flawless,” before the mirror in my favorite underwear in order to remedy a temporary devastation to my self-esteem. It works. The question, however, is valid: Are her unapologetically self-worshipping lyrics something girls should hear? So, I set off to observe the music industry with the intensity of a vegan who was just informed that kale causes cancer.

Looking at the top 50 songs in America right now,  according to Billboard.com, basically every song falls into one of two categories: You are really great (in reference to a past or present love interest) or I am really great. Coupled with the significance of each message is an equally important factor in what listeners are taking away, which, of course, is who is delivering that message. After sifting through lyrics of each of the 50 songs, and turning multiple times to Urban Dictionary in perplexity (thanks Migos), a few very clear patterns manifested themselves.

Almost every single female singer—10/12—sings about a boy. Interestingly, while almost all of these fall on a spectrum from mild euphemisms to full on discussions of sex, none of the songs describe any specific physical attribute of a man. What this means is that boys listening aren’t ever informed of a body type they need to have in order to be deemed song-worthy. The extent to which female singers on this list allude to a physical trait is the use of the word “body.” The only men excluded from the sexual attraction of these songs are literal floating heads. There’s no talk of chiseled abs, smoking V-lines, 6-foot stature. Just have a body and you apply. Looking through the lyrical descriptions of women by male artists, however, illustrates a more specific advertisement. “Fine as hell, thick as fuck,” “Got hips like honey, so thick and so sweet,” “Pop rubber bands all on her ass, baby been eating her wheaties.” I know, I know. It makes Shakespeare sound like an unromantic douche, right?

Through a comparison of descriptions of the opposite sex, it’s evident women listeners already start off disadvantaged by the expectations for their bodies fed to them by the radio. But what else is new. A more striking and stark pattern lies within songs that aren’t about the opposite sex. In the top 50, there are two songs by female singers that don’t praise or pine for a man. One of these is “Chained to the Rhythm,” by Katy Perry. This one is sort of the odd one out here. (Is she talking about clubbing or Hillary Clinton? Who knows?) The other is “Scars to Your Beautiful,” by Alessia Cara. This one is important, as it is the only song focusing primarily on self-love which isn’t by a man. The only song out of 16 total. This song isn’t in the same vein as the other 15 however, because it is one of purposeful empowerment. Cara croons, “So to all the girls that’s hurting, let me be your mirror, Help you see a little bit clearer the light that shines within.” The song is extolled for its inspirational statement on body image, and it sticks out as one of those rare and beautiful songs poetically posing the importance of confidence in women.

Now, let’s look at every other song in this column. Is it especially inspirational when Big Sean raps, “N***a how dare you stand before me and not respect my authority”? On the other end of things, is it seen as arrogant? No. Neither. It’s almost a directly paraphrased “bow down bitches,” but it’s nothing special, because about half of male artists in the top 50—15/33—deliver lyrics that address how great they are. Even when Zayion McCall so eloquently pronounces “If you compare me and you, There wouldn’t be no comparings,” no one mentions the dangers of asserting his superiority. This isn’t seen as a song of self-praise so much as catchy music with a dance to memorize. Because when men talk about how great they are, when men praise themselves, it’s so mundane we don’t even take notice. In fact, working to identify every instance of male self-praise in the media feels like walking through Newton with a foreigner and trying to tolerate their excitement at every grey squirrel you two see.

Beyoncé’s lyrics are nothing new. We’ve heard the message “bow down bitches,” a million times before, delivered in different variations from the mouth of a man. What sparks sudden outrage in her listeners however, is the fact that she unashamedly talks about how great she is while also having a vagina. Conversely, the songs we see in which women talk about self-praise are often those like “Scars To Your Beautiful,” which intentionally outline a meaningful push towards self-acceptance. While this is no doubt beneficial, what the music industry truly lacks is songs produced by women in which they unapologetically voice their own greatness just because they think they’re great. Once enough Beyoncés exist, perhaps female self-praise will become just as much the norm as male self-praise. In the meantime, if you choose to attack braggadocio, fine, but you must attack it in men everywhere as well. If not, girls, keep singing along to “***Flawless,” and never worry that it’s shameful to say you are.

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