The month of March has not been kind to female empowerment in the pop music genre. From Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” to NS Yoon-G’s “Wifey” and miss A’s “Only You,” fans of pop music have had little to celebrate in the way of gender equality. Should we be expecting more from our favorite pop stars?
Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband,” aside from embodying the ethos of a Target commercial, gives a list of demands for her future husband. “'Cause if you'll treat me right / I'll be the perfect wife,” Trainor sings, suggesting some kind of marital exchange as the key to success. But there’s an inherent inequality in Trainor’s requests. While the man is asked to buy flowers and take her on a date, the woman is expected to be “perfect” in return.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of “Dear Future Husband” is Trainor’s frequent promise of the exchange of sexual favors for basic human decency. If a man opens the door for his partner, surely he should be rewarded with oral sex, no? Sex as a behavioral bargaining chip, though confirmed again and again in pop culture, is actually a type of extortion if viewed from another angle. If a woman does not provide “special lovin’,” is her partner then allowed to behave like an asshole? If, according to this song and others like it, sex is required for decent treatment, is it really consensual at all?
NS Yoon-G’s recent single, “Wifey” (featuring MC Mong), is a perfect Kpop analog to the kinds of problems present in “Dear Future Husband.” Again, we are shown a relationship in which the balance of expectations is tipped wildly in the man’s favor. Although NS Yoon-G never explicitly states a need for perfection, she is, however, shown reading a book called “How to Be a Perfect Lady” (in typical Kpop style, the lyrics of “Wifey” are hardly illustrative of what we see in the music video). The man in this relationship is asked simply to show his love, hardly a big ask, but the woman is expected to treat every day like it is her partner’s birthday. Though much less obvious than Trainor, NS Yoon-G also suggests that sexual satisfaction is a further expectation of women when she sings “A special love for you, tell me what you want.” In “Wifey,” we receive a male perspective as well in the raps of MC Mong, who asks of NS Yoon-G, “When we go home, please do some special events for me.”
Home is important in this song. It’s where the woman spends all her time. “I’m waiting till you get home baby, I’m quietly waiting for you,” NS Yoon-G sings, looking lost and lonely by herself. MC Mong’s rap that her “Flapping apron is prettier than [her] dizzy mini skirt” would almost be sweet if it weren’t for the underlying assumption that the woman should be not just at home, but in the kitchen, preparing “a menu that you like” while her man is away at work. And NS Yoon-G shows the viewer exactly that in the music video. While her partner is away, NS Yoon-G cooks, tries on sexy outfits (presumably to impress her man), and generally just lays around waiting for him to come home. A woman’s life, this song suggests, should be understood in relation to her man. A woman’s identity as a “wifey” is more important than her identity as an individual. Femininity, according to these songs, is a performance for the male gaze.
Which brings us to miss A’s “Only You.” In this recent release, the lyrics are much less worrying than the visual experience. The music video opens with each member of miss A demonstrating their sexual appeal. But the occasion for all of this sexuality is voyeurism; there is a man in an apartment across the street who is watching all of this through a pair of binoculars. Strangely, inexplicably, instead of being disgusted by this man’s intense scrutiny, the members of miss A perform for him. They dance on the balcony where he can surely see them without the aid of binoculars. They reward his perverse male gaze by giving him exactly what he wants: more sexuality.
“Only You,” as a song, may be about love and devotion to a man, but the only men in this video are complete strangers. Moreover, they are strangers who ogle miss A, who objectify them, who intrude on their privacy (in the case of the voyeur), and who show them no respect at all by doing so. The only response miss A gives, however, is to submit more fully to the male gaze. They walk down the street, turning heads in their over-sexualized attire. Later, at a party, miss A become the center of attention when they perform in the middle of the room, all eyes on them.
Perhaps this is just the life of a pop star. One could even argue that miss A are making us, the viewer, complicit in the male gaze. When the voyeur’s binoculars become the lens through which we watch the music video, aren’t we the reason why miss A must perform? I want to say, yes. I want to believe that the same group that sang “I Don’t Need a Man” is doing more here than accepting an unfair expectation of female pop stars as objects of sexuality. But what I see is yet another music video in which women are seen performing in the very roles they might seek to reject.
I’m not asking that every pop song be an “Independent Women” or an “I Don’t Need a Man.” I’m not asking for the male phallus to be symbolically engulfed in a funerary pyre. But I do wish that more strong, independent women of pop music would give fans something to be proud of.