Alivia GIles Feature Leia Lehrer

Taking a ‘Wrecking Ball’ to double standards




Following album releases from Taylor Swift and SZA and Miley Cyrus’s single, ‘Flowers,’ women are dominating the music charts and breaking records. Often though, the public’s focus is not on the art itself, but rather on the personal lives of the artists.

When Miley Cyrus released ‘Flowers,’ a track that plays on the lyrics of Bruno Mars’s 2012 hit ‘When I Was Your Man’ on Jan. 13–her ex-husband Liam Hemsworth’s birthday–it was hard to deny the singer’s intentions.

Many fans were quick to point out that the ‘Flowers’ music video appears to contain “Easter eggs” that hint at details about Cyrus’s relationship with Hemsworth.

Whether or not the aspects of the video fans perceive as clues really mean anything, it’s critical that we look past these details and appreciate Cyrus’s art for what it is, not who its subject is. Weeks after the song’s release, fans have not been able to do this.

Cyrus can’t even release a song about self-love without fans putting most of their attention on a man. It speaks volumes that Cyrus’s lyrics were inspired by a song by Bruno Mars, a pop artist whose love life has never been under such a microscope.

However, Cyrus isn’t the only female artist whose work has been subject to the “Who’s it about?” game. Throughout Taylor Swift’s career, the public has been asking this exact question.

Swift’s re-released albums prove that, even years later, her songs are not allowed to speak for themselves. The public feels that they must know the details of every romance that inspired her lyrics.

“Jake Gyllenhaal is finally able to sleep at night now that Liam Hemsworth is the most hated man on the internet,” said Twitter user @Brooke_Paige15, calling out Swift’s ex-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal–whom she dated almost 13 years ago, mind you–and Hemsworth.

And yet, male artists like Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran have penned track after track about mystery women. In a 2017 interview with The Zach Sang and the Gang Show, Styles opened up about his desire to keep the meaning behind his songs private.

“I think the best thing about music is everyone can take away different things from stuff, and that’s not wrong, there’s not really a wrong answer,” said Styles. “I feel like [with] a lot of my favorite songs that mean something to me, I’d be disappointed if someone told me that they were about something else. It might ruin the song for me.”

Coming from Styles, this response, albeit disappointing perhaps to die-hard fans of the singer, is respectable. Styles’s music is viewed as art above all else. Swift’s music is viewed as insight into personal life first and as art second.

Cyrus’s ‘Flowers’ is not the “Liam Hemsworth song,” Swift’s album Red is not the “Jake Gyllenhaal album.” Every pop artist writes about relationships, heartbreak and even marriage. The difference, though, is that the work created by men in the industry is not defined by these themes and they’re certainly not defined by their subjects.

So when we get bored with wondering exactly how many women Hemsworth allegedly cheated on Cyrus with, we’ll actually talk about the song, right?

It isn’t that easy, because when the ‘Flowers’ rumors are old news, Taylor Swift might top the charts again with a surprise release or SZA might make a triumphant return. And while fans could celebrate the success of all these women, the reality is, they won’t.

Why do Ariana Grande fans and Taylor Swift fans take to Twitter to argue about who is the superior artist but when Harry Styles and Swift are neck-in-neck in the charts, it is totally acceptable?

The fact is, we are not comfortable seeing multiple women vying for the top spot. And if we have to see multiple women succeeding, it at least can’t be a friendly competition. We imagine that these women can’t possibly be happy about the success of other women in the industry.

Younger pop artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter are not next. It is already happening. Rodrigo’s debut single, ‘Drivers License,’ garnered attention for its subject and Carpenter was promptly villainized for “stealing” Rodrigo’s boyfriend. Both artists have been under scrutiny.

We have to recognize the double standards at play when we discuss pop music and shift our perspective away from the artists’ personal lives and relationships.

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