Style Living Self Geeky News and Views
In the Paper Shop Hello! Create with us

Young female powerhouses are people, too

By Angel Martinez Published Mar 26, 2021 5:00 am

If you take a quick glance at our current social media landscape, you’d presume that it’s now easier than ever to break into the music industry. Ukulele-playing songstresses and underground rappers are everywhere on YouTube, Soundcloud and TikTok, hoping to crack the algorithm and secure a golden ticket to fame.

But although some of them come with an expert mix of looks, skills, a carefully curated personality, and a roster of high-profile connections, it all boils down to timing and luck in the end.

Many have tried long and hard to achieve this feat, to no avail, which is why it seems so controversial when a young girl from nowhere achieves success on her own merits.

It’s a familiar pattern, actually: we’ve torn Miley down for breaking free from her Disney star image, slut-shamed Taylor into silence one too many times, and forced Britney into a downward spiral by ripping apart her appearance, promiscuity, and capabilities as a mother.

Earlier this year, 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo, known as Nini in the Disney+ meta-masterpiece High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, broke records left and right and debuted at the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 despite little to no fanfare.

And while viral sensation drivers license captured the hearts of teens everywhere, she was still pronounced a one-hit wonder and industry plant, whose career was simply handed to her on a silver platter.

Worst of all, after her ex-boyfriend Joshua Bassett and his rumored fling Sabrina Carpenter released singles as a response to Olivia’s, netizens were quick to label the product of her hard work as a perfectly crafted publicity stunt.

It’s a familiar pattern, actually: we’ve torn Miley down for breaking free from her Disney star image, slut-shamed Taylor into silence one too many times, and forced Britney into a downward spiral by ripping apart her appearance, promiscuity, and capabilities as a mother.

And while this was brutal enough at the time of the tabloid, where photographic evidence of public meltdowns could go for millions of dollars, things aren’t exactly looking up in the digital age.

Why do we put them on a pedestal just to wait for them to fall off, and why does this unrelenting cycle of surveillance and scrutiny only seem to harm women?

It’s a fact that we, as consumers of celebrity culture, can be very forgiving when men screw up. Male idols could be former schoolyard bullies, domestic abusers, or any other heinous title that falls within the spectrum.

While some are wise enough to “unstan” and step away, all it takes is a half-assed Notes apology, a hiatus, and a comeback album or film to wipe out our collective memory of their transgressions.

Chris Brown went on to release his first chart-topping album two years after he assaulted Rihanna, and once K-Drama fan favorite Kim Jisoo completes his military service, there’s no doubt that audiences will be welcoming him back with open arms.

Perhaps it’s because boys are not expected to be perfect: they’re encouraged to be rugged, foul-mouthed, and rowdy — in fact, absence of such characteristics serves as grounds to question their masculinity or even their credibility as an artist.

 Art by Michael Lorenzana

Meanwhile, women can only ever exist as either superhuman or subhuman: forced into a state of total perfection, or labeled a complete failure after making one mistake. Society in general is still trying to come to terms with the concept of what Sady Doyle calls the “highly visible woman,” thanks to deeply entrenched misogynist beliefs that order us to stay at home with the kids.

In an interview with Glamour, she says that we have “allowed” women to exist, given that they are more product than person, tailor-fit for public consumption, particularly the male gaze. 

As a result, we fit them into impossible feminine stereotypes — the sexy virgin, the girl next door, any role that we can aspire toward and fail to become — and take their distress as a sign of their inherent inability to function as they should.

Because of these twisted double standards we perpetuate, we shamelessly continue to rob women of the agency to be actual humans.

Doyle says in another interview with Vogue, “We remind women that they should always be looking at themselves not in terms of what they want, but in terms of whether they are liked.”

It’s brutal enough to expect this of any woman but to ingrain this in the mind of someone so young seems downright cruel. At 15 years old, Miley Cyrus was shaping up to be the latest target of the unforgiving press. An undisclosed tabloid editor told Vanity Fair that “all the celebrity weeklies (had) been ratcheting up their focus on her,” waiting to see if the Hannah Montana star led a double life on her own.

Similarly, 22-year-old Taylor Swift told NPR that she feared she couldn’t make mistakes because of her superstar status, saying that “there’s not really one day that goes by that my life isn’t documented somewhere.” True enough, she would soon be slandered for dating then-One Direction member (and love of my life) Harry Styles and writing songs about him post-breakup.

But these pop stars’ experiences aren’t exactly homogenous when race puts some of them at an even greater disadvantage.

For instance, Olivia Rodrigo’s detractors were split between erasing her Asian heritage just to fit their narrative that the music industry favors white women, and claiming that her achievements were merely for the sake of promoting diversity.

Some even had the audacity to deny that she faces any sort of discrimination, claiming that it’s just society’s normal response to horrible music.

Marginalized communities, particularly Asian-Americans, have often felt the need to prove they can be victims of such treatment despite their ability to assimilate well into other cultures. If we’re not careful, undermining her hard work this early on could lead to her suffering the same fate as all her predecessors in a few years’ time. 

Because of these twisted double standards we perpetuate, we shamelessly continue to rob women of the agency to be actual humans.

We may not see nor feel the consequences of our actions at present but rest assured, these celebrities do, and it won’t be long until they crumble under the weight of our expectations. Until we learn how to fully nip our twisted obsession with others’ pain in the bud, the media will continue to capitalize off of the demise of young stars. 

But we can take slow but sure strides in the right direction by checking on ourselves for signs of internalized misogyny: any implicit biases or coded language that could feed into this patriarchal structure.

That includes expressing hatred toward a female artist because “there’s just something about her” that we don’t like, or for being “too mainstream” and “overrated.”

More importantly, we should not be making our own fulfillment contingent on others’ performance and upholding age-old norms about the inverse relationship between age and success. Maybe then we’ll slowly start to realize that behind every young female powerhouse under the microscope of the music industry is simply a girl who knew she had a dream and was not afraid to go after it.