“I’m a boss in a skirt, I’m a dog, I’m a flirt,” Cardi B exclaims in her anthem, “She Bad.” Unapologetically herself, Cardi could easily be seen as emblematic of a new wave of empowerment in contemporary music. While hits like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Fifth Harmony’s “BO$$” may have rallied consumers with their messages of total self-confidence a few years ago, the newest musical sensations indicate a change in what captivates audiences.
The new refrains present in today’s top hits are becoming by and large less generic, departing from more palatable rallying cries of “we can do it” and instead speaking to a more specific experience. For instance, when describing how SZA embraces her flaws, The New York Times Magazine notes that, “In an era of aggressively cultivated self-confidence — of squads and scars that are beautiful and sometimes performative hashtag feminism — SZA has broken through singing songs that exult in self-doubt, desperation and insecurity.” Ctrl’s debut at number three on the Billboard 200 is but an indication of the demand for this type of honest, conscientious music. Despite declarations of intensely personal and therefore not always relatable experiences (Cardi’s work as a stripper, SZA’s debilitating social anxiety), the success of these new artists suggest that raw individualism generates, rather than detracts from, legitimate monetary success.
This trend of prominent and wholeheartedly individual voices transcends beyond pop culture. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia and the first black woman ever nominated by a major party for a governorship, won her primary overwhelmingly by acknowledging groups of people who previously felt left out of the political process. Whereas the previous strategy for democratic candidates attempting to make political gains in predominantly conservative areas often catered to a more centrist audience, Abrams, with endorsements from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, has been successful without downplaying her decidedly left-wing views. Similar to the recent achievements of Cardi B and SZA, Abrams’ accomplishments suggest that right now voters, or audiences, aren’t necessarily drawn to relatability or palatability.
This sentiment of individualism and challenging ideas of power is also evident in the #MeToo movement. Women from all walks of life united in solidarity by speaking their truths and being honest about the realities of sexual assault. Coming out as victims didn’t make these women weak or strip them of their sense of agency. It made them strong for paving the way for others to speak out and proving that being a victim does not make you helpless. Thanks to these brave women, the pervasiveness of sexual assault is becoming less of a topic of taboo and more of one of necessity.
This year, we learned that there isn’t just one picture of empowerment. While previous cries of confidence and strength were inspiring, they also tended to be generic and unrealistic. As we are now admiring artists, politicians and victims of sexual assault, who are often all of these things, who refuse to censor themselves to the public, we can apply this mentality to our own lives and learn to just be ourselves, flaws and all.