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Pop music’s campaign for individuality

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” launched in 2004. Using TV advertisements, billboards and short films, the campaign strove to celebrate the natural and unique bodies of women, emphasizing the beauty of all shapes and sizes, not just those of models.

The “It Gets Better Project” launched in 2010. This online video website aims to help prevent LGBT teen suicide in the wake of increased suicides of gay bullied teens.

And now, it seems, the female pop star industry has launched its own self-esteem improvement campaign. Although untitled and possibly unorganized — it was just award show season, they had other things on their mind — this campaign hopes to help listeners feel good about themselves and their unique personalities. Stars like Pink, Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Lady Gaga want to celebrate individuality and being true to yourself — important qualities which often fall by the wayside in today’s highly commercialized society.

Their efforts, however, ring hollow when their attempts to imbue downtrodden, self-conscious teens and listeners with pride in their individuality are commercialized and conformist, either in their songs or in their personality.

I applaud the efforts of these leading ladies in pop music to promote self-awareness and boost self esteem. There’s a growing trend of young people of all ages trying to fit a certain norm and dress code. And if they fail or fall short of their expectations, they can suffer a harsh blow to their self-identity and self-confidence, which is often difficult to overcome. We do need to celebrate the individual beauty and worth of every human being.

But I can’t really take Lady Gaga’s new single, “Born This Way,” seriously as an individuality anthem when the only thing that pops into my mind while listening to it is Madonna. Lady Gaga has made a career of being different and shocking. From her meat dress to her slightly risqué videos, she never fails to surprise her fans. Her songs have also often bucked the trend of typical pop music, which helps make them unique and worth listening to, even when radio stations overplay them.

This newest single, though, has me questioning the cutting-edge qualities of Lady Gaga. Despite being quite an individual herself, she can’t even muster up her own sound and style to promote uniqueness and self-pride. I do not doubt that Lady Gaga is a talented musician or question that this is a good song. Rather, I wonder about her motives behind this song and the effectiveness of her message.

Katy Perry and Ke$ha also fall victim to this mixed message. The pop divas recently released their self-esteem singles, “Firework” and “We R Who We R,” respectively, achieving billboard success and inspiring young people. And yet, both of their careers follow in the footsteps of Lady Gaga and her “shock and awe” path to fame, Ke$ha only diverging in her amount of actual musical talent.

From blue hair to face-altering eye make up, these starlets have realized the star potential in shocking music and style. Though they are unable to achieve the jaw-dropping levels of Lady Gaga, they still follow in her footsteps. And so, their call to embrace your individual personality falls flat since they apparently struggle with their own advice. When Katy Perry embraces the firework inside herself, I’ll follow suit.

Pink gets the gold star in this effort, releasing the first of these self esteem pop singles, “Raise Your Glass,” followed by “F**kin’ Perfect,” which hit the No. 1 spot on the American Top 40 charts this week. These are not her only message-laden songs; she has also sought to inspire in previous singles “Sober” and “Stupid Girls.” She actually seems to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk with her music and lifestyle. Her face is rarely plastered across tabloids for the ridiculous stunts she has recently pulled or the crazy outfits the paparazzi have shot her in.

So I applaud the efforts of these pop stars as they try to promote increased self confidence and self esteem — and I’ll probably still dance to their songs at Feve — but I hesitate to use them as examples and role models in my life. Unilever, the company that owns Dove, also received criticism with their beauty campaign when they continued to use overtly sexualized women in the AXE brand advertisements. The real message, apparently, that should be broadcast across America is the evils of hypocrisy.