We’re all for escaping into some mindless pop music from time to time. Fluff-pop divas have dominated our music countdowns, and are some of our favorite artists of all time (don’t judge). However, jamming to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” or “Last Friday Night” doesn’t excuse the homophobia of songs like “Ur So Gay,” or the faux-lesbianism of “I Kissed a Girl.”
At the same time, jamming to “I Kissed a Girl” isn’t the worst thing you could do. You can enjoy problematic pop without condoning the content of the songs. (After all, glamorizing drinking to the point where you don’t remember kissing someone and end up getting kicked out of bars isn’t setting a great example, but the song is so catchy.)
It’s important to be critical of the content you choose to consume. Part of that involves being aware of the issues that surround that content, and using that to inform your decision of whether or not to support that song or artist.
The latest song we have an issue with is Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack.” It’s a total summer jam and even more catchy than her last smash, “Give Your Heart a Break.” But we can’t help but feel guilty every time we sing along to the song.
Check out the song and read our thoughts after the jump.
It starts out innocently enough. “I don’t want to fall in love / If I ever did that, I think I’d have a heart attack,” the “Skyscraper” singer belts over synthesized strings. At this point, it’s a completely cute and totally relate-able pop song. Who isn’t afraid to surrender to feelings of romantic love?
Lyrics like, “When I don’t care, I can play them like a Ken doll / Won’t wash my hair, then make them bounce like a basketball,” reveal that the song isn’t the smartest or most clever song in the world, but that’s not a big deal. The lyrics we have issue with follow this line.
“You make me want to act like a girl,” Demi sings in the pre-chorus. “Paint my nails and wear high heels.”
Since when did being a girl have anything to do with painting your nails or wearing high heels? Stupid question. Obviously, women have been pressured to do all sorts of things to their bodies in order to feel beautiful for centuries. This lyric reinforces that idea — not exactly a great message to be sending during women’s history month.
Not only does this lyric reinforce the pressure women face from other media everyday, it hints at the idea that only girls can do these things. Boys don’t wear high heels or nail polish or want to “act like a girl,” right? Wrong (obviously).
These lyrics reinforce the gender binary. They relate “acting like a girl” to being an ultra-feminine, nails-polished, heels-on, face-caked-with-make-up object. They suggest that boys can’t do these things, and that if they do they are acting like a girl, not being themselves.
“You make me want to … wear perfume for you,” she sings in the second pre-chorus.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to present your best self to someone you’re interested in — we all do this, after all — there is something to be said about the fact that Demi’s “best self” involves being ultra-feminine.
This is a far cry from the empowering lyrics of her past songs like “La La Land,” which contains bold statements about being yourself (“Who said I can’t wear my Converse with my dress? / Well baby, that’s just me”), or “Skyscraper,” the Top-10 hit in which Demi proclaims, “Go on and try to tear me down / I will be rising from the ground like a skyscraper.”
Maybe we’re reading too much into the lyrics, or taking the song too seriously (which is hard to do, with those cheesy lyrics about Ken dolls and basketballs), but the issue isn’t really with the song or Demi as a person. The issue is that in our society, it’s ok for an otherwise well-intentioned artist to sing a song with lyrics such as this and see nothing wrong with it.
We’re not saying you can’t buy the song on iTunes, we’re not saying you shouldn’t sing along when you hear it on the radio (we’d be lying if we said we didn’t have the very lyrics we have an issue with stuck in our heads). We’re just encouraging you to think about what the lyrics are really saying, not just with this song, but with all the media you consume.
But we want to hear what you think. What’s your reaction to this song and these lyrics? Will you be purchasing “Heart Attack” on iTunes? Listen to the song and let us know what you think. Comment on this post or tweet us your thoughts.
Eve is a twenty-five year old trans woman and writer, and the founder of LGBTeen. She enjoys writing about pop culture, feminism, LGBT issues — and her lived experiences. You can view her writing on LGBTeen and on her personal blog, Original Woman.