Pop Divas Battle!

Posting about Miley and Britney’s new singles has got me thinking about buying music.

Currently, the pop landscape is dominated by dueling divas.  This fall has seen intense competition between Lady Gaga’s first single “Applause” (which looks, when your eye scan briefly over it, like “Applesauce”: see? I defy you to unsee that, now you’ve seen it) and Katy Perry’s first single “Roar.” 

When Katy Perry’s single “won” by selling more copies and generally getting a warmer reception, Katy Perry’s fans rejoiced and there were cries of Gaga’s career being over.

I didn’t really pay attention until my fave, Britney Spears, jumped into the ring with a catchy new single, “Work Bitch.” 

Britney Spears' Heroic And Inspiring New Single, "Work Bitch," Leaks

Gif from Buzzfeed.

Despite female singers protesting that there’s no need to pit them against each other, that is exactly what tends to happen. Britney vs. Christina. Christina vs. Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry. Britney vs. Lady Gaga. Britney vs. Miley Cyrus. The wars between fans can get vicious and scary. 

Despite sharing the same manager, there’s currently a bit of competition between Britney and Miley Cyrus, as Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” single is currently holding off Britney’s “Work Bitch” from the Number One Spot.


The whole thing is ridiculous in the extreme, and I hate all the negativity that it seems to generate.

Women are held back–and we hold ourselves back–by feeling that there one woman taking a successful “spot” (be it a number one single or a “hot body” or whatever it may be), it somehow diminishes another woman, or proves that only a “certain type of woman” can “win”.  I’ll steal an image from an awesome contributor, and reference this Sociological Images pinboard of all the ways women are presented as being in competition with each other (Thanks, Michelle! GO READ HER POST WHEN IT GOES UP). 

On other hand, it’s also human nature to have a favorite. Do I have a favorite? Duh. (It’s Britney, obviously). I hate that part of me is galled — yes, galled! — that’s she not getting the number one iTunes spot. This despite hating the “females competing” trope and having some serious, serious reservations about Britney’s mental health and her agency in her own career. (That article from Autostraddle, “It’s Not Britney, Bitch” is older but I think sums up my concerns pretty nicely).  

But, let’s take a step back and look at this in the larger picture. In a certain way it’s awesome that right now there are many successful mainstream solo female artists. The main fanbases of Britney, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, etc. are primarily gay men and younger women. (I’m not saying that’s every fan — simply that’s the main demographic). Considering that not too long ago there was concern that female artists couldn’t have successful tours, we’ve come a long way, albeit in a different direction). 

While before gay fanbases tended to be either ignored or “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” acknowledged in pop music, now they are openly courted by the large corporations behind these pop stars. Britney’s management sends her to perform in the Castro district, and her new single, “Work Bitch” borrows a phrase from drag superstar RuPaul. That song was clearly written with RuPaul’s Drag Race in mind. Hey, you can’t get more mainstream than a Britney single, right? That kind of explicit gay appeal would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Maybe for older pop divas who still toured but weren’t trying to get on the radio (and Britney’s arguably entering that “grand dame” phase). But the truth is, most of popular singles right now come from female artists who are explicitly courting the “gay vote.”

rollingstone_divacoverRolling Stone’s diva cover, via Mused Magazine online 

In fact, the obviousness with which current divas (and their management) try to lure in the “gay money” actually pisses some people off. (That post from ONTD probably encapsulates a great deal of what’s discussed here, particularly in the comments. There’s also good discussion about it on HuffPo gay voices here). There’s a feeling that it’s appropriating “gay culture” (and/or cynically appealing to the lowest common denominator of such). Lots of articles about that kind of thing at the moment!  

Madonna and Lady Gaga obviously played a huge role in developing this “industry of divas” (and almost certainly have the most personal agency of any of the artists listed here). Madonna basically invented the model (largely by appropriating more “underground” culture). Then, Lady Gaga’s open advocacy for her gay fans was, in my opinion, one of the big cultural tipping points that has now made it almost required for every pop star to at least pay lip service to “equal love” and “equality” (particularly if it’s in a catchy song that will play well in clubs and sell a lot of copies).

Even so, many gay people and allies do feel “used” by Lady Gaga and co: after all, there’s something oppressive about the notion that you have to buy someone’s songs or be a bad queer/queer ally. And Lady Gaga’s message of “love yourself!” is both intellectually vague and inherently capitalistic (love yourself by making yourself happy by buying things! Like my music and headphones and concert tickets!).  She ain’t running a non-profit, in other words. (Though, to be fair, Lady Gaga gives away a lot of her money/puts it back into her shows. As she puts it, she “Lives for the applause” — she’s more in it for the fame. Still, that’s inherently self-serving; she’s no saint, and it is annoying when some of her fans treat her as such).  

Yet while I might critique it, I don’t think there’s anything wrong or immoral with wanting to sell records or be famous. And if you want to do that…it’s kind of cool that the audience everyone is tripping over themselves trying to impress is the gay and female audience. 

After all, these kind of rivalries have traditionally been used between music figures to drive up sales. It used to be all the rage (and still is, to a certain extent — just not as much) for rappers to develop rivalries. Kanye West and 50 Cent basically admitted that their big rivalry (in which 50 Cent said he would retire if Kanye West outsold him) was essentially sort of planned and set up. I remember seeing an interview with 50 Cent in which he said he didn’t regret it (even though he “lost”) because their combined opening sales was one of the biggest weekends for rap music sales ever. So basically, he was saying that if these “beefs” got people interested in rap and buying rap music, than that was all to the best.

So it’s kind of cool that right now, instead of uber-masucline “beefs” between rappers, the public is basically obsessed with which pop diva can appeal more to gay men and young women. Entertainment Weekly had this to say about Britney’s new single:

A lot has been made of the Katy Perry vs. Lady Gaga chart face-off this fall, but music fans shouldn’t count out OG pop queen Britney Spears in that fight. Spears dropped her new single “Work Bitch” on Sunday, a day earlier than planned, after a low-quality version of the song leaked online.

“OG” for those who don’t know is “Original Gangsta.” So, I guess Pop Divas have officially become the new rappers. And what they’re “beefing” over is the love of gay men.

Problematic, yes. And questions of cultural appropriation should continue to be asked. And I can absolutely see why some members of the gay community hate this trend and feel as if they are being treated like some kind of monolithic block of minions to be manipulated and milked for money.

However, that’s the double-edged sword of going mainstream and being treated like everyone else: on the one hand, you’re normalized; on the other, our main form of cultural expression is still spending money. That’s just the way it is in America. So it’s fitting that “identity” right now is being determined by which pop diva’s single you buy on iTunes.

But while looking up all this stuff, I stumbled across something kind of awesome. In the comments about Britney’s new single, a fan mentioned they had no money to buy it. Another fan said, I have the money, so send me your email and I’ll gift you the song. And it was done. Apparently, such a thing is not uncommon.

I thought that was so cool. The two people didn’t know each other personally, but they were both part of the Britney-lovin’ community, so they helped each other out.

If the negative side of the pop-diva phenom is vicious hatred between groups (and a focus on spend, spend, spend!), then the positive side of it tight-knit communities that look out for their own. Sharing resources! Say that dirty word with me…communism! 

So, for science, I have a poll.


Let’s just embrace capitalistic competition for a moment:  which  pop diva do you prefer?

And, in the spirit of community and communism, I was given an iTunes gift card for my birthday. Instead of keeping it to myself, I’d like to offer my Intellygentsia contributors (so far: Brett, Jason, Emily, Katie, Michelle)  a song! (After all, I can’t pay you for the work you’ve done here, but I can share my resources!). So: leave the name of the song you want from iTunes in the comments, and I’ll gift it to you! NOTE: it DOES NOT have to be a pop diva song. There are plenty of non-millionaire artists that deserve your support, too. It can be ANYTHING, because that’s the whole point: I won’t shame you for your choice.