When I was a young teen, Britney Spears trotted onto the scene in her braids, schoolgirl skirt and red lipstick, posing for Rolling Stone while sucking lollipops and hugging stuffed animals. At the time, her look was described as “kinderwhore.” Over a decade later, Britney’s most barely-legal moments look tame in comparison to the pop tarts who’ve followed her. Lady Gaga‘s pantless get-ups. Katy Perry‘s latex dress and bra that shoots whipped cream. Miley Cyrus pole-dancing on an ice cream cart. Ke$ha‘s entire existence. A hipster blog called Hipster Runoff has coined a new name for it and none other than Rolling Stone has anointed it a genre (albeit a “fake genre”) in the pages of their magazine. Ladies and gentlemen, we are now riding the “slutwave.”“Slutwave” came to my attention through an exceedingly stupid Rocks Off blog post on the Houston Press web site, which described the genre as “women performers who favor sex appeal — suggestive dancing, scant clothing, explicit lyrics – to promote their career over their actual music.”
But why is the “slutwave” genre only women? What about Usher, Justin Timberlake, or Enrique Inglesias? They sell sex just as much as the female artists do — come on, “SexyBack” and “F**king You”? Tell me those songs are not all about sex. Obviously, the male performers don’t wear as many of the skimpy outfits that the women wear, but then again, female bodies are always under more scrutiny than male bodies.
But mostly, Rocks Off failed to convince me that “slutwave” is new. Female artists have long used crazy costumes/makeup/hair/shoes to exploit the attention they were getting for their music. As the blog noted, Madonna, Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar all wore provocative outfits that were sexually daring for their time. (And for male artists, look to David Bowie or Elton John.)
Instead, I wonder if a term like “slutwave” is just a way to denigrate what female pop stars are doing these days. I don’t suspect Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Ke$ha or even Britney Spears would think being called a “slut” was an insult. But the use of the word “slut” is a purposeful one — it’s saying this music, these performers, are not only cheap but bad.
What irritates me most about the few articles I’ve found online about “slutwave” — however tongue-in-cheek the Hipster Runoff blog originally intended it to be — are how none of them seriously question why female artists are leading with sexuality at younger and younger ages. (Rocks Off limply mused, “Some young women performers out there must feel the pressure to dress and act this way to be desired and thus successful.” You think?!) This behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Pop culture is allowing “slutwave” singers to flourish for a reason.
What do you think of the term “slutwave”? Do you think it will take off?