This past year challenged woman in the United States. A man who was recorded saying, “grab ‘em by the pussy” was sworn in as the president. Title IX, which helps and protects survivors of sexual assault across college campuses, is in jeopardy after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a review of the Obama-era sexual assault law in September. And, Planned Parenthood, which provides services, like patient education, breast exams and STD testing, for hundreds of thousands of women, was at risk for defunding. This year, women were told to be quiet and shunned for speaking out against harassment and social inequity.
From taking on negative attention in the press to candidly discussing sexuality, female artists in 2017 took on what it meant to be a woman this year, when more than 100 well-known men were accused of sexual misconduct. Below are five albums and one song, all by women from different musical and cultural backgrounds, that tackled identity, sexuality and power — all of which were called into question by countless men in 2017 and helped me get through the year in more ways than one.
Taylor Swift- “Reputation”
Although Swift’s “Reputation” is a lukewarm album filled with forced, almost appropriative swagger — see the beginning of “Ready for It” and “End Game” — you have to give the songstress a little credit for wanting to reclaim the snake queen narrative spelled out for her in the press. Yes, she represents the white feminism that became especially irrelevant — but still prevalent — in 2017, and her jabs seem more petty than diss track-worthy. But what came out of “Reputation” were calls to action instead of silence, famously purported by Swift. Just look at Maxine Waters reclaiming her time and Rose McGowan’s outspokenness toward “shitty media men” everywhere. “Reputation” is far from a perfect album, but its maturity to confront the critics directly is something worth commending.
On the track “CRZY” off of Kehlani’s “SweetSexySavage” — a play on TLC’s “CrazySexyCool” — Kehlani spits “If I gotta be a bitch, I’mma be a bad one.” The line hearkens back to the women who took action after Trump was elected, from protesting in the streets to running for office. Unashamed in tone, the funky album takes on the haters unabashedly, interrogating those who try to take women down.
When I reviewed “Melodrama” in June, I was living in New York City and nursing a very strange heartbreak all while seeing if my chosen career path was something I actually wanted. Lorde’s own journey in “Melodrama” helped me sift through what I had gone through, because she went through something similar. A complex album about heartbreak, a house party and the aftermath of both, “Melodrama” helped show that it’s cool to care and communicate openly.
Cardi B- “Bodak Yellow”
Not an entire album, but considering Cardi B is the third artist and first rapper in history to place her first three Billboard Hot 100 entries in the chart’s Top 10, and the breakout hit beat Lauryn Hill for the longest running number one song by a solo female rapper in October, it feels wrong to leave her off this list. Arguably the most-quoted line of 2017, “I don’t dance now/I make money moves,” represents Cardi B’s ascension from stripper to reality TV star to rap maven, an aspirational statement that women everywhere can beat the boys at their own game and do a better job of it.
Demi Lovato- “Tell Me You Love Me”
An unlikely member on this list, “Tell Me You Love Me” is a scintillating album that exudes confidence, sassiness and the strength behind letting a lover know what you want emotionally and physically. From the loud “Sorry Not Sorry” to the tender “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore,” Lovato’s album couples emotional range with outspokenness. Hearing Lovato be vulnerable yet unapologetic echoes the #MeToo movement, where women courageously came forward with their experiences with sexual assault. Lovato herself is open about her struggles with recovery from an eating disorder, substance abuse and her bipolar disorder, using her fame as a platform to spread awareness.
In her sensual, vulnerable debut album, SZA — born Solana Rowe — tackles anxiety, self-esteem and love. The album’s largest theme, however, is having control in life and losing it. Every song on the album is an exploration of feelings, with SZA turning the kaleidoscope to explore a new side of what it’s like to love, lose, exist and grow up. In a society where women are constantly put into boxes and binders, SZA’s own self-contradictions normalize the idea that women can be — and should be — multifaceted and autonomous, free to live and express themselves however they choose. In a year filled with social and political turmoil, “Ctrl” is the self-care we need to come back louder and stronger in 2018.