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Feminists in the Music World

December 5, 2010

In today’s music world, the genre of rap and R&B is mostly dominated by male artists. However, there are a few women that follow John Stuart Mill’s philosophy that jobs should be set by talent, not gender. Through their music, Keri Hilson and Nicki Minaj show women that they can succeed in male dominated professions.

In many of Keri Hilson’s older songs, she depicts the “My man hurt me, but I still love him” image. Her lyrics were often about being hurt by men, and how she had to get over her broken heart. However, in her more recent music, she promotes girl power and self-confidence. In one of her most recent hits, “Pretty Girl Rock,” Hilson sings about the confidence and beauty – both inner and outer – that a woman should have. In the video, shown below, she portrays famous females from the past that were considered to be beautiful, such as Diana Ross and the women of TLC.

Through this video, she shows that beauty comes in various shapes and sizes. Her lyrics are encouraging for all women, with the main message of “Get yourself together don’t hate/jealousy is the ugliest trait.”

Another modern feminist in the media is Nicki Minaj. As a female rapper, she has very high standards to live up to. It is difficult to be successful as a female in such a male dominated career. However, Minaj seems to be very successful. She has many of her own hit songs, and is featured in many songs led by male artists. Through this, she is becoming one of the more successful female rappers of the age, sharing this position in the media with Lil Kim and Missy Eliot. Through her success she has been signed to Lil Wayne’s record label. Currently, Minaj is one of two females signed to the record, which consists of thirteen artists in total. This shows that Minaj has the ability and talent to hold up with the males of the music genre. Her new album, “Pink Friday,” she promotes a “Barbie” image, in which she told the media that to be like Barbie, one must have an attitude. Through having this attitude, a woman can do anything, because frankly, Barbie could do anything. She had multiple jobs, and was always very successful, even in male dominated fields. Minaj wants to promote this to women everywhere, showing that females can have just as much success as men; they just need the confidence.

John Stuart Mill was a liberal feminist, who believed that men and women should be equal in the workforce, based on talent, not gender. Nicki Minaj and Keri Hilson both have the talent to succeed in the male dominated world of rap and R&B. Through their music, these two women have shown women that they need to have talent, as well as confidence and inner beauty in order to succeed in a world of men.


  1. eghat2 permalink
    December 5, 2010 11:07 PM

    I believe you make a good point in this post – Keri Hilson and Nicki Minaj are certainly making their mark in a male dominated field because – congruent with John Stuart Mill’s theory – they have the talent to do so.
    However, I find particularly interesting the comment you brought up about the way in which Keri Hilson broke into the rap and R&B field. As you put it, “Her lyrics were often about being hurt by men, and how she had to get over her broken heart.” This makes me wonder if this was, in some way, a marketing ploy to get herself into the business. That is, to make herself seem alone and sad, as if this image was more readily accepted than the ‘girl power’ songs she is now releasing.
    I accept that these sad songs could have been the type of music that Hilson was genuinely interested in when she started. Yet, I still find it curious if she consistently sang songs about girls in sad situations (related to men), and now that she is comfortably in the business, feels comfortable singing about girl empowerment. My question is, was it believed that the ‘sad girl’ image more marketable?
    Personally, I think ‘girl power’ should be more marketable, in this age in which feminism seems to have comfortably settled – the process of which has been going on for many years.

    • Kathleen Duddy permalink
      December 5, 2010 11:43 PM

      While I do agree that Nicki Minaj has arrived on a level playing field with some of today’s biggest rap artists, I’m torn in believing whether or not she’s promoting feminist values. On the one hand, is she really promoting anything new? Just as Mill spoke of women and their “deficiency of originality” (688), in which “they have not yet produced any of those great and luminous new ideas which form an era in thought, nor those fundamentally new conceptions in art, which open a vista of possible effects not before thought of, and found a new school” (688), a good majority of Minaj’s lyrics talk about money and sex just as all the men do in their songs. On the other hand, her own album does seem to highlight more of a feminist side to her, also focused on “girl power” like Hilson. Although I think the whole Barbie image is a little controversial in regards to feminism because someone being referred to as a Barbie this day and age usually carries a negative connotation, she does have other examples of empowerment when she says in her song “Roman’s Revenge”, “I’m not Jasmine, I’m Aladdin”. But then that begs the question, why can’t she be Jasmine and be powerful and the main as well?

  2. alessner permalink
    December 6, 2010 12:14 AM

    I would have to agree with the statement that Nicki Minaj is a modern feminist. Minaj definitely intends to promote a powerful image, and I would agree with the statement that she uses her standing as a woman almost in an effort to dare anyone in the musical world to defy her standing as an artist. I think that Minaj’s move from the “men hurt me” songs to the “powerful woman” songs was a shrewdly calculated move made in order to take advantage of the tastes of the current listening audiences. Lady Gaga has publicly taken exception with female artists like Ke$ha who are playing off the audiences who seek powerful, individualistic songs, giving reason for us to expect that some of our “powerful woman” artists are simply trying to extort current musical tastes.

  3. Kelsie Breit permalink
    December 6, 2010 1:24 AM

    I agree with the views in the post and the connection with Mill’s feminist ideas.

    There is a question in the first blog post asking if having the ‘sad girl’ image is more marketable. The answer is most definitely yes, in terms of a feminist perspective. According to Alice H. Eagly and Linda L Carli woman are expected to act that way, as if oppression by men is normal and a natural concept in society today. Women are, as a whole, seen to be more submissive, compassionate and soft. Having a bad girl image goes against the grain which makes it harder to break into such a tough business, such as music. To get into the spot light, acting as society sees as ‘normal’ definitely helps, but once they are in the business, these woman can be strong and portray the real women that they are, or that they want to reflect on their audiences.

    Women studies 240 connects very much with this topic, so if anyone is genuinely interested in the concepts mill is discussing, I recommend it.

  4. Eric Tellem permalink
    December 6, 2010 8:16 AM

    I agree with both the views of this and Mill’s gender ideals. I think today more so then ever, women are on a fair and level playing field with men. Not just in the music business, but in the majority of jobs. I think the era of holding gender as something that can restrict women from doing or trying something is over.

  5. saralustberg permalink
    December 6, 2010 2:16 PM

    I really enjoyed your combination of the discussion of current day rap music, and that of John Stuart Mills. The connection you made between Mill’s feminist feelings towards equality in work based on talent rather then gender, and the success Nicki Minaj and Keri Hilson have found in the rap genre based on talent and hard work, was a great correlation. I wouldn’t say these artists particulary promote girl power, however they definitely show all the men out there that women can do anything men can do. Over-all great post, and even better message of equality based on talent and not gender.

  6. rhampton27 permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:39 PM

    I found this blog post very interesting. I definitely think women have made progress in the music industry. Three decades ago, we wouldn’t have seen the women idols we have today such as Lady Gaga or Beyonce. I believe that these women stand as a testimony to the progress women have made in society. So while I agree with the female power discussed in this blog, I disagree on the argument over whether or not their lyrics convey feminism. I believe that looking at the core of feminism, it is the belief that women should have equal rights compared to their male counterparts. I think that artists such as Minaj or Hilson show progress for women and feminism in the fact that they have achieved success in the music industry. They show that the door has been opened for equal participation by women. I feel that their personal choices of performance (and lyrics) are irrelevant when looking at the big picture of their fame. They have excellence and therefore the liberty to choose how to convey that excellence.

  7. hadohe permalink
    December 9, 2010 12:18 PM

    Although I do respect Nicki Minaj and Keri Hilson for really playing at an “equal” level to male rappers/ R&B singers in the industry, their means toward their success were probably not on equal levels. Sure, 50 cent and T.I. have an appealing physical physique and look, but it still did not stop Biz Markie (not the most attractive rapper) to have a successful career. Their looks, including their body/clothing, were placed at a higher importance than males in their field. Both the presidents of their record labels (Interscope for Keri and Young Money Entertainment for Nicki) are run by male producers. They first had to fit within the expectations of what a woman should be rather than an alternate case; Keri Hilson is very stereotypic in my opinion. I love Nicki Minaj, but her image is not one I would want to demonstrate as the ultimate female form/character. The comparison to Barbie is almost demeaning, and to have an “attitude” is again projecting an untrue stereotype of the female population. Yet, Mill stressed that females must be given the chance to try out the things that males are allowed to do, and if these women decide to perform in this manner, then it seems fair. Yet, it is unfortunate that there seems to be a supposed performance for a male population, and also an accordance with male expectation.

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