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Friday, December 12, 2008

Track 5: How many dolls does it take to make a single?

Composed by Cee-lo, Sir Mix-a-lot and Busta Rhymes
Performed by the Pussycat Dolls, featuring Busta Rhymes

Honestly.  I don't even know where to start. 

Okay.  Let's begin with the Pussycat Dolls, just as a band, shall we?  I could have written my entire blog on them, focusing on their first album, "PCD," but after realizing how much I would have to listen to their music, I reconsidered.  

First off, I have to let the (pussy) cat out of the bag. (Sorry.  I couldn't help myself.)  There may be six members in this band, but only one of them, Nicole Scherzinger, is a singer.  She sings lead and backup vocals on every track of the record.  I doubt any of the other Dolls even showed up to the studio while their album was being recorded.   The other five members are merely there for show, to be eye candy in the music videos.  

This shouldn't be big news, because the girls don't keep it a secret.  The first page of the liner notes for their PCD album states the fact loud and clear.   If we  step back from feminism for a moment, we can fully appreciate the Pussycat Dolls as the definition of a Postmodern Band.  They are essentially a 1990's boy-band, they don't hide the fact that most of them don't even sing, yet they are incredibly popular.  This should be a huge scandal- remember Ashlee Simpson's lip-synching catastrophe?  Or was that Lindsey Lohan?  Regardless, the sheer artificiality of this band would make Baudrillard's head spin.   

From a feminist point of view, this band is no less fascinating/disturbing.  Surely much of their popularity stems from the number of women involved in the band.  One female singer, no matter how musically talented, or how physically attractive she is, is going to be quite as exciting as a band of six.  

The concept of such a band is surely interesting, but the name of it is truly remarkable.  The term 'pussycat' has been in use for some time, generally in reference to a sexy woman.  Another girl band has called themselves pussycats; Josie and the Pussycats, a popular animated television show in the early 1970's, was based upon the characters in the Archie Comics series, written by Dan DeCarlo.  The girls were often involved in adventures, solving mysteries, and playing gigs- a fairly innocent group.  Josie, Valerie and Melody each played their own instrument and sang- a stark contrast to the new Pussycats.  

And not just Pussycats, but Pussycat Dolls.  It is actually an appropriate title for most of the band, as dolls are mute, inanimate playthings.  

The iTunes store review of the album sums it up nicely;
There's a kind of beautifully perverse brilliance to the Pussycat Dolls.  Not only are they a sextet who got their start as neo-burlesque dancers in Los Angeles, but they make no bones about being a gleefully manufactured dance-pop act. ... There is no pretense that Kimberly, Carmit, Ashley, Melody and Jessica are there for anything besides filling out the illusion that this is a real performing musical group and providing some serious eye-candy for a group that is all about the visuals.
 Well, enough about the band. Let's get to the song. 

Busta Rhymes opens the song with a rap verse about being on the "Prowl for the best chick."  The Dolls come in after his verse, Scherzinger, singing confident and seductive lyrics.

I know you like me, (I know you like me)
I know you do, (I know you do)
That's why whenever I come around 
she's all over you.
I know you want it, ( I know you want it)
It's easy to see, (it's easy to see)
And in the back of your mind
I know you should be on with me. 

This confident and overtly sexual nature, present throughout the song, is a prime example of how women use sexuality to exert power not only over men, but over other women.  This verse encourages the man to claim his sexual freedom, to give in to his sexual impulses and ignore any loyalty he may have to his girlfriend, who appears in the chorus.

Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?
Don't cha?
Don't cha?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was fun like me?
Don't cha?
Don't cha?

This language, while it may appear seductive to a man, sounds downright threatening to a woman, especially if her boyfriend is the target.  The man in the middle becomes merely a pawn, a trophy for whichever girl can outfox the other.  

The trouble with this competition is that the man always wins. The girls compete to keep his interest, they compete to please him, and when he chooses one, the other is left out in the cold.  
 In Ariel Levy's book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy interviews a teenage girl she calls Anne, who is obsessed with her appearance for the sake of garnering attention from boys.  Levy writes
If her looks were a kind of hobby-- if dressing and grooming and working out were things she did for pleasure, then the process would be it's own reward.  But she spoke of her pursuit as a kind of Sisyphean duty, one that many of her friends had charged themselves with as well.  (Levy, 155)
The trouble is that most women, while they take some pleasure in "dressing and grooming and working out," they are motivated by the pursuit of men, by the competition to be the hottest girl at the club.  It's a gamble- the old cliché of keeping all one's eggs in a single basket comes to mind.    

The song portrays women as catty and men as slaves to their libidos- an unfair depiction in both cases.  

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