By Nick Stewart (PhD Student at UMass Boston, OSC Track).
You better work b#tch, you better work b#tch,
Now get to work b#tch!
Britney Spears, lyrics from her new song…you guessed it! “Work B#tch”
Through the penmanship and performance of politically pointed music or through visible endorsements of political campaigns and nonprofit organizations, celebrity entertainers have a long history of engaging in the arena of politics and social issues. In 1939, Billie Holiday made use of symbolic imagery to comment on racism and lynching through the song “Strange Fruit”. Recently, rapper Macklemore tackled issues surrounding same-sex marriage and homophobia through performance of the song “Same Love”. Marketers can attest to the power of endorsing ideas, political or not, by those with elite social status. Britney Spears is unquestionably one of the most internationally recognized entertainers alive today (both famous and infamous). Spears, oh I can’t help it, Britney, has a forthcoming album which launched a promotional single recently. Her new song “Work B#tch” has hit the airwaves.
You wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion? Party in France?
You better work b#tch, you better work b#tch!
The lyrical message suggests a strong emphasis on individualism as the go-to solution to improving personal economic conditions for women (assuming the use of “b#tch” holds its common definition as vulgarity directed at women, though in this case it may hold a wider application). Similarly, the recent Lean In book by Sheryl Sandberg, and subsequent movement, has served to depoliticize a range of workplace issues despite a strong base of women followers who could organize and engage on a political level. They have opted instead, as Britney’s lyrics suggest, to endorse individual determination as the solution. How far can we take this solution offered to us by both Lean In and Britney’s new tune? What if our aspirations were more modest than the fancy lifestyle, mansions, and international partying Britney suggests can all be ours with some hard work? If the recipe works, should it not for a more remedial level of socio-economic needs?
Struggling to make ends meet? “Work B#tch”
A challenge finding affordable health insurance for your family? “Work B#tch”
Layoffs affecting your community – employment opportunities scarce? “Work B#tch”
The list could go on. Individualism may be part of a solution to address basic socio-economic deficiencies, but it certainly won’t do as a singular cure all.
Moving beyond a focus on Britney as an individual actor, the parent company demonstrates considerable power by disseminating the song to the public. Pop Stars, despite their social status, are far less powerful than the corporations that create and maintain them. In the United States, corporations have developed and maintained the legal status of an individual person with protective rights. They often fight ardently to be regarded as such as it commonly plays to their favor in the court of law. Corporations are frequently recognized for sustaining an active political life. With political objectives in mind, corporations have often looked to influence shared meanings, norms, and ideas within the greater culture. That said, can we think of a corporation as an individual (legally we have to) with elite social status in the same way we think of a celebrity entertainer who may endorse a particular cause or message? Does a music corporation act as a political agent in exercising its power to disseminate/endorse messages through various multi-media channels? The parent company would likely dispute the idea that the content of the song holds socio-economic or political implications, but does it?
I would encourage you to pull up the lyrics, perhaps view the video though the lyrics should suffice, and post your thoughts here. Can these lyrics be thought of as political? Who is the agent of the message? Lastly, if all this pop-chatter seems to have interrupted your concern with the Federal Government shut down, don’t worry too much as Britney already got politically active by taking to Twitter with a recent post, “Go call the po-lice, Go Call The Gu-vunah! Someone tell Congress to get to #WorkBxxCH.”
Related OSC blog by Banu Özkazanç-Pan (Sept 24, 2013) on “The elusive search for gender equality in organizations”
Bobby Olivier (N.J. News, Oct 2, 2013): “Britney Spears ‘Work, B**ch’ video: A call to action from the pop princess”
Britney Spears Video: “Work B**ch”