I’ll never forget the first time I listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I was eight, although I felt much older and cooler, as I sat in the back seat of my sister’s Honda, ready to accompany her during her weekend errands. She, 11 years my senior, instructed me to fasten my seatbelt as she rolled down the windows and put the key in the ignition. The bass of “Lost Ones,” the first official track on the critically acclaimed ‘90s album, hit me harder than the humid Philadelphia air. I was completely enthralled — shuffling between mimicking my sister’s head bops and listening to her beautifully belt “Ex-Factor” and “To Zion.” Then came “Doo Wop (That Thing).” While playing the air piano, I concentrated on every verse — wondering who Jezebel was and gasping when I heard the word "ass." “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem," Hill sang. “Baby girl, respect is just the minimum.” I didn’t understand what she was singing about at the time — my sister left the birds and the bees talk up to my parents — but I knew I liked it. As I got older and my musical taste developed, my appreciation for Hill grew exponentially; my belief in her message never wavered although it became increasingly difficult to find artists who were on the same page. Songs can heal and re-open wounds; albums have the ability to alter your perspective on life. Even the seemingly cute and catchy tracks are impactful and, this week, one woman eloquently expressed her frustration with a certain category of tunes whose lyrics are misleading.
In "What If I Knew I Was Beautiful," Buzzfeed’s Daysha Edewi tackled pop songs sung by men that incessantly praise women's beauty, while addressing how their own confidence is regularly mistaken as cockiness — thus deeming them unattractive. It’s hard to pinpoint when the trend started, but over the last several years, songs attempting to reassure women that they're attractive have run rampant, even in country music. Blake Shelton swoons over an insecure girl in “She Doesn’t Know She’s Got It,” while Sammy Kershaw sings, “She’s not that kind [to believe she’s attractive]” in “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” Alas, the white knight trope continues; ladies, we still need to be saved. The hit single off Maroon 5’s debut album, Songs About Jane, is “She Will Be Loved.” Adam Levine croons, “Tap on my window, knock on my door, I want to make you feel beautiful.” Similarly, Bruno Mars spends four minutes trying to convince a girl she doesn’t need to change anything about herself in his breakout track “Just The Way You Are.” Between the blushing and giggles in the music video, it looks like she eventually believes him. Most recently, One Direction and John Legend have garnered attention for their supposedly endearing songs, “What Makes You Beautiful” and “You & I (Nobody in the World).” While One Direction delights in their suitors’ insecurity — which Amy Schumer humorously poked fun at — John Legend sings, “You put your makeup on, just so, because you don’t know, you’re beautiful.” Legend uses diverse and undeniably powerful footage of women who doubt their beauty in the music video, including his wife Chrissy Teigen, Laverne Cox and Tig Notaro. There’s nothing wrong with compliments, a tactic these talented singers seem to understand quite well. But, when those "kind" words are solely based upon one’s insecurities, they’re no longer flattering. “I am not a parking ticket looking for your validation,” Edewi says in her video. “Your songs filled with sweet nothings are no longer allowed to park for free. They’re no longer allowed to cheapen my self-esteem.”
One might ask, what if women were singing these types of songs, would they still be disappointing? Last year, on the heels of John Legend’s “You & I,” Colbie Caillat released “Try” a song promoting body positivity. “You don’t have to try so hard, you don’t have to give it all away,” Caillat sings in the chorus. “You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up, you don’t have to change a single thing.” The answer is no, because when the message comes from a peer, someone who isn't banking on your self-doubt but rather relating to your struggles, it’s encouraging. In “Body Love (Part 1 & 2),” Mary Lambert says, “You are worth more than who you fuck. You are worth more than a waistline.” The music video for the chill-inducing song was preceded by a #BodyLove campaign, in which Lambert encouraged her fans to share different parts of their bodies that they love on Instagram. That concerted effort, in addition to Lambert’s transparency when it comes to personal struggles with her own body image, makes the message reassuring. “There is no need to love your body with trepidation,” Edewi says in the video. “Because that bottomless pit of hesitation that you feel [is] only false expectations appearing real. So don’t let your fear get the best of you, because every part of you is the best of you.” Edewi’s words are welcome in a society filled with unrealistic beauty ideals. Her encouragement to marvel at your beauty (inside and out) aligns with the imperativeness of self-respect that Hill once sang about, and that is refreshing. Her confidence is inspiring. These messages will always be relevant.