‘I want it, I got it’: Popular Culture and Commodity Feminism

By Sheelalipi Sahana | March 11, 2019

Ariana Grande’s new album thank u, next is breaking records since it released on 8thFebruary 2019. “7 Rings” has become an anthem for millennial women across countries. Its global circulation begs the question— why? A preliminary look at the lyrics and the bubble-gum pop music video signals a form of luxury feminism that is in keeping with the current trends of popular culture and mass media dissemination that bank on celebrity-hood as a glimpse into utopian lifestyle.

This song’s glamorisation of material culture through lyrics such as “Think retail therapy my new addiction” not only promote consumerism but also endorse unhealthy shopping patterns, dubbing them as ‘therapy’ to overcome any hurdles that women might face. Money as a necessity to ‘feel good’ is problematic for its connotation that those that don’t have money invariably won’t orcan’t. Masquerading as a song for the ‘girl bosses’ that are independent and capable of spending their own cash, it taps into a form of elitism that is exclusionist in catering to a particular class of women. Its preferentiality for an upper-class mechanism to cope is insensitive for the way that it addresses class difference. The words “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems / Must not have had enough money to solve ’em” are tinged with a denigration of women that do not fit the mould being subscribed to.

This growth of Commodity Feminism appropriates the social cause of women’s rights into a propagandist capitalist venture to reap profits from a pseudo-sense of empowerment that it promises women. In studying its arc, Rebecca Hains locates the commercialisation of ‘girl power’ with the debut of Spice Girls whose endorsement of commodity feminism meant the “appropriation and de-politicization of feminist discourse to support commercial interests, making feminism a “style—a semiotic abstraction—a set of values that say who you are”” (Hains 34) and who you should be.

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“7 Rings” invokes such a lineage of past female glories (like Spice Girls) that are a part of the popular imagination of the masses in order to place it in line with past unattainable standards of beauty and lifestyle. The very first line of the song has “breakfast at Tiffany’s” in it, immediately recalling Audrey Hepburn as the quintessential fashion icon in the film of the same name and out of it. A reference to “diamonds” in the third line similarly draws on Marilyn Monroe’s musical number “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Apart from these specific allusions, half the song itself is set in the tune of “My Favorite Things” popularised by Julie Andrews in the musicalThe Sound of Music.

While the original lyrics are replaced by Grande’s own, the composition remains the same; parallel tunes signify parallel sentiments of deriving pleasure out of material products. Through this process of drawing from a history of material culture, set against the backdrop of post-industrial capitalism, this song is churned out as a product of Adorno and Horkhiemer’s “culture industry” (Adorno and Horkhiemer 97) in which entertainment creates needs that are satiable through aforementioned retail therapy. However, its self-reflexivity may be seen as a subversion of this model of passive production. In any case, this song subsumes approaches that are detrimental to the scope of feminism by epitomising financial liberties as the ultimate liberation of women.

Marxist theorist Frederic Jameson’s analysis of postmodern art in the age of multinational capitalism proposes a link between the two in which the former is the “internal and superstructural expression” of the latter (Jameson 5). “7 Rings” becomes a product of our times through its celebration of American capitalism by equating it as a harbinger of social change. By assimilating what was once radical i.e. feminism into popular culture, it is commodifying itself as well as the movement. Its internalised capitalistic ideology is using the collective consciousness of today’s society, which is moving closer and closer towards equal rights, to further its own agenda of creating a marketplace for goods. What Ariana Grande is trying to sell us is not diamonds but a reconfigured notion of feminism itself. And through its inclusion of past successes at this indoctrination, it becomes a meta-text that is simultaneously paying homage to the previous texts by saying ‘thank u’ and anticipating more cultural products that will serve as the ‘next’ ideological catalyst.

About Sheelalipi:
She is an MSc. Literature and Modernity student at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests lie in questions of the ‘selves’ in female modernism across national borders, with a special focus on Indian literatures.

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor W., and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Translated by John Cumming. 1972. Verso Classics, 1997.

Hains, Rebecca C. “The Significance of Chronology in Commodity Feminism: Audience Interpretations of Girl Power Music”. Popular Music and Society, vol. 37, no.1, 2014, pp. 33-47, doi-org.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/10.1080/03007766.2012.726033.

Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Verso, 1991.

Edited by Ailish Woollett and Clara Ng

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