The Riot Act: Where Pussy Riot and Taylor Swift (don’t) intersect

Pussy Riot protests. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As full-on Riot Grrrl-era, punk enthusiast, I have been watching the Pussy Riot events unfold with a kind of morbid curiosity. You don’t make a political statement tinged with religious overtones in the House of the Pope without getting some kind of smack-down, no matter how badass it is. After all, they’re protesting a repressive regime by a defacto-dictator whose name already sounds like a Bond villain.

As a feminist who eats outrage for breakfast, I celebrate the young women who make up Pussy Riot as true badasses. As a GenXer, I saw the writing on the wall. Am I revealing my pessimistic side? Perhaps. But like I said, I’m a GenXer. I watched the Berlin Wall come down — live. I remember fearing Russian nukes at bedtime, kids. (And remember, I grew up in Wasilla, so that means I could see Russia from my house.)

Pussy Riot will go down in not only punk rock history but world history as a master’s class in political defiance of oppression in the genre of the Tiananmen Square protests. And it will, no doubt, mark the Millennial generation (or whatever you are calling yourselves) as an iconic, and most certainly feminist touchstone. So, well done there.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

But I have been thinking about Pussy Riot in other ways, too. As a punk fan, I am exhilarated by the danger of their music. There’s nothing fake about that. As much as I like American Idiot, Pussy Riot could give some notes to Green Day and many others. They put their lives on the line and challenged authority in a way that I don’t know many artists (musical or otherwise) to be doing in my own country right now. Punk or not. And, in case you haven’t noticed — dictatorships aside — there are some reasons to be making some noise in our own backyard these days, too.

I may not be surprised by the outcome of Pussy Riot’s court case, but I am definitely inspired by them.

And maybe that’s why I thought my head was going to explode when I saw NPR’s headline: Taylor Swift: Princess of Punk? in which Ann Powers tries to convince us that when young women flip the bird in music videos or when they have lyrics that move anywhere outside the normal circle of pop music dictates, that we should herald these women as, essentially, feminists and a kind of new brand of post-punk. Now, I admit, Powers makes some good points in her essay. But not about Taylor Swift (or Kelly Clarkson or Pink or Avril Lavigne, for that matter). I’m sorry, but in what universe is Taylor Swift a punk rocker? Has she even watched Sid and Nancy?

Now, I know it is a symbol of my generation to guard against “selling out.” But in this case, I am not squeamish because Swift is a mega-pop-star. I am nauseated because her song, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, is not a punk anthem. It is not a feminist manifesto. It doesn’t even rock, let alone challenge societal or gender norms! It’s a pop song that has, maybe, a different sound for Taylor Swift. It’s co-written by Max Martin, who also helped pen Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone and Stronger. Those are catchy, spirited pop songs for sure. And I’ll even admit to liking Kelly Clarkson. (Because who doesn’t, really?) But these are not the new wave of punk. (Bonus points if you know why using “new wave” in that sentence is kind of funny.)

Maybe it’s asking a lot to say punk music (or any music) has to be at the intensity or purpose of Pussy Riot. We can’t all live at 11 all the time. Fair enough. But is it too much to ask that if music writers and pop culture essayists are going to use the anthems of my youth — and Powers most definitely name-checks Riot Grrrls as a reference point for Swift’s new “sass” — that they actually get it right? (Also, never use “sass” and punk in the same essay ever again, please.)

At the very least, how about a little respect to Pussy Riot? They’re going to fucking JAIL for their beliefs and their music. Maybe don’t cheapen it by referencing them in the same essay as Taylor-fucking-Swift.

To recap:

How does this…

…compare to this?

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2 thoughts on “The Riot Act: Where Pussy Riot and Taylor Swift (don’t) intersect

  1. Pingback: Top 10 SCS Posts of 2012 « The Sin City Siren

  2. Pingback: The soundtrack of my life: Beyoncé, motherhood, and gateway feminism | The Sin City Siren

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