A little less than a year ago, the female cast members of “Saturday Night Live” traversed a minefield, detonating laughs.
In a video for “This Is Not A Feminist Song,” a spoof on the challenges of encapsulating a multifaceted movement into a singular battle cry, they cannily goofed on the idea that women’s wants and concerns could be generalized into a one-size-fits-all anthem.
“Every woman has a struggle / And every struggle’s real / But just try and write a song that captures / Every woman’s deal,” they sing in the clip, which features the ladies of “SNL” cavorting on a beach, joined by pop star Ariana Grande.
Grande’s inclusion isn’t mere happenstance, the result of her hosting the show that week, but a reflection of her evolving role as one of the most prominent female faces in pop.
Her apperance in the skit works on a couple of levels: For starters, she can carry a tune. But more significantly, she’s publicly wrangled with the very issue the song addresses.
It all started in earnest back in 2015, when Grande broke up with former beau and rapper Big Sean. At the time, Grande chafed at being continually linked to her ex in the press, feeling as if she was being defined by her relationships as opposed to her art.
“I am tired of living in a world where women are mostly referred to as a man’s past, present or future property/possession,” she wrote in a letter-length post on her Instagram account. “The double standard and misogyny are still ever present. I can’t wait to live in a world where people are not valued by who we’re dating / married to / attached to, having sex with (or not) / seen with … but by their values as an individual,” she added, ending her note with a quote from feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
In interviews afterward, Grande continued to assail what she perceived to be the differences between how male and female performers are treated when it comes to their sexuality.
“If you’re going to rave about how sexy a male artist looks with his shirt off, and a woman decides to get in her panties or show her boobies for a photo shoot, she needs to be treated with the same awe and admiration,” Grande said in a May 2016 interview with Billboard magazine.
On Grande’s latest record, the alternately understated and overheated “Dangerous Woman,” an album of vocal and carnal acrobatics alike, the 23-year-old singer is ostensibly out to burnish these themes of feminine empowerment.
“I’m no blow-up doll, no free-for-all / No slave to your decision,” she sings on “Jason’s Song (Gave It Away).” “Gotta find a way to break the spell / To get the hell away from those who block my vision.”
Obviously, it’s a laudable aim for Grande to attempt to demonstrate that she’s a woman in control, her own person, independent of whomever she might be dating at the time or anyone else, for that matter.
Here’s the thing, though: No one defines Grande in relation to men more than Grande herself.
To wit: “Jason’s Song” is a bonus cut on “Dangerous Woman”: Of the 11 songs that make up the album’s track list, every single one is about relationships or having relations, loving or ditching this dude or that.
It’s an ill-fitting duality: In interviews and on social media, Grande continually gives voice to feminine assertiveness. But in her songs, it’s a different tune, almost entirely: It’s as if her love life is the only life she has.
Moreover, the way in which Grande does characterize her sexuality buffers the age-old stereotypes she’s made a habit of denouncing.
Sure, Grande’s spot-on when assailing the societal double standard in how the male and female libido are portrayed. But Grande undermines her views in song.
On the title cut to “Dangerous Woman,” Grande talks about embracing her desires in the bedroom. “All girls wanna be like that / Bad girls underneath, like that,” she purrs.
But to say that a woman reveling in her sexuality makes her a “bad girl” is to play right into the double standard she railed against on Instagram.
This theme crops up time and again on “Woman.”
“Ariana, my little mama, goodbye to the good girl,” rapper Lil Wayne announces on “Let Me Love You,” again reaffirming the outmoded notion that a woman enjoying sex makes her a freak.
“I don’t compromise my passion,” rapper Future later boasts on “Everyday.”
Of course, he doesn’t.
Now if only Grande would follow suit.
Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.
Who: Ariana Grande
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: MGM Grand Garden, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $29.95-$199.95 (888-929-7849)