When Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey were announced to be teaming up for the theme song for the new Charlie’s Angels reboot earlier this year, it seemed like 2019 was about to gift us with a surefire empowerment anthem. After all, here are three of the most powerful women in music, each with an unfuckwithable energy in their own way, coming together as part of a movie that famously sees three badass women take down bad men. That combination could only mean tripling the amount of strength, independence, and attitude usually found in their individual songs… right?
Wrong. ‘Don’t Call Me Angel’ is definitely not the follow-up to Destiny’s Child’s own Charlie’s Angels theme tune ‘Independent Women Part 1’ that we had been hoping for. There are quite a few reasons for that and right at the top of the list is how little of its content feels empowering at all.
Exactly 19 years ago, Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle laid waste to men on the theme song for the 2000 version of the movie by spelling out just how little they needed them. “I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings,” they asserted. “Only ring your celly when I’m feeling lonely.” The power was in their hands and they were more than capable of providing for themselves, even if sometimes “it ain’t easy being independent”.
Ariana, Miley, and Lana’s collaboration is far less potent. Miley’s verse, at least, seems to the nod to the trio who came before them when she sings, “I make my money and I write the cheques/So say my name with a little respect.” But, elsewhere, they seem more concerned by the eyes on them than signing slips. “See you here with somebody/You sizin’ up my body,” Grande sings in her verse, while Lana’s begins: “I appreciate the way you watch me, I can’t lie.” Both are more than a bit jarring – in a song that should be celebrating women, why do they have to acknowledge the male gaze?
That’s not to suggest any of the three women – or anyone anywhere, for that matter – can’t feel empowered by being desirable to whoever they want to be desired by. It’s just a little disappointing that, in 2019, a woman’s attractiveness is still measured against whether a man is checking them out. Much like we don’t need men to buy us rings or rake in cash, we don’t need anyone’s approval but our own to feel sexy. Surely that would have been a more Charlie’s Angels-appropriate message to share in this song, rather than framing it all in relation to men?
If we were to hold ‘Don’t Call Me Angel’ up against a music-focused version of the Bechdel test like this one created by Pitchfork in 2015, it would fail on the last checkbox. That’s surprising coming from these three women because each of them has more fitting songs for this project in their own catalogues. Perhaps the best natural successor to ‘Independent Women’ of all would have been Ariana’s ‘7 Rings’. Written after breaking off her engagement to ex-fiancé Pete Davidson, the song scoffs at the idea that a diamond ring is something that can only be given to a woman by a partner. “Wearing a ring but ain’t gon’ be no Mrs,” she declared on it, while the chorus’ infectious “I want it, I got it” echoed Destiny’s Child’s message that they could give themselves anything their hearts desired, no men necessary. What a shame she and her collaborators didn’t keep pulling at that thread.