Pop Is Not A Dirty Word: Piers Morgan, stop slut-shaming women in pop

In this week's Pop is Not a Dirty Word, columnist Douglas Greenwood asks why ageing pundits on the right are so pissed off by women in pop being comfortable in their own skin.

Is there anything sweeter than watching a cynical, middle-aged Tory embarrass themselves on the internet? Last week, journalist and Twitter troll Julia Hartley-Brewer tried her hand at resurrecting first-wave feminism by taking a stab at Britain’s current reigning girl group, Little Mix, for posing naked and painting themselves with the insults they’ve been met with over the years. “Ugly”, “Slutty”, and “Talentless” were just some of them.

“Yet again, young women pretend that going naked empowers them,” Julia tweeted alongside the image, completely ignoring the fact that women in 2018 have pretty much come to terms with the concept of baring skin not making women (or men) slutty. “It doesn’t,” she continued. “It’s just another cheap way to sell themselves. But I suppose it makes a nice change from this group dressing like hookers…”

And she wasn’t the only one. Piers Morgan suggested the band’s shoot for the ‘Strip’ video was a cheap ploy designed to use sex as a way of shifting records, causing band member Jessy Nelson to bite back, calling him a “twat”.

But both of these broadcasting pundits have completely missed the point, haven’t they? By scrawling the insults that people like Julia and Piers often throw at them all over their bodies, Little Mix are preaching a message not of degradation, but reclamation. They’re proving that it’s possible to be a woman in the spotlight who can bare her skin on her own terms, and can use it as an opportunity to prove that slut-shaming is the most archaic and backwards bullshit that pop stars have to deal with these days.

That might be a hard thing for Piers and Julia to come to terms with – after all, pop music has been prolifically unkind to its women in the past – but that’s the era this idiotic, bigoted pair are stuck in. Things have changed. Women nowadays have a hundred times more agency than they might have done in the past, and even major labels are actively promoting the messages their artists want to preach. The idea that pop is purely a machine that jelly moulds its artists to being dancing toys for men to fancy isn’t nearly as prevalent as it was even a decade ago.

Of course, it’s incredibly easy to use this gigantic public platform and the wildly woke new era we live in to pedal ‘feminist’ ideas as a cheap marketing gag, but you can spot disingenuous attempts from a mile off. For artists like Little Mix, who have been under the scrutinising tabloid spotlight for five album cycles now, can you blame them for wanting to put a middle finger up to the bullshit?

Pop music is becoming a more welcome platform for young women with something to say. The knockout success of Billie Eilish (a teenager who could probably beat me up) and newcomers like the Icelandic singer Glowie (who’s widely being tipped as the Cool Pop Thing of 2019™) feels exciting. While artists like Little Mix have had to fight the backwards media bullshit for seven years – a time period that’s seen so much change – Glowie is coming into the industry as someone who could potentially swerve the shitty hot takes from middle-aged clueless pop-phobics altogether.

The 21-year-old’s first single ‘Body’, co-written by the ever reliable Julia Michaels, is the kind of song men have been applauded for performing in the past but women simply weren’t permitted to. She’s a young woman making her mark with a hookish number about looking at a bloke and thinking he’s proper fit. “The way the lines make a V, mark the spot for the thing I need,” she breathes. “Baby I just want the keys. That’s a fucking body.”

What’s even cooler about Glowie is the way she’s keen to preach a message of body positivity alongside it. Her Instagram features posts on her own battle with being scrutinised for being too skinny – something that’s totally out with her control but that she’s wholly willing to embrace, posting photos baring her midriff like a true ‘IDGAF what you think’ pop star.

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STOP STARVING YOURSELF! YOU ARE WAY TOO SKINNY!, you need to go eat a sandwich, did you forget to eat breakfast, it must be hard to find clothes that fit on you, you look like you're sick! I have always been a skinny girl, nothing wrong with that, I was not sick or anything, no matter how much I ate, nothing happened. I was a dancer, started when I was 7 and stopped at 16, learned classic ballet, jazz ballet, contemporary dance and more, up to 8 times per week, so that kept me in shape. While living this healthy life, I was called names for being too skinny, I tried not to listen to them, but without realising it, I believed them. Then at 16 I stopped dancing so I could focus more on music, I got out of shape and started to live this very unhealthy life, I ate a lot of trash food on purpose because I was tired of being so skinny, I believed the people who told me it was not normal to be this skinny, but really that was just who I was. At that time I was sexually abused by a guy I was on a second date with, and that changed my life forever, but I will tell you more about that later. Anyway, I got really depressed after that and was just in a really dark place…even had suicidal thoughts at times. When I was 17 I met the love of my life. Today we have been together for 3 years. He never said I was too skinny or too fat or that I needed to change my body. He loved me for who I am and he taught me to love myself. My point is…don't let other people's opinion controul how you feel about yourself or how you live your life. I share this with you hoping to inspire all of you to look in the mirror and wonder if you're happy with yourself. Everybody deserves to be happy. Life is too short to be wondering what other people think of you. Be who you wanna be, not what others want to see. #fknbodyproud

A post shared by Glowie (@itsglowie) on

Of course, this is the kind of thing Julia Hartley-Brewer and Piers Morgan would probably take issue with. “A young woman?! Singing about sex?! Posting scantily clad photos online?!” they’d likely cry in unison, before running off to M&S to buy a ham sandwich – or something equally as posh, gross and old-fashioned as themselves.

The reason for this all boils down to the way Hartley-Brewer and Morgan perceive feminism in 2018, ruling out the many ways in which its original incarnation – progressive for the time, but blind to the ways women and sexuality can intersect properly – rules out so many women who feel comfortable in their own skin and use it to their advantage. Hartley-Brewer’s throwaway use of “hookers” as a derogatory term reeks of SWERF-y behaviour (that’s “sex worker-exclusionary radical feminism”). Honestly, the only thing that’s probably more terrifying than her backwards views? The tragic state of her Spotify playlist.

But the beauty that stems from bigoted takes like this is that we’re reminded of how fucking badass the women making pop music right now are. We’re reminded that, no matter how incensed old pundits get by the modern state of pop, we’re the ones who know what the future holds. Policing women’s bodies? Keep that shit, Julia and Piers. The new generation of women in pop have better things to do than deal with your BS.