Posters, books, friends and relationships were all part of my claim to identity in my “just before adolescence” era. Running through the Angus Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging book series to get to the “sex part” was, for me, a shameful but exciting aspect of my life when I was younger.
Yet something that sets the tone in cinematic effect when you reminisce about a time in your life is its playlist. Your favorite songs, artists, and those guilty pleasure bits you’d never tell your friends about. Shouting into a Singstar mic on Obviously by McFly with my sister is a defining moment of my childhood in the late 2000s.
Ayesha Hazarika’s State of the Nation: Nicola Sturgeon appeared in Edinburgh on Friday…
British boy bands like McFly and Busted wore baggy jeans, a chain somewhere on their clothes or around their necks, spiky hair and a very American grungy attitude to give them that extra edge. The sight of Charlie’s eyebrows in Busted would make my sister swoon. We bought Top of the Pops and Smash Hits magazines, trailing our fingers through a maze of brightly colored questions about which band member was “our type.” We fell in love with them, as we sang their songs in the car looking out the window and thinking, “when will they realize we were meant to be together?”
We believed in them and, what is most important and most disturbing, we believed in their messages.
Recently, I decided to cheer myself up and play some tunes from my childhood sweethearts. I started with a classic. It’s All About You by McFly blazed in my bathroom while I sang in the shower. Some overly tacky statements are made, such as “If you deny me one of your kisses, I don’t know what I would do”, but overall a pretty sweet song.
The band’s Saturday Night is a tribute to an empty party or, more widely known outside of Scotland, a house party. It’s an upbeat sound, but lines like “I gotta find a girl you like/and you better hope she’s already drunk” quickly dampened my mood. Knowing well, like all women, the handyman men in the clubs, I don’t want my Saturday to be a guy who comes to see me with the implication that my “frigidity” (i.e. common sense) is lowered because I am drunk. I doubt my eight-year-old would want that either. At the time, I didn’t fully understand this message, but as I got a little older, I excused what I knew.
“They are just cheeky” is the phrase that comes to mind and in that thought there is acceptance of unacceptable behavior towards women and girls.
For Busted, we were allowed to be “psychos” but only if we were “hot” and, preferably (and legally, very arguably), if we worked on an airplane or a school. They led the assault on their primary target audience of young women when they took the stage singing All the Way. The song describes how they were originally promised sex with a woman, but she decides she no longer wants it. After describing this through a slow, soft melody, we don’t get a spurt of “it’s okay, it’s your choice” instead, “how could you do this to me?” It’s so mean” and “It’s cruel” follows. Coercive control is now enshrined in law, but won’t people of my generation recognize it in every situation because our idols and our society have so long made us pity the abuser?
Not all of the bands’ songs were “toxic” as Britney Spears would say (Busted has a Princess of Pop love song on their debut album). McFly sang about a Stargirl who “rules the skies” and Busted is able to communicate the pain of grief in Sleeping with the Light On. In the early 10’s the bands formed the force that was McBusted who, although far less innocuous in his attitudes towards women and girls, probably had the same effect with their fans as Grease 2 had with the rest of the public. .
It’s a huge and inaccurate leap to say that two boy bands from the early 2000s completely shaped my perception of relationships and sex and I’m far too proud of my female-dominated upbringing to do so. Yet what these boy bands have done in some of their songs has been to leave unhealthy thoughts in my head about these topics that I have yet to untangle.
We are all a product of our environment and these issues are not just at the doorsteps of my floppy but spiky-haired icons. They reflected an unhealthy attitude towards relationships and sex, a society I grew up in, promoted and bought into. I believed in bands because I loved the image I was sold of these boys.
“Obviously she’s out of my league,” McFly sang to my sister and me. Of course we were, we just didn’t know it at the time. But is it too much to ask of the boys who perpetuate these unhealthy attitudes to simply get better? We needed more artists like Lil Simz who spreads a message of confidence in being a black woman and a feminist and Lizzo who can raise her hand when concerns about ableism in her lyrics are voiced. Or Harry Styles who, from the X Factor boy band generation, changed his skinny jeans into trendy dresses to challenge our binary views on what a male performer looks like.
Artists are of course not entirely responsible for the state of society, but the reach of a popstar lies mainly in its popularity among young people. If they work to challenge sexist and misogynistic attitudes, we could be one step closer to equality.