Single ladies, independent women, chicks with attitude, women on the move…sound familiar? A superstar like Beyoncé doesn't really have to pick an original theme in order to get some radio airtime. In fact, part of the success of "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" may be the fact that it tells a story that's been told before. Did you know that the influential British monarch Elizabeth I is still called "the Virgin Queen" for her refusal to marry during her long sixteenth-century rule? Or that former Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin, a feminist activist and the first woman ever elected to Congress, was the subject of a historical film called A Single Woman? With the song's title alone, Beyoncé puts herself in a long line of independent single ladies.
But, unfortunately for Beyoncé, these high-falootin' comparisons are not entirely accurate. "Single Ladies" isn't a song about running a country, or even about changing a policy here and there. Beyoncé, who is herself one of the song's writers, says it herself on her website: "That song is all about: 'I've been with you all this time, you're taking too long and now I'm looking hot and you see it and you gotta suffer because you shoulda put a ring on it.'"
So the woman who narrates the song is hurt, a little bitter, and blatantly showing off for the man she wanted to marry. Does this sound all that independent to you? L.A. Times columnist Ann Powers breaks it down with this quote: "There's no getting around the fact that these songs ["Single Ladies" and Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me"] imagine female self-worth solely in terms of male approval."
Powers' gripe is that Beyoncé is supposed to be performing a song about female empowerment—but her empowerment is always relative to a man who's in the picture somewhere. "Single Ladies" is about getting a guy's attention, even while it's also about getting over him. And, as in Taylor Swift's song, which beat "Single Ladies" out for the 2009 MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video, not getting the guy is presented as the basic problem. "While Swift laments male cluelessness, Knowles scorns male carelessness," says Powers. The point is, men are still at the center of both big hits (kind of like how Kanye West put himself at the center of the MTV Video Music Awards, outshining the ladies in both carelessness and cluelessness…)
Kanye shenanigans aside, the actual idea behind the song seems like it could undercut the power of the whole "single ladies" image. It's less desperate than Taylor Swift's hit, but it's no Thelma and Louise. What do you think? Is "Single Ladies" an empowering song for some women and girls, or is it just another song about a disappointing guy?