Despite Keri Hilson’s best intentions, her new single “Pretty Girl Rock” is not a song for ladies. It's a track for men, by a man (compliments of Ne-Yo), sung by a lady, under weak auspices that it's a track for the ladies.
The track was debuted live last week in New York, at the Beats by Dr. Dre event. It’s since been pushed to radio and seems to be the best shot that Hilson has at a hit after “Knock You Down,” a single I adore.
On the one hand, you can’t take a song like this too seriously. With its toothless but familiar beat and a chorus that bounds like a puppy in snow (“rock rock rock rock rock”), it’s meant to push bodies onto the floor, not spun on repeat to a pair of headphones in a dark room. Its melody is certainly uplifting enough and it’s got a thuggy underbelly despite an overabundance of cuteness. It moves.
But, then again, why not be critical of a piece of pop music, especially a track that intends to empower women but fails in anti-feminist and tacky lyricism, delivered largely to impress men? (Ah, the male gaze: “I ain’t gotta talk about it baby you can see it… No question that this girl’s a 10… daddy’s turned his head as soon as I pass him…”)
It reminds me of when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” also operated under the guise that it was a ladies’ anthem, despite its largely addressing a male subject and only requesting the presence of ladies for a choral “amen.” It was more a torch song than a positive charge, but at least it didn’t accuse its listeners of being “jealous” or, worse, uglier than Keri Hilson.
No, this “Pretty Girl” is co-opted for a career is under the gun, and for an album hilariously and voyeuristically titled "No Boys Allowed." It drips of the desperation covered that every inch of patent leather covering Christina Aguilera's -- as Hilson calls it – derrière in “Not Myself Tonight.”
Judge not on the way Hilson “walks,” “talks” and “dresses,” check out these five bountiful lyric nuggets:
1. "Mad cause I’m cuter than the girl tha's with ya... You're beautiful"
That's like telling me my sweater's ugly then asking me where I bought it.
2. "Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful”
This line is rarely uttered in earnest, and for good reason. It’s typically for evil bullying high school girls in teen movies or by lazy television writers penning scripts for gay characters.
3. "Girls think I’m conceited 'cause I think I’m attractive... Get yourself together don’t hate / jealousy's the ugliest trait"
This is the only mention of beauty having an inner- variety.
4. “Boys wanna marry looking at my derri- / ère, you can stare but if you touch then im’a bury”
The 11th commandment: Thou shalt not indulge in pre-marital butt touch.
5. "Don’t worry about what I think -- why don’t you ask him?”
Now do the Pretty Girl Cock Block.
"It’s not meant to be a vain record. I want everybody to feel like they can do the ‘Pretty Girl Rock,’” Hilson explained in a recent Ustream sit-down. “It’s like the hairbrush in the mirror, 'Don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful,' 'cause you are. Everybody is beautiful. I want everyone to be able to sing that record.”
The invitation in the vamp to “all my ladies” – purportedly, those with enough self-esteem to call themselves “pretty girls” -- certainly seems to be inviting, but under exclusionary conditions: that you’re not jealous of or “hate” on Keri Hilson specifically, that you do the “Rock” and that your looks are dude-approved.
Or, then again, who cares. Keep singing into the hairbrush.