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Why are men so pressed about Shakira and Miley Cyrus?

Shakira has become the first artist of 2023 to have more than one song sit at the top of Spotify’s Global Top Songs Chart, a chart that records the most streamed songs globally. This is no small feat, given Shakira is 32 years into her career and both songs were entirely in Spanish, something rare on a chart dominated by English music. 

The songs in question Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions Vol. 53 with Argentinian Producer Bizarrap, and TQG, a duet with fellow Colombian Karol G are both songs written about Shakira’s highly publicised breakup with her partner of 12 years, Gerard Pique. Shakira’s two songs have consistently rubbed shoulders with Miley Cyrus’ global hit, Flowers, a song that deals with her split from Liam Hemsworth, and SZA’s Kill Bill which is again, another breakup song. The success of these songs, alongside the global dominance of women like Taylor Swift, someone synonymous with penning excellent breakup songs, shows us that people enjoy seeing women bare their souls when relationships end. But all of the women mentioned here, Shakira, Miley, SZA, and Taylor have experienced sharp criticism for writing about their relationships.

Shakira has gone through one of the most publicised splits in recent memory, and since the news broke in June 2022, the press both in Spain where she currently lives and across the world have dissected her every move as she went through a drawn out custody battle, an alleged tax fraud case, and the emergence of Pique’s new partner (who is 20 years Shakira’s junior). 

Writing this as a Shakira stan, I am familiar with how she typically handles anything pertaining to her private life, which is to rarely if ever comment and offer fodder to tabloid magazines, something she continued to do throughout 2022 as new developments emerged regarding her split, particularly as it became all but confirmed Pique had cheated on her with his new girlfriend. 

In the way musicians have expressed their feelings for decades, Shakira reserved her commentary for music, releasing a total of 4 songs addressing her split (the first two being Te Felicito and Monotonía) which explore different aspects of her processing her emotions and take her audience through the different stages of dealing with a long-term relationship ending. 

As each song has been released, a new wave of criticism has come Shakira’s way, mostly centring around the idea that her use of personal experience to influence her songwriting is somehow disingenuous or wrong for her to do. This criticism has been mingled with ageism, racism, and of course, misogyny. The same has been the case for Miley Cyrus who has frequently been criticised for releasing music about a split that took place in 2020. A largely male presence online have fired shots at Miley and Shakira, with the general theme relating to frustrations at women utilising their talent and their art to process the breakdown of relationships, that both ended with reported infidelity. It is the same argument that has followed Taylor Swift for well over a decade at this point. Taylor, only a few years into her highly successful career, became the focal point of slut shaming and lampooning from a misogynisitc line of argument that claimed she was a one trick pony only dating men for song writing inspiration. 

Taylor quite rightly addressed this criticism in several interviews around 2015 and 2016 where she made it clear that globally successful male musicians such as Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran similarly write music about their exes and their relationships without any significant flack from the general public, and that the double standard that faces women like Taylor is incredibly sexist. 

I think Taylor’s point touches on something very important that this conversation provokes, the fact that in a patriarchal culture that centres the voices of men, women who disrupt that narrative scare men. It’s no shock that when Alanis Morissette released You Oughta Know in 1995 (which is possibly the best breakup song of all time) she was branded by several men, many of whom were major figures in pop culture, as the definitive ‘crazy ex girlfriend’. Men don’t like women who call them out on their bad behaviour. Music like Flowers, Kill Bill, and Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions Vol. 53 galvanises women and empowers them, because the message behind these songs is not to cry over a cheating boyfriend but to recentre your power and lean into the emotions women are so often socialised to resist, anger and spite.

In Flowers Miley responds to Bruno Mars’ song If I Was Your Man by asserting that she in fact, can buy herself flowers, hold her own hand, and take herself dancing. She is reminding women that we don’t need to depend on men to find satisfaction in our lives. This threatens a sector of men who believe that still, they have the authority to dictate the happiness of women. 

In Shakira’s song with Bizarrap she puts an even more pointed spin on it when she declares ‘Las mujeres ya no lloran, las mujeres facturan’ meaning, ‘women no longer cry, women get paid’. This is a direct poke at the notion that women are expected to handle a breakup by being crushed and broken by the pain, instead Shakira is saying, no go out there and do better now you’re free of him. This isn’t to say that there is no sadness or rawness in Shakira’s songs about Pique, with Monotonía specifically serving as a slow bachata ballad where she fights with the fact that he cheated because of the mundanity of a committed relationship.

In Shakira’s case, her ex partner is a recently retired football player for FC Barcelona, meaning that her jabs at him in her songs, particularly her Bizarrap Session, inspired an acidic ire in his fanbase that went as far as crude rape threats and comments referring to her as used up and bitter flooding comments about the song. 

In the masculinised space of professional football the thought of one of the golden boys of the sport being dogwalked by Shakira was such an affront to the perception of the uber-masculine footballer that his fans felt no choice but to knee-jerk react to the song with toxic sexism. This was not helped by the fact Pique made desperately weak attempts to poke fun at the lyrics of the song in the weeks that followed, in what can only be seen as a desperate reach to save face. 

Many male journalists have further accused Shakira of creating a media circus around her breakup and have made thinly veiled comments that scrutinise her artistry and the validity of her music’s recent success. The sharp reaction to the songs that have dominated Spotify this year feels like it is connected to a much larger issue that is growing seemingly exponentially online, the new wave of extremist misogynistic rhetoric that is fuelled by figures like Andrew Tate, the incel online community, and the various other platforms and communities that thrive in dark corners of the internet where women are not people, but a threat to the status quo of toxic masculinity. 

This may seem like a bit of a reach to some, the idea that criticism of Shakira, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus is directly linked to someone like Andrew Tate, who is a literal sex trafficker, but hear me out. The first thing to state is that the criticism these women are facing is not good faith critique of their music, its direct antagonism toward the fact their music critiques and calls out men for their bad behaviour. This is the antithesis of online misogyny that praises men for cheating on their partners and holds women to such a tight expectation of behaviour that I think it is impossible for any woman in the 21st century to actually fit into such a narrow box. A box that dictates women can’t use their voices, and that women don’t deserve to feel jaded or angry or hurt by the betrayals men who disrespect the boundaries of relationships commit. 

Women using their art and their voices to express their emotions has always been something that some men have struggled with, and have reacted against. The fact that we are experiencing what can only be described as a breakup anthem renaissance with monumental record breaking success for the women at the head of this moment in pop culture demonstrates that this music resonates. For every woman who has felt slighted by a man who has tried to break her, only to rise from the ashes stronger than ever, this is our moment. Anyone be damned who recycles old arguments that in many ways boil down to the same chestnut we find ourselves coming back to, that men want us to be pliable, silent, and submissive to their bad behaviour. We can buy our own damn flowers and make our own money. 

Comments

  • swirlygirly
    March 21, 2023

    This article shows how very necessary it is for women to have a voice within the music industry. I’m sure if Shakira or Miley released post-break-up songs proclaiming their broken hearts on account of their lost love they would probably still have been successful but they would have swerved the misogynistic ire of males who are afraid of powerful women. The toxic comments highlight that many men feel lost in a world where women don’t need them anymore and fall back on threats of rape to demonstrate how they can overpower a woman. I am thrilled that Shakira and Miley put their songs out there – relevant, clever, and about damn time.

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