Tuesday, 26 January 2010

2000 Destiny's Child: Independent Women Part One

I think I've mentioned before how one of my all time favourite cover versions is Aretha Franklin's take on 'Respect'. More than a simple 'cover', it's a song she has come to own so completely that it can come as a surprise to find out that it is in fact a version of an Otis Redding original. Redding's version itself is no slouch, but it's a one dimensional ramble from a man at the wrong side of a misbehaving woman whereas Franklin puts a whole lot of fire in its belly and casts it as a hydra headed plea for respect from her man, for her gender and for her race. "All I'm asking for is a little respect"; not much to ask is it? And who could argue with Aretha at such a full throttle that Redding's original purpose gets buried like the self pitying whinge it basically was.

In a similar way, 'Independent Women Part One' works on a multi-level too, but instead of Aretha's tunnel visioned purpose, it serves up a self conscious muddle that works on none of the levels it aspires to. Firstly, though not a cover version itself but an original song taken from the soundtrack of this year's Charlie's Angels re-boot, its lyric namechecks that source data in a way that suggests Destiny's Child had less of a free hand in their presentation of an original song than Franklin did in her cover. But then not only does restrict itself to referencing the film itself ("Charlie, how your Angels get down like that?"), it namechecks the actresses playing those Angels ("Lucy Liu... with my girl, Drew, Cameron D and Destiny Charlie's Angels") rather than the characters themselves. Which at a stroke makes 'Independent Women Part One' part of both the film, it's promotion and the real world process behind it. How very post-modern.

To muddy the waters further, that scenario then slams up against the song's inherent central theme of promoting female independence (presumably from any pesky controlling males) in an emotionless, capitalist society consumerist role call of pride - "The shoes on my feet, I've bought it. The clothes I'm wearing, I've bought it. The rock I'm rocking 'Cause I depend on me. If I wanted the watch you're wearing, I'll buy it. The house I live in, I've bought it. The car I'm driving, I've bought it, I depend on me". But just who are these independent women? Destiny's Child? Charlie's Angels? Or Cameron Diaz et al?

If it's either of the latter two, then this gets a shoulder shrugging 'so what?' from me. Because who cares? But if its the former, then hearing Beyonce and co bragging about chattels bought from the proceeds of soundtracking film versions of ropy seventies television serials doesn't warm my cockles either. Better by far I think to take it on an Aretha level and regard it as an aspiration to feminine independence as a whole. That would work. But then expressing independence as being purely financial and in the context of promoting a megabucks Hollywood film that sells itself to a broadly male audience on the basis of the sexuality of its leads is.....what exactly? And I have to confess, I don't know. Franklin wanted something that money can't buy, I get that, but try as I might I can't penetrate the diamond hard surface that the above analysis puts between me and the song and all I hear in 'Independent Women Part One' is a soulless, drum tight song of shiny slickness that offers no point of entry to allow any appreciation other than what's there on that shiny slick surface. Which, given the rotten, throwaway film behind it, is quite apt I guess.

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