Too Beautiful

Hip hop has a long tradition of response tracks, particularly when it comes to the battle of the sexes. Roxanne Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge,” a hip hop classic in anyone’s canon, is perhaps the most notable (her record having easily outlasted UTFO’s original “Roxanne, Roxanne,” remembered only because of Shante’s response). More recent examples include La Chat’s “Slob on My Cat” (a response to Three-6-Mafia’s “Slob on My Knob”), Sporty Thieves’ “No Pigeons” (a rejoinder to TLC’s “No Scrubs), and Frankee’s “Fuck You Right Back” (a song that not only responds to Eamon’s “Fuck You,” but was completely orchestrated by him).

The latest in this long, if not always excellent, legacy is JoJo’s version of Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls,” the reggae-R&B mashup slathered in tasty autotune that’s vying with Rihanna’s “Umbrella” for pop single of the year (for the score-keeping types, “Umbrella” wins). Kingston’s version, with its intertwined heartbreak and yearning, perfectly encapsulates teenage romantic tribulations and confusions, and even throws out the possibility of suicide in a lyrical choice of questionable taste. JoJo, groomed for teen pop stardom from an early age (her first hit single, the sub-Kelly-Clarkson “Get Out,” came out when she was 13) changes almost nothing from the original but the perspective. Instead of a crushed teen paramour, JoJo adopts a tone of insouciant triumph, rubbing salt in the wounds of poor Sean as she boasts of dating other guys behind his back. JoJo’s lyrics barely differ from the original, and rather than challenge the self-pitying Kingston (as is typically par for the course in response records), merely justify all of his fears and insecurities. If, as Tricia Rose argued, female responses were too circumscribed within the male-controlled discourse of sexuality to completely break away from male prerogatives, JoJo’s record is the culmination of this trend, a response that does nothing but amplify the original, where women have power inasmuch as they can woo and deceive men. An Average White Girl (AWG) tarted up in the Disney-Channel-cum-Spice-Channel style so common in American culture, JoJo represents nothing less than the promise of so-called third-wave feminism, where every girl can be as horrible a person as her hair and makeup allows her to get away with, and liberation comes packaged with excessive attention to sex and romance.

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