Get over yourself/Know why?/’Cause without you, see, I do anything I like,” harmonize the next-big-honeys of Eden’s Crush on their first single, ”Get Over Yourself.” This prefab blowoff of an unworthy guy is loaded with irony. It was produced by a man; two of the three songwriters are men; and the creators of Popstars, the reality TV series that spawned the group by way of a talent search, are very much of the male persuasion.
Comical contradictions aside, ”Get Over Yourself” is very much of its time, and not merely in the way its bumpy-flow production and singing mimic the oeuvre of R&B hitmaker Rodney Jerkins. These days, the Top 40 is all about girls on top. TLC signaled the trend with ”No Scrubs,” and in the two years since that song became omnipresent, we’ve witnessed a sea change in the traditional male-female roles in pop. It’s not about the benjamins; it’s about kicking Benjamin’s ass.
”Get Over Yourself,” an instant hit undoubtedly fueled by its use as the Popstars theme song, sends a very different message from that of girl groups past, from the Shirelles to Wilson Phillips. It’s still their party, but this time, the boys will cry if they want to. Destiny’s Child’s declamatory ”Survivor” also throws this attitude in our faces: ”Thought I’d be stressed without you, but I’m chillin’,” sing Beyonce Knowles and her posse to beats, strings, and musical textures that are as clenched as the trio’s vocals. Recent hits like Dream’s ”He Loves U Not” and Jennifer Lopez’s ”Love Don’t Cost a Thing” also work overtime in the I-will-survive department, perhaps to compensate for lapses in grammar, spelling, and originality. The pervasiveness of this stance probably explains why the sweet-nothing lyrics of Janet Jackson’s ”All for You” and the Corrs’ ”Breathless” sound so outmoded: Who feels that way anymore?
The best of the current bunch is Sunshine Anderson’s rising single ”Heard It All Before.” Despite her cheery first name, Macy Gray’s protegee spends nearly five entire minutes berating a cheating heart: ”Your life ain’t workin’ now/Look who’s hurtin’ now/I had to shut you down.” By the end, you feel so bad for the loser that you want to help him pack his duffel bag. Heard a cappella, these lyrics would be hard to endure. But with its old-school organ and wah-wah guitar and its hard-clomping chorus, ”Heard It All Before” is all the current retro-soul tries to be — its grooves are both smooth and forceful.
By comparison, the men keeping company with these avenging angels sound as if they had their macho streak surgically removed. For what seemed an eternity last year, we were subjected to Creed’s Scott Stapp bleating on about his kid in ”With Arms Wide Open.” This year, we’ve been pounded over the head with Shaggy’s ”Angel,” the latest remake of Merrillee Rush’s ’60s hit ”Angel of the Morning.” It’s the first version by a man, and his sweet-voiced singer, Rayvon, turns the chorus’ lyrics into a tribute to his lady friend. Shaggy’s dancehall rap on the song is also about how wonderful she is.
Similar sentiments pervade Lifehouse’s simpy power-grunge hit “Hanging by a Moment” (“I’m standing here until you make me move”) and Matchbox Twenty’s “If You’re Gone” (“There’s a little bit of something ‘me’ in everything in you”). Crazy Town may be buff rock-rappers, but they bow before the female altar on the irresistible “Butterfly,” one of last winter’s radio highlights. Listen closely and you’ll hear lines like “I don’t deserve you unless it’s some kind of hidden message/To show me life is precious.” Even Kid Rock’s DJ, Uncle Kracker, eschews his boss’ happiness-is-a-warm-hooker image for friendly comfort on his cuddly “Follow Me,” a belated hit from last year’s Double Wide album.
Of course, we’ve witnessed this Mr. Softee movement before. The rise of new-wave metal in the early ’80s eventually led to the advent of the power ballad, in which mullet-heads strained to show us their hypersensitive sides. So, in light of the aggressive rap-metal of the last few years, the return of the empathetic male was inevitable. (The first sign, the anti-“No Scrubs,” was Lonestar’s 1999 “Amazed,” which was nothing if not an updated power ballad.) But the overcompensation is fascinating, as if the current crop were also grappling with what it means to be a man in society. We won’t know whether this overall trend is here to stay until the majority of pop’s women start mouthing their own words. In the meantime, they’re grinding humbled male crooners into the ground with singles as pointed as stilettos.