in her words: For the Women of Pop Music, Cash Is Queen

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“I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.”
— Ariana Grande


Bills flying. Backsides shaking. Drinks flowing. And hardly a man in sight.

For as long as there have been music videos, there have been male artists flaunting their riches with zero subtlety and surrounding themselves with gyrating, nearly naked women.

But in the past few weeks, two of the world’s most powerful pop stars — women — have reimagined the played-out concept by keeping the outrageous displays of wealth and women’s bodies, but cutting men out of the picture, literally.

Ariana Grande and Cardi B, who are up for a collective seven Grammys on Sunday night, recently released videos just weeks apart, in which they expertly extracted the testosterone — in front of and behind the camera. (Both videos were directed by women.)

And while both stars are coming off high-profile breakups, neither song is a lament of lost love, or anything close to it. In fact, the lyrics barely mention men at all.

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“Young women right now have a kind of outlaw energy in our public sphere,” Ann Powers, NPR Music’s critic, told me this week. “Economic independence is a central part of their sexiness, a central part of their glamour,” she said.

The video for “7 Rings,” by Grande, whose new album dropped today, is dedicated entirely to her staggering wealth, which she boasts about defiantly — lavishing herself and her band of tattooed, braid-whipping besties with drinks and diamonds.

“I don’t mean to brag, but I be like, ‘Put it in the bag,’” sings Grande, 25, about reaching a level of success that allows her to buy whatever she wants.

In “Money,” Cardi B presents a hyper-glam, gold-encrusted, nudity-packed celebration of cash and the women proudly in pursuit of it.

The video famously includes a scene where she is breast-feeding her baby, peppered amid images of women shooting money guns and dancing on poles while other women (and only women) shower them in bills.

“I don’t really need the D, I need the money,” Cardi B, 26, raps.

The messages Grande and Cardi B are sending — these recent music videos have about 140 million and 45 million views on YouTube — may feel new and particularly relevant in this era, but music has a storied history of female artists flexing their independence and money, Powers said.

In the 1920s, the blues artists Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey sang about having money of their own and being supported by other women. (Rainey’s nickname was “the gold-neck woman” because she piled on gold jewelry.) Then there were Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Annie Lennox and Madonna, among others, who have been forces of women’s empowerment in pop music.

More recently, we have Beyoncé and Rihanna leading the feminist charge in pop by celebrating other women and being unapologetic about their success and their sexuality.

Despite all that, the music business remains male-dominated, Powers said. But these women — and more of them — are increasingly saying, “‘O.K., we’re going to do it for ourselves.’”

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Our gender editor, Jessica Bennett, writes:

“Long before the age of Twitter, ‘Letters to the Editor’ sections of newspapers were how citizens engaged in public discourse. And yet those letters — like their more modern counterpart, the comments sections — remain predominantly written by men. (By our rough estimate, women account for about a quarter of New York Times letters submissions — although they do tend to write in greater numbers about issues like education, health, gender and children.)

Earlier this month, The Times said it would strive for parity in its Letters section. And we need your help to make it happen.

Got anything you’d like to tell us, or women you think would make great letter writers?

See our guidelines for submission at the link in bio. We hope to hear from you soon!

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Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.

Surfers, including Bianca Valenti and Paige Alms, at Maverick’s.CreditDina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times
  • “She subscribed to every surf magazine but found them boring because they featured action shots of only boys and men.” The fight for gender equality in one of the most dangerous sports on earth. [Read the story]

  • “When a sister becomes pregnant, the priest insists that she have an abortion.” The sexual abuse of nuns by Catholic priests and bishops has for years been overshadowed by other scandals. [Read the story]

  • “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up.” The White House is to unveil a global women’s empowerment initiative, led by Ivanka Trump. [Read the story]

  • “He was looking for how to be, in kind of a pure way.” Years before weighing a 2020 presidential run, Beto O’Rourke faced a quarter-life reckoning as a punk rocker (and live-in nanny) in New York City. [Read the story]

  • “Our stereotype about women who are giving care and friendliness in a gentle, intimate way is linked with our image of women being sexual.” A.S.M.R. videos give people the tingles (no, not that way). [Read the story]

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Once upon a time, Beyoncé didn’t rule the music world — or at least The Times didn’t think that she did, or that she would.

In this 2003 article, the music critic Kelefa Sanneh reviewed Beyoncé’s debut solo album, “Dangerously in Love” and Ashanti’s “Chapter II,” which were released a week apart.

About Beyoncé, he wrote: “Maybe this album is merely a misstep, and maybe Beyoncé has yet to record the brilliant solo album that people expected. Or maybe it’s proof that she isn’t quite as versatile as she seemed.”

“Dangerously in Love” went on to become a multiplatinum album, selling over 15 million copies worldwide.

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