Three Tracks For A Trope Part 1: Strong Female Lead
You ever read a book, watch a movie, listen to the song, with a female lead? Do you ever hear the phrase “strong female lead?”
If you said yes to one or both of these questions, congratulations! You now are familiar with what is, in the literary world, referred to as a ‘character trope.’ But wait, you ask, what’s a character trope? Well, I’m glad you asked! *Ahem* A character trope is an element of a story that defines a character’s core identity traits. Also known as a cliché, though cliché is used as a broader term to indicate an aspect of-
But I digress.
Why do tropes exist? Well, for the same reason we keep anything around- because we like it. Yes, it could be argued that certain tropes, like the Hot Male Alpha, exist because they’re integrated into our society’s expectations of a “good piece of art.” But that’s a different monster to tackle, one I’d rather not spend one hundred words on. What I would like to spend one hundred (or more) words on is an endeavor to juxtapose music and tropes in order to create a list that highlights three musical tunes you’ll find creatively unique and delightful.
In other words, I’m creating a series of three song playlists based upon the concept of character tropes. For my first installment, I am doing the Strong Female Lead. What is the Strong Female Lead? Well, the Strong Female Lead is a fierce, independent thinking woman who stands up for what they believes in despite people (especially men) telling them to shut up, sit down, and to go make sandwiches. Example of this particular trope in popular culture? How about Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman or Sarah J. Maas’ Celaena Sardothien. Really, the list is endless. But as you’re probably losing interest in reading this long introduction, I’ll save you that ramble. Let’s get to the songs!
1) Nightmare, Halsey (2019)
The moment the concept of this post fell swiftly into my mind, I knew instantly I had to include this song, and I had to mention it first. Nightmare is a powerhouse ballad whose single art could sit right next to the definition of empowerment, and no one would bat an eye. In an interview with Billboard, the Jersey-born singer talks about the inspiration for the single, which wasn’t included on her third album Manic, saying, “[…] I’d rather be a nightmare than a bunch of jerks get away with forcing me into some kind of complacency, or some kind of convenience or positivity because they want to see it.”
The best lyrics come in two places: the pre-chorus and verse 2. In the pre-chorus, Halsey proclaims, “I got no one to smile for, I waited a while for/A moment to say, I don’t owe you a goddamn thing.” In verse 2, this particular lyric resonates with a lot of women who feel their rights are under threat. And what happens when someone feels they’re under threat? Action happens. To quote Halsey: “I’ve been polite, but won’t be caught dead/Lettin’ a man tell me what I should do with my bed.”
If this song doesn’t scream, “Strong! Female! Lead!” I truly don’t know what does.
2) Is She With You?, Hans Zimmerman (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Official Soundtrack, 2016)
This song has no lyrics whatsoever. None. Not a single syllable. But I knew I needed to include it. And if this song and Nightmare had to be on this list, well, that makes writing this particular post pretty darn easy. Two out of three songs are already done!
Why did I feel the need to pick this random score from a movie that didn’t perform particularly well? Let me explain:
In reinventing Wonder Woman’s theme song to fit a new, darker DC Extended Universe, Hans Zimmerman- the composer (along with Junkie XL) of the soundtracks to many superhero movies- wanted Wonder Woman’s theme to be more feminine. This was to contrast with the masculine, manliness festival of previous scores for the superhero genre. And what he, Junkie XL, and Tina Guo created is an absolute monster of a hit that I could spend a thousand words talking about. But I won’t because I’m not an expert on music. Nor am I an expert on how certain melodies can affect emotions. Instead, I recommend watching this video on YouTube, which does a fantastic job of explaining why Wonder Woman’s theme song, first appearing in Batman v Superman, then later in her self-titled standalone film, is just so powerful. I’m just going to say that it makes me want to beat up a bad guy while wearing heels and move on to the last song on this three-track playlist.
3) Fight Song, Rachel Platten (Wildfire, 2016)
Fight Song isn’t about empowering the female population in general. It’s a song about empowering everyone. But I included it on this list because society likes to tell women to shut up and sit down. From telling you to do the exact opposite of that to saying it’s time to be strong, this song was made to be on this playlist. With lyrics like “And all those things I didn’t say/Wrecking balls inside my brain/I will scream them loud tonight,” this song has reminded me many of times of a staple of the Strong Female Lead: when said lead is told to back off, to stay quiet and she does the exact opposite of that. This song reminds me so much of characters like Supergirl or Wonder Woman that when I listen to it, all I picture is a heroine in a cape proudly proclaiming that victory will be hers.
Of course, many of these songs do that. And many, many more. In doing these lists, I wanted to highlight three songs because 1) I wanted to be able to say more about each track, and 2) I didn’t want these lists to end up being super long. And so I leave it to you, the reader, to further expand this. What songs do you think could be used in an “extended playlist” for the particular trope I have chosen this time?