Older Women’s Takedown of Young Stars Does Not Challenge Status Quo, Either

Grace Jones has a new memoir coming out. Given her sass, it’s name is appropriate: I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. It’s already getting a lot of attention, which is remarkable that Jones has been fairly absent from public view over the past two decades. My most recent memory is her role as Strangé in Boomerang.

The main reason for the attention is that Jones dishes out some critique for younger female artists, such as Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna. Of course, everyone’s only reporting the scintillating excerpts, most likely taken out of context, where she says that female stars noted for being countercultural trendsetters – including Madonna and Beyoncé – are actually playing to trends that she set long ago. Thus, they’re not being original at all. Nor are they challenging the status quo.

I think there is some truth in Jones’ statement. Being countercultural – at least in terms of clothing, hair, and rejection of respectability politics – has become the new fad, so it doesn’t take much courage to do it. And above all else, it sells. A lot. When Jones was doing it, she was actually risking commercial and financial success.Cover image Grace Jones' book, featuring a frontal upper-body photograph of the author wearing a black sleeveless top with a high collar while leaning against a stone wall. She is smiling, with gaze directed sideways.

But this idea that young female stars bring nothing new to the table and are simply mimicking older women is problematic. It is not a new argument. It has been replayed in so many contexts. Honestly, who cares whether Bey challenges the status quo? It’s not exactly what I’m listening for when I play “Drunk in Love” ad nauseum during my thirty minutes on the elliptical.

Folks are always fanning the flames of tension between older and younger generations of women who are in the same field. The older crowd looks at the younger and says, “We already did that! Admit that we’re your inspiration!” The younger crowd looks at the older and says, “We never even heard of you. We’re doing our own thing!” Neither one recognizes that the other is just caught in the throes of their own developmental crisis: younger folks trying to assert unique identities and older folks wanting to ensure they’re leaving a legacy. All of them – of us – failing to recognize that there is nothing new under the sun. The same creative spirit of the universe that touches Nicki touched Kim. And before them, it came through Grace, Eartha, Josephine, Bessie, and Moms. It touched legions of women before them. It will touch legions after them.

As far as I know, the universe has not decreed that only one woman can be special at a time. That seems to be what society would like us to believe, though. After all, it sells magazines, books, and concert tickets. It feeds the age-old stereotype of women as eager for attention and adoration, of women’s relationships as filled with envy. And it reinforces our beliefs that women – especially Black women – are incapable of creative expression without the assistance of others. Those stereotypes are the real status quo. And the generation wars between women don’t challenge that, either.

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