Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Selena Gomez & The Scene – Who Says

It gets better. Unless you’re Selena Gomez, in which case it’s ALREADY PERFECT.


Katherine St Asaph: If asked “who says you’re not pretty,” most kids who’ve actually been bullied would rattle off an explicit list of at least a handful and an implicit list that contains everyone; meanwhile, the reverse list would contain “Um, my mom? But she has to think so….” There’s a bigger problem, though. This is sung by Selena Gomez, who happens to be ostensibly popular and really pretty herself, enough to be dating Justin fucking Bieber (laugh all you want, this matters to people.) So while you don’t get the sense that Selena’s laughing at your loserhood post-song like Katy Perry, you do get the sense that she’s awfully blithe–especially on that na-na-na-na-I’m-so-beautiful-me pre-chorus, the “Pretty Girl Rock” that tweens didn’t need.

Jonathan Bradley: It’s a shame pop music is stuck on the It Gets Better microgenre, because Gomez’s circa-2011 Hilary Duff fizz would be quite suited to songs about So Yesterday ephemera. “Who Says” is brisk enough for the self-esteem fest not to weigh down proceedings too much and it skips along with girlish charm enough to make its singer’s thin trill of a voice endearing — even when she hits a particularly wheedling note on “Who says you’re not pretty?” Buoyed by mock-serious, stiff-limbed string stings and a jangling guitar line, it’s a sweet, albeit slight, diversion.

Zach Lyon: If we’re going to call this an It Gets Better song — and it was released in 2011, so that makes it one — it’s certainly one of the better ones. Or at least one of the more endearing ones. I don’t want to think too hard about it; I simply take great comfort in the genuine “Who said that? I’LL KILL THEM” subtext that I might be making up.

Michaela Drapes: I’m afraid I’m one of those people who’s a sucker for the current vogue for inspirational pop songs. I’m also terribly charmed by Gomez’ ability to really sell this song, all wrapped up in bubbly cliches, especially when the lyrics don’t entirely make sense in a few places. But, whatever, it’s the thought that counts, right? (I’m even more fond of the Spanish-language version of this one, btw.)

Isabel Cole: I have listened, many times, to “Firework” — also known as “a Katy Perry song,” also known as “not a very good song” — such is my weakness for inspirational songs about how great you are just as your special snowflake self. Lucky for me I feel so much better about liking this one! The warm, cheerful production is intricate enough to stay away from schmaltz territory (my first reaction was “awwww yeah, cellos“), and Selena bounces through it with utmost sweetness tempered by a delicacy that saves her voice from Carlton/Branch territory. She’s so sunny in her earnest pleas for self-acceptance that it took me a few listens to pick up on the unusual dynamic: anyone can reassure someone down on themselves, but it takes a not inconsiderable generosity of spirit to comfort someone harshing on you. Add some na-na-nas and I am more than sold.

Jer Fairall: Pop has now officially overcompensated for the apparent dearth of self-esteem among today’s young people, but Gomez is a blank enough canvas that this kind of message song can be projected onto her without the kind of baggage that makes Katy Perry and Ke$ha’s attempts at the same sound so fatuous. The real story here, though, is in just how much this song manages to get right in the mechanics of its construction, never mind the triteness of the words: the bright little acoustic refrain, the warm drum machine thump, the cheery “na na na na” hook. By the time she gets to the semi-raps “who says you’re not presedential,” I’m smiling too broadly to remember what I was carping about.

Michelle Myers: The key to enjoying this song is pretending Selena is singing it as a pep talk to Bieber. Who says you’re not presidential, Biebs? Who says?!

Edward Okulicz: The sentiments are fluffy but blissfully, so is the tune, so light and summery and addictive, and Selena swoons at every glorious hook as she lines them up across a killer chorus without even betraying the idea that maybe not everyone is as pretty as she. Which puts her light years ahead of Pink, for starters. I thought I was allergic to this kind of song, turns out I was just waiting for it to be done right before letting the defences down. When she asks “Who says you’re not presidential?” to the listener in that perky honey-sweetened voice of hers, I’m thinking, creepily ironic theme song for Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign, anyone? Come on!

Sally O’Rourke: Just what every depressed teenage girl needs: reinforcement that self-worth equals being pretty.

18 Responses to “Selena Gomez & The Scene – Who Says”

  1. @Zach: ha, I also totally read it less “who could possibly say that??” (because katherine’s right on the answer to that question) and more “ummm who is spouting this nonsense because they have a date tonight WITH MY FISTS.” projection???

    @Michelle: cannot stop laughing, will forever picture all It Gets Better songs (is that what we are calling them now? Am i the only one who atill briefly flashes to xtina whenever another ome comes out?) aimed at the Bienz.

  2. Some things I left out of my blurb:

    1) I think we can all agree that Xtina did this first, and best, but the throbbing pathos of “Beautiful” is very, very 10 years ago (almost — next year!). Pre-It Gets Better, Pre-Glee, Pre-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, etc.

    2) Say whatever you will about how this is just reinforcing that girls need to be pretty (because I also think this is aimed at boys who want to be pretty, too) — it’s really important (yes, REALLY IMPORTANT) that this message is coming from a young Hispanic pop star in the mainstream. Believe me, it would’ve meant a lot to tweenage me to see someone who looked like me singing songs like this. Even now, it makes me kind of weepy. I didn’t just say that.

  3. Perhaps I was being a bit harsh, but at least “Beautiful” could be about feeling pretty on the inside. Plus, Selena Gomez calling herself “no beauty queen” would make Teenage Sally wonder how monstrous she must look in comparison. I appreciate if others can get something out of it, but for me, it’s the “self-empowerment song” that would make me feel worse for having heard it. (Also, it sounds like a lost single by Tashbed, my pop nemesis.)

  4. That said, Michelle has kind of won me over with her theory.

  5. Selena Gomez is secretly brilliant. “Love You Like a Love Song” is genius. (That’s the current single, of course. “Who Says” came out what, like three months ago? Good job staying topical!)

  6. “Love You Like a Love Song” really is great; I’m sure we’ll get around to blurbing it soon-ish. *ahem*

    And yes, I think Michelle is ultimately right. This one’s so for the Biebz.

  7. Yeah, I’m still with Sally. If it had been “why does it MATTER who says you’re not pretty,” that’d be something different. But “who says you’re not pretty?” on its own begs for a rejoinder, and the definition of bullying is providing people with rejoinders and making them stick. Plenty of people have told me I’m not pretty, and I wasn’t even bullied so much as just left alone.

    And sure, it’s nice to see someone who looks sorta like me (Middle Eastern heritage, not Hispanic, but still) be singing something like this, but Selena Gomez looks more like a celebrity than anything. She has stylists and Photoshop. She’s dating Justin Bieber. Of course she gets to sing about how pretty she is — it’s easy for her to say.

  8. Watching Gomez sing about not being pretty is a bit like those 30 Rock episodes where we’re meant to pretend Liz Lemon is ugly, but I don’t particularly mind. Responsible is a terribly dull thing for pop to be.

  9. I’m honestly not interested in getting into a conversation about applying the flag-waving of fourth wave internet feminism to pop songs by written and/or performed by a) women of color (see also: “Pretty Girl Rock”) or b) working class or poor women of any race. Then again (previews of coming attractions!) I guess that’s what we have to look forward to with the inevitable Kreayshawn discussion. Yay.

  10. That’s not what I meant at all, but OK.

  11. This is also why I’m bad at the internet. My reading comprehension sucks! I misunderstood; I’m tetchy today. Hell, I’m tetchy every day.

  12. @Katherine, I think you’re probably right and I (and Zach apparently) just automatically read it the way I would ask that question (why does it matter who said? So I know precisely which motherfuckers need cutting is why! Do you have addresses too?). I think for my personql enjoyment I am just going to pretend that is what it means because I like mine better.

  13. Yeah, I at least hear Selena as being primarily consoling if not righteous, in a big-sibling way. But yeah, the “beauty queen” line pisses me off a bit because it seems like a preemptive defense against the argument that someone as popular and pretty as her isn’t exactly relatable.

  14. Look, all I’m saying is Bieber seems really delicate and sensitive to me, and everyone is always ridiculing him and questioning his masculinity. That must be hard for a teenage boy to go through. Anyone who’s ever had to watch their boyfriend (or girlfriend, let’s be real this stuff goes both ways) feel worthless and depressed knows this routine. Who says your not pretty? It doesn’t matter because I think you are.

  15. Brb baking boyfriend a cake with George Washington’s face on it and the words YOU’LL ALWAYS WIN THE PRIMARY OF MY HEART written in red white n blue frosting.

  16. Also not terribly concerned about this reinforcing the notion that girls should be pretty, or being disingenuous because Gomez is pretty herself. The song establishes the difference between beautiful-according-to-a-standard-of-beauty and just plain beautiful right there in the beginning when Gomez sings “I’m no beauty queen / I’m just beautiful me,” and goes on to talk about other types of beauty: you’ve got every right to a beautiful life, where beautiful presumably means joyful and fulfilling, hurting is the price of beauty, where beauty presumably means being different and special, and at the end of the chorus she asks who says you’re not pretty and then asks who says you’re not beautiful, again indicating that they’re two different things — and that only the latter is big enough to encompass all the other stuff she talks about throughout the song.

    (And as others have mentioned, Gomez has as much right to sing “I’m no beauty queen” as anyone else: I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t picture a lanky, brunette, baby-faced and conservatively dressed half-Mexican teen when they picture a beauty queen.)

    Prettiness and beauty aren’t the only attributes the song wants you to know you have, either. Here’s a list of things besides “not pretty” that Selena Gomez would like to know who says you are: not perfect, not worth it, the only one that’s hurting, not star potential, not presidential, not movie star material, not able to pass the test, not able to be the best. Would it have been nice to hear Who says you’re not pretty? / Fuck ’em, you don’t have to be pretty!? Maybe. But isn’t it also nice to hear Who says you’re not pretty? / Fuck ’em, that’s just their standard of prettiness, and actually everyone is beautiful and awesome anyway! instead?

  17. Mmmmmm presidential cake

  18. I don’t like reposting stuff that was cut, because the editors generally have a good reason, but my blurb did go on to say Selena Gomez tried to balance out the pretty-pretty stuff with the presidential/etc lines, but it didn’t work. (And then the blurb went absolutely nowhere else, which is why that part got cut. [I’m guessing.])