“Mr. know it all/Well ya think you know it all/But ya don't know a thing at all.”
So go the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson’s recent Top 20 hit, “Mr. Know It All,” the lead single from her fifth studio album, “Stronger,” which dropped on Oct. 21. Another song on the album, “Einstein,” has a chorus that goes “I may not be Einstein/But I know dumb plus dumb equals you.”
Depending on your point of view — and perhaps your gender — these songs are either female empowerment anthems or male-bashing songs. Whatever the case, this mini-genre has become fashionable among female artists, with songs like Pink’s “U and Ur Hand,” Orianthi’s “According to You” and Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” all becoming big hits in the past few years. Vibe Magazine’s female arm, Vibe Vixen, even put together a list of “The 45 Greatest Male-Bashing Anthems” — and that list didn’t even include any country songs (like Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”).
Although these types of songs had precursors, like Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” their widespread popularity today can be traced back to the riot grrrl feminist punk movement of the early 1990s, said Marisa Meltzer, author of the book “Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music.”
“There were a lot of things happening culturally and politically then that bubbled over into music,” said Meltzer. “What we started to see was underground music slowly becoming more and more part of the mainstream and mainstream music aping underground music. So suddenly angry women were kind of fashionable, and what happens with fashionable music is we tend to see many generations of it.”
Meltzer said it was Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album “Jagged Little Pill,” with its aggressive, in-your-face lyrics, that opened the door for female artists and fans to “get the message that it’s OK to be angry, that there are people who feel like them.”
Songs like “Mr. Know It All” are also a way for female artists to attract more listeners, said Leah Greenblatt, senior editor at Entertainment Weekly.
“(Artists) want to reach the widest audience possible and that means reaching girls who are happy, girls who are lonely, and girls who are angry about a bad breakup,” Greenblatt said. “These kinds of songs lend themselves to being really powerful.”
Why are there so few hit “angry guy” songs directed at women? Meltzer said that’s the way the pop cycle has turned lately.
“Men seem to be doing well with party music and love songs now,” Meltzer said. “It seems to be women who are channeling the broad spectrum of emotions.”
But according to Glenn Sacks, a men’s issues expert, the lyrics of songs by Clarkson and others are indicative of anti-male stereotypes found today in sitcoms, movies, and commercials, where men are seen as inept and foolish.
“I think it speaks to something larger in the culture,” Sacks said. “Where the man’s always wrong the woman’s behavior is never examined. I always found ‘Womanizer’ to be ironic because Britney had been married and divorced multiple times and is nobody to be pointing fingers about womanizing or being promiscuous or whatever.”