The Rhetoric of Work in Songs by Female Artists

I’m sure this list could be much longer, but I’ve stumbled upon a couple other music videos that use the idea of “working” in similar ways to Britney Spears new song “Work B**ch”, and I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

The first I stumbled upon is “Work” by Ciara (featuring Missy Elliot) (2009). On a first listen, I didn’t feel like the lyrics were that different in spirit from “Work B**ch”, but I feel like the video is doing something different. I feel like the setting of a construction site is more playing with, rather than simply using, the idea of “work” used in a sexual sense, including sexualized costumes that play on male work clothes. I’m not entirely sure that it’s empowering or that far off of what Spears is doing, and it’s obviously meant to be a club dance song. But I kind of feel like Ciara has a bit more control over how her sexuality is being used; I’m not sure if the control is actually there, or if it’s the presence of Missy Elliott, or if she’s just a more confident artist than Britney Spears.

One reviewer called Ciara’s song a “sequel of sorts” to Missy Elliott’s “Work It” (2002), and I think that bringing this song into the mix changes the game.

I don’t feel either Spears or Ciara has half the confidence and control that Missy Elliott does as an artist. This song is highly sexual, but she is in control the entire time. There’s not need for her to dress herself as a sex object, because she’s singing/rapping about her own sexual experiences. You might even say that she turns the table on men and objectifies them. I feel her use of “work” in this song is very intentional and, dare I say, she’s reclaiming the term and claiming her own power as a woman and as a sexual being.

Someone could make the argument that these songs are in different genres (Ciara R&B, Missy Elliott R&B/Hip-Hop, Britney Spears Pop), but I think we need to acknowledge that pop, dance-pop, and club music are heavily influenced by R&B and hip-hop. In fact, R&B and hip-hop often ARE club music, and so Ciara’s song might be played on the same dance floor as Britney Spears’.

Bonus video:

While this song doesn’t use “work”, the video for “Work B**ch” has been compared to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)”. This is another video that’s very interesting to compare to Spears’ video. While it takes place in the desert and Beyonce and her back-up dancers dress in typically sexy outfits, she maintains a power and control throughout the video that Spears doesn’t. The lyrics and the set-up of the entire video also work to empower the women in the video and provide a commentary on the “battle of the sexes.”



2 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of Work in Songs by Female Artists

  1. I love the Beyonce video, Run the World. She’s so cool. There’s a lot of controversy that comes with women’s music videos.I liked your input and comparisons. Missy Elliot does a good job at keeping herself in control.

  2. Yes. When it comes to the music videos not only is it about costumes, but also the message. I mean in Spears’ and maybe even a bit in Ciara’s not only were the costumes provacative, but the message was about how in order to “work/work it” a woman must work to be appealing to males. In the both the Missy Elliot and Beyonce video, though both contained sexual elements; Elliots’ lyrics and Beyonce’s costumes, both women clearly were demonstrating that their sexuality was their own; they possessed it, and weren’t catering to the desires of men. And I think that is what makes the difference in those videos.

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