It sucks to be the good girl: Songs from Taylor Swift, Drake, One Direction and more

The “good girl” is a construct. There is no such thing as a good girl. If you've ever talked to a human female person-thing, you may take notice: none are binary animals, either good or bad. Girls are every shade, and to continue sorting women as “good” or “bad” is reductive to her experience and being.  

That hasn't kept the good girl from being defined, reconfigured and held as a nurtured stereotype in our most popular media, frequently in pop music. In folk, blues, jazz, country, dance, rock, ballads and hip-hop, the good girl is rarely explored for her multitudes, but instead for her definitive (and sometimes contradictory) two-dimensional attributes, most commonly associated to her sexuality and her relationship to male or paternal authority (Daddy, Santa, God, etc).

This continues to this day, even recently on Taylor Swift's new album 1989. Drake, One Direction, Beyonce, Kanye West, Carrie Underwood, Madonna, 5 Seconds of Summer have built new songs just in the last five years lamenting/blaming/extolling/pursuing/playing the part of the “good girl.”

And what you can still conclude? For the most part, it sucks to be the good girl. It's a losing fight to be the good girl.

Tammy Wynette's good girl doesn't make her man happy, so she threatens to “go bad” to fit his desires: the good girl alters her very being to appease her man. Meanwhile, Kitty Wells' “It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” places the blame of corrupted good girls on unfaithful husbands: “Too many times married men think they're still single / That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.” (“If too many women 'go wild,' it could be a sign that society as a whole has come unmoored,” wrote Ann Powers on the topic last year.)

Good girls are associative with reward, even monetary, tarnishing “pure” motive. In Fleetwood Mac's “Talk With You,” his girl will get her money if she does what she's told. Hank Cochrane's “Sally Was A Good Old Girl” (covered by Waylon Jennings here) was “always willing and she did her best to please” when she was young, sold neckties (heh) to make a living (“up and down the street”) and then married a millionaire.” In “Underneath Your Clothes,” Shakira wants fulfillment of “all the things I deserve / For being such a good girl.”

Good girls are infantilized, naive or even enslaved to men. Some choice cuts from the glam-rock and hair-metal eras: Kiss' “Good Girl Gone Bad” has “a ace of a woman, hands of a child”; the Scorpions' “Kicks After Six” says “She's a slave to the suit and tie… She wants to be free” to “spread her wings” (wings, sure, right); Motley Crue call her jailbait, “A preacher's daughter with a devil tattoo… an underage angel with a dented halo… Headin' to the city with her starry-eyed dreams.”

Good girls are holy material, or best when tamed: Tom Petty concludes that a good girl loves her mama, horses, Jesus, America, Elvis and her boyfriend, too. Good girls go to heaven  (according to Meatloaf… or Mae West… or Brooks & Dunn). Getting married made the “Queen of the Highway” a good girl, says the Doors.

Aw, too bad good girls like to sin, says blink-182 (“Snake Charmer”), and if you want to be good, you'll need a bad boy (Backstreet Boys).

So what you're saying is a “good girl” has to fit a mold, or she's a bad girl; and that mold is ill-defined, oppressive and makes her an object.

The Go-Go's realized that. And bless Jane Wiedlin, who wrote 1994's “Good Girl,” a cynic's reaction to her Catholic upbringing of constantly trying to gain approval, and wanting to “get over it.” “Good girl!” is something you should say to a dog, not to a person. “…No offense to dogs intended,” she wrote.

In “Dicknail,” Courtney Love in Hole recounted a “good girl's” sexual assault using well-worn  tropes in her narration, pleading that in her role-play “I did what you want,” as Daddy/Santa Claus dismiss her: “She was asking for it.” (That's why lines like the one in “Blurred Lines” — “I know you want it” — cause such a stir).

Morcheeba's “Good Girl Down” is an undefeatable, heroic good girl, painted as a woman who others are constantly trying to trip or kill. Jadakiss painted a much more flattering and complete picture of a good girl in his song, ironically titled “Nasty Girl” — despite making diametric “sides” of his girl versus chickenheads (aka hoodrats, aka bad girls).

Below, I break down and analyze the lyrics of some of the most recent songs about “good girls”: on what a good girl is, what she isn't, and why you should just forget about good girls, girl.