This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Yes, I do realise that I’m running very behind schedule. Here’s the latest one:
While researching Black Magic by Little Mix, I found a review of it written by Marcus Floyd which said that “it’s fun and catchy, and there’s no need to over analyse it.” No need to over analyse it, Marcus? That sounds like a challenge. WHO WANTS TO OVER ANALYSE SOMETHING?!
Fairy tales are largely a method of societal control which sell certain sets of morals and assumptions through the form of narrative. Hansel and Gretel tells people not to be greedy, not to enter strangers’ houses and to be suspicious of things which seem too good to be true. Mythologies and religions work the same way: what is the point of religious stories if not to back-up their ideologies through examples of people who benefited from them/suffered for not following them?
Of course, horror stories fit well into this type of storytelling. These stories are focussed largely on defining what you shouldn’t do rather than what you should; the easiest way to make someone not do something being to link that thing to something horrible and nasty. Don’t masturbate or you’ll go blind; don’t step on a crack else you’ll break your mother’s back; etc (apparently at one point, someone really hated crazy paving).
This is why a society’s monsters have a tendency to be metaphors for whatever that society is scared of at the time. With their sudden changes, increase of hair and periodic mood swings, werewolves are common metaphors for the onset of puberty (hence films like Teen Wolf and their use in series in Twilight, etc); killer artificial intelligences are metaphors for the diminishing importance of humanity in increasingly technological worlds; Dracula is a foreigner who can’t be trusted and is coming to ruin everything for everyone.
So what do witches represent that society is so scared off? Witches have existed for centuries; our fear of them must be pretty deep rooted. What are they? Well; they’re women. In particular, they’re ugly and/or old women. The horror, the horror.
Witches are women with the power to control and sabotage the lives of men, their mystical properties giving them the ability to dominate men and their very existences. The magic of witches is thus metaphorical for their attractive feminity which is seen as inherently deceptive and dangerous to men. This is why witches also have a tendency to disguise themselves as beautiful young women when in reality they’re old and warty: because women might look sweet and innocent but in reality they’re dangerous, hideous things who need control.
The dominant message of stories featuring witches is that women are creatures who try to control men and deserve punishment for doing so. Which, of course, makes Little Mix’s Black Magic into a feminist reclamation of that archetype.
Black Magic is about women who are going to use their “magic” and “potions” (metaphors for their sexuality and femininity) to seduce objects of their affection and make them fall in love with them. They are literally stating an open intent to do everything that men are scared women will do.
The image of the man-eating powerful woman has actually become a common topic used in many pop songs. Taylor Swift’s Blank Space is perhaps the most obvious example, though the themes can also be seen in such songs at Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, among many others. There are certain problems with most of these songs though (at least from a feminist point of view) in that these songs represent the controlling women as dangerous psychopaths: Katy Perry is a defiled woman on the warpath in Dark Horse while the entire point of Blank Space is that it’s central character is an unrepentant psychopath. Even when they’re the main characters, women who use their feminine charms to overpower men are still portrayed as dangerous, nasty and inherently wrong people. Women are still shown that they shouldn’t be too dominant and powerful when it comes to their personal relationships with the men in their lives, else they become people who are truly unlikable.
This portrayal isn’t to be found in Black Magic though. It’s not an angry song featuring damaged or dangerous characters; it’s a harmless pop song about some happy looking women who are going to go out, dance around and seduce some guys because they’re sexy. You’ll recognise this as the female variation of all the club songs concerning men who are going to go out, dance around and seduce women because they’re sexy. The message is clear: if men can get away with saying and doing these types of things without being shamed for it, then so can women. The witch archetype has been taken, cleared of it’s negative connotations and repurposed to allow women to voice the same opinions and feelings that men can voice.
Oddly enough, this means magick alchemy* has occurred. An alchemical magick trick works by taking a symbol which has meaning in society and then changing that meaning, working via the belief that if you change the symbol, you thus change the society (So above, as below; etc). Think voodoo: by manipulating a small figure of someone, you thus manipulate the actual person.
This song thus takes the symbol of the witch and changes it with an open societal intent. As such, Little Mix’s Black Magic counts an actual magick spell. Black Magic is a pop song written in the Alistair Crowley mode.
Do I like Black Magic then? Well, I like what it represents. Do I like listening to it? Depends. This song works best in smaller quantities: it’s ballsy, larger-than-life attitude can grate if you’re forced to hear it too many times a day while listening to the radio. I think it counts as a good song though, and it’s exactly the type of song which we need more of in this society. It’s magic; you’ll like it, though not a lot.
And “no need to over-analyse it”. Pah!
* Alistair Crowley, practicing magician, invented the term “magick” to differeniate between parlor tricks (“magic”) and actual magic (“magick”), hence that random K which appears a lot in this paragraph.