Equal parts Eve Ensler and Maria Bartiromo, today's pop's feminists demand empowerment, the right to belittle the boys, and -- most important -- a Mutual Fund of One's Own. This "give-me" feminism is everywhere on radio and MTV, from the women-on-top come-ons of the new "Lady Marmalade" to the icy proclamations of fiscal independence on Jennifer Lopez's "Love Don't Cost a Thing."
The opening shot was fired by Destiny's Child, whose hit "Bills, Bills, Bills" asked bluntly, "Can you pay my bills?" whittling TLC's money-love anthem "No Scrubs" down to a more cynical core. On its latest album, Survivor (Columbia), Destiny's Child has jettisoned its mostly male producer-collaborators -- apparently less a play for creative independence than for the lucrative songwriting credits. Unfortunately, the album suffers for it: All fifteen tracks are one-dimensional disses and dismissals of scantily clad women, vengeful boyfriends, and the group's assorted doubters. The sonic adventurousness of the act's second album -- the hyperactive bounce of "Jumpin, Jumpin," the lush orchestrations of "Say My Name" -- are gone, too, save for a remix of "Independent Women" that marries creeping funk to fun-house effects. In the end, Survivor is like a scolding finger-wag that never stops.
Janet Jackson is decidedly a do-me feminist, but she's every bit as monochromatic as her money-mad peers on All for You (Virgin). Like her awkward lyrical ventures into S&M and bisexuality on The Velvet Rope, songs like "Love Scene (Ooh Baby)" and "When We Oooo" aim for hot-and-heaviness but have the chilliness of her brother's famous televised kiss with Lisa Marie Presley. Like most producer-driven albums, All for You unintentionally becomes a résumé-builder for one of the men behind (not the woman in front of) the boards, this time producer Rockwilder, who adds stunning drum breaks, house beats, and tabla playing to "Come On Get Up." And since Jackson is at her best riding great samples from the disco era ("All for You"), it's his sensibility -- Talvin Singh and Afrika Bambaataa meet "Body & Soul" on a hot Sunday afternoon -- that really feels liberating.