Stephanie Meyer and Soulja Boy
Stephenie Meyer is the author of the wildly successful Twilight series and Soulja Boy is the creator of the wildly successful "Soulja Boy" song, and you've no doubt seen or heard about these two pop culture phenomenons dozens of times. If you've somehow managed to avoid both of these things, I'm in love with you.
The Pointless, Biographical Similarities
Stephenie Meyer never even wanted to be a writer. She'd never written any stories or treatments or proposals, she was happy being a Mom, and just wrote the Twilight vampire novels for herself, with no intention of ever seeking out a publisher. Her experiment in self-amusement eventually reached a publisher, obviously, who offered her lots and lots of money to write more vampire novels. Soulja Boy, similarly released "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," a catchy(?) hip-hop(?) jam(?), independently on YouTube, without knowing whether or not it would actually do well. It did, and is currently at over one hundred million views, and Twilight has been on the New York Times Best Seller's list more times than I'm comfortable admitting.
Art is subjective, but Soulja Boy is not a very good rapper, and Stephenie Meyer is not a very good author. These two facts, taken alone, aren't that remarkable; there are tons of bad rappers and writers out there, and some of them are even successful, and that's just how life will go until someone figures out how to fix life. What's particularly striking here is that, when Soulja Boy reached a certain level of success, an actually talented rapper (Method Man), came out to ridicule Soulja, saying "I think he sucks, [and is] garbage." Coincidentally, when Meyer reached her level of success, an actually talented writer (Stephen King), came out to ridicule her, saying "Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a darn. She's not very good." Plenty of people are shitty at things, but these are two cases where the shittiness was so profound that established veterans needed to go on record and tell the world that an artist was terrible. Meyer and Boy's badness was actively offensive to other artists.
If this article wasn't already 3,500 words, I would absolutely use this detail for an entry on King/Method similarities.
Both artists represent the absolute worst extreme of their chosen field. They've created something that is successful for reasons that have nothing to do with art; Meyer has learned how to sell sex to teenagers in a way that is comfortable and not scary, and Soulja Boy has learned how to sell ringtones to white people. They're not advancing or challenging their respective genres, they're just cashing in insultingly transparent ways. And their peers hate them for it.
How about I let the writing speak for itself:
"Is 'Soulja Boy' the person, or a dance? Is it a move named after the artist, like 'Do the Bartman'? That would be stupid."
You rhyme "bitch ass" with "bitch ass?" I almost never say this, but Ice T was right -- you should eat a dick.
Well, I can't imagine I've transcribed these lyrics accurately, but I also can't imagine the real lyrics are any less idiotic.
What? A character's not allowed to just directly tell the audience 'THIS IS WHO I AM AS A CHARACTER,' right? That's against rules somewhere, right?
There's really just the one "black," there's no need to clarify, it adds absolutely nothing. What are you, some kind of terrible writer?
Oh, I see. Yes.
I don't like either of these artists. Was that clear?
Dorothy Parker and Lil' Kim
For the younger folks in the audience who only know Lil' Kim as a plastic surgery-ridden, lawsuit-wielding lunatic, I'd like to point out that, once upon a time, she was a very exciting rapper who used to regularly kick ass with Biggie, Pac and Diddy (though at the time I believe his rap name was "Guy Who Says 'Uhn' and 'Yeah' In the Background of Biggie's Songs"). For those same young folks who don't even know that Dorothy Parker existed, I'd like to point out that she totally did, and was awesome.
The Pointless Biographical Similarities
Now, I won't be sexist and announce that their similarities begin and end at the fact that they were both women. It's ignorant and reductive to claim that these two artists belong to the same class simply because they both have the same basic genital type, so I promise you that there are a bunch of similarities that are unrelated to gender. But, that said, Hey, they were both women! That's one pretty big similarity, right there.
Additionally, both women had strained relationships with their fathers (in a 1997 interview with Vibe magazine, Kim said "me and my father weren't really that close," and according to Wikipedia, Parker "detested her father"). This was tough, because both women were also raised almost exclusively by their fathers because, at age 9, Kim's parents separated and she was stuck with her Dad and Parker's stepmother died, in a weird coincidence, when Parker was nine. When they were both kicked out of their homes (after they'd both faced similarly unsuccessful stints in Catholic school), Parker turned to fiction and poetry, Kim turned to rap. When she got older, Parker was drawn to and struck up several very public relationships with prominent authors, including playwright Charles MacArthur. Her relationship with MacArthur resulted in a pregnancy, which she terminated (quipping, "how like me, putting all of my eggs into one bastard"). Similarly, Kim was drawn to the big names in the rap community, which was evident in her incredibly public affair with Biggie Smalls (and, in a completely tragic coincidence, her relationship also resulted in a pregnancy and eventual abortion, which she described in the song "Hold on").
You know how the majority of successful comedies over the last few years have been written by, written for, and starring men, until Bridesmaids came out and showed everyone that female-character-driven comedies can be just as successful and hilarious? Dorothy Parker did that first, and harder, and hotter. During a time when the literary landscape was dominated entirely by men, Dorothy Parker emerged out of nowhere with a sharp tongue and a foul mouth and screamed "Women are fucking funny and amazing and I'm going to fucking prove it." She became one of the most famous and influential poets and satirists in American literary history, which was amazing. To give you some context, this was the 1920s, when women were mostly quiet housewives; they weren't a huge part of the workforce, there was no "women's lib," or inspirational Rosie the Riveter posters --hell-- America, as a country, was just barely okay with women voting. But Dorothy Parker could not give a shit. She was going to come out and be vulgar and funny and proud and sexual and political, and she didn't care who knew it. Parker wasn't going to sit idly by while a bunch of men had all the fun. She was going to join in, and do it better.
"Vagina. Deal with it. Deal with this vagina I have."
I'm talking about a woman who burst onto a male-dominated scene and served as an inspiration for all female writers, and if you don't think that's a reasonable lead-in to Lil' Kim, then you weren't paying as much academic attention to mid-nineties hip-hop as I was (what, were you getting laid, or something?). Decades later, when the still-new rap community was almost completely run by and for men, Lil' Kim exploded onto the scene in a way that demanded total attention. She was loud, sexually aggressive to an almost terrifying degree, and could stand toe-to-toe with just about any big male rapper that was on the scene at the same time. There were some women who saw Tupac or Nas and thought "Gee, I'd like to be that famous rap guy's girlfriend." But Lil' Kim looked at these rap giants and said "Pssh. I can do that."
"I also have a vagina, and am slightly less subtle about it."
Like Dorothy Parker before her, Lil' Kim did not care that her chosen field was a) an established boy's club and b) mostly silent on the subject of female sexuality/empowerment. Kim was not shy about her sexual appetites. It would make sense for me to quote her at this point to illustrate my point, but a lot of her lyrics are honestly too vulgar even for Cracked. If you're curious, just Google "Lil' Kim lyrics." Almost any song that isn't about Biggie or punching Nicki Minaj is about her intimidatingly insatiable sexual appetite. Parker, too, was known for her candid and explicit writing. Parker built her career on "short, viciously humorous poems, many about the perceived ludicrousness of her many (largely unsuccessful) romantic affairs," printed in both Vanity Fair (which eventually fired her for being too controversial), and The New Yorker.
While she published hundreds of poems and short stories, Parker was most famous for her sharp wit (when asked by her editor why she hadn't been turning in her articles, she immediately replied that she was "too fucking busy, and vice versa"). And whenever Lil' Kim was asked about literally anything, she immediately replied with something clever about fucking.
And, of course, everyone who wasn't afraid of these women loved them. Lil' Kim released her first album and Dorothy Parker released her first book of poetry, and one was described as "a landmark of bold, hilarious filth" and one was described as "caked with salty humor ... and tarred with a bright, black authenticity." I can't remember which review goes with which artist, but it doesn't matter, because both quotes are equally applicable to both products.
For some reason, both of these women inspired tribute songs from incredibly unlikely sources. Both Alan Moore (the creator of Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and Prince, (the creator of all of those Prince songs), wrote tribute songs to Dorothy Parker, despite the fact that neither Prince nor Moore knew Parker personally, and despite the fact that Alan Moore was known for writing crazy awesome comics and not, you know, tribute songs for sassy poets who died when he was 14 years old. And on the Lil' Kim side of things, aging punk rocker/new waver Debbie Harry wrote a tribute song, "Dirty and Deep," when Kim was sent to prison.
"You inspire us."
I have no profound statement to make about this. Just pointing out that two funny, sexually aggressive but chronologically diverse women made a splash in their respective fields, and one of them inspired a song by the guy who made V for Vendetta, and the other inspired a song by the chick from Blondie. And that's weird, to me.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked's Senior Writer (ladies), and he's way into literature (miserable ghost of Dorothy Parker).