Hit Me Baby One More Time: The Evolution Of Pops ‘It’ Girl throughout the 2000's
Updated: Oct 15
The 2000s were a weirdly exciting time for those of us lucky enough to have lived through them. Apple launched the iPod, Lindsey Lohan's acting career was at its peak, Disney channel games began, Channel 4 had just launched Big Brother changing reality TV forever and everyone was wearing flip flops.
But for pop music, the 2000's were a particularly iconic year. The charts were awash with disco anthems by the likes of Steps and S-Club while boy bands like Westlife were selling out arenas filled with teenage hopeless romantics, salivating over boot-cut jeans and spiky hair. This was also a moment for the girls. The industry was dominated by bubblegum pop-singing, sexually liberated, fashion-forward women.
But in an era of Instagram and an increasingly accessible influencer industry, pop's 'It girl' culture has slowly disintegrated. In short, the girls just aren’t doing it like they used to. So as an ode to what pop once was, here's a walk through the evolution of pops 'It' girl through the 2000s.
1999: '...Baby one more time'
The year is 1999. Low rise bootcut's, bedazzled crop tops, and mid-drifts are all the rage. Britney Spears has just released her debut, sixteen-track studio album '...Baby one more time', an avant-garde featuring some of her most commercially successful hits such as the singles '...Baby one more time', '(You drive me) Crazy' and 'deep in my heart'. Britney's first appearance on the scene was nothing short of legendary, and Spears continued to solidify her title as pop's queen as she'd go on to release an increasingly successful discography of hits and albums throughout her career.
Her next studio album 'Oops!... I did it again' was released the following year in 2000. The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and quickly broke the record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist ever. This catalogue of funky, slap-and-pop, baseline gems were the answer to the industry's demand for bubblegum pop.
Britney Spears’ early 2000’s discography was a cultural reset, an emblem of sexual liberation, reclamation and new wave feminism. It was what pop music was missing and set precedence for what is still the greatest decade in pop music. It was this era that changed the discourse of pop music and went on to define a pop's 'It girl' culture, birthing a generation of liberated, vocally adept, culturally iconic queens of pop.
‘Hell yeah I’m the motherf*cking princess’
And indeed she was. Avril's reign pop-punk reign was iconic and paved the way for female pop-punk in the 2000s. Her skater girl persona and her pop-punk aesthetic changed the discourse of pop, so much so her nickname is the pop-punk queen. Her music was emotionally dexterous, a clear illustration of her character. She was a young, emotional yet defiant and opinionated teenage girl with a lot to say. The pink-streaked, black liner, grunge aesthetic rejected the traditional pop 'girlishness' and glossy, male-gaze femininity that was pushed at the time. This was one of any reasons why so many of us young hopefuls had looked up to her. She was an 'It' girl, just redefined.
Avril's music went on to land her two Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She also received a Grammy nomination in the category for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for ‘Sk8er Boi’, her first official pop/rock punk release.
Disney Channel was home to a younger generation of pop icons. For those of us that were too young to wear bedazzled thongs with our low rise boot-cuts and too young to sing along to the curse words and innuendos, Disney birthed a plethora of emblematic 2000's princesses. Not only were they my age mates, but the talent that they displayed was like no other. This subsection of teen 'It' girls gave us Miley Cyrus, Raven Symone, Demi Lovato, Bridgit Medler and Selena Gomez.
2006: Taylor Swift
Taylor swifts impact in the pop scene is unequivocal. Bubblegum pop was yesterdays sound. This time, it was all about authenticity and vulnerability that Taylor Swift displayed in almost the entirety of her discography. And while she emerged into the scene as a country singer, but holds the title as one of the most listened to pop artists of the decade.
Her melancholic love songs and country, high school aesthetic was relatable, to the average (white) girl who was a little bit clumsy, hopelessly romantic and not quite as 'glamorous' as the likes of Britney Spears. The extensive personalization in her music was so well articulated it was almost cathartic. Her music made me feel I could could relate to the stories of her tragic break ups, fairy tale fantasies and happy endings, despite having never been in a relationship. And that's the Taylor Swift effect. Her bold, country ballads, acoustic guitar samples and pop influenced beats on albums such as her self titled debut and 'Fearless', changed the course of pop forever.
2008: Lady Gaga the fame
Along came 2008, which saw an underrepresented segment of pop begin to take centre stage.
Lady Gaga released her debut album 'The Fame' in August 2008, followed by the release of 'Born This Way' in 2011.
Both of these albums broke the boundaries of pop music, amplifying the voice of alternative pop as well as the girls it catered to, who were often underrepresented in mainstream media. The adaptation of electronic influences and synthesizers on songs like 'Just dance' were not typical of pop at the time. Neither Gaga's sound nor her look fit in with pop's traditional, bubblegum, 'It-girl' vibe, but she was and still is one of few legends in pop music.
Lady Gaga's music videos set the benchmark for what a music video should be. With her extravagant routines and larger-than-life costumes and sets, her approach to creativity was worthy of accolades that still sit with Gaga today. Her reign over pop was an exciting, electric era. And that's not to say she's no longer on top of the industry, but her 2008-2011 appearance was a table-shaking moment that the pop industry will never forget.
Lady Gaga's debut album release was around the same time as Katy Perry's arrival to the pop girl podium. Katy Perry released her debut album in 2008, ‘one of the boys’. This was followed by the release of ‘Teenage Dream’, one of the pop albums that defined the decade. A personal favourite in fact. This album for me, and many other young pop fans, was the blueprint to a revised, more flamboyant version of bubblegum pop. Not only was her presence noticeable, but Katy's artistic versatility was relatable on all levels. She illustrated a whirlwind of emotions and ideologies, from sultry and seductive to cheerful, to distressed, touching on sexual liberation and bi-curiosity. Miss Katy Perry was giving us range before some of us could even spell it. There's a reason she's listed as one of the biggest pop artists of the decade.
What defines a pop 'It' girl, continues to fluctuate overtime. But the pop music culture that specifically dominated the 00's, played a huge part in shaping and influencing culture as a whole that is still prevalent today, despite a shift in sound. The girls were bold and fierce. They created new sounds, broke boundaries and set precedence for pop girls today. To what extent this is still prominent in today's pop girls is debatable, but in short:
By Thelma Khupe