Alongside Nicki Minaj, Avril Lavigne brings back the sound of mid-2000s guilty pleasure music in her new single, “Dumb Blonde.” With the opening drums unmistakably reminiscent of the cheery, pep rally beat of High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together” and Gwen Stefani's “Hollaback Girl,” the third single from Lavigne’s comeback album, “Head Above Water,” is both refreshingly nostalgic and rallying, even if the collaboration yields less than expected.
Laden with the same distinctive upbeat vocals as her iconic pop-punk single “Girlfriend,” Lavigne sings during “Dumb Blonde’s” infectious chorus, “I ain't no dumb blonde / I ain't no stupid Barbie doll / I got my game on (Just watch me) / Watch me, watch me, watch me prove you wrong.” Relative to the chorus, the verses are anthemic: “Well, there you go again tellin' me where I belong / You put me on the bench, don't think that I can play strong / So quick to condescend, well, you think I'm empty, I'm not / You won't be so confident when I'm crushin' you from the top.” In a stream of Instagram posts celebrating the song’s release, Lavigne wrote, “We wrote Dumb Blonde as an anthem for anyone who has been stereotyped or talked down to. Keep your confidence and don't let anyone tell you how to be.”
While the critical activist might condemn a song like “Dumb Blonde” for having a simplistic message, the single’s uncomplicated, peppy style takes on an important feminist role. Fighting the “dumb blonde” stereotype is a classic angle; however, when laced into such an easy, unassuming song, the lyrics form a strong anthem. Indeed, the song and its handle on feminism perfectly captures the dumb blonde stereotype itself. Although the song, taken at face value, may feel like just another simplistic pop tune, repeated listening reveals that this is a gross underestimation (“you think I'm empty, I'm not”). In a world where even the word “feminism” evokes controversy, “Dumb Blonde” serves as a very real — if unobtrusive — ode to female empowerment.
The one downside of the song is Nicki Minaj’s potentially forgettable verse. While well-performed, it feels as though Minaj’s part was added only last-minute. Years of the pop/rap trend have unfortunately produced many songs in which the rap verse seems hardly anything more than an afterthought. With songs like Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood (Remix),” it’s clear that many pop stars in the industry exploit prominent rap artists for their talent and celebrity. While several of Minaj’s past features break this tendency and actually add a new flavor to each song, Minaj’s feature on “Dumb Blonde” has little substance outside of referencing her past works. Juxtaposed with Minaj’s unapologetic Barbie-esque characterizations on albums like “Pink Friday,” her verse on a single with a chorus featuring the line “I ain’t no stupid Barbie doll” feels disingenuous.
All this being said, Lavigne and Minaj’s radio-friendly single certainly has the potential to be a hit. A salute to songs played on iPod nanos and sang along to in the shower, “Dumb Blonde” is a shameless pleasure with an enticingly subtle feminist theme.