I’ve heard people gush about the song “Stars and the Moon” as having a positive message for women. However, it is not a song about female empowerment. Here’s why.
I don’t remember exactly when I was first exposed to the song “Stars and the Moon” from Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, but I believe it was when a voice student brought it in wanting to sing it. Since then, I’ve had several students sing the song over the years. It’s a good song–very singable, in a good, middle range for singers of varying levels of ability and allows the singer to display acting ability. Some students have been very excited about the “message” of the lyrics that money isn’t everything and it’s better to choose things that will make you happy.
The song is from the point of view of a woman who turned down two men who promised interesting life experiences because she preferred to have stability and wealth instead. Then she married the wealthy man and realized there was more to life than money and maybe she had missed out on some things in life. The lyrics are available here: http://www.lyricsmania.com/stars_and_the_moon_lyrics_songs_for_a_new_world.html
But the more I heard the song, the more the message made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like the protagonist much. She seemed shallow at the beginning, wanting only to say “yes” to a man who could provide the extravagant lifestyle she seemed to think she deserved (and though this is not in the song, reading between the lines, one can imagine that she must think pretty highly of herself and her looks and whatever other qualities she has that can presumably “win” her the right rich man). But in the end, all she seems to have learned is that money isn’t everything, which is rather trite and not really all that interesting a revelation. What she hasn’t learned is that relationships are a mixture of give and take—the song always lists the things the various men promise her, and never what she has to offer in return. What she hasn’t learned is that sometimes you can go out and live your life without waiting for a romantic partner to “give” it to you. In some ways, I like her less at the end of the song than the beginning, because she’s still selfishly focused on what another person can offer her and whining about what she will “never have.” Any potential larger lesson seems to have gone right over her head.
Today, for some reason, I found the song stuck in my head. It is a good song, with catchy lyrics, after all, even if the story rubs me the wrong way. I had another realization of why I don’t like this woman much. I don’t believe she is real. Now, obviously, she’s a fictional character, but she comes across as more of a caricature than a real person. Though the song is from her point of view, it doesn’t seem like an authentic woman’s voice. It seems more believable to me that this is really the point of view of one of the men she turned down, who, when finding out via social media that she has married the rich guy, thinks to himself, “She’s going to be really miserable. Someday she’ll realize that I could have offered her so much more.” Then he writes a song ostensibly from her point of view, imagining a shallow, self-absorbed cardboard cutout of a person who really should have been in love with him because he had more interesting things to offer.
News flash! No matter how nice or interesting a man is or what he may promise, a woman isn’t obligated to be romantically interested. This sounds a lot more like male entitlement and male gaze than how a woman in the story might actually see herself. The rejected suitor knows he “deserved” her and that someday she will regret not choosing him. (“Yeah, she got her yacht, but I’m a nice guy!” Sound familiar?) He believes that he offered the better package deal than the other guy, therefore she should choose him. If you give a woman nice things, she’s supposed to like you, right? Even if those things are great, romantic, exciting experiences rather than money. Now perhaps I’m reading things into the story and its characters that were never intended, but the idea that this song is really a construct of one of the men the woman rejects, rather than an authentic portrayal of what a woman might experience, feels like it makes more sense.
The woman in the song self-objectifies to the point that she sees herself as a commodity to be given to the highest bidder, willing to wait until she gets the right offer. Guy #2, the one with the motorcycle, only wanted her to “spare a week—“ if she was really interested in him and the experiences he could offer, why on earth wouldn’t she say yes? Because that would “spoil” her for the rich guy she is so sure is just around the corner?
Now, don’t get me wrong—I think the message that it’s ok to go out and have adventures and not play your whole life too safe, only to regret it later, is a good one. The message that money isn’t everything is a good one. But I’m not buying the woman in this song. A real woman, I believe, would consider a relationship as a two-way street, not simply a transaction in which she shops for the best offer based on what he can give to her. A real woman, if realizing that she played it too safe in her romantic or other adventures, would probably get out there and do something about it instead of whining that she will “never have the moon.” A real woman might try to design her own life and go out and have some experiences without waiting for a man to give it all to her. Sorry, Jason Robert Brown, but in this case you didn’t write a real woman.