Selena Gomez & Vanessa Hudgens Aren't Good Girls Gone Bad

PHOTO: The cast of Spring Breakers, including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens

Good Girls and Bad Girls are two of the most enduring clichés in pop culturedom -- they're easy to recognize, often sexualized, affirm beliefs that are comfortable to hold, and can adapt over time to keep with changes in what we deem to be acceptable behavior. And they're at the forefront of conversations about Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens' participation in the sleazy, flashy, bong-water-and-Bud-Light-drenched world of Spring Breakers.

But first, let's look at the usefulness of these stereotypes. Take, for instance, the way these play out in pop music. In videos for both Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" from 2007 and Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me", from 2009 (claaaassics) the singers embody both the good girl and bad girl roles to drive home the point that it's worth fighting a woman in a wig to get her boyfriend. In Avril's video, "Avril" is the Bad Girl -- albeit one that's more fun and much cooler than her darker-haired, more uptight Good Girl counterpart. Hair color is also a defining factor in Swift's oeuvre, with "Taylor" as the blond, wholesome, sweet, and chronically friend-zoned Good Girl pining away for someone who's dating a Brunette Bad Girl who has the audacity to look super fine at prom.

The clichés obviously pose a problem here, as the only indications we're given that these evil brunettes are no good (or, in Avril's case, not bad in the right ways) are the singer's dislike for her and the visual clues (that brunette wig) that she aligns with a Bad Girl / Good Girl stereotype. It's a lazy way to do a pop music video, but pop music videos tend to be broad and lazy.

And this is exactly where the Bad Girl / Good Girl dichotomy poses a problem -- they're shorthand, yes, but the use of shorthand implies that we're going to get to a larger, overriding point now that we've used an easily-understood stereotype to make sure we're all on the same page. It's in not recognizing that women exist beyond those stereotypes -- or exhibit characteristics of both at the same time -- that we run into trouble. And create trouble for ourselves.

Britney Spears, like many pop starts before and since, has spent her entire career being cateogorized and re-categorized. While critics love to look back on pop stars "good girl days," it's worth noting that Britney burst onto the scene dressed as an iconic naughty schoolgirl -- the ultimate "Good Girl gone Bad." There is no "Good Britney" and "Bad Britney" -- there is one singer, one performer, who takes on and adapts identities as is necessary to both convey a mood or message through her medium as well as to cater to a finicky audience that's prone to boredom and always searching for what's next.

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