A timeless feminist anthem.
Graphic by Eunice Addo
By Eunice Addo (Co-Editor-in-Chief), The Continuist
I’ve been revisiting 2000s teen pop music and the careers of stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, The Cheetah Girls, and Hannah Montana. Girl groups have long been a staple of teen culture and if you like talented, empowered women and good old-fashioned bubblegum pop there’s a good chance you’re a fan of a few. Currently, K-Pop girl groups are dominating and carrying on the legacy of entertainment centred on girlhood, fun, and catchy pop music.
One song I loved as a 2000s kid was “Cinderella” by Disney girl group The Cheetah Girls. You probably remember it like this:
When I revisited this Disney classic I discovered a different version… then another… then another. My curiosity piqued, I looked into the history of this song and found it was actually recorded multiple times in the early 2000s! This song has transcended borders, cultures, and languages yet its message remained loud and clear. I’m about to get into the recording history of this feminist anthem.
“Cinderella” was written by multi-platinum selling songwriter Lindy Robbins (who also wrote Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper”) and music industry veteran Kevin Savigar. It has all the elements of a great Y2K pop anthem: an addictive beat perfect for dancing, a catchy chorus, lyrics about girl power, and a majestic bridge that reinforces the song’s poignant message. When Chanel belts “So, I'm gonna set me free!” on the Cheetah Girls version I want to jump out my skin and yell it from rooftops. It’s the perfect sing-into-a-hairbrush-and-pretend-you’re-a-pop-star song. And it doesn’t even completely promote independence but demands for women to protect their sense of self and be equals in relationships.
Here are the fabulous women who have recorded “Cinderella.”
The first girl group to record “Cinderella” was i5 way back in 2000. This was the most interesting discovery because of the group’s concept. i5 stood for “International 5” and had five members: Christina from the United States, Gaby from Mexico, Kate from the Philippines, Tal from Israel, and Andi from England. They intended to have a true international fanbase. In their short run they released one album and opened for Britney Spears. They disbanded in 2001 but recently had a Zoom reunion! As a Filipino, it’s really cool seeing Kate in there and I’m left wondering what this group could have meant in terms of representation.
Swedish girl group Play were the next to record the song in 2001. You may know Play through the Lizzie McGuire episode “Inner Beauty” where a detention daydream of Miranda and Lizzie dancing is backed by their song “Us Against the World.” Apparently Play also opened for Destiny’s Child back in the day?! If you weren’t aware of how internationally connected the pop world is, time to do some digging and I’d suggest looking at Sweden first. (YES that's Beyoncé and Solange in the video.)
Taiwanese girl group H.E.R recorded their version of “Cinderella” in 2003 just before the Cheetah Girls movie dropped in August of the same year. It’s sung in Mandarin and the lyrics changed a bit but still focus on the concept of women retaining their sense of self in a relationship. Also, look at them serving their own choreography!
The Cheetah Girls
Galleria, Chanel, Aqua and Dorinda—who else was doing it like them on Disney Channel?! My favourite thing about this group was the representation, whether that was in ethnicity or body type. The casting for this group was truly immaculate. I can’t imagine anyone else bringing self-confidence and star power like Raven-Symoné did as Galleria. It just wasn’t the same when she left but at least we got more seasons of That’s So Raven as a result.
The Cheetah Girls also gave us some of the best songs about friendship with “Girl Power” and “Amigas Cheetahs.” But it’s the scene in the first movie where they perform “Cinderella” that I am utterly obsessed with. The outfit coordination, their attitude, the choreography and star quality—I was eating it all UP! If you turn on “Cinderella” around me and I’m not dancing assume I am dead inside. I could go on about how The Cheetah Girls deserved the fame they fought so hard for, but that can be a whole different article.
On another note, somewhat ironic of Disney to give one of their girl groups a song that criticizes their beloved classic princesses. But also not that surprising when you remember that most big companies are motivated by profiting off any popular slogan or concept. “Girl power” in the form of female pop stars and “strong, independent” female characters in movies and television is definitely exploitable.
Thai-American pop star Tata Young released her version “Cinderella” in 2004. Asia’s “Queen of Pop” proves this song works just as well as a solo. There are songs written specifically with a group dynamic in mind (e.g. the iconic “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls or BLACKPINK’s debut “BOOMBAYAH” and the many K-pop groups who have designated rappers) but not this one. The versatility! Looking at her Instagram, it looks like Young is currently living her best life enjoying motherhood and DJing.
Another Disney Channel song I recently found out was a cover is Hannah Montana’s “One in a Million” which was originally recorded by German artist Sandy Mölling.
I fully embrace the concept of good songs being recorded by multiple artists. This is an obvious way songwriters bring their music to a larger audience. When I see people go on rants about how no one writes their own music anymore and that pop artists are vapid and talentless I can’t help but feel so sorry for them! You’re so concerned with gatekeeping one type of musical expression that you can’t genuinely enjoy a fun pop song? Also, several recordings of one well-written song has always happened in the history of music. Frank Sinatra is one of the most popular music acts of all time and how much of his material did he write?
I think we need to shut down the narrative that music was better in the past just because we’re fixated on the artists who wrote their own music. There’s no denying that writing and singing is impressive but it shouldn’t discredit artists who are able to take a song and make it pop. The ladies who recorded “Cinderella” not only served but brought this song to fans in different parts of the world! Now that’s pretty incredible.
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