Courtney Love is disillusioned that the new generation of young girls willingly objectifiy themselves in the astute “Awful.”
Strong-willed guitars open the single, setting a Love references the American spiritual folk song, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” However, she urges teenage girls to free themselves from pop culture. She says they have every right to be hedonists and live like their favorite pop princess. She tells them to rebel agains it. They don’t have to believe it. She remembers that for a brief time, women were held in high regard for having opinions and being smart. It was great to be a women then.
“Swing low sweet cherry, make it awful/It’s your life, it’s your party, it’s so awful/Let’s start a fire, let’s have a riot! Yeah, it’s awful/It was punk, yeah. It was perfect, now it’s awful.”
In the chorus, Love says that society knows how to take away their confidence. The movies, television shows and music videos will convince them that wearing almost nothing is all right. It will boost their self-esteem, get them boyfriends and plenty of friends. However, once they see that they actually feel uncomfortable in the revealing clothing, the guy only likes them for their body, and their friends are fairweather. It’s going to disappoint them.
“They know how to break all the girls like you/ And they rob the souls of girls like you/And they break the hearts of girls.”
Episodes of their favorite television dramas show the lead, pretty girl breaking through the hardened bad boy. She was able to change him into a loving, kind boyfriend. However, in real life, they will find that the bad boy gets drunk all the time. Although he’s a terrific and good-looking, he’s shallow. He only wants to use her for sex. Love points out they are trying to figure out who they are. They need the help of a parent to help through their identity crisis.
“Swing low, cherry cherry/Yeah, it’s awful/He’s drunk/He tastes like candy/ He’s so beautiful/He’s so deep, like dirty water/God, he’s awful/You’re lost, oh, where’s your daddy?/It’s so awful.”
She adds that society sees girls as products. The pop princesses little girls idolize are just moneymakers for the record companies. They exist to advertise a fantasy of what being rich, young, and famous would be like. Then, they are replaced once they hit their twenties. It’s a business, nothing more.
“And they royalty rate all the girls like you/ And they sell it out to the girls like you/To incorporate little girls.”
In the bridge, Love tells the girls to fight against it with her.
“Hey, run away with the light/Run away, its divine/Let’s run away, yeah, tonight and we’ll steal the light of the world.”
In the third verse, she says they are susceptible and easily spoon fed what to like. She says they are young and have the time to discover things outside of pop culture. She adds that she used to be a indie rock star. But now, she’s just like to every other woman in the music industry. She hates being told to look pretty and to change band’s style to sell an album.
“Swing low, sweet cherry, yeah it’s awful/You’re ripe for the picking, it’s awful/You’ve got your youth, don’t waste your money, yeah it’s awful/I was punk! Now I’m just stupid! I’m so awful.”
In the second bridge, Love sneers at the teenage girls buying teenybopper music. They have no idea what music is yet. They are listening to it because they are told to.
“Oh just shut up, you’re only 16/Oh just shut up, you’re only 16.”
She adds that a single song with a hypersexualized music video featuring a teen girl in a costume associated with porn can immediately catch on. The virgin/whore imagery will be talked about but not truly questioned by the media. It’s what sells and if it a bit of controversy, the better.
” If the world is so wrong, yeah, you can break them all with one song/If the world is so wrong, yeah you can take it all with one song.”
In the final lyric, she says that the female pop star has worn out her welcome. It’s time for the record companies to create a new image girls will look up to. The girl will be just as pretty but will have a different style of music.
“Swing low, sweet cherry, make it awful/They bought it all, just build a new one/Make it beautiful, yeah.”
“Awful” makes some hard-hitting, valid points regarding women and the music business. Love is disgusted at the record industry’s anti-feminism stance. Women aren’t viewed as intelligent anymore. They only taken seriously by wearing as little clothing as possible and talking about boys. It causes little girls then grow up to think that it’s ok to reveal every body part they can to get boys to like them.
Another point she makes is about the quality of the music. It’s empty and forgettable. People will forget that it even existed. However, the images will be tweaked for the next pop star after the backlash of teeny pop has begun.