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Music and More | 'Ugly girl', 'oldest gal' and women's acceptance of cheating

Published:Friday | March 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
Tanya Stephens

In Ugly Girl, Singer Ikaya asks a very serious question, and she does so in a beautiful voice too. After establishing the scene for encountering her man in sexual action with another woman, she describes seeing a situation where "he was on his back, she was on her knees/And I swear I could hear her say baby please". Of course, she is livid ("all the neighbours could hear when I start to scream"), but the twist in the tale is the reason for her anger:

"I say baby, I ain't mad that your're cheating

I know every man cheats

But of all the girls in the world

Why such an ugly girl?"

Ouch! She then dismisses him with "Pack up your things and leave/Gwaan with your ugly girl".

Tanya Stephens also asks her man about the quality of his flings, using the names (and, in some cases, characteristics) of some popular entertainment events that he attends and where he picks up a little 'something' on the side. She demands, when he goes to an event centred around vintage music, that he picks out "the oldest gal".

Of course, I take these lyrics not as a personal statement, but as reflective of a widespread attitude among Jamaican women (although they can be both), and I have heard women say often enough that what really hurt them is not that their man cheated, but who he did it with. It can be a case where the other woman is so close to the couple physically and emotionally that the 'wifie' simply cannot believe that it could have happened in that manner. But I have heard hurt expressed about equality of the girl who the man chose to get a little 'thing' on the side with. And it is this that informs songs referring to an 'ugly girl' or, within the context of a younger couple, the 'oldest gal'. Or, for a hot girl, the man's choice is the 'coldest gal'.

Since what is considered beautiful is constructed, like any physical thing (and, with all the possible enhancements available for purchase, it can be made up like a set of bathroom fixtures in the current style as well), there are really no ugly people. There are simply those who naturally or artificially approximate the standard that is popularised through media and are therefore considered attractive. However, since physical attraction is a large part of an intimate relationship, perceptions of beauty are important.

And while women are free to size up their competition, or another woman with whom they have man 'beef', a man who declares himself heterosexual dares not look at another man and publicly state he is good-looking, although an ugly comment is quite fine. The flip side of that is that I am hard-pressed to find a Jamaican male vocalist's equivalent to Ugly Girl.