If She Were a Boy

Gender-bending is one of pop's great subjects, especially when the singer is sophisticated (or crass) enough to pull off a good impression of the opposite sex. Legends like Kate Bush ("Pull Out the Pin") and Joni Mitchell ("Free Man in Paris") have explored the male perspective for years, while sex-friendly feminists like Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon ("Female Mechanic Now on Duty") and Liz Phair ("Big Tall Man," "Baby Got Going") use the persona to flex their wits. Ciara ("Like a Boy") and Beyonce ("If I Were a Boy") use the opportunity to point out hypocrisy and double standards; Neko Case's excellent "Man" and Nicki Minaj's act as Roman Zolanski (on "Roman Holiday" and "Come on a Cone") attempt to prove they're more man than any man could ever be.

Lucinda Williams ("Soldier's Song") and Tricky's version of Public Enemy's "Black Steel" (with Martina Topley-Bird on vocals) force us to feel wartime through a different avatar, and Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" and The Weather Girls' classic "It's Raining Men" are widely theorized to be gay fantasies -- released to the mainstream before their time -- under the guise of female ones. It's an endlessly fascinating and usually innovative way to write a song -- just ask Sarah McLachlan, who turned actual words from her real-life stalker into her first worldwide hit, "Possession."

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