SONG MEANING: “Ain’t Your Mama” by Jennifer Lopez jumps on the coattails of Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” by singing about women’s empowerment and the idea that women don’t exist to clean up after deadbeat men.
“Ain’t Your Mama,” in fact, was written by Meghan Trainor for Lopez and places Lopez firmly in the pop-anthem women’s empowerment category with Trainor and Beyonce. All three of the artists have released songs that give a firm “no” to men who enforce glass ceilings, expect cooking and cleaning, or try too aggressively to pick girls up at bars.
However, of the music videos you might recognize in this category (like Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” and “No”), “Ain’t Your Mama” is likely one of the more lackluster. It presents its arguments oddly and likely even in ways that thoughtful audiences could find offensive or (even worse for Lopez) laughable. Thus, unlike most of my posts, I’ll be including discussion and a short critique of the music video after my usual explanation of the song.
You can listen along if you like. I’ve added “Ain’t Your Mama” by Jennifer Lopez to my Spotify playlist “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative.” Feel free to follow the playlist!
Line-by-line analysis: What does “Ain’t Your Mama” by Jennifer Lopez mean?
While most of the chorus is repetitive of itself, Lopez does make clear the thesis of what the rest of her song will be about. She sings, “I ain’t gon’ be cooking all day. I ain’t your mama / I ain’t gon’ do your laundry. I ain’t your mama.” Apart from repeating, “I ain’t your mama,” several more times, Lopez also asks, “When you gon’ get your act together?”
What’s the point of this chorus? Its likely enough obvious to you what she’s saying on a surface level–it’s not her job to be working all day for her boyfriend/husband, cleaning up after him.
Lopez makes four statements in the first verse: “Wake up and rise and shine . . . / Best get to work on time . . . / No more playing video games . . . / Things are about to change ’round here.” She wants her boyfriend/husband to stop sleeping in, to get a job, to quit being lazy, and to know that she’s holding higher standards for him.
Now, at this point, we’re still not quite sure where she’s going with this, but the Pre-Chorus clarifies everything. She explains that they “used to be crazy in love” and that she wants to “go back to how it was.” She’s tired of him being lazy and “too comfortable.” And she wants him to know that she has higher standards for her boyfriend/husband. She sings, “‘Cause I’m too good for that . . . / Just remember that . . . .” She wants this lazy guy to know that she doesn’t have to settle for him.
The second verse mirrors the first verse with four more statements. She tells the guy that he’s “[l]ucky to have [her] curves,” implying their physical relationship. She tells him to “[s]top getting on my nerves,” and asks if he’s “still trying to ride this train?” Finally, she reminds him that “some things have gotta change ’round here . . . .”
Jennifer Lopez is using “Ain’t Your Mama” to tell a deadbeat boyfriend/husband that he’s not treating her right and that she’s worthwhile and worth him putting effort into their relationship and life together. The direction of the relationship is now up to the guy.
Music Video Critique
The meaning of “Ain’t Your Mama” is fairly straightforward, but the music video confuses things. The music video contains several versions of Jennifer Lopez transposed into different settings where women aren’t treated equally to men: a 1950’s kitchen, a 1960’s office, a 1970’s factory, and a 1980’s executive boardroom. Another version of Lopez, to a background audio clip of Hillary Clinton demanding women’s rights, calls all the others to action and to open up the window and yell, “I ain’t yo’ mamma!”
The video is essentially the women in those eras saying, “no,” to the men in their lives–husbands, bosses, and colleagues–and refusing to be looked down upon. The video’s finale is Jennifer Lopez leading a squad of empowered women into the street and following her in an intense and well-choreographed dance.
The problem here is that there’s a dissonance between the meanings of the song and the video. The song is about telling deadbeat boyfriends to beat it. The music video is about feminism: throwing off the shackles men have placed on women and rising up.
And there are three odd things that I’d like to point out here:
- Almost everything Lopez wears in the video is highly sexualized. By wearing these costumes while telling men off, it’s as though she’s claiming that women can derive power from their sexiness and their ability to keep their own bodies away from men who want it so badly. The problem with this implied argument is that it’s not an attempt to equalize gender differences. It’s an attempt to gain power over men–the opposite of equality–it’s a fight-fire-with-fire strategy. And it’s ironic too because one of feminism’s most important arguments has been against male-imposed definitions of sexiness through mediums like photoshopped images, pornography, and others.
- Lopez sings that she won’t do cooking, cleaning, or menial work for this deadbeat guy because she ain’t his mama, but in the music video, she’s refusing to do it for a husband-figure and her “employers.” Lopez doesn’t make clear if this was intentional, but the combination of song and video works as an insult to stay-at-home mothers. Singing that she’s “too good for that” while mopping the floor or typing as a secretary belittles the roles that other women and men have played while doing similar things. Whether Lopez means this explicitly or not, this is the experience watching the music video gives. At best, it’s a fatal oversight. At worst, it’s offensive.
- Because the men portrayed in the music video aren’t deadbeats, the decision to pair the video and song makes little sense and makes the song seem even more like a desperate attempt to jump on the pop-anthem women’s empowerment bandwagon (a good cause but one that should be taken seriously).
Taken by itself, the song, while lacking originality (the lyrics just sound like “Dear Future Husband”), carries a positive theme. The music video, however, ruins much of what could have been a good thing. The sexualization of her argument, the cartoonish portrayal of what should remain a very serious discussion, and what seem to be accidental insults to valuable people with important roles in society keeps “Ain’t Your Mama” from achieving the epic status that songs like “All about That Bass” achieved for messages about women’s issues.
Those are my thoughts, and I know I argue bluntly, but I’d still like to hear your perspective. I started writing this post planning to argue against the song too, but then really studied the lyrics and noticed I was wrong about them, so I’m open to discussion or anything helpful you might have to say. Please share. I want to hear you.
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Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/center-director at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome.