Time heals all wounds. It gives us perspective, it creates necessary distance, and it allows us to reevaluate and re-approach emotionally painful situations from newly objective angles.
Time helps us admit that we can’t hold Fergie accountable for the sins of the Black Eyed Peas.
Of course, in 2006, at peak BEP, we couldn’t see it. Between the release of Elephunk in 2003 and Monkey Business in 2005, we were bombarded with eight high-charting singles, each catchier than the last, all of them played no less than 424 times daily. Even now, a decade later, as I type this, "Don’t Phunk With My Heart" crawls into my ear, and I wonder if I’ll ever be free. (I won’t. And neither will you.)
So, yes, it was easy to roll our eyes and/or scream “Please no more, I beg you!” upon the release of The Dutchess, Fergie’s solo debut, in September 2006. As the sole female voice of the Black Eyed Peas, it seemed like she had (arguably) already been given a platform on which to sing, especially since her verses were the ones we tended to sing along with the most. To me, there was no room for any more Fergie-Ferg in 2006. I was certain we’d heard all we needed to from her. I didn’t stop to think of how The Dutchess factored into the rest of the Top 40 landscape — or, even more importantly, how much we needed it.
(Pause for dramatic gasp of realization.)
Pop music in 2006 was confusing for everybody. Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” was the year’s runaway hit (and topped Billboard’s Year-End 100 chart — for real), while James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” and The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” rounded out the game o' feels. In fact, Men Who Feel Things™ made up a sizeable chunk of that year’s soundtrack, as bands like Panic! at the Disco, The All-American Rejects, Snow Patrol (never forget the tears you shed to “Chasing Cars”), and Fall Out Boy ricocheted through the charts, offering new voices and quotable lyrics to Nice Guys everywhere.
This would have amounted to pure soft-boy overload had it not been for the other end of the music spectrum. While dudes lamented hard lives and loves gone wrong, female solo artists boldly asserted themselves, using their music to celebrate power, independence, and frustration with romantic mind-fuckery.
So, as the likes of James Blunt shed musical tears over the women they projected fantasies onto, artists like Kelis celebrated the notion of badassery (“Bossy,” feat. Too $hort), JoJo ended a toxic relationship with “Too Little Too Late,” Nelly Furtado addressed double standards in “Promiscuous,” and Beyoncé embraced her sexuality in “Check on It.” All of which meant that 2006 was actually the perfect climate for Fergie to strike.
In July 2006, Fergie officially launched her solo career with the single "London Bridge,” a jam dripping with the type of bravado that artists like Meghan Trainor are still trying to master. (“When I come to the club, step aside (oh, shit!) / Pop the seats, don’t be hating me in the line (oh, shit!)" Fergie followed this triumph with “Fergalicious,” wherein she celebrated her sex appeal while simultaneously striking down rumours about her personal life, delivering words with an “it’s not my fault you’re, like, in love with me or something” edge. And then came “Glamorous,” a song perfectly suited for the Juicy Couture climate of the mid-2000s, particularly as she unapologetically reveled in her life of excess (see: diamonds, first class, champagne) two years before the recession made pop songs of that sort feel massively insensitive.
But in 2006, these were exactly the type of pop songs that fit, and exactly the type of pop songs we needed to hear (especially young women in small towns — hello). As dudes used their Top 40 platforms to moan about how difficult their lives were and how cruel/unattainable/fragile women could be, female solo artists did the opposite, asserting their self-confidence and leading with their egos. And that gave listeners like me permission to do the same. Or, at the very least, it offered me a reprieve from the music being released by straight white men who made me believe the Nice Guy myth. Hell, even “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” the fourth single off The Dutchess, helped tackle the feelings that come with wanting to be strong while feeling the opposite. (Which explains why, at 22, I listened to it and cried in the mall parking lot — a symptom of my looming quarter-life crisis.)
Fergie knew exactly how to lend her voice to a big year.
So while some of us will never warm to the Black Eyed Peas — and others may not be up for Fergie's latest solo video, for “M.I.L.F. $” — we all owe a collective apology to Fergie-Ferg for undervaluing her musical worth. Ten years ago she released an album that not only fit its era perfectly, but reaffirmed the necessity of pop-star bravado when we needed it most. How else would any of us have survived that year of faux-sensitivity and sad bros on guitars?