Down With “Girl Bands”

Damn them! Damn them all straight to heck! Er…the term, that is. Notice the quotation marks?

Actual girl bands are the coolest thing in the world. A group of girls, or a group with a predominant girl, who like to get together and jam? I’m all about that. Without them, we wouldn’t have Sonic Youth, or the Spice Girls, or the Fugees, or Destiny’s Child, or…you get the picture. But the term “girl band”? Therein lies the problem. Out damn spot.

While we’ve had our fair share of “boy bands” with the likes of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, we’ve also had our fill of “girl groups”, such as the ones mentioned above. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s a problem. But breaking down the terms a bit sheds some light on it: when we hear the term “boy band”, we get a specific image. Frosted tips, over-gelled hair, sequined jumpsuits, disgustingly catchy pop songs. And their era is basically over, save for maybe One Direction. Albeit they’re a different brand of boy band. But I’m getting off topic- let’s picture a “girl band”. Why, any number of groups can come to mind. Each of them shares one thing in common: they have at least one predominant member who’s female.

So why is that a problem?

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Born out of rage and a shared love of Riot Grrrl music, Sleater-Kinney emerged as one of the most iconic “girl bands” of their time. Breaking back into the mainstream with No Cities To Love just this year after an eight year hiatus, the world was reintroduced to their feisty, guttural sound and equally so personalities. After getting to know guitarist Carrie Brownstein via her very funny spot on Portlandiait’s no surprise that she’s packed full of fury. In an interview with the cast members of the raunchy, refreshingly female comedy Broad CityBrownstein relayed what exactly is the issue with the term “girl band”:

“No one’s ever asked the question, ‘Why did you decide to be in a band with all men?’”

With the Riot Grrrl movement being the embodiment of this very sentiment, Sleater-Kinney make for the perfect poster child (children?) for speaking out against “girl bands”. And this isn’t the first instance of the Washington based trio showing off their angst- they use their music as a vehicle for political and social messages similar to this.

In a track titled “New Wave” off their latest album, paying close attention to the explosive lyrics, it’s evident the song is an homage to the most recent incarnation of the feminist movement, New Wave. (Or Third Wave, as it’s also referred to as.) It’s a song battling against the very label they’re best known for. (It also has a cute Bob’s Burgers video to accompany it.)

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And they’re not the only ones who are frustrated. Sister trio HAIM have also taken it upon themselves to reject the term “girl band”. In an interview with Telegraph, youngest sister Alana had this to say on constantly being referred to as such:

I would always look up to Stevie Nicks and Blondie – they are dope female musicians. So I just see us as a band. When people call us a girl band, I take it as an insult – being a girl in a band shouldn’t be a thing. It seems so medieval.

Alana Haim put so eloquently what Carrie Brownstein angrily propels into her music. She also highlights something important- that her idols growing up were highly talented female musicians.

While no one necessarily recognizes Fleetwood Mac for being an iconic girl group, they certainly know Stevie Nicks and Christie McVie for the fantastic female talent they bring. Fleetwood Mac is simply known as a great group, sans the unnecessary gender assignment to their title as a band, and with proper emphasis on individual members. I take no issue with properly recognizing female musicians for what they bring to the musical table, it’s that we continue to alienate groups solely based on their gender composition that’s problematic. A group like HAIM or Sleater-Kinney shouldn’t be impressive because they’re all girls who are good at making music. They’re impressive because they’re good, regardless of gender.

 

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