Putting It To Rights: An Interview With Women’s Symposium Organizer

As mentioned in a previous post, Berklee Valencia was lucky enough to host the Women’s Empower Symposium- an all day event packed with speakers spanning various job fields, all in the name of empowering women. So I decided to sit down with Claïs Lemmens, an organizer of the event.


Berklee Valencia: How did the event come together?

Claïs Lemmens: We were at one of the Lagos concerts, and [a fellow organizer] came up to me and said, “It’s so weird, we were looking at the list of speakers, and there’s one woman on it, and like 20 men. Isn’t that weird? Shouldn’t we do something about this?” So we all started talking, and a lot of people got involved. We were having fun, and the day after we started a Facebook chat. We started thinking, “let’s think about who we know in our own personal circles that we can ask to Skype in.” This was not going to be a whole symposium, it was just going to be Skype sessions. We didn’t really need money to do Skype sessions, we just needed people that were willing to Skype in, so we started to make a list, and it was actually [our advisor] who said, “Why don’t you just make this a whole day event? Or even two days? Like a conference?” So we started working thinking about that, and the ball really started rolling when we got the diversity grant from the school. “This is the money you can start with and then maybe do something with.” And we were like, “We’re not gonna spend $4,000 on Skype sessions, so now we have to do something.” So that’s when it got super, super serious. The Facebook conversation that we had in the beginning, we cut it down from the people who weren’t really being responsive, then we had a first meeting. At that first meeting, we’d already started giving each other roles and responsibilities. I really wanted to do operations because I love thinking of details, and how everything works, and where everyone has to be.

BV: Why did you believe an event like this would be important to put on? Why would it be beneficial for the Berklee community?

CL: Every industry is still very male dominated, especially if you look at the CEOs and other executives. We see that in class as well, and in the music industry. All the executives are, for the most part, middle-aged, white men. So why is this good for the community? Well, especially for our program, we’re 50/50 in gender. It’s different in the other programs where girls are outnumbered by men. For us, it’s really balanced, which makes it a little schizophrenic to see that in class we’re treated the same way, but if we want to look forward and see what the future might bring, and the industry as a whole, that’s not the case. It’s not going to be…I’m not going call it equality because there’re different layers in that. But the music industry is not at all what we see in our class, so we wanted to give a voice to that female side, to our female students; but actually for everyone, just to make sure that they know that there’s also women and try to break the stereotype. One of the panels was called, “Recreating the Narrative”, and that’s what we were trying to do. And step away from that middle-aged white man in executive positions.

BV: And do you think that worked?

CL: I think so. We were frightened that there wouldn’t be enough people. Afterwards, especially the students who got to go to the workshops and ask questions, they said, “I’ve never felt so inspired, and these women were amazing, and still so down to earth, and they still find a way to balance family and have their job.” Their reactions were very positive for us, and they’re the reason we’re going to want to do it again next year. For next year, we’re gonna try handing it over to someone else. Hopefully, the person who gets to be the fellow gets to take the lead role and take charge of that next year.

BV: How did you go about picking speakers?

CL: We started looking for people in our own personal networks. For example, Christine Krzyzanowski used to be [another organizer’s] former boss. Angie Martinez, [one of the other organizers] did an internship with her. We got a bunch of people just by connecting with Berklee Boston. They said, “We know people who are cool or would be good for this.” Judy Cantor-Navas was actually recommended by Berklee Boston, and they paid for her ticket. That’s why we tried to find them close to home because it would be easier logistically and easier to convince them. It all really started with the first one, which was Yvette Noel-Schure. And that was because [another organizer] went to school with her daughter and knew that she was the publicist of Beyonce, and just wrote her a Facebook message. That’s what started it eventually because Yvette said yes. We were like, “We have to get her. Whatever happens, even if we don’t have any money after her flight, we have to have her.” And that was great, because we could say, “We have Beyonce’s publicist,” and other speakers would actually take us seriously. If we just say, “we have a secretary of some festival in Narnia,” they’d be like, “Well…okay, sounds like a student event that won’t be very big.” When we sent other application forms to the other speakers, we put it in there. They’d be like, “Ooh, well, this is probably going to be a big thing”. Even though it was not a big thing yet at all. We were still struggling with the budget, we were not sure about flights, and they would change all the time, and we were looking for venues and we had nothing. But we had Yvette, and that’s what started it all.

BV: What was the best part of the event?

CL: We can use this success to convince the speakers for next year, that all the speakers from this year already had a chance to network. These ladies, at the one dinner we had at the end of the day, these ladies were all taking selfies the whole time and putting them on Instagram and saying, “Look I made a bunch of new friends that I’m gonna do business with now!” That was amazing to see. We thought we were going to bring them to Berklee, but we actually brought them to each other. And we didn’t expect that.

BV: Do you think the event had an impact on Berklee?

CL: They’re not going to change their faculty, they’re not going to say, “Let’s fire half our faculty just to hire more women.” And that’s fine. At the end of the day, it’s not about gender, it’s about how capable you are. And all the professors at our school, they’re very capable of what they’re doing. But for guest speakers, I’m pretty sure when we started this event that Emilien was contacting speakers for next year. So I’m pretty sure it will have an impact, at least a little bit. I can only hope. It had a positive impact so far this year. Emilien said he didn’t even realize that there was only one woman, and now he does, so at least they’re aware of the problem.

BV: Do you think the Boston campus will be inspired to host similar events?

CL: There’s an event we modeled our symposium after, which was “Women in Tech”, at Berklee Boston, so they have their act together, they know about all this stuff. They think about everything, so this whole gender thing must’ve come up.

BV: Any advice to girls for not getting discouraged?

CL: Find a mentor, find a female mentor who has achieved a lot, someone that knows the business. We’ve been emailing with the ladies from the event, and job searches have been made, and connections have been made. I would say find a mentor because you can fall back on this example you have. If you feel discouraged, at least you have someone to look up to. Don’t hate on men, it’s a really fine line between this whole empowering women thing and blaming guys.


Madonna & Child

In case you haven’t checked any of your social media accounts recently, this happened:


Don’t worry, Drake feels the same way you probably do- highly uncomfortable. The unwarranted kiss happened during a performance of her new song at Coachella this past weekend. Of course, we’re used to Madonna being overly sensational…

…with her getting vocal on Instagram…

…her “British accent”…

…and her no-holds-barred attitude…

…so we really shouldn’t be all surprised that she did something like making out with Drake on stage at Coachella without his permission. And yet, while I’m not necessarily surprised, this is certainly unsettling. Not that some of her previous antics weren’t- but even glancing back at the Instagram post, it not only contradicts much of what she’s stood for in the past, it also totally demolishes any path for women’s rights she’s begun to pave.

Yeah, I said that. Putting out songs in support of teen pregnancy and confidently strutting around in her iconic cone-cupped lingerie sets onstage, there shouldn’t be a doubt in your mind that Madonna is proud to be a woman, and embraces it any way she can- even if that means her own…Madonna-y way. But this smooch with Mr. Degrassi turns the tables. In an age where consent means everything, Madonna completely demolished any progress that’s been made.

And shame on her for that! Whether or not Drake ended up being okay with it in the end has nothing to do with the fact that she shouldn’t have done it in the first place. His reaction makes it clear that he had neither an idea nor intention to engage in a kiss with her- and yet she seized her moment, on stage in front of thousands of Californian music lovers, and did something “so Madonna!”

Her antics in the past may have been entertaining, in their own way. Perhaps even admirable, for the courage it must have taken her to do something so publicly. But this matter comes down to consent.

And, in a world where it’s usually the other way around- men violating the consent of women- this action is also perplexing. Though I’m wording that a bit extremely, and the meat of that topic is for another blog, another time, violating consent can be something as little as hugging someone who never asked for it and doesn’t want it. Which just so happens to be all too common of an occurrence in the star-studded world: Men grabbing female companions for a glamour shot, sneaking kisses on their cheeks at award shows, anything they can. So why would Madonna turn around and do something she’s been seemingly fighting against with everything else she’s been doing?

Perhaps in her eyes, she sees this as a power move. Perhaps she sees it as absolutely nothing. We can’t know for sure until someone asks her. Just don’t tell Britney. She might get jealous.


Shoutout to Andrew for contributing the idea for this post.




Tone Things Down & Turn Things Up

So the past few posts have harbored a lot of heated discussion about women working in the music industry. Let’s take a step back and tone things down. Because let’s face it- at this point, you’re probably asking yourself: “All she does is rant on and on about inequality in the music industry, but she’s hardly mentioned more than a handful of female musicians. Where are they all?”

And I’m here to answer that in the best way I know how- with a playlist!

  1. I Don’t Smoke – Mitski
    Mitski is gritty and a little hard to understand at times, both in articulation as well as in meaning- but that’s just what makes her so great. Embracing all facets of her femininity, she bridges that gap between delicate and destructive with her resounding, ringing voice that climbs into a range so shrill it pierces not only your eardrums but also your heart. This song is annoyed- at the unnamed subject and their not so typical relationship- and aggressive, which makes for a powerful opener.
  2. Bamboo – Hinds
    Hinds used to be called Deers before they decided to change their name after a band with a similar name almost sued them. Oops. But they’re a group of three highly talented girls from Madrid. And though they perform in English, there are hints of that fiery Spanish charm in their fast-paced, lo-fi tunes. Off their initial EP, “Bamboo” is a lament in its laziest form. And it works so well.
  3. Carousel Ride – Rubblebucket
    Fronted by the uniquely named Annakalmia Traver, Rubblebucket takes everything you know about indie-pop and turns it completely upside-down. They lay down dancey synth tracks underneath Travers’ trailing vocals that grab hold of your attention and refuse to let go, even if you do. Transitioning between a softer sort of light singing and her signature forceful, jazzy bellow, you may catch yourself swaying to their unique sound.
  4. Marry Me – St. Vincent
    After releasing her self-titled album in 2013, St. Vincent and Annie Clark became household names. Her throbbing digitized indie rock acted as musical commentary on the state of the music industry. Her outfits and stage mannerisms took care of the rest. But sweet Annie has been rocking our worlds since long before that. Her first release, Marry Me, shows off a side of St. Vincent- Clark’s adopted stage moniker- we often forget about. Ripe with a bluesy attitude and stripped down vocals and piano, this simpler song is refreshing.
  5. Folding Chair – Regina Spektor
    Aside from being one of the more prominent Jewish women on the scene, Regina Spektor is unique in a multitude of ways. Her bubbly voice is underscored by her boundless talent as a piano player, full of recorded breathing and other vocal imperfections or abnormalities that shock the listener as much as they intrigue them. Never withholding a thing while singing, Regina has mastered what every folk artist does best- the art of storytelling. Each song is a thick narrative, laden with details otherwise deemed boring but made beautiful by her ever-moving lilt.
  6. Bad Self Portraits – Lake Street Dive
    Boston natives Lake Street Dive transport you to some smoky cabaret far away with Rachel Price’s guttural jazzy crooning. Artfully constructed, “Bad Self Portraits” is not only an impeccable introduction to Lake Street Dive, but it also totally encapsulates the perfect blues song: a love lost, coping with it, and sliding, bending, undulating vowels that strike more powerfully than the actual words in the song. Yeah.
  7. Smarter – Eisley
    The cool thing about Eisley is that the band is composed entirely of siblings. The DuPree siblings, to be exact. Okay, I suppose not entirely- Garron, the bassist, is their cousin. But it’s still in the family. And the leading ladies of the DuPree family have composed many beautiful, empowering songs about faith, family, and loyalty. But “Smarter” takes the cake with Sherri’s knowing arrogance as she asserts, “I’m smarter than you think,” to an ex-husband she’s discovered has been cheating on her. All about women being powerful and intelligent, “Smarter” is the break-up song that actually celebrates it from the woman’s perspective, for once, instead of making her the victim.
  8. Fireworks – Radiator Hospital
    This one is kind of cheating, since Radiator Hospital’s lineup is constantly in rotation and on occasion they have a male vocalist. But Maryn Jones has such a unique voice, and its pained forcefulness is entirely fitting for this melancholic ballad.
  9. Waitress – Hop Along
    Speaking of unique voices, Frances Quinlan has that sort of scratchy, kind of startling almost shouting singing voice that seems to be gaining popularity as indie branches out into infinite subgenres. And as Philly keeps giving birth to more and more endlessly talented acts (re Modern Baseball, Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs), Hop Along has latched onto their roots in the City of Brotherly Love and created something enigmatic and furious, propelling their aggressive music outside this universe. A new track from their upcoming release, “Waitress” shows off just what made Hop Along so enjoyable in the first place, but also how they’ve grown and will hopefully continue to grow as a band.
  10. I Do Too – Frankie Cosmos
    Notorious for writing songs that are mere minutes long, Frankie Cosmos has mastered the craft of making things short but sweet. Her lackadaisical attitude is funneled into seemingly mundane songs about the inner thoughts of her toothbrush, or an account of the errands she ran that morning and is matched toe to tip with equally paced guitar, changing as quickly as her mood.
  11. Carey – Joni Mitchell
    There’s much more to Ms. Mitchell than her oh-so-memorable demands to “put up a parking lot”. And while, if you’ve even heard of Joni Mitchell, it’s probably for “A Case Of You”, her hits are as saccharine as her personality, it’s the lesser known songs where she truly shines. “Carey” is restless and in a sense, meandering- perfectly exhibited in its lyrics that jump from place to place. Painted with Mitchell’s wavering soprano, it’s bright and entirely delightful.
  12. Birds & Ships – Natalie Merchant
    This entire album is a gem in its own right, thanks to the talents of Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco- but the focus of this list is on the ladies, so we turn our ears to Natalie Merchant. Perhaps it’s in the nature of the song’s age- penned by Woody Guthrie in his beginning stages, decades before Merchant ever grabbed a microphone- but there’s a vintage quality to her voice that makes it so warming and pleasurable to listen to, even with such forlorn subject matter.
  13. Depreston – Courtney Barnett
    Just when you thought listening to someone talking set to music would be boring, Courtney Barnett storms the scene with her brilliant talk-singing that creates a musical opus out of her personal diary entires. Set to her sloppily strummed guitar, Barnett slides in Aussie charm and attitude to her witty songs that range in topics from an allergic reaction to her garden to the qualms of househunting in the suburbs. Thus, “Depreston” was born.
  14. Break It Up – Patti Smith
    Pulled off her iconic Horses, “Break It Up” shows off Patti Smith in all her scratchy-voiced, rocker girl glory. Known as well as an avid poet, her lyricism is commanding in a beautifully transcendent way when juxtaposed with the harsh, jaunty instrumentation characteristic of all guitar heroines of the 60s and 70s. A rock ballad at its finest, Patti is here to say that girls can rock your face off, too.
  15. Honey Hi – Fleetwood Mac
    Christie vs Stevie advocates get ready to duke it out- whichever side you’re on, there’s no denying that both women are equally talented songwriters and songstresses. But it’s McVie whose airy soprano soars above in this simple but sweet tune from Fleetwood Mac. We’ve all come to know and love the earthier, richer tracks from the supergroup, but that’s not to say their more delicate ones need be overlooked- as evidenced by the gem “Honey Hi”.
  16. Ride To U – Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
    Bela can be found bustin’ it out on the banjo- a phrase you probably never thought you’d hear before. But his wife, Abigail Washburn, overlays that with her voice, creating a unique sort of folk duo that sounds as if they’ve been pulled from an earlier time. Transforming “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” from a children’s song into a flourishing folk song where husband and wife use their respective instruments in a musical battle for attention. “Ride To U” takes that passion and raises it, cashing out in a beautiful retro narrative.
  17. Can You Get To That – Mavis Staples
    While we’re throwing it back, the list can’t be complete without the soulful stylings of Mavis Staples. Holding roots in Roots music, Staples is constantly fusing the old with the new, reintroducing funk, soul, and gospel into the modern age. “Can You Get To That” is begging of you not only the title question, but also if you’re willing to match pace with Staples’ endlessly moving style.
  18. So Nice So Smart – Kimya Dawson
    Made famous for her work for the movie Juno, Kimya Dawson has restructured our familiarity with slacker rock with her raspy voice and spitfire lyrics. Touching on all things political as well as emotional, her songs are clever yet laden with passion. “So Nice So Smart” is unique in that it celebrates self-love- something modern songs forget to mention all too often. Another thing that makes Kimya so easy to love- her empowerment in promotion of the self.
  19. Stop, Focus – K. Flay
    More female rappers are rising to the occasion, but few are so captivating with their tempered mastery of rhythm as K. Flay. Hailing from the Chicago suburbs and a former attendee of Stanford University, she’s not your typical rapper; and she builds on her knowledge and is sure to include her skills as a wordsmith in each and every song. Her mixtapes are heavy with wordplay, the sign of any good rapper- but there’s an underlying studiousness that’s refreshing in an overwhelming world of aggressive rap. (Which is still fantastic in its own right.)
  20. Ribs – Lorde
    Riding on the storm of “Royals” and “Team”, the New Zealand youth has accomplished more at 18 than I have in a week. And though you, me, and everyone we know has probably grown sick of hearing the same tracks over and over again everywhere we go, her first studio album doesn’t lack merit. In fact, it’s those hidden tracks that lacked exposure where her true talent lies. “Ribs” is much more subdued than her power-pop ballads that climbed the charts, but it’s there where Lorde’s unrestrained vocals come through, showing us the little girl beneath the glam.
  21. May As Well – Angel Olsen
    It is at this point I am realizing how heavily biased this playlist is- I really like folk, guys. I really like indie. I really like folk indie… And while I wholeheartedly apologize to those in search of a more diverse mix of artists, I do stand by the belief that these ladies are some of the best in the business. In any case, Angel Olsen interlaces decades-old sound with a modern twist, crafting heartbreaking songs with her dainty voice and minimal instrumentation.
  22. Across The Water – Vashti Bunyan
    It takes a trained ear to enjoy listening to Vashti Bunyan, but once you’ve achieved that training, you’re certain to be more than grateful. Precariously high-pitched through nearly the entire song, “Across The Water” can be taxing to listen to. But the thing that makes folk music so great is its very narrative nature, which is captured in her rambling lines and riffs that seem to drop off without explanation. Such is the way of conversation. C’est la vie.
  23. Grass Stain – Waxahatchee
    Katie Crutchfield and her sister Alison have gone above and beyond in proving themselves as worthy musicians in recent years, with their respective groups, Waxahatchee and Swearin’ rising to the challenge and coming out endlessly on top. And what makes Waxahatchee particularly resonant is the hyper-personal nature of Katie’s songs, an account of her innermost thoughts, and probably, most of ours regarding growing up and not exactly feeling comfortable with that.
  24. Stars – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
    I’ve spoken enough. Just listen and let Grace Potter melt your heart.

A Call To The Record Labels

Turn over that favorite CD or record of yours. Who put it out? Unless you’re really cool, probably someone like Universal or Columbia. You know, those record labels almost anyone can name. While our favorite labels are home to, inherently, our favorite artists, they’re overwhelmed – even the indie ones- by men. And I don’t just mean the artists. Most of the record labels in the music industry, major and minor alike, are owned and run by men.

Not only does that create staggering disparity in the executives that run the behind-the-scenes work for the label, but it also skews the selection of artists and the artistic process. Perhaps it is a tad assumptive to assert that if men are in charge of a label, they’re more likely to choose male musicians over female ones- but there’s truth to be found in that. I’ll admit that I’m more likely to go with a female choice for many things than a male choice. It’s natural bias- we select what we’re familiar with.

Sure, we have our fair share of female musicians getting signed to all kinds of labels. But we still lack them at the wheel.

Kaia Wilson of The Butchies shared this sentiment back in 1996 when she was so fed up with the lack of women working on the business side of the industry, she formed Mr. Lady Records.


“(Our music is) feminist music: strong women-identified women playing music. That doesn’t necessarily fall into a genre but describes the people playing. To me, we are women’s music.”

While specifically aiming to be a feminist record label that upheld the ideals of the ideology, Mr. Lady was a pioneer in its field. Unfortunately, the label went defunct in 2004. But in the timespan they were active, they made sure to voice their support for female musicians and women’s rights. In a statement they made it clear that they weren’t entirely opposed to signing male artists, however, they were indeed “a feminist business and part of that involves prioritizing work made by women”.

Home to the first two releases of the iconic Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre, the label was just beginning to tread the waters of the music industry. But they’ve certainly set a precedent that’s yet to be followed. You can check out a compilation playlist of the label’s artists below and download it for free over at their Bandcamp.

As mentioned in my very first post, we do have women in power at some of the more major record labels. Michele Anthony, for example, works as Vice President for Universal Music Group. But scrolling through the lists of women working in the music industry, you’ll find that that’s what most of them are- Vice President, Assistant, Co-whatever. And while that’s certainly impressive, we still need to take that final leap to the top.

Music Festivals’ Leading Ladies

Happy Coachella! As the exemplary summer music festival and kickstarting the flower-crowned season, today marks the first of the dual-weekend fest. But there’s a problem- the number of female musicians playing.

Image courtesy of Karen Cox @ SheKnows.

Image courtesy of Karen Cox @ SheKnows.

A women’s lifestyle blog, SheKnows, took cue from a picture that had been floating around the internet featuring the Reading/Leeds lineup with all the male-only acts removed, and put together a whole post analyzing the more popular festivals in the same manner and allotting percentages of female acts present at each. The results were highly disturbing. See the full article here.

Coachella scored a whopping 13.5% composition of female acts. Yikes. The other fests didn’t fare much better- Lollapalooza scored 25%, Bonnaroo 23%, and Governer’s Ball coming out on top with 30%.

The problem is, this isn’t news. This has become commonplace in many music festivals throughout the nation, even the world. That’s not to say the acts who are chosen, be they predominantly male or not, aren’t deserving of a slot. No, the issue lies in ensuring these festivals are fostering the kind of inclusion and diversity the music community is so apt to promote.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Back in 1997 (hello two-year-old me), Sarah McLachlan- yes, the sad puppy commercial woman- along with the help of Dan Fraser and Terry McBridge, put together Lillith Fair, a musical festival just for solo female acts or predominantly female bands. And it went on from ’97 through 1999, with a hiatus before its revival in 2010. Unfortunately, the fest is now defunct, but it gained quite a following in its time, even earning a documentary.

And Lillith Fair stands as proof that not only is a music festival with heavier female presence possible, it’s also just as attractive as a typical festival. While an entirely female festival would be a stellar thing to bring back, I believe it would be enough to start with simply being more inclusive in pre-existing festivals. With more women earning bigger names in the music industry, from pop to indie rock, it wouldn’t be hard to scout out some more acts with two X chromosomes.


And it doesn’t stop with the musicians. I joke, you joke, we all joke about the stereotypical music festival goer, particularly the crop-topped and sunkissed girls. But we’re narrowly missing the point- it’s a form of self-expression, an embracing of it at that. Sure, you’ll find your fair share of scantily clad women at almost any summer music festival- but you’ll find your fair share of guys running around shirtless, as well. It’s in the very definition of a summer music festival: outdoors, massive crowds, summer heat on top of all that. So while us ladies can’t necessarily rock with our tops off, a good, airy crop top or even bikini top is as close as we can get. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

There is something wrong with shaming them for that, which is something that happens sadly all too often. But seeing more feminine faces in the crowd gives those girls a sense of support, whether they need it or not.

The crowds at Lillith Fair were predominantly female. You do the math. More female acts = more female attendees = more security in the fact that it’s okay to be a girl and like music, and moreover, to celebrate that as much as male musicians and festival goers do. Party on, girls.

My Anaconda DO

Fuse, MTV, VH1…they all used to be the places to go for your music video fix. But just because they’ve died down doesn’t mean music video culture has as well- in fact, music videos are more popular than ever, thanks to YouTube. Especially when it comes to pop artists- particularly female pop artists- we’ve seen a niche brand of music videos. Stylized choreography, dramatic vignettes, and flashy outfits. And more often than not, our diva herself wearing hardly anything or something skintight, completely and utterly sexualized. Recently, our pop stars have been fighting back against this very paradigm.

I hadn’t even thought about Miley Cyrus since Hannah Montana’s primitive seasons on Disney Channel. But there was absolutely no avoiding her my first month at college- that’s when the music video for Wrecking Ball was released. Fully immersed in my alternative/indie persona, I’d sworn off pop music. How edgy. But I was also a budding music journalist, so I decided to give the video a watch. I giggled with my friends as she nudely swung past, bright red lipstick the only color in the otherwise stark scene. But introspectively, I couldn’t help but consider what this meant for me.

A song about confusion, submission, and heartbreak, “Wrecking Ball” quickly made its way up the charts, carrying the controversial video along with it. It starts off seemingly innocent- a single tear tracks its way down her pallid face. Then we see her licking hammers. And finally, she’s nude, riding past our eyes atop a wrecking ball. “What the heck, Miley?!” the world cried in disbelief.

Not only is her nakedness a metaphor- for being completely naked in front of a person in a relationship, not just physically but emotionally, mentally. But it’s also a power symbol. We’ve all watched little Hannah Montana transform into a grown woman, and Miley chose this particular song and video to embrace her newfound maturity, both in her sound as well as performance. She’s unashamed of how she’s grown- physically, musically, and especially mentally. After shedding herself for another person- the unnamed lover and subject of the song- she’s taking ownership, and complete control by showing herself completely naked on top of a huge, heavy, destructive device.

And then there’s Nicki.

A year later, Nicki Minaj put out this vaguely familiar song and a booty bumping video to accompany it, featuring Drake. And it’s an absolute feminist masterpiece. I know what you’re thinking- how could that possibly be true, with the myriad scantily clad women, and the shining, bouncing bottoms?

Well…that’s exactly it. Nicki knows exactly what she’s doing and she’s proud of it. Lady Minaj has shown the world that she’s here, she has a huge ass, and she’s not afraid to show it off- under her circumstances. We see a lot of imagery of male arousal throughout the video- the coconut dripping in the beginning, the wine glass spilling over the sides, spreading whipped cream all over her chest, the bananas spinning around on the turntable…yet when in contact with an actual male in the video- Drake- she doesn’t surrender her ownership of herself. She slithers all over him, snake-like, wrapping herself around him in the most enticing way possible. But as soon as he reaches out for a taste of his own, she retracts. No, no, Drake.

There’s also something to be said regarding her sample choice- clearly borrowing from Sir Mixalot’s Baby Got Back. Though catchy, “Baby Got Back” has clear footholds in the concept that women’s bodies are objects for men to admire and drool over. In fact, in the spoken intro, one of the female characters states, regarding the fictional woman whose butt is the subject of the song, “She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.” They go on to claim that people only talk to her because she looks like- wait for it- a prostitute. The intro closes out with an even more horrifying line- “She’s just so…black!” As if all black women are good for is having big butts.

“Anaconda” is reclaiming the male gaze and transforming it into something under feminine control. It’s also fun to dance to.


And more and more female artists are catching on. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video showcases her essentially mocking the now popular notion that all she does is date guys, who eventually break her heart, leaving her to write another hit song about them. Beyonce has too many to count. Not to mention the countless other artists you may not even know about who are out there making empowering videos, embracing their womanhood. This is an important step for female musicians to take. It’s allowing them creative control over their music videos, and more importantly, the male gaze that’s commonly present behind them. As I mentioned in a previous post, the people working behind the scenes in the music industry are predominantly male. And whether it’s conscious or not, there’s been a clear sexualized skew in female pop musicians music videos.

So pull up those high-waisted shorts and dance along with them. You deserve it, and you look great doing it.

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?


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.)


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.


Who Run The Industry?

Sadly, unequivocally, and unsurprisingly: men. Whether you’re scanning the Top 40 list, or searching for the names of the people in charge of your favorite record labels, you’re more than likely to read an overwhelming amount of male names. We have our lady diva pop stars, sure. And there are people like Michele Anthony and Julie Greenwald– but the thing is, women on top are few and far between in any industry. And these two aren’t even the head honchos- they’re assistants to them. “How progressive,” said Peggy Olson.

Billboard cultivated the Women In Music awards as well as a series of articles on their website in 2007 in order to shed some well-deserved light on the female musicians, executives, and everyone in between in the industry. You’d recognize Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and others who have won the award- but skimming their list of the 50 Most Powerful (Female) Executives from last year, after first being blindly impressed, you begin to realize something terrifying- you’ve never heard of any of these people.

Okay, perhaps you’re a little more well-versed in music industry businesspeople than I am and you do recognize them. But chances are, each name is equally unfamiliar and frankly disturbing in this right. But it’s easy to rattle off the names of Brian Eno, Quincy Jones, Mark Ronson, and so many others.

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That’s why organizations like Women In Music are so important. We need more females not only stepping up as musicians, but on the business side of things as well. Started in 1985, Women In Music is a collective of women in all fields of the music industry, working to make what they do seem more attractive and plausible. They host events such as workshops and panels to encourage girls to break into the industry, no matter how off-putting it can be.

Although, it’s worthwhile to note the growth we’ve seen in the past few years. With pop powerhouses like Beyonce and rap queens like Nicki Minaj promoting feminist ideals (more on that in another post) in their music, and heartwarming singer songwriters like Taylor Swift proving that girls can pick up a guitar and make a song just as catchy as any flannel-clad, horn-rimmed glasses wearing guy can, this past decade has certainly seen lots more girl power. Not that girl groups or female-fronted groups haven’t been present in the past- each decade has certainly been host to some talented ladies. It’s just that we seem to be on the cusp of an estrogen fueled revolution in the music industry, as well as the world. There’s recently been a noticeable influx of these female artists, and certainly more of them stepping up in business.

And we can’t lose momentum. Billboard took a step in the right direction with their awards, Women In Music is a beautifully empowering organization that only has room to grow and everything to gain, and there are emerging publications like She Shreds that showcase some talent that might not get picked up in Rolling Stone. More and more ladies are picking up the microphone, the guitar, the drum sticks, you name it. But we need more. We need to keep going until Queen Bey is satisfied, and the industry, and maybe some day the world, is run by girls.