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.

 

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.

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