Akie and I discussed the state of the female musician in this week’s Perpetual Post.
There’s something missing from the women of mainstream American music today. I don’t want to generalize and say ALL of American music, because I know that’s not true. But among those females whom fate or luck or talent has elevated to the heights of fame and fortune, I feel that there is a distinct lack of a certain je ne se quoi that for simplicity’s sake I’m going to refer to as SWAGGER.
Where are you, crazy rock goddesses? Where is your cheerful destructiveness, your wild and devil may care ‘go fuck yourself’ attitude? Your MOXIE?! Why, when I want to live vicariously through a rough and ready rock musician, does it STILL always have to be a man—and one who is usually over fifty, to boot? Who is going to step up and take the torch of the ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners rock star away from Keith Richards, before he smokes it down to nothing? And why can’t it that person be a woman?
I’ve endured so many disappointments during my search for a smart, self-assured female musician with flinty eyes, awesome hair and staggering talent who doesn’t take shit from anybody. In the beginning I had high hopes for Amy Winehouse, but then she started losing weight and doing drugs and that went nowhere fast. Pink piqued my interest for a little while, but there’s still something kind of manufactured and by-the-numbers about her. Britney Spears is a puppet; Christina Aguilera is a ghoul. Lady Gaga is a pretentious twit. Katy Perry is like the Hello Kitty of pop music. Fergie can be kind of a bad-ass in her own right, and there’s something a little crazy and half-baked about her; she might be the closest thing I can find to what I’m looking for, but I’m still unsatisfied. She’s no Pat Benatar.
And don’t come at me talking about Beyonce or Miley Cyrus. I’m not looking for a diva, or a child. Rihanna either; the kind of icon I crave would have eaten Chris Brown for breakfast. Bjork is borderline; she’s half out of this world, although she doesn’t seem to give a shit what anyone things of her, which I appreciate. Modern female pop stars on the whole, though, lack the charisma and charm of Cyndi Lauper; the poise of Stevie Nicks—not to mention the steely, hungry ambition that has made Madonna a force to reckon with for going on thirty years.
So-called ‘girl groups’ are also a whole lot of nothing. You could replace each member of the Pussycat Dolls or Danity Kane with a different person, and I’d bet you 75% of their fans wouldn’t notice right away. Each member of those bands is carefully crafted and coiffed and insultingly counterfeit. At least bands like the Spice Girls knew they were a fluffy, manufactured joke—and they were in on it.
Hugely successful all-female bands didn’t used to be cotton-candy assemblages. The Go-Go’s, the Bangles—these were bands whose members played their own instruments and even wrote some of their own songs. Instead of being cobbled together from soul-shriveling auditions filled with aspiring models and actresses, they sprang organically from hard-working and talented female singers and musicians. Somehow we managed to go from, “Hi, I’m Kathy Valentine, and I’m out of my fucking mind and having the best time ever.” to “Hi, I’m the Blond Pussycat Doll, and these are my tits.” Is the genre de-evolving?!
Maybe it’s the times we live in. Maybe it’s difficult for celebrities of any kind to be reckless and raw and learn lessons the hard way anymore. Maybe by the time you attain a certain level of fame in the music business these days, you’ve already got publicists and stylists and handlers and an image to uphold. Or maybe I’m wrong! Am I forgetting someone? I’m throwing down a gauntlet here, but I’d be ever so pleased to be schooled in the world of female musicians who are actually inspiring to either females or musicians. Please, PLEASE, give me some hope. Hit me with your best shot.
November 5, 2009 at 4:36 pm
I believe Gaga is our best hope. (I also know how sad that is). Maybe we can coax Kathleen Hanna out of retirement?
November 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm
What about Corrin Tucker and Katie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney
November 5, 2009 at 4:51 pm
Check out the whole article at the Perpetual Post– my colleague Jillian Lovejoy Lowery has a lot to say about other female musicians– although certainly less mainstream ones.
I’m mostly bummed that there are no female artists like you’ve mentioned who are HUGE these days. Certainly they have followings, but they’re not big stars. Why is that?
Also, with regard to Lady Gaga, yes, she has a talented voice. Yes, she does some interesting stuff. But I find all her crazy costumes and getups unbearably affected. It’s like slamming you over the head with how artsy and interesting she is. I get it, Lady Gaga. You want to be considered a performance artist. Now go away. If only she were one among a bunch of other similarly interesting and creative performers, I think she’d be the dullest and lamest. But she gets lauded since she’s all we’ve got.
November 6, 2009 at 3:08 pm
I think really the problem is that the divide between pop and awesome is wider than it used to be… It’s not just that there isn’t a new female Keith Richards, there also isn’t a new Keith Richards. I mean, there’s the Drive By Truckers, but have you ever heard them on a Top 40 station? So you can’t really be surprised that you’ve also never heard Neko Case or Sally Timms there either.
November 6, 2009 at 8:08 pm
Kelly Clarkson. She can sing, she can rock, she does not give a shit about what you think of her weight, and will call you out if you airbrush her skinny.
Vantage Point Productions
November 7, 2009 at 6:51 am
Sadly, it is more about the way you LOOK now than the way you SING. That is why we cannot find them any more. Most of the ones who can truly belt it out do not fit the model the powers that be desire.
I do, actually, have to concur with Lydia and say that Kelly Clarkson can actually flat out sing, even though at first I thought she was just going to be another Idol flop. But, she is one who got in before she started to not fit their “ideal.”
Where are the next Aretha Franklins or Pat Benatars? They are out there, but they do not look the part. The powers that be take the cover of the album over the content.
I wish they would just give me good music that raises the hair on my arms and sends tingles down my spine. When Aretha belts it out, that is exactly what happens to me. Blondie can also have that effect. And, while I do not agree with most of what she stands for or does, so does Sinead O’Connor. Oh, and check at the lady singer for Big Pig, especially the song “Breakaway” (It might be two words, I am not sure.) I honestly don’t know what she looks like at all and, you know what, it doesn’t matter to me.
I do not give a damn about what any singer looks like. I’m listening to them on the radio or iPod. I can’t see them, any way, so why does it matter? Just give me good music again.
Sorry, I got carried away. Take care all.
November 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm
Lydia! You’re my only hope 🙂
November 9, 2009 at 4:10 pm
Thanks Molly 🙂 I’m flattered 🙂
But, here are a few ladies who are already famous, that do fit your description, check em’ out if you have not already:
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (amazing performer, singer, songwriter and general badass..)
Katie White of The Ting Tings (also incredible singer, songwriter and performer, a tough girl!)
Meg White of The White Stripes (great drummer, who doesn’t get a enough credit for also having wonderful stage chemistry with Jack)
Enjoy them! They are definitely some of my idols!
November 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm
Forgot one more:
Beth Ditto of The Gossip (lead singer, songwriter, just awesome!)
June 10, 2010 at 11:47 am
Katy’s video is enjoyable even though Gaga’s is just GAG!