My Gurl: Subverting Rock

On International Women’s Day, we thought it only fitting to celebrate some of our favourite female artists, playlist style… 

Historically, women in pop and rock are generally only allowed to play one of a handful of parts in the industry. Three predominant ones being that of the ice cold pop princess, portrayed as screwing over anybody who stands between her and superstardom; the archetypal (always beautiful) muse to a male ‘genius’, or – perhaps least appealing –  the saccharine kiddie-pop singer, wearing too short skirts.

It makes it all the more refreshing then when an artist or band arrives who neither want to, nor actually do, fill any of the above stereotypes. It is with these acts in mind that we put together this playlist, reflecting pioneering, radical bands who, never mind striking a blow for women in rock, just as importantly, happen to make interesting – largely unforgettable – contributions to a world that continues to be male-dominated; both in terms of would-be impresarios, slimily pulling strings behind the scenes, or the musicians themselves.

And thus it ever was. But, whether it be the perfect (never saccharine) pop of the Ronette’s, or the strident rebelliousness of Joan Jett-led The Runaways (notwithstanding both of those being handled by svengali-like figures in Phil Spector and Kim Fowley, respectively), in the latter part of the 20th century, things began to noticeably change for the better. Thank the music gods because, as good as Blondie no doubt were, where would they have been without Debbie Harry? And where would we have been? Living in a world sans Parallel Lines? No thanks. While there remained an eye on the obvious (how hard could it really have been to market a band fronted by a former playboy bunny?), these trailblazers will always be owed a debt of gratitude.

Indeed, it is their like (as well as countless others) who eventually prised open the floodgates, meaning that no longer would we – the humble fans – have to choose from only half of the population when it  came to good, credible music. No doubt there are still glaring inequalities and peculiarities when it comes to being a female performer in 2013 – female-fronted bands are still described first and foremost as that, for example (while it would never occur to anybody to describe, The Walkmen say, as male-fronted) – the chances of being taken on merit by previously blinkered A&R, management and media have been greatly enhanced.

Perhaps the most significant sea-change came in the UK, during the punk movement, when bands such as The Raincoats, The Slits and X-Ray Spex illustrated vividly the potential to infiltrate and subvert the status-quo, the latter pair achieving the previously unthinkable by making appearances on flagship BBC music show, Top of The Pops without a scantily-clad dancer in sight.

In the ensuing years we have arguably – finally – arrived at a point where it is commonplace to see acts such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PJ Harvey, Björk and Cat Power in any context and not bat an eye-lid, judging them only, correctly, on whether they’re actually any good. Almost laughing at ourselves writing that last line illustrates just how absurd it would be if it were any other way, but we’re quickly jolted back to reality when we realise that 2013 is no doubt still a time where certain acts will be sidelined in favour of more aesthetically pleasing, or male, counterparts. But that’s a whole other article.

The point of this piece was intended to be about judging good music on its merits, no matter the gender of those who happen to be holding the guitars. So, here we have them, 10 great tracks coincidentally produced by women.

Posted on 08/03/2013 by thedoublenegative