FEATURE: Superhuman Behaviour: The Female Artists Who Have Made Such an Impact on My Life (and Continue to Do So)



Superhuman Behaviour


 IN THIS PHOTO: The album cover for Björk's Debut/ALL PHOTO CREDITS (unless stated otherwise): Getty Images 

The Female Artists Who Have Made Such an Impact on My Life (and Continue to Do So)


THIS week…



I want to explore everything from Hookworms - and the struggle the Yorkshire band has faced the past year or so - to some troubling observations I have made concerning the music industry. I have written a lot about gender division on my blog - and will cease for a little while, now... - but, say what you want; there is a clear fact: there are divisions and needless sexism. Call is natural schisms of male pantheism: progression, reappropriation and education is required so that music is a more level-minded and gender-balanced culture. Is it (bear with me...) disengendered ecofeminism and irrational divisionism?! It is, in my mind, insane and Stone Age. This is not an article that points figures, cracks out the stats and eviscerates my male peers: I want to explain why, for me, female artists have played such a massive role in my life; why they have changed my mindset and view of the world - and why modern female artists deserve more attention and exposure than they are getting. I will talk about the artists, now, who I am responding to - but I cannot think about my love of music without considering those artists I connected with at a young age. It seems strange but, away from big bands like The Beatles, T.Rex; The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin: it was strong solo artists like Kate Bush, Carole King and Tori Amos that registered and resonated. There were some female bands that created great memories - from The Bangles to En Vogue - but, as a child, it was the dynamic, stunning and multi-talented solo musicians that inspired me to get more involved with music.


I can talk forever abbot heroes like Michael Jackson, Jeff Buckley; Radiohead and Blur - great male musicians who have done so much to make me the person I am. Their music has scored some transformative moments and, when I think of them; it is always those carefree childhood times and school days. The female-created music goes deeper: soundtracking challenging times I overcome; those occasions when I needed guidance and something more profound. I will compartmentalise Kate Bush and Tori Amos but, when I think back to my school years; there is a dichotomy and extremism of tastes - I reacted to Carole King and Björk at different times. King was the first female solo artists – away from Bush and Amos – that taught me about music and the world. Tapestry is an album I listen to and open my heart like an ocean. I can hear a song like It’s Too Late and, from those first evocative notes; the tingles form and I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. I have mentioned male artists and the way they influenced my early life: more to do with those happier times and carefree experiences. The likes of Carole King were there when times were tough and, even when they were good; there is something about their music that has hit me harder – and shaped who I am as a human.

Tapestry, especially, arrived in my world when I was five (1988). It was one of those early albums and one that helped me adapt to a new way of life and environment. Something in the music, the voice and arrangements fought through the mire and provided guidance and comfort. Luck and social standing is a disloyal and unpredictable aspect when you are that age. I was not bullied (at that stage) but was often unsure and struggled to form friendships. I was not lonely - but it took a while to fit into a clique and find my tribe. Carole King was there and, in her seductive and enticing way, did something no other (male) artists did: providing a carapace and a comforting robe of security. Not only that but her music – in the way it impacts me now – was a lot more intriguing and passionate than a lot of the chart music at the time. It is hard to name a lot of female Pop bands of the moment: when I was young, there seemed to be even fewer! I was searching for great female artists to balance the male-heavy sounds I was exposed to at school/home. The Bangles were a group I discovered, rather illicitly, when Eternal Flame (one of their best-known hits) was played on VH1.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Bangles

That initial attraction came from the video itself: the members lips-syncing to the track in a rather serene, romantic and unfamiliar setting (I think it is a beach in America - I might be wrong). The same way a Kate Bush video had a formative role on my early memories: The Bangles’ Eternal Flame opened my mind to emotions and aspects of life that were, at that point, shrouded and immature. I must have been around seven or eight when I saw that video (the late-1990s) or it could have been earlier. Whenever it arrived; there was a strange power and magic that came from that song - one that, every time I hear it, I am back in that childhood setting and reintroduced to the furniture, smells and sights of the time. I feel artists like King and The Bangles impacted me because there was more honesty and purity in their music. Male artists, to me, where about power and confidence: female acts, with a few exceptions, more passionate, real and intelligent. That might seem a generalisation and vague comparison - but Kate Bush was the first heroine that meant music would obsess and stalk my life. The Beatles have played a bigger role - and they are my favourite band ever - but Kate Bush remains untouched. I have her lyrics tattooed on my skin; the fortieth anniversary of The Kick Inside (in a couple of weeks) is an opportunity to pay tribute to a record that changed my life...


The Kick Inside, alongside Hounds of Love (1985) and The Red Shoes (1993) taught me - aside from parenting and education - loads about the world and nature. I was aware of the complexities of love and the beauty of the natural world; the depth and variations of the human voice: what mesmeric and unique music could do to an impressionable human. Hounds of Love is bombastic in parts and, on the second half’s suite of songs; immersive and narrative. I will place a moratorium on Kate Bush references after the anniversary piece (is a week okay?!) but I cannot talk about female artists and their role without mentioning Bush. It is strange to think The Kick Inside, recorded and released when she was a teenager could make such an impression - this would have been the late-1980s/early-1990s – on someone who not much more than a decade younger. In the 1990s, when you had fatter production and an ‘evolved’ sound, albums like Nevermind (Nirvana) and Dangerous (Michael Jackson) changed the way I interacted with music. The Red Shoes was a bold move for Kate Bush - she has stated, in interviews, that production is a little too brash and unnatural for the type of music she was writing. Like Hounds of Love and The Kick Inside; that record introduced different sides to love and young life; the world around me/us and important concerns (conservation and climate; feminism and strength through adversity).

Whilst icons like Kate Bush broadened my scope regarding the world, matters of the heart and more ethereal areas: Tori Amos and Björk helped when I needed spirit and resolve. Björk’s music came into my world chronologically. I picked up Debut around 1994-or-so and, from the opening bars of Human Behaviour; I was captivated by its bellicose and tribal lust. That video – shot by Michel Gondry - was one of the first that sticks in my mind. The entire Debut album got me hooked on a human who did things very differently. Björk was/is that innovator and unique soul but, more than that, she was the voice of an outsider. There was a rebelliousness and potency in the music that gave me energy and desire to fight against - or cope, at least - with a troubling time. I was bullied a lot throughout high-school and, by 1995, for instance, it was at its (bloodied) worst. Not only did Björk’s music help me deal with that violence and abuse: the music gave escapism and dream-like landscapes at a point where I needed evasion from the snow-filled peaks of my real life. I followed Björk through Post and future albums: I have not missed a record and, with each revelation; there is fresh revolution and development. I love how she can change her sound and look whilst retaining that inimitable and unmistakable personality. Björk continues to offer assistance and clarity as her new and past music runs through my veins. There are a lot of female artists I will not get to mention who are important – from Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin to Madonna and Suzi Quatro.


Madonna in fact, like Kate Bush - someone the American learnt from and, as a result, upped her game – played an enormous role in my life. Early albums such Like a Virgin (1984), True Blue (1986) and Like a Prayer (1989) highlighted the growing stature and confidence of a legendary artist. From Like a Virgin to Like a Prayer; one can see the maturation and independence of Madonna come into the fore. That maturation concerned sexuality, production and fashion. Madonna’s music got saucier and more controversial - the video for Like a Prayer caused snootier critics to drop their monocles in their port! - and the icon started to write and produce more of her own music. She became a fashion icon and inspired legions of fans to copy her. For a boy; Madonna’s music and look did not have the same meaning as it would for a girl. I was drawn to a strong and individual female talent at a time when music - and music television - was proffering male artists. Not much has changed (as I shall go onto) but there was a rebellious and defiant drive to Madonna that tackled that male dominance and introduced me to a new sensation. If her music was crap and processed, it is likely girls and young women would only find appeal: the fact the songs are so addictive and exceptional means her music appeals to both genders and all ages.

She was a Pop artist who could have sold herself and compromised. Rather than portray herself as a corporate puppet and have others pen her music; we got, instead, a musician who was not going to hide behind a corporate skin. THAT was incredibly powerful when I was younger. I have spoken about Björk and how she gave me power and a sense of protection. Tori Amos’ songwriting still manages to grip and compel me over twenty years since I discovered her music. Cornflake Girl is the song that stands out from the rest: that rushing, mind-grabbing introduction and fantastic chorus; a singular vocal and lyrics that get you singing along - and make you think. That song is from 1994’s Under the Pink and features piano-led songs and the sort of quiet-loud numbers that gained her comparisons to Nirvana. The record is a sweeping (third record) and one that drew from harsher, tougher subjects - female suffrage and mutilation; Yes, Anastasia was written about Anastasia Romanova - the Grand Duchess of Russia and daughter of Tsar Nicholas II - and it is a complex, inspiring record. The music stands out and I have learnt so much about different cultures, concerns and sides of society - that I would only ever hear about from books and the news. Little Earthquakes (released in 1992) is another favourite that looks at alienation and sexuality; depression and personal struggle - a quixotic and (almost) therapeutic set of songs that amazed critics and shows bare-naked honesty. Songs like Silent All These Years and Winter became staples in my earlier listening experience. They are cerebral and unusual songs – not the kind of thing I was exposed to at that time - and inspired the new generation of female singer-songwriters (in the 1990s). Her influence is ongoing and, with new and bold female songwriters emerging; I can see the influence of Tori Amos in them.


IN THIS PHOTO: A promotional shot for Tori Amos' album, Under the Pink

There are some fantastic female artists in every corner and crook of music. Although there are no icons on the same level as Björk or Madonna: that is not to say future stars are absent from the scene. I have great faith and investment concerning modern female artists. I find them more innovative and compelling (than their male peers) and they linger longer in the mind. From Billie Marten and Hannah Peel through to Skott, Lorde; Sigrid, Laura Marling and Bat for Lashes - that is only the tip of the iceberg! I am excited by news of a forthcoming Florence + The Machine album and what that will hold; there is news of a Kate Nash L.P. - newcomers like Jade Bird and ALMA look set to do something very special. There are great female-led bands and fantastic Soul artists; proper Punk thrash and Pop artists who inject elements from the 1980s and 1990s into an intriguing and colourful cocktail. I was going to post this yesterday - on the one-hundredth-anniversary of women being given the vote - but, owing to a busy schedule and this being a celebration of female musicians…I felt it was best left until today. I am excited by the crop of female artists we have on the scene and know, between them, they will make changes in the industry. I am always disappointed when debates around equality and gender come up: it shouldn’t still be so persistent in 2018! Some of the most memorable and impactful musical memories of my life have been created by female musicians. They have managed to do something male artists have not: helped shaped my life and desires; taught me so much and, in addition to all of that…


IN THIS PHOTO: Florence Welch (Florence + The Machine): PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Jackson/Trunk Archive

PROVIDED truly wondrous music.