IN THIS PHOTO: Anna Calvi/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The Female Innovators Tearing Down Walls
THERE is a long way to go…
IN THIS PHOTO: Shirley Manson/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Hauptman for DAZED
before music establishes an equal footing and sense of parity. I often write about sexism and feel the greatest fight against it is being made by women – few male artists and journalists coming out and attacking imbalance. It seems strange to think we have got to 2018 and we still need to have these arguments: battling sexism and asking why changes are not being made. It is not only sexism and a lack of opportunities for women that are being struck against. They are talking about sexual assault and being taken advantage of. I will bring in some innovators and those speaking out but, in an interview with The Guardian; Shirley Manson (Garbage) talked about the #MeToo campaign and one its more shocking sides:
“…This conversation inevitably leads to #MeToo, but it is Manson’s older peers’ response that she finds exasperating. “They say: ‘Well, I was raped and I didn’t complain about it.’ As though somehow they resent that protections are now encouraged.” As for her male peers’ complaints: “I want to say: ‘OK, I can offer you two options: you get to tell women they’re beautiful and touch them in the office as you’re sliding past the coffee machine. Or we can eradicate rape and sexual violence. Which one would you rather?’ Men want it all their way. I love men. I want men to step up.” Are men changing for the better? “No. Men are just a little more careful about what they say because they understand they can get into hot water fast”.
I wonder how far we have come and whether those in the seats of power are listening to these conversations and interviews and doing something about it. Certainly, discourse and anger are bringing issues like this to the light and oxidising something that needs to be discussed. It is the music and the sense of passion from these female artists that makes me wonder why we have to talk about sexism. By that, I mean they are equal and, in many cases, far more compelling and stronger than men. In Manson’s case, she has produced a sterling career and is seen as one of the most inspirational and consistent artists from all of music. Another artist that catches my ear is Anna Calvi. Her new album, Hunter is getting fantastic press. This is what The Independent has to say about it:
“…There is, of course, a fine line between sounding serpentine and plain meandering and Calvi isn’t consistently on the right side it. Some guitar solos, as on “Wish” and the otherwise thrilling “Alpha”, wang on a bit. But, overall, this is a powerful statement from a laudably liberated artist. A record red in tooth and claw”.
The Guardian has given it a five-star review and, aside from IDLES’ new album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, I am yet to find a more powerful and impressive record – both albums are released today.
When speaking with The Telegraph earlier this month; Calvi talked about gender and sexism in the music industry:
“I have long felt frustrated at the limitations of what a woman is allowed to be, on a very basic level,” says Calvi. “Perfect, smiling, accommodating. Why do I have to live up to these ideals because of my anatomy?”
Calvi is a passionate feminist who is speaking up for women and laying it out there. We have this perception (women) are supposed to sound a particular way and they are only meant to record a certain type of music. It has never been the case, in any time for music, women have only done Pop or something softer. Calvi, in the interview I have just quoted, talked about the idea of the male Rock artist/band being dead; an idea of what they represent and what they have always been about holding less relevance. I know for a fact a lot of male bands are conscious of image and how Rock artists of the past have been portrayed. More and more female/female-led Punk, Rock and Alternative bands are doing great things and bringing much-needed balance, difference and colour into the scene. Aside from a few great bands like IDLES and Yak; I am a bit bored of the rather cliché and predictable Rock band – the aimless riffs and boring songs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I listened to Calvi do a live session for BBC Radio 6 Music a couple of days back and she was mesmeric. The stunning, sky-scraping vocals and immense guitar chops; the command and hypnotic sounds that many in the industry feel cannot possibly come from a woman! From Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde; there have always been strong and defiant women showing how strong and purposeful they are. Things are changing in terms of sound but, when it comes to shining a light on women in music, I am not seeing enough change. St. Vincent is another modern innovator who talks about gender and misconception. In an interview last year, she spoke about her experiences:
“The artist born Annie Clark explained that people have "a tendency to assume that if a woman is singing a song, it must be literally true.
"They think everything must be emotional, a diary, and obviously that's not the case," she said.
In the interview with British Vogue, she added: "People wildly underestimate women - they think we lack intelligence".
St. Vincent, like Anna Calvi, is an incredible musician and singer; an artist whose music is transformative and is writing deep and fascinating music – both artists have always been that way! They explore gender and women’s strength through their music; they speak against sexism and how a woman is perceived in the industry. If fans and critics are reacting and impressed by what they do; how many bosses, festivals and labels are taking notice?! I would love to see both of these artists headline the likes of Glastonbury but I wonder whether female artists will be taken as seriously as men. Sure; bands like IDLES are primed to headline but there is a definite role for female sensations who are producing incredible work. From Lizzo and Florence + the Machine through to Laura Marling and Nicki Minaj; women in all corners of music are showing how incredible they are and what they can produce. I feel the music being made by women right now is more interesting and varied than the male-made comparison. In an interview Laura Marling conducted last year to promote her album, Semper Femina, she spoke about her sexuality and being unsure of her femininity:
“Marling prompted a lot of speculation when she announced in a press release that the album was written during a "masculine time" in her life, after she had "gone on this trip of abandoning any sexuality".
She clarifies that today, saying she was simply trying to write about women from a "neutral perspective". But she admits LA prompted a period of androgyny.
IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Marling/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
"People there are just a bit more far-out," she explains. "Nobody's got a job, they can dress however they want. A lot of my friends are queer or gender-fluid. So I was picking up on that.
"Then there was also my natural relationship with [womanhood]. I'm unsure. I'm unsure of my own femininity or masculinity.
"There are some circumstances in which I employ more of a masculine approach in order to protect myself; and there are circumstances where I indulge in my more feminine side because that vulnerability seems more important”.
Maybe it is not the case with Laura Marling but many women have to produce music more ‘masculine’ in order to get critical attention. Although their natural sound is incredible; people are still looking for the same old sound and something old hat. I wrote a piece this week about festival headliners and how artists like Dua Lipa – at Reading this year – are defining the new wave. She is a great Pop artist and, at a time when male bands are holding less influence; are fantastic and multi-talented artists like her and Sigrid the new headliners?! Surely, it is only a matter of time before these empowering and striking female artists get proper respect and attention. I think we have got into this mindset about the band – Rock, for the most part – being the profitable and ideal concoction in music. Women have always been vital in the progression and evolution of music but few are being listened to as hard as they should.
In this article, Beyoncé interviewed her sister Solange (Knowles) about experiences of sexism in the business; how she has been made to feel and react:
“As far back as I can remember, our mother always taught us to be in control of our voice and our bodies and our work, and she showed us that through her example,” Solange says. “Society labels that a control freak, an obsessive woman, or someone who has an inability to trust her team or to empower other people to do the work, which is completely untrue.”
When Beyoncé asks Solange about common misconceptions about being a strong woman — Beyoncé herself having often been criticised for her tight image control— Solange cites Jessica Hopper’s 2015 interview with Björk in which the artist laments how a man is almost always given the credit for her work. “One thing that I constantly have to fight against is not feeling arrogant when I say I wrote every lyric on this album. I still have not been able to say that,” Solange says. “That’s the first time I’ve actually ever said it, because of the challenges that we go through when we celebrate our work and our achievements.”
“It’s something I’ve learned so much about from you, getting to be in control of your own narrative. And, at this point, it should be an expectation, not something that you’re asking permission for,” she continued. In 2013, Solange and frequent collaborator, Dev Hynes, had a public falling out over writing credits on her EP, True (they have since reunited on stage)”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Courtney Barnett/PHOTO CREDIT: Elizabeth Weinberg for GQ
From Kacey Musgraves and SOPHIE to Anna Meredith to Hannah Peel; Cardi B and Mitski and Courtney Barnett; so much of the finest music from the past year are being made by women. I am finding Pop’s mainstream finest showing more determination and passion than ever before. Fantastic newcomers like Jorja Smith are leaving a huge impression on the music landscape and showing how strong female artists are. The names I have already mentioned are all worthy of headline slots; they are all incredibly gifted and potent artists who show who are laying down their voices. It is hearing artists like Anna Calvi and St. Vincent – the multi-talented musicians and sublime songwriters – that makes me a bit angry. They are right in everything they say and you only have to listen to their music to realise how stupid the gender divide is. Why are they not getting big headline slots? Why do they have to address sexism when, clearly, female artists are producing world-class material?! I am stunned (but not surprised) by the sheer wonder and fascination coming from the best female artists out there. So much of the Pop market sees male writers and producers run the show. I wonder whether female artists are being controlled by labels – who want men to write the songs and just have them sing. With a plethora of brilliant female Pop artists; are they being silenced and controlled?
IN THIS PHOTO: Dua Lipa/PHOTO CREDIT: Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage
Dua Lipa, in this article, explained how she learned a lot from male writers – regarding process and skills – but, when we think of women writers; there always seems to be men behind them – you never get that with men:
"You will notice of the big successful female artists, there is always a 'man behind the woman' piece. If it's Beyonce, it's Jay Z. If it's Adele, it's Paul Epworth.
"Me? It was Mark Ronson and the same with Amy Winehouse. You never get that with men".
I hope the Pop demographic changes so that more female artists are allowed to stand on their own and not be tied with men; create a less manufactured and directed sound and be allowed to write their own music. There are female artists who like joining with men but others who feel studios and labels are putting teams together to dictate what they do – no faith in their ability and voices. Beyoncé has spoken up and said women are assumed to have less money and power than men when that isn’t true; Lady Gaga has spoken about age and how women in their twenties do not give everything away; Nicki Minaj has said how, when she is being assertive, she is seen as a bitch – men are seen as cool and cutting. Other female artists have spoken about the idea of female-written songs and how people assume it is all break-ups, diaries and sensitivity – men are much tougher and more complex, many assume.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga/PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MTV
So many have a notion of a female-written song and what makes them tick. Others see female artists as controlled and lacking musical explosion; others write them off and assume they need men to call the shots. All of these misconceptions need eradicating and consigning to the past. The five-star reviews for Anna Calvi and big props for mega-icons like Beyoncé should not be brushed off and ignored. The army and sea of insatiably hungry, talented and angry female artists – who want to combat sexism and get equality – are doing more to music than so many male artists. They are speaking loud and, unless those who hold true power listen and take notice, we will see their fine work and voices get overlooked. Not that the music is being forgotten by the public: festivals, labels and parts of the media need to retune their dial and give female artists much more love. I have not even looked at the great female Punk bands and the underground emerging. Look at my all-female playlists on my blog; look at every music blog and site out there and, every day, you are seeing unbelievable female artists/bands captivate and attack. They deserve to play in a music world where they are not patronised and have to face any sexism. They warrant a place much higher up festival bills! It is not compromising and filling quotas; being conciliatory or doing something noble. From the intense anthems of Patti Smith and Aretha Franklin to the new blood of Anna Calvi and Dua Lipa; all they want is…
A little respect!