Since complaining about lists is the #1 blogosphere priority in December, I’m going to go a step further and rip-to-shreds my own list. Why? Because there isn’t a single band on the entire list that is fronted by a woman. Not one. There’s a few female band members scattered here and there (Xiu Xiu, Arcade Fire, Frog Eyes, Godspeed) but none of them are the primary songwriters.
But you probably didn’t notice, right? That’s part of the problem (that we both share) — how can we not think of any female fronted bands from this decade as canonical? In pop music, women have reversed rap’s stranglehold on the charts by replacing the likes of DMX with electro-pop dance numbers. In the nineties female vocalists were called upon to lighten the mood of gangster pop songs — usually at the 2:15 mark. Today the roles are reversed. We are much more likely to catch Kanye midway through a Lady Gaga song rather than the other way around.
Still, this mainstream revolution is only a return to equilibrium. The Top 20 charts, if you look closely enough, have probably only returned to a 50% female/50% male balance. It’s not as if women have completely removed men from the game, or the music industry. Which is fine, I’m not advocating anything of the sort. We will continue to need pop stars of both genders (and maybe the in-between genders, too?).
But, if we trace the line from pop music to indie music — a term that I suppose at this point is vaguely defined as artists who write their own songs and appeal to their fans’ sense that their “indie” songs are some kind of higher or more serious art. However you want to divide indie and pop or genres in general, there does seem to be some dichotomy between the two — for one, the lack of true female indie stars. There are a few — perhaps the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cat Power, and Sleater Kinney — but proportionally (which is the only useful measuring stick it seems to me) women are drastically under-represented in indie music. A lot of girls are listening to indie music (I’ve been to plenty of shows that demonstrate this) and yet where are their bands? Fifty percent of the population and, what, maybe ten percent of the bands reviewed on Pitchfork?
Maura, the ex-Idolator.com editor, wrote a short piece considering this very topic on her blog in 2002. As she points out, and rightly predicts, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs received their buzz from sex appeal in some way and, as soon as they moved from punk sex (S/T Debut) to softer, (more womanly?) ballads (Show Your Bones), the indie community would turn their backs, or at least reprimand the band for losing their “edge”:
“You could feel the boners being popped beneath every writeup of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs by all the guys who loved the stylized “fuck me” pose of their lead singer. (See also: electroclash.) It was eerily reminiscent of the hype around “Exile in Guyville” — so expect, when Karen O ditches her stylist and settles down, tons of ‘what? I never liked them denials’. Every band with a chick singer got compared to Sleater-Kinney, whether they sounded like them or not.”
“But I think it’s very telling that, in the Pitchfork top 50, the few female artists who are named are all people who have been in the indie consciousness for a while. (Are the members of Sleater-Kinney the only women in the world who can play their instruments?)
“Some might criticize me for being essentialist and focusing too much on gender. But isn’t so much of what makes music vital for people the way it speaks to them, or for them? The overarching message I got from the collected weight of so much of the music I heard this year — even a lot of the records I liked! — was “If you can’t look hot while you’re dancing to our beats, you can’t be part of our revolution.”
“And, seriously, fuck that noise.” (Maura 2002)
Seven years later and the world hasn’t changed much. The Pitchfork lists continue to primarily cover male bands. But is it Pitchfork’s fault? You can make the case, since almost all of their critics are male (there’s a few ambiguous names I don’t want to make assumptions about…) and we males tend to identify more with our own sex.
As a devoted Pitchfork reader and as someone who tries to get his hands on as much music as possible, I don’t have any female artists to suggests as replacements for the male-centric bands fawned over on the P4k news page.
Part of it has to be that female vocalists have never done it for me. There are certain emotions, pure rage and reckless violence, for two, in the well-timed male scream that female singers just can’t do for me. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been properly educated about classic female singers, or if it’s because in my formative middle school years I listened exclusively to Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Rammstein, but I still don’t get girls and their songs.
And it’s not just me. My friends aren’t recommending any girl bands, either. So where are they? Is Sleater Kinney the only all-girl band, ever, to play their instruments well? Correct me if I’m wrong: girls can play the piano exquisitely. So why not guitar, drums, and bass? Am I missing something? Does the guitar’s shape prohibit women from controlling the instrument as well as men?
But that instrument stuff is bullshit anyway; more than half the popular bands on P4k aren’t virtuosos anyway. No one is ape-shit about the difficulty of Wavves’ or Band of Horses or Girls (how, ironic). Especially considering the newest trend of glo-fi, lo-fi, beach pop nostalgia practically requires extra-simple instrumentation (easily recognizable melody lines are the only way to sort through all the fucking noise…).
So that’s the question. Is it me (the boy) whose missing all the good girl stuff, or is it you (the girls) failing to produce? I might be leaning towards the latter. Prove me wrong?