I do love those articles which come out from time to time purporting to tell us what the future holds for popular culture, always getting it wrong. I remember one from TIME magazine in the eighties which reckoned the Future for women in popular music was: Pat Benatar, Ellen Foley (who?), and some other footnote in history whose name I don’t recall. But they were all white, skinny and American (and mysteriously, all signed to EMI). Don’t despair, though; in 2009 we can have white, skinny women from the UK, New York and New Zealand. As long as they’re, well, ladylike.
This article title is “What’s next? The New Madonnas“, which reinforces from the get-go the avatistic message that women should not display mastery of actual instruments, but prance around performing femininity and sexual availability on stage with headset mikes, pointy bras optional. And guitars and drums are for blokes. I’m not against being a vocalist who doesn’t play; I’m against making it compulsory for women.
In the paper article, two photographs were displayed: the one of Lady GaGa in the linked article, plus a shot of Ladyhawke. I can’t find that on the web, so here’s a different image. Oh! Erk! … Only joking – that’s the Canadian Ladyhawk. here’s the other Ladyhawke here. Do you notice anything? Two women – sorry, girls – white, young, thin, attractive (yawn), apparently to represent the entire future of girly musicmaking in 2009. What makes it even more uncanny is that these two could be twin sisters: same blondeness, long face, long nose, white lips, panda eyes and fringe. Yeah, welcome to the ethnically and musically diverse early 2000s.
These “girls” like to describe their rather well-worn pandering to certain entertainment norms as “radical”. “I sing about oral sex in my underwear.” Gasp! Never seen that done before. Subvert that dominant paradigm, Gaga. Skimpy costumes and boobs: who ever would have thought?
You’ll note that there is no room for being overweight or less than conventionally pretty in that paradigm. As stage decoration, any plain or fat little girls contemplating a musical career should just forget about it. Now.
But let’s have the full quotation from La Roux from the article, because it was used as the callout in larger font on the page.
Girls look a bit stupid playing electric guitar and drums. It suits blokes better. But girls look wicked playing synths.
Layer upon layer upon layer of wrong there. It’s more important what “girls” look like than what they sound like, if they’re musicians. Instrument choice should be based, not on talent and inclination, but on rigid gender lines (and appearance). Oh, how edgy, oh, how twenty-first century. As a crusty old pop/rocker looking to see how far the younger ones have come since the days of my youth, I can only shake my head and look forward to merciful senility. Of course, what the quote means is “I’m only twenty years old and can’t yet distinguish between my own personal performance preferences and making stupidly prescriptive statements for everyone else.” Yes, she’s still very young and I should make allowances for that. On the other hand, the Fairfax press have apparently elevated this stuff to a pronouncement of wisdom for the coming year. Some degree of mockery is badly needed.
Further down the article, we find there are other and less flattering reasons for their success. It’s not just the Ladies’ and LaRouxes sheer awesomeness that has swayed the music industry: they’re cheap. As the recession bites, two people with boxes cost a lot less than bands with four people and guitar amps.
Serendipitously, while I was about to post this, I came across Michelle Schwartz’s Canadian Club post (via Stephie Penguin). Irked by the assumption that guitar playing is for the boys, which the advertisers revive Frankenstein-like from the 1960s (see how modern and edgy your prejudices are, Ms. Whitesauce?) Michelle uses the make-your-own-poster app on the CC website to make some statements about women guitarists. The Raincoats, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Joan Armatrading. And I’d just love to watch Dallas Frasca eat Whitesauce for breakfast, on toast, with bacon and double fried tomato.