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Girl Bands are Important

An essay on the importance of recognizing female rock-n-roll and music, in general

by: Jessie Harris

The very first physical copy of music I ever purchased (with my mother’s money, of course) was a cassette tape from an up and coming Australian Contemporary Christian artist named Rebecca St. James. I was 9 and I felt like an independent, grown ass teenager, purchasing music to listen to through my headphones at loud volumes in my bedroom. Growing up having listened to mainly Christian radio and artists, aside from the core musical gods and goddesses a la The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, this Aussie chick was a new sound to me. She was different and aggressive, not like the other ladies in the Christian music world. She sounded a lot like what was on Top 40 radio in 1996, among the likes of Alanis Morissette and her grungy girl rock type. I loved it and remember vividly parading that cassette  around with me wherever I went like a damn fool. I’m pretty sure none of my girlfriends were impressed, but I knew I was cool and that’s all that mattered.

It was around this time that I also discovered the magical unicorn known as Gwen Stefani. Sundays mornings were spent getting dolled up in my Sunday’s best for church and, more importantly, for tuning in to VH1’s Top 20 Video Countdown. It was there that I first spotted her, decked out in track pants, a crop top, sweaty as can be, hair in weird knots on the top of her bleached blonde head, forehead bedazzled in jewels, and fronting an all-male band.

This girl was cool, this girl was unconventional, and I needed to be just like her. No Doubt’s music shaped me into a dramatic little wannabe diva and solidified in my mind that it was okay to be a tomgirl in a world full of prissy girls. The female presence in the music industry was alive and well and favorites of my mine were Sheryl Crow, Jewel, and Sarah McLachlan. I lived for their CDs and dissected every word and melody, none of which had any relevance to my young middle school life of zero boys and zero drama. But these songs and albums became the soundtrack to my life and these women were goddesses in my eyes. They shaped the way I viewed myself and my outlook on the world. I knew that being a girl was a very special gift and confidence and beauty came in all shapes and sizes.

With the resurgence of boy bands and girls bands in the early 2000’s, I began to lose hope in strong, female-led rock music and I started to loathe any band trying to be so much. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson owned MTV and pop radio. The age of singer-songwriters was being extinguished overnight by literal made-for-TV bands. I didn’t have women idols to look up to, but instead just had a false sense of fashion and hair goals also known as Britney Spears in her “Lucky” video and Mandy Moore in her “Candy” video. I still totally would rock the leather band around my nonexistent bicep and pleather pants any day, though, FYI.

Nevertheless, it was known to everyone around me that I refused to give female rockers a chance. The 90’s had ruined me, or should I say, the 00’s female pop artists had ruined me, and I quickly turned away from any and all music that featured females. I know this sounds dramatic, but I vividly remember telling my college roommate that “I hate girl bands.” She just kind of looked at me strange, then proceeded to hit play on Fergie’s new single, “Fergalicious.” Girl bands, in my eyes, were just pop machines, backed up by dancers, singing to the auto-tune karaoke machine. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this decade of pop music and still do, but it wasn’t the same as what I had grown up with and I didn’t have that song-writing awe and respect for these artists as I had in previous years.

It was somewhere in the mid-2000’s that my mindset towards female artists began to shift again. There were a couple of singer-songwriters who began to get recognition, like Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton, and their songs found a way into my little heart. I also began listening to smaller, indie bands like Eisley out of Texas who were basically a 3-piece sister act with a couple of brothers included. It doesn’t get much more female-led than that and I loved them. I loved their alternative sound. I loved that the sisters were grungy beauties, donning dresses and Chuck Taylors and heavily winged eye makeup. This is what I had been needing and searching for and they wrote their own music and played their own instruments. Finally, I had some good music led by women in my hands again. Other alternative bands, like Paramore, began to also get national coverage on rock radio and the tides seemed to be changing for the good.

Today, the idea of girl band is super appealing to me. Some of my absolute favorite artists are these strong, bad ass females and I feel like the music industry as a whole is more accepting of their antics now. Girl bands are respected, admired, and given the same amount of air time and coverage as their male counterparts. One of the best rock shows, and I mean in-your-face full on  rock shows, that I’ve seen in the last couple of years was when I saw Grace Potter & The Nocturnals on their The Lion, The Beast, The Beat tour. She has a raspiness to her voice comparable to the rock goddesses of the 70s, and she simply oozes soul and rock-n-roll.

Girl bands also have a unique platform in which they can spread messages of equality and love in a divided country. Bands like The xx, Tegan and Sara, and Bermuda Triangle are breaking down the conservative barriers of our nation and standing up for LGBTQ rights in a loud way. In late 2016, Tegan and Sara launched The Tegan and Sara Foundation in a letter on their website, with their main goal being  to “fight for economic justice, health, and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.”

They aim to raise funding for the services that’ll aid doctors in training and promote overall LGBTQ support in our communities. Powerful women singer-songwriters make up a growing music industry and bands like St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, Emily Warren (total babe), Lucius, and hell, even Taylor Swift, have taken over most every type of musical genre. These bands are shaping the minds of our female generation to come and setting out to do good in the meantime. It’s an exciting time to be alive when little girls can idolize bands and singers again without fear. Girl bands are important and girl bands are good. Take it from me, a reformed girl band hater turned lover.

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