10. Women’s Music Today: Building on Legacies While Forging Ahead

The effects of American female artists of the past, many of which I have discussed in my previous articles, obviously culminate in the modern era. The actions of jazz singers, punk rockers, and swing bands directly affect the music of today, heavily influencing the female indie rock and pop scene prevalent in large cities and college towns while simultaneosly directing the actions and motives of some of the most well-known artists of today. The uncanny unity of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the increased prevalence of women in music has transformed the way women are seen today. The fact of whether the individual decides to objectify the artist or view her as a symbol of sexual empowerment is a direct result of the punk movement, influencing bands of today such as Warpaint or Bleached. On the whole, girl groups remain on the periphery of popular culture, gaining dedicated followings but unable to be accepted by the general population wholeheartedly. In my opinion, this demonstrates the fact that girl bands have never truly been taken seriously, but are more widely seen as a novelty of past generations, further demonstrating society’s downplay of women in music and as musicians. As individual artists, women have taken great strides and gained immense popularity within the recent 21st century, such as Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Adele, and Nicki Minaj. Women in these positions have used their power, popularity, and prevalence within the music industry to address the modern issues of women, being more outspoken than say, black girl groups of the 1960’s. Using their musical platform, these powerful women discuss issues like abortion, infidelity, and female empowerment, while still harboring a central focus on things like relationships and male-female issues. The medium of music among women is widely used to politically activate and draw women closer together, such as Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” song, empowering women through female artists and creating a culture of girl power and a community of females encouraging one another. Beyonce specifically caters to the experience of the black female, which in previous eras, especially the modern feminist movement, was overlooked and not adequately represented. Beyonce completely rejects this practice by incorporating poetry, rap, and emphasizing traditional black notions of beauty, confidence, and independence.

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Beyonce at the Super Bowl

I think the popularity of artists such as Beyonce and Rihanna reflect the continuing tensions between races that exist in American and that have been heightened by current events in America, especially the most recent election. With the rise of organizations such as Black Lives Matter, artists as political as Beyonce represent the prevalence of these tensions in the intimate lives of the entire American population. Within the peripheral areas of American popular media exist female artists that have claimed a space and name for themselves, drawing heavily on the punk movement of the late twentieth century. Indie pop and indie rock bands take influences from the punk movement in empowering women, addressing female issues, especially the problems of teenage girls, and creating a political agenda. I would say that although the indie bands and artists of recent years are still political, they are increasingly tame compared to the raw punk scene of the ’90s and the Riot Grrrl movement. Bethany Cosentino of rock group Best Coast exemplifies these notions, being a heavily involved activist both within and outside of her music, focusing on specific events that people of all genders and sexualities can relate to, though she approaches the experiences she describes in her music from a female perspective, such as the lament of the song, “Boyfriend.” For example, the song’s accompanying music video features a quincanera of a young Hispanic girl, a coming of age birthday party specific to Mexican culture. I find a plethora of similarities between Best Coast’s style and the themes of African American girl groups of the 1960’s, in which the issues of the songs may seem petty and meaningless, but in reality matter deeply to the teenage demographic. The style of music between these two groups also coincides, being lighthearted, airy, with female backup vocals and dreamy stringed instrumentals, with Best Coast featuring a more modern, rock feel.

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Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast

The more prevalent world of pop featuring artists like Britney Spears and Katy Perry are more easily consumable and less political than artists like Cosentino or Beyonce, but still incorporate notions of girl power while also being emblems of sexuality and objectification, much to their choice. The decision in modern music to be objectified is a symbol of female power and a representation of the progress women in music have made throughout history, where in previous areas objectification was not a choice for women but simply a part of the music experience, and to a degree I believe it still is. The music styles prevalent today among popular female artists, such as rock, indie, and pop have everything to do with female artists of the punk era, swing instrumentalists, and the influence of jazz singers. Today, notions of femininity and sexuality are more fluid than ever, allowing for more women of minority backgrounds, sexualities, and interests to be involved and accepted within the music industry. Sexual abuse, such as in the recent issue with the pop artist Kesha, is still a highly relevant issue that doesn’t garner much press but still necessitates activism and change from within the female community. The idea of image and looks will always define women in music, being a highly integral part of creating a name within the industry and completing a musical artistic self, and women continue to use this malleable sense of image and self to their advantage, just as they have all throughout history.

For fun, and at the culmination of this project and my research, I am including a playlist of works by female artists with empowering messages for your listening pleasure:

MANiCURE — Lady Gaga

Better Off Without You — Summer Camp

Cherry Bomb — The Runaways

Girls Intuition — The Dum Dum Girls

Dancing With Myself — The Donnas

Feeling Ok — Best Coast

Since U Been Gone — Kelly Clarkson 

Invinvible — Pat Benatar

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6 thoughts on “10. Women’s Music Today: Building on Legacies While Forging Ahead

  1. Even if it is by choice of female artists and they find it empowering, I don’t think the objectification of women is ever okay. It hurts society on a number of levels, and it’s so sad for those artists! As mentioned, the image and looks will always define female artists, but should it really be this way? Talent is much more important than appearance, and I think it’s a sad world that we live in today. I totally agree that objectification of female artists is not entirely their choice, even if they claim it as such.

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  2. I loved those very empowering songs! And how can we better combat the sexual image that women have to portray to get attention? Is it that as a society we have generally accepted this or is there more that we can do? I feel as if our parents detest the sexulized woman, but our generation has almost embraced it. How do we change those ideas within our own group?

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  3. The post feminist movement has really expanded opportunities for women to act within a multitude of spheres but has definitely perpetuated certain sexual stereotypes. I enjoyed the political commentary and find it interesting that single women artists have found an avenue to influence popular cultures’ view of current issues.

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  4. It is interesting that single artists seem to have made more progress than all female bands. It is sad that female artists are so sexualized, even if they chose it. I am not familiar with many new songs and artists and due to my upbringing I am most familiar with the punk rocker P!NK. Hopefully women bands will be able to make the headway that single women artists have.

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