Who runs the world?

I’ll start this Think Piece by saying, I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be writing it at all. It makes me slightly nervous. I hope the reason I’m nervous is because I’m aware of a problem in the music industry and I don’t want to add to it, rather than it being because I’m just another part of the problem.

Because that problem is female…

Wait, before you shoot me, it’s not the actual females. Just the word. I’m a man, but it has quickly become one of my biggest bug bears to see a new and amazing artist/band described as a ‘female rapper’, a ‘female singer-songwriter’, or a ‘female guitarist/drummer/bass player/band’. It would never happen the other way around, and the use of the gender descriptor is completely redundant. An exciting new act is an exciting new act, that’s all there is to it.

But here’s where I get nervous. I’m not here for one of the Picky Bastards’ world-famous Monthly Music Moans. I’m not here for 600 words about why the use of that one little word is so problematic. I came here to discuss an exciting trend I have noticed in music in recent years. And that trend is female musicians.

Fuck. I’m part of the problem.

But please. Let me try my hardest not to be, because I think (hope) I’ve got a point to make.

I’ve been going to gigs and festivals and buying physical editions of music for more than twenty years now. I have scrolled my way through millions of lineups. I have collated lists of my favourite artists, noted down my gigs of the year, picked a best album of the last twelve months, and had a beedy eye on the most influential musicians out there for as long as I can remember.

But in the last decade, and particularly in the last five years, I have noticed the trends on all those lists start to switch. At the start of the decade, you might have seen Laura Marling appear every now and then but other than that it would have mainly been straight white men that were making an impact at the upper echelons of my musical musings.

Why is that? Does it simply reflect a change in me, a change in my musical tastes that has come alongside my increasing politicisation and understanding of feminism? Has it just come with age? Has the taste of others become more of an influence on me than it used to be? Yes. I think that all of these things are true and play a part.

But there’s more to it than that.

I discover a huge amount of my new musical loves while pursuing my greatest love of all; live music. I sit and look through the local listings. I choose which festivals I’m going to attend by listening to the stuff I’ve never heard of on the lineup, and seeing which event has the most exciting newcomers on offer. I’m currently choosing between Aldous Harding and Self Esteem for my favourite album of 2019 and neither artist would’ve even been on my radar if it wasn’t for first hearing them on Spotify while deciding between Green Man and End of the Road in the last few years. Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination is my second favourite album of the decade, and if she hadn’t been on the Latitude lineup in 2015 I might still not even know who she is. Alongside Kate Tempest, I see her as the most important musician of the last five years (I might also add IDLES to that list, but their testicles exclude them from this article).

Again, you might say that this is just me choosing different artists for my own personal reasons. But its isn’t. It is simply undeniable that festival lineups have become more and more equal in terms of gender split, even if there is still work to do. These amazing artists are finally getting the space they deserve, their gender no longer being the obstacle to a place at the top of the bill. It may have been The National that initially attracted me to the British Summer Time Festival this July, but it was Florence and The Machine that sat at the top of the poster. And it was Shah, Harding, and Goat Girl that stole the day in the end.

Goat Girl are also another important example of what I’m talking about. As four supremely talented young women, with one of the best drummers in the game right now, they are producing a type of indie rock sound that was once reserved for the louty lad types that Pete Doherty and co could be seen snorting lines of coke with. But they’re adding a seriousness to it. They’re taking on politics and gender inequality. And do you know what? Venues and festivals are okay with it – they’re opening their gates and doors and helping Goat Girl to build an audience. I don’t know that this would’ve happened ten years ago. Almost certainly, it would’ve been less likely to happen to a band who don’t dress to appease the male gaze. Goat Girl and their contemporaries are presenting an image they want to present, rather than the one the industry expects. And how fucking refreshing is that?

This thinking came to a head for me at a gig I have already written about on this website, and with another amazing band that just happens to be (mostly) made up of young women. Dream Wife are a post punk outfit with a strong feminist outlook. As they made a plea for all the ‘bad bitches’ (a call back to one of their lyrics) in the crowd to come to the front, I took a few steps back only for another man to come waltzing in to take my place while claiming ‘I’m a massive fan of the band, I have just as much as a right to be here as the women.’ This fuckhead wasn’t getting the point. And in the next half hour, as the women in the front rows and the women on the stage made their point very clearly, I remember watching with an excited sense that things are changing. Music is becoming more equal.

But of course the battle is far from over. Problems still exist. There’s one reason for this increase in the prevalence of female musicians that I haven’t mentioned yet, though: in the last five years (at least) women have simply been making the best music. In a lot of genres. And if that continues to be the case, then the battle will eventually be won. And to make the final part of my point, I’m going to stop waffling on and simply list some of the women that have made my ears so happy since this century’s midpoint. If you don’t know them, go ahead and give them a listen:

Phoebe Bridgers, Adrienne Lenker/Big Thief, Julia Jacklin, Little Simz, Nadine Shah, Rapsody, Daughter/Ex-Re, Tirzah, Boygenius, Alela Diane, This is the Kit, Laura Marling, Goat Girl, Lisa Hannigan, Aldous Harding, Laura Gibson, Kate Tempest, Self Esteem, Kathryn Joseph, Dream Wife, Angel Olsen, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Sampa the Great, Solange, Sharon Van Etten, Du Blonde, Marika Hackman, and all the others I’m forgetting (Please add them in the comments).

Words by Fran Slater

14 comments

  1. Good article, even though you’ve very clearly missed FKA twigs, St. Vincent, Savages, SZA, Beyonce, Tierra Whack, Noname, Nilüfer Yanya, Romy from The xx, Victoria from Beach House, Janelle Monae, Charli XCX, Grimes, Lana Del Rey, Weyes Blood, Jamila Woods, Jessie Ware, Kelela, SOPHIE, Anna Meredith, M.I.A., Björk and Haim for starters (what, you asked!)

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  2. Cheers for you comment, kind sir. You are correct in pointing out that I missed St Vincent, Nilufer Yanya, Romy, SZA, and Anna Meredith.

    That said, you can keep Savages, Haim, Weyes Blood, and Janelle Monae away from my lovely list thank you very much (I am a Picky Bastards, after all).

    Have been wanting to check out SOPHIE, though – and as far as Charli XCX, Grimes, Jessie Ware, and Kelela, I know nothing – where should I start?

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    • Pop 2 is the apex of everything Charli XCX has done in my opinion, and Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP from 2015 is a great place to start. I’ll send a couple of tracks through for the playlist!

      Like

    • Thanking you – Lucy Rose is a definite yes, No Words Left was stellar.

      Bat for Lashes took a big hit with the wedding album for me, but willing to give her new one a go. And I’m excited by Billie Eilish despite only listening once so far.

      You’ll hate me for saying I don’t rate, Roisin – but I don’t really know the rest. Where should I start?

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  3. Have you listened to Roisin’s solo stuff or just Moloko (although to be fair there is a lot more to them than ‘Sing it Back’)?

    Billie’s not someone I’m going to go back and listen to lots, it’s more what she represents right now which as you rightly say is exciting.

    Listen to ‘Birdsong’ by Rosie Lowe and ‘Nothing New’ by Charlotte Day Wilson

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  4. Right folks – here be a collaborative playlist which, obviously, comes with rules. Anyone can add to it, but no more than fifteen songs.

    And while you’re free to choose an artist that somebody else has already chosen please don’t use an artist more than once in your own list.

    And all songs must have come out in the last decade and be by women or women fronted groups.

    I’ve kicked us off with a first fifteen songs, please join in:

    Like

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