Redefining Girl Bands

Matt Hitchinson unpicks how the notion of what it means to be a female musician in 2018 is changing...

345
Image courtesy of Justin Higuchi (via Flickr)

In a time where it’s almost obligatory to have a female vocalist over the top of a house or EDM track, it is becoming increasingly common to hear and see girls in the indie and alternative genre as well. This is quite a contrast to the last ten years, where we have seen some outstanding bands making some brilliant music but there had been a distinct lack of women in the genre.

When you look at other popular and contemporary genres such as pop, rap, rock and dance music, there may not have been gender parity but there have been successful and identifiable female acts. This has not been matched in the indie and alternative sphere. Bands such as The Big Moon, Fickle Friends, Clean Cut Kid, Pale Waves and MUNA are now the driving force behind a wave of brilliant new music fronted by women.

The first women to find real success in the genre were the HAIM sisters and they are largely credited with starting this increase of female involvement. When talking to SCAN last year, Natti from Fickle Friends agreed with this, saying that once people realised that girls could make good alternative music “the novelty of female band members wore off”, and that what matters now is the sound of the music, rather than who is making it. It was just a matter of someone being the first to succeed.

Joining a band before this catalyst was quite rare, people were often reliant on their way into a band being a friend or a partner: look at Fleetwood Mac, for example, or even ABBA! This looks like their involvement wasn’t just to be the token woman/women but also to add an air of soap-opera drama to the band. This is pretty belittling to the female musicians who made some brilliant music while in these bands, and to female musicians in general who seemed to need to have something more to add than having brilliant voices or instrumental talent.

This is definitely also true of pop music, where girls have constantly been told that they need to be sexy or quirky to be successful, not just a good singer or songwriter: just look at legends such as Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga or Beyoncé. All of these artists rely heavily on sexuality or controversy – particularly in their music videos – when they already have enough talent, so they should not need to. This is clearly an example of female artists working to try and stand out in a male-dominated industry.

Nowadays this seems to not be the case, more and more acts are able to find success in pop music without this extra sex appeal or OTT individualism, purely off the back of their sheer talent – think Adele, Dua Lipa, Sigrid. This is great news for the creative industries because it symbolises a shift towards the power of direction lying with these strong female artists, rather than with the management. This could have had the knock-on effect of allowing more female-fronted bands into the industry because female musicians are able to follow the path and style that they want to follow, rather than being encouraged to fit into certain moulds.

This change produces positive role models for girls interested in making alternative & indie music, giving them someone to look up to in the industry. And if they carry on in the vein of this current crop of artists, I can’t wait!