Feminism in music: review of 2017

Image credit: Madame Ghandi via Youtube

Increasingly music has been a medium through which feminism and its ideals have been projected, even back to the 80s with Aretha Franklin and Eurythmics releasing ‘Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves’. It was considered by many to be a feminist anthem when it was debuted breaking down the perceived view of American women in a patriarchal society with lyrics such as ‘the “inferior sex” got a new exterior / we got doctors, lawyers, politicians too.’ Since then artists such as the Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child and TLC reinforced the idea of ‘Girl Power’ and redefined mainstream feminism in the 90s. More recently M.I.A’s ‘Bad Girls’ was seen as support for the women to drive movement and the subsequent video a “middle finger” to the Saudi Arabian law which banned women from driving in the state, with the song predating the September 2017 law change by five years.

2017 has been no different. With the prevalence of sexual assault highlighted by the #MeToo campaign, advertising campaigns released on London tube lines that compared women to property and still only four years after controversial ‘Blurred Lines’ was released, never have the ideas of female empowerment in popular music culture been more relevant. Looking back over the year there have been several songs that have stayed with me that are worth a listen to before the end of the year, and to continue playing well into the new one:

Charli XCX – Boys

The British singer released the single back in July which in tandem with her 2017 EP Number 1 Angels manages to encapsulate her style of experimental and outspoken— but still glitzy— pop. Despite normally writing her own music, ‘Boys’ was penned by six writers including Emily Warren, who in the past has helped to create hit songs such as Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ and Naughty Boy’s ‘Should’ve Been Me.’ The simplicity of the song, with its solid rejection of monogamy in favour of seeing a different boy for each varying day of the week, and overall the single, is playfully executed. Even more so is the video directed by Charli XCX herself, with a multitude of male celebrities taking part in different scenarios such as pillow fights and washing cars although in a less serious manner than when females are seen participating in similar activities in music videos. Charli XCX cited her aim as being to display the guys in “stereotypical scenarios that girls are often seen in” parodying the frequent objectification of women in currently produced music videos. Even in 2017 a quick scroll through Youtube will provide a multitude of music videos with the sole purpose of women in their videos to be objectified, reinforcing the ever-present axiom that “sex sells”. For example, Jason Derulo released the music video for ‘Swalla’ and lyric video ‘Tip Toe’ this year, which in one instance depicted women in bikinis with whipped cream being sprayed into their mouths, with that just being one example out of many of sexual objectification laced throughout both videos. Although with lyrics such as ‘Champagne poppin’, she gon’ swallow that’ and ‘left check, right cheek, left cheek, right cheek’ it is arguably rather unsurprising how the videos turned out.

First Aid Kit – You Are the Problem Here

Released on International Women’s Day, this song creates a strong and poignant message in rebuke to the rape culture and sexism that still permeates today. Deviating from their traditional folk style this song is blunt and angry throughout, and rightfully so. The message of the song is clear: if you rape, you are the problem. In a statement to Rolling Stone the sisters highlight how neither alcohol nor so-called “youth culture” are the problem in cases of sexual assault and rape; instead, the perpetrator is the only one who holds blame. The lyrics are ever relevant with the lines ‘And we don't need to be diminished/To sisters or daughter or mothers/I am a human being, that is how you relate to me’ casting light on how frequently the quote ‘As a father/brother etc’ is brandished, most recently by Matt Damon, Andrew Cuomo, Paul Ryan to name a few in the revelations surrounding Weinstein. This unnecessary rhetoric is deservedly criticized in the song, with the lyrics highlighting how the ability to recognise that the abuse of power, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are wrong shouldn’t hinge on being related to a female.

Madame Gandhi – The Future Is Female

Although first released at the back-end of 2016, the track gained traction in early 2017 and was remixed by TT The Artist in November of this year, and therefore should deservedly be mentioned in this list. In the song Gandhi describes a future that she wishes she lived in, where female contribution is recognised and valued but most importantly not underpinned by a girl’s looks. Gandhi, a graduate of Harvard, used to be the drummer for M.I.A and has since run the marathon free-bleeding to highlight the stigma surrounding periods that still exists in current culture. She currently creates music that aims to “elevate and celebrate the female voice” and her Spotify playlist ‘The Future is Female’ which each week features new up and coming female, trans and non-binary artists is certainly one to follow.

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