Lockdown provided some thinking time, although little headspace, and one of those things doing the rounds was posting 10 influential album covers. I realised that if I were to collect up my top 10 influential albums, there would be few female artists. In fact, if I did my top 100, I would be able to count the number of female artists on one hand. Probably only Evanescence would make the cut. Given that I have made very little effort to update my popular music listening since 2005, almost all of the music on the list would predate that year. It would include Oasis, Green Day, New Found Glory, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Creed, Silverchair, Good Charlotte, Muse, The Offspring, Kyo. Top 100 would include Linkin Park, The Rasmus, Feeder, Hoobastank, Taking Back Sunday, Maroon 5, Blink 182, Sum 41, Simple Plan, Placebo, Incubus, Indochine, System of a Down, Staind, Eminem, Rammstein, Limp Bizkit… I could go on, but I think that list serves to illustrate the point – men, white men, many angry white men.
So why was my youth so saturated with music by male artists? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. It’s certainly not that female artists weren’t making music, though perhaps not very prominently (or just not famously) in the genres I was listening to – rock, pop punk, soft metal, indie. Is it something about the make-up of the music industry? The culture? My social circle? No doubt a mixture of these, and other factors. It was also the way females were presented with their music, and the ways which they were encouraged to perform it. The stereotypical female artist was not of any interest to me at all!
I played for a while at school in an all-female band which covered pretty much all-male music – Nirvana, Goo Goo Dolls, Reel Big Fish, etc. I can’t recall a single song of a female artist that we might have played. I also played in a female duo where we covered – you guessed it – a lot of male artist’s songs. Keane, Fuel, Elton John. Thankfully, we did write a few songs of our own to play (and, somewhere along the line, I threw away the songs I wrote between 2001 and 2005, and didn’t write another until 2017). In fact, the only time I remember playing a song by a female artist was when I was asked to play piano to accompany a junior student singing an Alicia Keys song. And, as you can see by now, this was not really in my area of musical interest!
What was the impact on me as a musician? I guess I’ll never know. Did it contribute to my lack of confidence in my own songs? It certainly deprived me of female role models. I think Avril Lavigne was probably the only female I knew of making music of the type I might listen to. Oh, also Dido when she teamed up with Eminem.
I’m listening to female artists, therefore, to redress the balance. I’ve spent lockdown actively seeking out voices (in podcasts, books, art, music) that are marginalised, counter-cultural, silenced. I’m trying to give my attention to those I have not yet heard, who are saying something different. These include female, queer, and black musicians. And I’m learning. A lot. It’s broadening my musical knowledge, my perspectives on all manner of things, and it’s inspiring me to write more music. Eventually, I have more diverse musical role models! I’m listening to meaningful music.
Where to start? There are a couple of playlists I’ve listened to on Spotify: Women of Folk and Queer as Folk. There are a few other lists that I’m yet to make my way through: Women of Rock and Women of Acoustic seem like they will be good ones! I’ve also been listening to Grace Petrie – a great folk musician. Tracey Chapman has popped up on the playlists, thankfully. And Lily Allen has been recommended to me for improving my songwriting! Let’s give women and marginalised groups more spotify and youtube hits, amplify their music, share their important messages, and make the world a better place!