Monday, November 19, 2007

Women in rock in 2007

Here we are, on the cusp of 2008, and the Daily Telegraph is running a 'women in pop' piece.

It's flawed as well as hackneyed, hailing a phenomenon that doesn't quite exist:

What's intriguing about this new wave of female singer-songwriters is that they are not fringe acts - they are firmly in the mainstream. While the folk, rock and jazz scenes have always provided a home for maverick solo females, from Kate Bush to PJ Harvey and Björk, the mainstream pop industry has rarely invested in girls with guitars: it has always preferred them dressed-up and dancing. A figure such Joni Mitchell, until now the epitome of this kind of artist, may have been many things, but poptastic she wasn't.

Now, we're not sure the artists they're pointing to - Kate Nash, Lily Allen, Remi Nicole, Amy Winehouse - are exactly mainstream pop; they're doing well in the charts, yes, but then so does Bjork and Lennox and Blondie.

And, yes, mainstream pop might not expect the women to play instruments on their hits - Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Leona Lewis - but then Take That, Westlife and Robbie Williams seldom turn up with Fenders slung over their shoulders, either. And Winehouse doesn't turn up with a guitar, come to that, and yet the Telegraph reckons she's part of this 'movement'.

Remi Nicole, pressed into this article as evidence, actually undercuts the paper's thesis by making it clear that she's not influenced by mainstream pop at all:
"In the past, if you wanted to be a pop star you had to go to Pineapple studios and audition with your jazz hands to be in some Spice Girls-type band. You would never have been able to write your own songs. Then bands such as the Libertines came along and you could see them playing their own instruments like the old days. Now you can get an instrument and just record a song and get going. The scene now embraces anyone who wants to tell stories about their own life."

Yes, this is, if anything, actually a 'resurgence of rock' article rather than a 'women in rock' piece.

Bernadette McNulty even manages to contradict herself in the course of the think piece. At one point, it's all sisters are doing it for themselves:
Ajax Scott, publisher of industry magazine Music Week, suggests that specialist music courses are producing savvier young musicians.

"It used to be that girls would have to wait for a Svengali to pick you up and learn the business. Now if you are into music and you are lucky enough to get into a music school, you get to learn the business so you enter the industry slightly less wide-eyed and naive."

So, Svengalis are out, then?

This month Remi Nicole releases her first album, produced by the team behind Lily Allen.

So sisters are doing for themselves, just organised by the team behind Lily Allen.

We're bitterly sorry that Remi Nicole has found herself caught in such a woolly and half-assed article. There is much that is interesting her about her, but the fact that she happens to share a chromosome make-up with KT Tunstall and Kate Nash isn't it.

Buried in the article, though, is a more interesting one trying to get out: it touches on how Nicole, Nash, Winehouse and Melua have all been to the record industry funded Brits School; this raises all sorts of questions about the extent to which this gives young musicians an advantage and - more importantly - if the turning out of a large numbers of acts which can be marketed to the mainstream as 'slightly edgy' is choking off the chances for talent who don't have the music industry paying for their education to get access to the top table.


Anonymous said...

There are many things to comment but since it's just opinions i won't bother trying to convince you my opinion is better than yours BUT i would like to correct you on one thing...Amy Winehouse DOES play the guitar in her concerts.(at least the one i was at in Milan,and from what i've seen on youtube it was not the only time)

Anonymous said...

in an interview, i rather stupidly asked her if she either felt strange or that she was some kind of torchbearer for playing the guitar and being female, and she - quite rightly - shot me down for asking such a lame question. lol!

interesting that the telegraph article doesnt mention MIA at all. show's how much bernadette really knows...

simon h b said...

Anon#1: Fair point, she does play guitar, but it's not really what she's known for (and, indeed, most of the acoustic stuff I've seen her do in the last couple of years she's had someone else strumming for her - such as at SXSW - so I tend to think of her guitar playing in the same way that I think of Ian Botham's professional football career: interesting, but hardly what she'll be remembered for.

TBH, I'd rather have heard your opinions - the issue of why women playing music is seen as noteworthy, and the treatment of women as if they were a genre rather than a gender, is much more fascinating than if Winehouse plays a guitar or not.

lehman kartojo said...

Thank you, your article is very good

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