GRRRLS on Top: Just Say No to 'Hips. Lips. Tits. Power.'

Women musicians. The word order is as simple as it is unfortunate. Female artists are seen as women first, and musicians second. A 1994 Q magazine cover featured three famous women musicians, PJ Harvey, Bjork and Tori Amos with the cover line: "Hips. Lips. Tits. Power."Anyone familiar with these artists' music would question what commonalities they shared to land them a cover combo. Harvey is known for her explicit lyrics with a dark, thunderous message. Bjork applies her quirky outlook to all facets of musical styles such as dance, jazz, and rock. And Tori Amos dramatically pounds away on her piano while pouring out deep sentiments (or sentimentality, depending on the critic).The cover title tells all. The magazine didn't put the combination on the front to compare musical styles. These were three women musicians making a dent in the recording industry. Which in reality, was still news in 1994, and still is in 1996.Take a look at your local scene. Odds are, very few bands have any female members. "People have a curiosity when a female singer musician is involved," said Melissa Jackson-Nolan, lead singer of of the Lexington, KY band Mulch. "They don't know what to expect because there is a misconception about what women singers will sound like, especially with the style of music we play."Women musicians for years have been a trying to tear down these stereotypes, but not until recently have they really made a dent. It was 1961 when the Shirelles hit no. 1 on the American music charts with "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Few realize they were the first all-female group to hold such an honor. But today's media are finding it difficult to ignore the profound influence women have made on the recording industry.Entertainment Weekly just noted the top five record sales for 1996 (as reported by Soundscan) were all from female artists or bands with female lead singers: Alanis Morissette, Celin Dion, the Fugees, No Doubt and Mariah Carey. The music industry's All Boys Club is going to have to invest in a tampon dispenser because the girls have arrived.But this type of headway didn't happen overnight. Women pioneers such as Janis Joplin, Deborah Harry, Joni Mitchell, and Patti Smith suffered huge physical and mental anguish paving the way for the Alanis Morissettes and Joan Osbornes of the world. In Lucy O'Brien's book entitled She Bop: The History of Women in Rock, Joplin is described as the "first major girl sex symbol in rock." Members of her first band, Big Brothers, said Joplin was uncomfortable with that portrait of herself. She enjoyed just "being one of the guys," by outswearing and outdrinking the members of her band. Joplin's struggle with her identity played a major role in her becoming "rock's first female star casualty."Patti Smith attempted to combat her sexual image by trying to appear asexual. She once told The Guardian, "All through childhood I resisted the role of a confused skirt tagging the hero," she said. "Instead I was searching for someone crossing the gender boundaries, someone both to be and to be with. I never wanted to be Wendy, I was more like Peter Pan."These women are considered legends, and many see today's crop as mere shadows of these greats. But in reality, female artists like Liz Phair, L7, Madonna, Luscious Jackson, Babes in Toyland, Kim Gordon, Lush, and Courtney Love are having a profound effect on the culture and women in society."I really respect female artists like Ani DiFranco," Jackson-Nolan of Mulch said. "She never wavers in her goal to protect her music. She developed her own independent label and now doesn't have to worry about what is expected from her."DiFranco, a folk-punk artist from Buffalo, established Righteous Babe Records after mainstream labels considered her a "possibility" if she would tone down her unruly sound.Entire musical genres have been established by such female musicians who weren't afraid to stand up for their beliefs. The Riot Grrrls (a collection of bands that united in Olympia, Washington) were dedicated in the early '90s to exploring sex, sexual harassment, personal politics, and a female revolution. In the Riot Grrrls newsletter called Leeds & Bradford Riot Grrrls, one member wrote, "Next time a guy patronizes you, slags off your body....forget the moral highground, forget he's been instilled with patriarchy and is a victim too, forget rationale and debate. Just deck the bastard."Amy Raphael, a journalist for The Face, published the book GRRRLS, a collection of interviews with influential female artists she's interviewed over the years. Louise Post of Veruca Salt, a Chicago band headed by two female guitarists, spoke to Raphael. She described her frustration in hearing Juliana Hatfield saying one day that women are "biologically ill-equipped" to play guitar. Post said she was baffled that anyone, especially a female musician, could make such a comment. "I understand that the feeling of just picking up a guitar and making noise is a really powerful one and why should it be relegated to men?" she asked Raphael. "Why should men have a monopoly on loud music? Women playing guitars should be just another bold step for womankind."


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