The Women of Britpop
A friend of mine (a famous model) recently posted a Facebook update, expressing her wish for the band Republica to get back together. Her friends were in agreement and suggested other Britpop bands with female lead singers that should reform too. I often think that wishing bands would reform is like praying for a sequel (or even worse, prequel) to your favourite film. It will only end in disappointment. However, I would at least like to see these female artists get the recognition they deserve.
I was a huge fan of Britpop during its heyday and loved all the great singles that the genre produced. To this day, reading the track list of “The Best Album in the World…Ever (Vol. 3)” fills me with nostalgia. Among my favourite songs were Lush – Ladykillers and Sleeper – Inbetweener. There were a host of other acts with female singers/band members around at that time: Elastica, Echobelly, Dubstar, Catatonia, Alisha’s Attic, St. Etienne. Okay, so not all of these were strictly Britpop, but it shows there was a lot of female musical talent around in the 1990s. So why is it that every discussion of nineties music makes it sound like a men-only club? Perhaps it was because of the whole Blur vs. Oasis rivalry, that the female artists got pushed aside in the public’s consciousnesses. Perhaps there were other factors…
The Onion once had a headline claiming “History Of Rock Written By The Losers”. I certainly think that the history of Britpop was written by geeky male journalists. Most of the journos that championed and later chronicled the genre were men: John Harris, Stuart Maconie, Andrew Collins, David Quantick, Paul Morley, etc.
With every new musical genre, the biggest-selling acts seem to be bands made up of of white males. When Rave music broke through to the mainstream in the late 80s, the real stars should’ve been the DJs: those anonymous people in their darkened booths. But it seemed that the mainstream media needed something familiar to latch onto; so the band The Happy Mondays became the posterboys of the genre.
I’m not suggesting that people who wrote about, or listened to Britpop were sexist. It’s often just the case that people will gravitate towards music that’s performed by people of their own sex. I have a pet theory that people listen to music that they can imagine themselves playing on stage; as a sort of rock star fantasy. I also wonder if male journalists, and guys in general, didn’t really embrace these bands because they felt threatened by their forthright nature. I was certainly uneasy when Saffron from Republica went around labelling men ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’. That’s only because she was unlikely to ever label me that.
One thing that did strike me about the less well-known Britpop bands (many of which had female members) is that they happened not to have albums that were as strong as those of Blur and Oasis. I would argue that Britpop was never about albums, just brilliant pop singles. However, the business model of the music industry at the time was built around the 45 minute album, which was a hangover from the vinyl LP era. Like not having a poster boy, perhaps without a strong album, you could never really make it big in the music industry.
Maybe now, in the days of internet downloads, these Britpop acts could actually make a decent comeback. Bands don’t really need an album anymore. You can even make it without a record label; which would be a great step in the empowerment of women in the music industry. It could be a genuine ‘netroots’ movement too, not like the press release theatre of Sandi Thom and Lily Allen: “For immediate release: this girl has had thousands of hits on her MySpace page. Did we mention she’s pretty and her dad’s famous? For more information call Regal Recordings (a subsidiary of Parlophone)”.
The one thing to take away from this rant is: that if there were more female journalists, there might be more publicity for female bands. However, like the music industry, journalism is changing too. Newspapers and magazines are unlikely to be hiring anybody at the moment; male or female. Luckily, new media is there to fill the gap for the consumer. So, if you want female artists to get ahead: get a blog.
For VW. x