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musicPi|magazine muse 713 | Music In many ways, Riot Grrrl was the sound of a mass protest in song format. Defiant, loud, and indignant, it was the musical equivalent of women throwing off societal roles and snatching power back from misogynist oppression. The movement garnered a cult following, and the music gained much critical acclaim. The influence of groups like Sleater-Kinney cannot be understated. Upon their reunion last year, a swell of indie acts jumped to state the band’s significance in their own musical and political educations and evolutions. However, while Riot Grrrl put feminism on the map in the music industry, crafting an important space within the social discourse, it received criticism that seems particularly pertinent considering the face of feminist music today. Ramdasha Bikceem, founder of the magazine Gunk, wrote that Riot Grrrl had become “closed to a very few i.e. white middle class punk girls”. Indeed, Courtney Love, another musician who might fit into much of Riot Grrrl’s aesthetic, has in the past labelled Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill a “hypocrite”, and wrote the song Rock Star mocking the perceived snobbery and bourgeois nature of the movement. This highlights recurring criticisms of the greater feminist movement: it’s too impenetrable, too middle-class, too white. Whether it was Madonna arguing with Sinead O’Connor, or white male acts like Fugazi and Nirvana writing songs about rape and sexual assault, feminist music was angry and not afraid to shy away from graphic details, but could not yet claim to be universal. The Spice Girls’ mid-1990s legacy of course merits a mention, but it was the early 2000s that saw an industry-wide shift in focus. Two acts in particular represented the state of feminism in music in the early 2000s: P!nk and Destiny’s Child.

While P!nk firmly found the middle ground between Riot Grrrl and the pop sounds of the day, it was Destiny’s Child who would truly embody the feminism of early 2000s R&B, most notably with the song Independent Women. The trio represented an entirely new incarnation of feminism in music: diverse, populist, and beautiful.

From the album’s production (begun shortly after Beyoncé had conceived as encouragement to mothers that they need not halt their careers entirely for the sake of pregnancy), to its content (extolling the pleasures of oral sex), and the stage show (featuring interludes of famous feminist speeches and a giant projection of the word feminist behind the singer’s extravagant stage), the album declared feminism an accessible and marketable phrase and movement. Beyoncé was not alone, with other high profile pop stars enthusiastically associating themselves with feminism. From Nicki Minaj, to M.I.A., to Taylor Swift, female musicians seem to have few inhibitions about aligning themselves with the broader movement, and this has permeated the discourse surrounding female musicians throughout the music industry. Pop personalities like Miley Cyrus sparked furious debate about their representation of other women in their stage shows, as the privilege of white women has once again come to the fore. The difference is that this debate is no longer being played out in the alternative music press or university circles, but on stage at the MTV Awards and on national radio. Of course, with feminism becoming something of a market-friendly tag, it is unavoidable that there might be some at best clumsy, at worst cynically opportunist, attempts to capitalise on its sudden profitability – Lily Allen’s somewhat contrived and ill-considered Hard Out Here video springs to mind. However, this seems to be a fringe issue. The most notable element of this sudden wave of interest in feminist ideals in pop culture and music is its inclusiveness. Led predominantly by women of colour, feminist pop music today is unashamedly bold, undeniably cool, and unprecedentedly popular – finding an audience in everyone from teenage Tumblr devotees to feminist scholars who are pinching themselves, still unsure whether this is all just a dream.

Fast forward to 2016, and feminism can no longer be described as alternative, hidden or alien – it’s front and centre. Beyoncé may have championed the strengths of women a decade before with Destiny’s Child, but it was not until late 2013, and the release of her album, Beyoncé, that she actually named her defiant diva aesthetic for what it was: feminism. From the album’s production (begun shortly after Beyoncé had conceived as encouragement to mothers that they need not halt their careers entirely for the sake of pregnancy), to its content (extolling the pleasures of oral sex), and the stage show (featuring interludes of famous feminist speeches and a giant projection of the word feminist behind the singer’s extravagant stage), the album declared feminism an accessible and marketable phrase and movement. Beyoncé was not alone, with other high profile pop stars enthusiastically associating themselves with feminism. From Nicki Minaj, to M.I.A., to Taylor Swift, female musicians seem to have few inhibitions about aligning themselves with the broader movement, and this has permeated the discourse surrounding female musicians throughout the music industry. Pop personalities like Miley Cyrus sparked furious debate about their representation of other women in their stage shows, as the privilege of white women has once again come to the fore. The difference is that this debate is no longer being played out in the alternative music press or university circles, but on stage at the MTV Awards and on national radio. Of course, with feminism becoming something of a market-friendly tag, it is unavoidable that there might be some at best clumsy, at worst cynically opportunist, attempts to capitalise on its sudden profitability – Lily Allen’s somewhat contrived and ill-considered Hard Out Here video springs to mind. However, this seems to be a fringe issue. The most notable element of this sudden wave of interest in feminist ideals in pop culture and music is its inclusiveness. Led predominantly by women of colour, feminist pop music today is unashamedly bold, undeniably cool, and unprecedentedly popular – finding an audience in everyone from teenage Tumblr devotees to feminist scholars who are pinching themselves, still unsure whether this is all just a dream.

Photo credit: Mark Jordan

The former’s aesthetic was not dissimilar from the Riot Grrrl movement: aggressive, defiant, and distinctly contrary to the traditional expectations of a woman. Songs like Most Girls reflected this, with P!nk buying a car and paying her rent, and letting no man getting in her way. The difference was this was pop music. It was catchy, glossy, and hit the top ten.

Fast forward to 2016, and feminism can no longer be described as alternative, hidden or alien – it’s front and centre. Beyoncé may have championed the strengths of women a decade before with Destiny’s Child, but it was not until late 2013, and the release of her album, Beyoncé, that she actually named her defiant diva aesthetic for what it was: feminism.

They brought female empowerment out of the university seminar and into the teenage girl’s bedroom. Strong female musicians were no longer outsiders, but leading the mainstream.

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Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...

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