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Academic Matters

lucy o’Brien uCA lecturer in Music Journalism


academic matters

dele, Madonna and Lady Gaga are just three of the major female artists highlighted by a lecturer from UCA in her book about women in popular music. Eighteen years after it was first published Lucy O’Brien has undertaken to revise and expand her book, She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Popular Music, to reflect the changes in music today.


“Younger artists are all unique women with their own take on it, with their own language and story to tell. Women before me like Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush have taken their machete into the jungle, parts that are not so traversed. You honour the women before you and after you. There isn’t a copyright on this story,” singer/songwriter Tori Amos told me. She Bop (the definitive history of women in popular music) is their collective story. Since She Bop was first published, some key changes have occurred for women in rock. Previously under-researched, there is now a range of writing on the subject – so much so that in 2000, US girl band Le Tigre chanted from the stage: “Not another book about women in rock!”

Creative Update | Lucy O’Brien | She Bop

Despite fresh perspectives, there is still a need to document women’s musical history because it is periodically buried. In the same way that Janis Joplin diligently uncovered the story of Bessie Smith and bought her a headstone, today’s music fans have to search for 70s female punk bands or forgotten 80s soul singers in alternative media. Female performers are still being written out of ‘official’ pop history. As long as women are sidelined in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame or Classic Rock anthologies in favour of the male canon, there will be a need for more material on their achievements. My third edition of She Bop is a major update on the 1995 original. What struck me while writing this is how polarised the scene has become, between the digital underground and the global pop industry. Although an increasingly competitive market has meant hypersexualisation and branding on an epic scale with stars like Gaga, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj, once-marginalised women artists have been using new technology and social media to forge ahead. Performers like Imogen Heap and Iggy Azalea are no longer reliant on traditional record-company structures to get their music heard. As LA Times critic Ann Powers told me: “On the positive side, I do think

things are falling apart, coupled with the passing of the elder generation of nearly 100 per cent male music industry executives, has opened a space in which talented women can emerge.” What also struck me when updating this book was how many of the women I first interviewed have since passed away. Women from Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, and Dusty Springfield to punk upstarts Ari Up and Poly Styrene. They enriched popular music in many different ways. In that sense She Bop has become an archive of women’s experience, from the early 20th century music industry onwards. Talking to women like Simone and Eartha Kitt made me realise how much they had struggled through racism and sexual discrimination to be heard. The global divas of today owe so much to those pioneers. So why did I write the original? When girl guitar bands and singer-songwriters were in the ascendant in the early 90s, there was a noticeable lack of analytical material about women in popular music. From 1984, when I co-wrote a cover story for the feminist magazine Spare Rib on women in the music industry and was shocked to discover just how few of them had record deals or were in the >

UCA Alumni magazine 2013  

In this edition of the UCA Alumni Magazine, Creative Update, we report a number of major successes for our alumni, for the University and fo...

UCA Alumni magazine 2013  

In this edition of the UCA Alumni Magazine, Creative Update, we report a number of major successes for our alumni, for the University and fo...