Archive for February, 2010

Sisters are Doing It For Themselves!

February 28, 2010

For a long time the music industry had ignored female singers and artists when it came to critical acclaim. Sure they were good for the odd pop tune and Deborah Harry’s face made a more aesthetic album cover than, lets say Elton John. But true artistic praise was rarely conveyed in their direction and they were viewed in far harsher light. Just look at Q magazine’s 100 greatest album poll they conducted last year. Out of the 100 albums, the only ladies to make an impact were Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love (who for some reason seems to be immune to the frivolous critique her gender inspires), Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill, and Madonna’s Ray of Light.

Abba was completely ignored, as were Blondie, the Eurythmics, and any number of the soul divas Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone etc. Now you might say “Oh that’s just Q magazine’s utilitarian opinion” but no. This was a poll conducted on their website so it seems quite simply that female singers cannot compete in the long run with the likes of the Beatles, Oasis, Dylan, Prince, Michael Jackson…yada yada yada.

Why not? Is it because straight men as a whole don’t buy music made by women?  Straight women don’t seem to have the same issues in their CD collection…

A shift in trends is rapidly occurring however, as 2009 saw women for the first time in history outsell men in the music industry.  Lady Gaga lead the way, with Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Rhianna all hot on her heals.  For the past ten years American female pop was dominated by Britney, Christina, Beyonce and Madonna, with the occasional interlude by Gwen or Pink. Their territory was firmly set and there didn’t seem to be enough of an available audience for any newcomers.  So what happened in recent years to allow for such a surge in girl power in the charts??

I actually started this feature with an aim of covering female “artists” rather than “popstars” so let me back peddle slightly. Why is it, that in the last 2-3 years, we have had a massive increase in the popularity of the female songwriter? Not so much the spandex-clad crouch gyrating pussycat doll, more the weary voiced, piano-playing sparkle eyed Chanteuse.  For years these more artistic girls struggled to find an audience in the charts where as now we have Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes all enjoying mainstream success.  Look at Siobhan Donaghy for example. She released “Ghosts” in 2007 and despite getting glowing reviews, it only sold about 10 copies. Had she released this (as she called it) “left field pop record” two years later when the genre was très chic, no doubt it would have been far more successful. Why the sudden shift in trend?

I have a theory, and it may be completely wrong, but hear me out…

All these credible female artists; La Roux, Bat For Lashes, Marina…owe their success partly, if not fully to Amy Winehouse.  Amy made female musicians credible and popular again, and no longer the folly of teenage girls.

Let me go back to 2006 to the release of the epic “Back to Black”. The album was a slow grower but combined with Amy’s gritty reputation, it found at first a small devoted audience. Within 2 years however, Amy was a household name across the globe (although arguably for her lifestyle rather than for her music) Still, the strength of the album in its own right sent tsunami ripples across the industry where music buyers were fraught for a new taste yet not patient enough to wait for Back to Black’s sequel. The first ripple included Adele and Duffy. Although they both deserve credit in their own right, it would be completely naive to suggest they would have been half as successful if not for Amy’s influence on the “white British girl’s take on soul”. It’s also noticeable that the English “chav girl” also became in vogue and although Lily Allen’s debut “Alright, Still” wasn’t quite in Winehouse’s league in terms of influence, it too created a ripple effect in the form of Kate Nash.

Come 2009 people had grown tired of the second-hand soul, but still thirsted for more female artists of high quality. If female artists of 2008 had “white soul” injected in every review, then 2009 had “Kate Bush” instilled in theirs. You couldn’t pick up a music magazine without the “next Bush” being anointed. Bat for Lashes, Florence and her Machine, Marina and the Diamonds, hell I even read one Pixie Lot review that quoted The Kick Inside. The interesting thing about these new comers however, is that I truly believe they all would still be making music regardless of Amy’s success. I just don’t believe they would be making it as big. Before “Back to Black” it was rare for a female singer to make it big without playing by the popstar rules, but now it seems the industry is their Oyster, which can only be a good thing.

What happens in the next few years shall be intriguing. It is entirely possible that these ripples will fade and we will once again go back to worshiping the indie bands of yesteryear. I for one have always been a sucker for a gal who goes about her music in a less than traditional way, and have found the last year akin to wading in a lake of tailor made music.  Here’s hoping we don’t run out of lake.

This video blog by Amanda Palmer sort of sums up my thoughts on female musicians and their battles…or at least their battles pre Winehouse