or, Why the Women of Music Can Speak for Themselves
July 22, 2016
by Rachel Narvey
“Gonna do what I want and that’s what’s up, ain’t lookin’ for a man to hold me up.” In March of 2016, Canadian alt-pop band The Zolas dropped their third album, Swooner. These words are from the first track, “Molotov Girls.” Although clichéd, the message is one of positivity, strength and independence. Still, something seems misaligned. Why? Because this statement of undying “girl power” is sung by a straight, cisgender white dude.
The man behind the words, Zolas lead singer Zachary Gray, has his heart in the right place. A self-proclaimed feminist, Gray’s desire to express his solidarity with the movement through his art is definitely admirable. “I can’t speak for women, I can’t speak for female feminists, but I hope they don’t mind us putting out an album like this,” Gray said last March in an interview with the Georgia Straight.
Perhaps what’s so troubling about “Molotov Girls” is that Gray is speaking for female feminists. The song seems fairly harmless, but in an industry where the voices of women and nonbinary folks have been historically silenced, “Molotov Girls” seems like a step in the wrong direction.
While music festival rosters and top ten lists often feature an unfortunately homogenous mass of white dudes, today’s music scene is undoubtedly exciting and diverse. In order to celebrate the voices of artists who are narrating their own experiences, here is a playlist of some awesome tracks by some rad musicians.
- Mitski – Your Best American Girl
On its own, Mitski Miyawaki’s “Your Best American Girl” is a deliciously cathartic, slow-burning anthem where one listen begs at least ten repeats. The accompanying video, directed by Zia Anger, takes that energy even further.
It begins with Mitski staring into the camera, waving longingly at the “American boy,” who’s more concerned with ogling a blonde woman in a fringe vest and a flower crown. Abandoned, Mistki turns to her still-waving hand and treats it like a mirror, admiring her reflection before kissing it passionately in a sudden, radical display of self love.
- Empress Of – Woman Is a Word
Tired of feeling like the word “woman” was often used by others to make assumptions about her and her art, Empress Of (Lorely Rodriguez) created “Woman Is a Word.” In her unwavering cadence, she interrogates the purpose of language, of difference, and of power. The punchy, cowbell-inclusive percussion carries the song with the confidence of a perfected runway strut, puncturing her words as she rejects the construct of gender.
- Tei Shi – Bassically
Tei Shi (Valerie Teicher) is someone to keep an eye on. Her Verde EP, released last year, touted her ability to create a range of tracks with beautiful poignancy, from the delicate “See Me” to the deliciously poppy “Go Slow.” “Basically,” another standout on the EP, is a jam with classic 80s synth swagger. If you ever need a song to work you up into a state of righteous anger, this could be your go-to.
The song begins as Tei Shi pleads with her lover to let her stay, promising that in return, she’ll be good. “Is that what you want,” she demands finally, “like the other boys?” As her voice ascends into a frustrated wail, it’s clear that she’s no longer waiting for an answer.
- Trashkit – Beach Babe
In many ways, “Beach Babe” is a track that’s reminiscent of spiked punch. What starts off as tasty and sweet quickly becomes something heavier and dizzying. Band-member Rachel Aggs’ angsty guitar riffs generate an atmosphere that’s as moody as it is California surf. This is the perfect track to get you and your pals psyched for a summer road trip, or maybe just for working out some nervous energy while dancing around in your room.
- SZA – Shattered Ring
Few channel the perfect combination of vengefulness and vulnerability quite like singer-songwriter SZA (Solána Rowe). “Seeing your pain brings me such joy,” she purrs on the first track of her 2012 EP See.SZA.Run. Her ability to navigate the plains of darker, wiry emotions is uncanny, and with her rasp of a voice, sonically beautiful.
This is the case with “Shattered Ring.” While the production is loyal to its chill-wave/R&B intentions, something about the low and calculating guitar notes at the beginning recall the soundtrack to a Western shootout. Tense, and something impossible to look away from.
- Braids – Miniskirt
While The Zola’s “Molotov Girls” feels a little lacking in its revolutionary capacity, Braids’ “Miniskirt” delivers all the power, frustration, and upheaval required for a full on feminist uprising. The song’s writer and vocalist, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, not only ruthlessly calls out the many double standards tied to gender, but also reveals an emotional personal history shared by herself and her mother.
As the song builds from its soft keyboarded minimalism to a hazy dissonant synth drone, you can feel your pulse racing alongside it. “My little miniskirt, think you can have it?” Standell-Preston sneers. “My little miniskirt is mine, all mine.”
Rachel Narvey is the sole member of a band called Strength in Numbers. Once, she googled the chords for Total Eclipse of the Heart.