THE ISSUE WITH ADDING “GIRL” WHEN CATEGORIZING ALL-GIRL BANDS
“You know,” a friend gestured when I asked what genre the band in question was. “They’re girl punk.”
For as long as I can recall in regards to the music industry’s need to define an act, I’ve always heard two-part genres begin with “girl.” You’ve heard it too: girl punk, girl rock, girl rap. It’s as if there is an expectation that the default setting of a musician is male, so any time females get involved, there has to be a specified name for it to exaggerate the angle and sound of the band. CHVRCHES singer Lauren Mayberry has also asked to stop adding “female-fronted” when describing their genre.
In truth, this issue stems from a larger problem dealing with the construct of genres. From a band’s early stages, they are tasked with having to quickly define themselves in order to be presented to the world. But history shows us that genres shift and change as bands grow together, as a unit. The sitar sounds of The Beatles’s “Love You To” are vastly different than the swinging pop foursome of their debut album Please Please Me, three years prior. It is only natural for a band to discover new and different sounds, pushing them outside of their constrained, industry-defined genre.
So when an all-girl group comes onto the scene, they are quickly placed in the box of a music style that is defined by their gender. It’s still our patriarchal society that inherently believes women to be lesser musicians than men, so much so that we would never call The Beatles “guy rock.” It seems to come from this need to remind women of their subordinate stature. Now more than ever, women are fronting bands, writing music, producing records, etc., though history has painted female musicians to be back-up singers or to perform music written for them by men.
The questioning of these genre labels is nothing drastically new. Back in 2011, a Pitchfork article questioned the growing image of the “riot grrrl,” intertwined with the “supposed” end of sexism in music: “ …there is no “female” sound. There is only the sound of being perceived female: the same old assumptions, conversations, reference points, and language– all-female, girl band, riot grrrl– reverberating through an echo chamber, hollow and fatigued.” These genres, thus, don’t really exist: they are only sustained by our ongoing mindset of how to distinguish these bands.
Speaking from years of personal experience, these genre labels define how we are taught to make and perform music. When I arrive to set up for a gig, I know my skills are being called into question by those around me. This isn’t new and this isn’t just relevant in the music industry. It’s hard that even in the 21st century, women still seemingly have something to prove with their music, as the media still comments on looks more than the tunes themselves.
Let us not forget the women that have rocked the industry thus far. Sister Rosetta Tharpe helped pioneer rock n’ roll in the early-to-mid 20th century. Folk would not be the folk it is known as today without the words and melodies of Joni Mitchell. Debbie Harry showed the importance of having front-women in the mainstream media, redefining the “female rock star.” Beyonce proved that women could write and perform top-selling jams about empowerment, strength, and love. And even more recently, local LA artists and bands like Phoebe Bridgers and The Love Inns show hope for the future of gals in music. The list goes on.
We should be constantly encouraging girls to play music, which great organizations like The Girls Rock Camp Foundation do by teaching and empowering young women about the industry. But in no way should the lessons taught be that once in music, girls will be categorized by gender-based genre and seen as lesser. The world grows up on music; there’s no reason to differentiate it.
I don’t know when the day will come that we will just view groups as, let’s say, “rock bands” instead of pushing some sort of “girl rock” agenda. Rock n’ roll is rock n’ roll: it’s a well-defined genre anybody can play, so what is the difference she’s playing it?