Are girl groups overrated? | Swaddling

In a cultural space dominated at every turn by “lad-heavy” rockers and the masculine edginess of synth-pop, sits a subset of musicians whose artistic prowess defies genre: girl groups. They take many forms – there’s bubblegum pop, punk rock, R&B and now, KPop. The sound of the girl bands may differ across generations and genres, but the ethos that unites them remains the same: a determined, fiery kick in the ass of the male-dominated musical machinery that governs what we listen to.

The legacy of girl groups or girl groups carries a feminist undercurrent that is impossible to ignore. Some have spoken about it openly. The « riot grrrl” in the United States strenuously and vehemently claimed a place for feminist punk rockers not only in music, but also in politics. “We girls crave records, books and zines that speak to US that WE feel included in and can relate to in our own way… We are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak”, reads the riot grrrl manifest – signifying a crack in the music world that until then, colloquially, was called “cock rock”. It was the spirit with which Bikini Kill’s rebel girl broke the metaphorical barrier of sound in feminist sensibilities – its strident electric guitar distortion accompanied by a chaotic, passionate ode to a girl who simply owns the space she occupies.

“…the first generation punkettes were really something new. Rock was a real laddist boystown just before punk. Editorial meetings could be a minefield for me, even when I was an editor at Sounds, with scribes scolding, ‘Why write about women? Women are not interested in music. Women don’t make music. Women don’t buy music.” wrote music critic Vivien Goldman for Pitchfork. But women were clearly and continue to be very interested – not only that, but they actively seek out voices in music that express the angst, pride and radical joy of being women among women.

It wasn’t until all-female bands sat at the pinnacle of cultural relevance a few years later that the cracks began to form. The Spice Girls changed what it meant to be a girl band – they embraced femininity and embodied a lightness in their sound that spoke at directly to the possibilities of an independent young girl. The Spice Girls were girl power – the realized dream of their punk feminist ancestors who demanded not just a little space, but all the space. The Spice Girls rejected the boys’ craze for friendship, brotherhood, and togetherness—a warmth that soon made their feminism mainstream.


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But therein lies the problem. With the mainstreaming of the kind of individualistic and empowering feminism that the Spice Girls embodied, the legacy of girl groups itself began to shift in favor of the commercialization of girl power — and, ultimately, daughter boss/boss female dog – aesthetic. Cynicism towards the group began to mount, with many noting how they were collected, packaged and sold as a commercial product by men. The free-spirited feminism they advocated, then, feels expired today.

Not only that, but it also paved the way for girlboss feminism to become the main identity of girl groups that followed, leading to a decline in the cultural relevance of girl groups themselves. At least, until they are reinvented again – this time as a KPop group Blackpink. Even as girl groups struggled to find their footing in the 21st century, Blackpink became one of the larger groups all time. Their success is attributed not only to their terrific harmonies, but also their aesthetic – “A 21-year-old woman from Seattle tells me she’s here to watch four fierce women who haven’t been hypersexualized by the industry, but who possess their own femininity.”, wrote Eve Barlow in New York Magazine, about the band’s historic Coachella set.

The band itself aside, the power of girl bands is in the fandom – women who care, who care not just about the music, but also about the meaning of that music. In other words, girl groups are an opportunity for feminists to engage with themselves, their generational predecessors and their successors, through music.

And it’s not just Blackpink. Many solo artists also claim their inspiration from girl groups – Adele’s undying love of the Spice Girls is well known, and the anti-pop sensibilities of Lorde and Billie Eilish are an ode to the rebellious girls of the last century who went wildly against the grain. , showing what music can be, and for whom.

Girl groups could still suffer from the same problem of being fabricated or diluting the sense of empowerment. But there is a legacy they carry: women, love, friendship, joy and togetherness. No commercial machine can ever make them – not really. When asked if girl groups are now overrated, the only possible answer is: for those whose artistic interest and prowess have been dismissed, there is no such thing.

About Joan J. Hernandez

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