the state of women in music today is dire. DIRE. and i feel that michelle branch and vanessa carlton get unfairly lumped into the britney and avril camp. they are both musicians and artists as opposed to marketing ploys. and because they write the words they sing, they are a voice in music today that is rarely heard: the voice of young girls growing up.
in vanessa carlton’s song “white houses,” she sings about losing her virginity. from the joy of new, bestest friends to crush and obsession with insignificant details (“he’s so funny in his bright red shirt”) to the disappointment of the aftermath; the disappointment of growing up. i’ve seen one tree hill and buffy and everwood and the other shows that imply and show but never say, not really. i mean have you ever heard something this honest on tv or in popular movies or music?
my first time, hard to explain
rush of blood, oh, and a little bit of pain
on a cloudy day, it’s more common than you think
he’s my first mistake
now we have all gossiped about britney and christina and mandy’s virginity from the time they claimed it to the rumors of when they lost it. they were coy and vague. and they sure as hell never came out and said that it had happened, let alone mentioned blood or pain. but there are millions of girls out there going through that experience without any representation in popular culture. and the point of music (or one of them) is to make you feel like what your going through makes sense.
i also have a thing for liberal pop country – you know, the dixie chicks and now, michelle branch’s new collaboration the wreckers (purportedly a shortening of ‘the cass county home wreckers‘ which is what michelle’s husband nicknamed her and her friend and collaborator jessica harp). i like about a third of the album a lot … which is pretty impressive for me frankly. oddly enough i created a playlist that consisted of my favorite songs of bad religion‘s new album ‘new maps of hell‘ (new dark ages, requiem for dissent, honest goodbye, dearly beloved, grains of wrath, scrutiny, and prodigal son) and favorite songs off the wrecker’s album ‘leave the pieces‘ (leave the pieces, tennesse, stand still look pretty, cigarettes). of these songs on my playlist, i think michelle and/or jessica wrote all but one and i think that plays into my enjoyment of the songs. we’re around the same age, they are into tattoos (michelle has got a pretty hot pin up tattoo on her forearm these days) … it’s a match made in great theory. the point is that i like these songs because a) i like catchy songs that aren’t contrived b) i like pop country and the real clincher c) the lyrics say something that i think i would say; i could say those things and mean them (unlike, say, ‘hit me baby one more time.’) but even beyond that there lyrics are honest and it’s a kind of honesty that we rarely hear from female artists today:
see i left another
good man tonight
i wonder if he’ll miss me
lord knows i tried
but i think maybe
the thing that i did wrong
was put up with his bullshit
for far too long
i think i might like
the quiet nights
of this empty life …
compare that to ‘You’re so fine/I want you to be mine/You’re so delicious/I think about you all the time’ (avril lavigne’s newest hit ‘girlfriend’).
even better, though, is that michelle is honest about herself and her life and not in a ‘feel bad for me i make millions of dollars kind of way’:
i am slowly falling apart
i wish you’d take a walk in my shoes for a start
you might think it’s easy being me
you just stand still, look pretty
from stand still, look pretty
now why does it matter if women’s voices are represented in pop culture? or anywhere for that matter?
i’ve been asked this question many times, especially in the context of workplace diversity. i always tell the same story:
in the beginning days of heart bypass surgery there was an inordinate number of women who died from the procedure. the doctor’s couldn’t figure out what was causing this. women’s immune system? their period? what? it turns out it was because woman are, on average, physically smaller than men and the tools used were too big and popping their arteries. Here’s the thing: had women been included in the study (the fda didn’t require women to be a part of studies until the last 5 or so years), then these women might not have died. there are other factors of course but this seems pretty basic to me.
of course, music isn’t quite as dire as say, heart surgery. but for some, it can be pretty important, especially during adolescence. moreover, if we’re not telling women’s stories in popular culture, it’s not just women who lose out. men do too. many of us learn to relate to each other (sadly) through tv, music, movies and without an honest, true female voice we tend to operate on different wavelengths (venus and mars, for example). but i don’t believe that’s inherent; i believe it’s because we each have false preconceived notions about the behavior, motivation, and feelings of the other gender and thus, we operate under false assumptions and get angry and confused when these assumptions – which we hold to be truths – don’t turn out how we planned.
but you don’t have to like michelle branch or vanessa carlton to support women in music (although, try to search out female artists that play the type of music you like, maybe you’d be surprised?). you can support rock camp for girls!
i personally am on the advisory board for the new york city willie mae rock camp for girls! hooray!