Women rockers: an endangered species

Where have all of the women rockers gone?

It seems a simple enough question, and one that shouldn’t ever have to be asked, as the past half-century of rock is filled with phenomenal examples of why the presence of women in the rock arena is one of the most important elements of music. Without icons like Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Poly Styrene, and so many others, music would have evolved far differently, and the current music scene shows many dangerous trends due to its lack of women of this magnitude.

Even less than twenty years ago, you had artists ranging from L7 and Babes in Toyland to Liz Phair, Garbage, Veruca Salt, and Belly all making strong chart runs, and having extensive, clear support from labels and mass media. They represented a massive musical spectrum in terms of sonic approaches, but these were also all strong female musical role models who could create their own music and lyrics, and deliver them exactly how they pleased.

Where are their current counterparts; the strong female figures who can inspire the current generation of young women to pick up guitars, drums, or microphones and feel comfortable and confident that the world of rock music is far from a boys club?

It would seem that the music industry has become so scared of itself, so uncreative, that unless a female performer fits into one of three possible molds perfectly, they aren’t worth dealing with at all. Those molds are of course A) the sweet, innocent face with vapid lyrics B) the loud-voiced pop singer with predictable lyrics or C) the freak to try and appeal to non-mainstream conformist tweens.

It doesn’t take a pop-culture scholar to understand that these types basically translate into Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga respectively. While they have certainly become positive female role models for their personas, when it comes to their existence purely as musicians, they are quite the opposite.

They may have pleasing voices, but to call the content of their songs both musically and lyrically predictable would be a massive understatement. There is rarely any real substance within their words that they have not addressed time and time again, and due to the usual parade of writers behind each song, the lacking of a strong lyrical voice often comes off as an engineered pop hit as opposed to real words from the heart. Some may argue that their images can be racy or controversial from time to time, but once you step back they are clearly just different marketing strategies at work.

Did some sort of genetic tragedy occur in the late 1990s that made women suddenly incapable of penning rock songs worthy of large-scale recognition?

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that women who rock can’t be sold to advertisers as easily; as you might have difficulty selling a “riot grrrl” band to a cosmetics or hip clothing line. We all know that the industry is an overweight beast that must constantly be fed money; but with just a bit of thought, there are countless other ways to market and profit from such a band (if that’s the only goal the labels have.)

The industry is subconsciously saying that if you have an original voice, or a voice that moves beyond pop styles, it is not acceptable or wanted by society. The industry and mass media say that if you present any sort of threat, even a creative one, to the paradigm that the labels have cemented, then you are not worthy of a record deal or able to be considered a true talent. What they want is another pretty face with a voice that can win some bland TV competition, instead of one that can light up an arena with energy and life from a single note on guitar.

There are a number of female-fronted rock bands making great strides over the past few years, but it is nothing short of sickening to see the lack of label and media support they receive. Whether it’s the brilliant recent EP from Deap Vally or the fiery existence of Vivian Girls, these are the bands that young musicians need to hear. It’s distinctive, fearless voices like that of Esthero that should be dominating the airwaves, as her “Everything Is Expensive” album from last year stands as one of the most creatively diverse and outright superb records of the past decade, regardless of gender. Yet these truly talented voices are largely silenced by an industry that simply cannot handle strong, focused, and talented women who have no need for legions of A&R, style consultants, and writing teams to help them convey their messages.

Regardless of how the industry found its way into this mess, the reality remains that it must be fixed soon, as we risk losing an entire generation of talented female musicians who may never know the extent of their abilities due to lack of a proper musical role model.


Joel Freimark hosts a daily music-related webseries HERE and you can follow his daily music musings and suggestions HERE as well.