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Editorial: Female Role Models In The Music Industry

posted August 14, 2015, 9:49 am by madelainej | Filed Under Editorial | comment Leave a Comment

Joan Jett Lady Gaga Telephone

Where are the empowering female role models in music? Where are the strong, charismatic females to inspire a generation of girls? The Joan Jetts, Patti Smiths, Janis Joplins? Today, I’ve been told teenagers look to Lady Gaga – a woman who doesn’t use her birth name, whose music frequently victimizes women or advocates for unhealthy relationships as seen in “Bad Romance.” She launched a perfume line called “Fame,” which seems to suggest fame is all woman should be attempting to achieve. Although she sings about being “Born This Way,” it rings a little hollow when Lady Gaga has no visible weight problem or skin condition, and has beautiful blonde hair as she flaunts throughout the music video in what appears to be underwear. Gaga markets her body as successfully as her music. Who could forget the strip search in “Telephone”? The commercialization of her body makes it an art form and takes away her control and agency of that image. Something Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Janis Joplin would not sink to.

You may be thinking “What about Pink?” Again, another woman who uses a nom de plume. While she does have the tough girl image (something she loves to remind the media about) and sings about girls accepting themselves, she is also the face of a huge ad campaign with a mega make-up company, Covergirl. This company tells girls and woman they will not be liked or accepted in public unless they are beautiful, and hide their natural state behind foundation, cover-up and mascara.

…Which brings us to Taylor Swift. Although she gives a lot to charity and is very mindful of her fans, this makes her a good humanitarian, not a music role model. Her music centres largely around falling in and out of love, and getting over said love. From this all we can gather is that a woman’s soul purpose is to find love and/or be heartbroken. Stacking her against the others, she seems the weakest personality and almost forgettable. She is the same boring blonde pop star wearing a guise of innocence generations have seen come and go. The only remarkable message I’ve heard in her music is to “shake it off,” and “let the haters hate,” which allows teenage girls to be themselves in the face of adversity but the song isn’t empowering. If anything, it gives advice our parents have told us time and again while growing up (and which I have largely ignored)- “Sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Swift rings like a cliche and her words are as weak as my parents’ advice. Where is the harsh, untailored voice of Joplin, the take-me-or-leave-me of Joan Jett and the raw, unremitting defiance of “The Man” Patti Smith sang about?

However, let’s not put the powerhouse music females on a pedestal too soon. After all, Joan Jett’s birth name is Joan Marie Larkin. I suppose we should be grateful at least half of her stage name is a remnant of her actual name. But with songs like “Bad Reputation” Jett did more than say a wishy-washy “accept yourself,” she more or less advocated for exerting yourself. Something woman are rarely, if ever, told to do. Jett sings in “Bad Reputation”: “A girl can do what she wants to do,” “And I don’t have to please no one,” and “I don’t really care if you think I’m strange, I ain’t gonna change.” This song isn’t a pity party, while Pink coos to you: “Don’t you ever, ever feel like you’re less than f***ing perfect” while using re-enforcing words like “always second guessing,” “underestimated,” and “mistreated.” Songs like “Perfect” tell girls you are underestimated, you are mistreated, which only reinforces how society sees girls. It doesn’t empower girls to change how they are viewed. I could continue discussing such songs as “Fake Friends” by Joan Jett, but I’ll move on instead.

Janis Joplin. The name alone brings to mind a powerhouse personality. But, we can’t ignore her liberal drug use, and her overindulgence in drink which ultimately led to her death. But as a woman who struggled with some weight problems and with deep scars from acne, it is incredible she reached the status she has while being one of the furthest pictures of beauty. Who nowadays has reached the popularity Joplin achieved while looking as unconventional? Lady Gaga: incredibly thin, blond, conclusion beautiful. Katy Perry: well endowed, bob hair cut, curvy while thin, conclusion beautiful. Taylor Swift: practically a Victoria Secret model, undeniably pretty. Joplin’s unconventional voice carried pain and truth which I find lacking in the songs of today’s leading ladies.

Undeniably powerful is Patti Smith, the “punk poet laureate.” Consider that for a moment; a woman helped spur the punk rock movement in New York City in 1975. A woman helped breath life into a genre of music which is known for being tough and rebellious – adjectives most don’t associate with women. Aside from her inspirational music career, Smith is heavily involved in activism, and remains an inspiration to women all over the world. While Smith, Janis and Jett may not be perfect role models, I believe they are much better role models for women then Lady Gaga, Pink and Taylor Swift. Our current female music role models conform to a patriarchal standard of femininity and beauty. Smith, Joplin and Jett weren’t trying to be pictures of beauty, they shaped the music industry, and challenged current gender roles.


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