Dead Women Tell No Tales

nickcavekylieminogue

A few weeks ago I saw Hurray for The Riff Raff in New York City, and one part of the show particularly struck a chord with me. Frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra announced that the song she was about to play off of her new album was a response to “murder ballads,” a disturbing trope in country music where men croon about killing (or, mostly killing women). I ran the gamut of emotions while hearing this, because I hadn’t realized at that point just how often I was expected to identify with the male murderer, instead of the female casualty. (The song she performed, by the way, is called “The Body Electric”.)

Perhaps one of the most prolific and popular purveyors of the murder ballad is Nick Cave, whose work in The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (who actually released an album called Murder Ballads), and Grinderman all have recurring themes of coveting, hating, torturing, and killing women. I don’t mean to suggest that Cave harbors such fantasies, but the premise and appeal of the stories he frequently tells are based in the mistrust and fetishization of the so-called fairer sex. In Cave’s world, women are either beautiful to the point that it drives the narrator mad (and therefore must die), or spiteful whores (who are disposable to begin with).

In the straightforwardly titled “I’m Gonna Kill That Woman,” Cave bemoans “Yeah I did everything I could/ everything I could. Lord Knows I did everything I could” but despite his best intentions, he has to kill his straying partner. The virgin/whore dichotomy is recurring, but interestingly, for Cave, both types of women frequently meet the same result. In “Where the Wild Roses Die,” Cave’s character kills Kylie Minogue with a rock, singing “And I kissed her goodbye/ said ‘all beauty must die.'”

Of course, Nick Cave isn’t really a killer, and his narrator is just a character exploration. When he was asked by Vulture about his depictions of women a few years ago, he was pretty candid about his intentions.

” I get criticized for a lot of what I write about, but as far as I’m concerned I’m actually standing up and having a look at what goes on in the minds of men, and I have the authority to talk about it because I’m a man. Women don’t have the authority because they don’t know what goes on in a man’s head, so largely what they say is kind of irrelevant. My songs and stories and books are character-driven, they talk about the way people are and the way men are and women are. “

Gross.

The pervasiveness of dead women in songs is certainly troubling, and Nick Cave has plenty of company in that particular club. The ubiquity of classic murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl,” which lovingly describes knocking a woman down with a stick until she dies (and has been covered many, many times) suggests that the trope hasn’t slagged in popularity. Eminem’s “Kim” and “97 Bonnie and Clyde” are particularly disturbing because, unlike most murder ballads, his victim (his wife at the time) has a face. Other than that, there’s Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” The Rolling Stones “Midnight Rambler,” “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes, Hüsker Dü’s “Diane,” and so many more.

Why, exactly, is killing women such a common subject manner? My best guess is that it’s because it’s an easy way to characterize the narrator of the story (the man, the killer, the beast) as troubled, evil, or psychotic. In these songs the methods of their murder and disposal of the bodies are more fantastically described than the woman, with the exception of her being beautiful. These men describe the troubled (and disturbingly, sympathetic) monsters that they are by the destruction of beauty that is personified in a woman. Look at this pretty thing I killed, look at how unredeemable I am.

Besides the fetishization of feminine death, murder ballads are troubling because, once again, women are a means to an end. The story isn’t that a woman died (she’s disposable), but that a man was driven to kill.

It’s Hard Out Here For Lily Allen

lilyallen

In 2008 Katy Perry described herself as a “thinner version of Lily Allen,” a peculiar jab that turned out to be an amalgamation of what caused Allen’s rage at the music industry. In her earlier years with the release of Alright, Still, Allen’s weight and “unconventionality” were talking points (and in some cases, selling points) to an extent that when she lost weight around the time of her follow-up album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, she sarcastically swiped back on her hit “The Fear” with “Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner.”

Allen has always been acutely aware of the shelf-life of women in the music industry, a beauty and youth based package that, inevitably, would leave her behind. In “22,” Allen relates this to non-singers, a catchy pop tune bemoaning the plight of an aging woman. (“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.”) It almost seemed like Lily Allen had taken this to heart and was going to retire from music for good, until the announcement earlier this year that she was working on her third album.

And lo, it’s “Hard Out Here” for a bitch.

In Lily Allen’s New Video Probably Went Over Your Head, Kathy Iandoli summarizes the difficulties of Allen’s life following her departure from music:

The years that followed for Lily Allen were pretty brutal. She miscarried more than once, met with tweets from “fans” who said things like “I’m glad your baby died” and other pleasantries. When she finally gave birth (twice), she was called fat a number of times and accused of “falling off.” She changed her name to her married name, Lily Rose Cooper, and was called a kept woman. So she brought it back to the née status and was accused of going through another divorce. It truly is hard out here for a bitch.

The “Hard Out Here” video, a satirical pop culture send-up of music industry misogyny, begins with her manager bemoaning her post-baby weight gain, until a newly-liposucked Allen makes a comeback of sorts in a cartoonishly over-the-top music video. Besides the obvious swipes at Robyn Thicke with lines like “who will tear your butt in two” and the glorious balloon display of “LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY,” the majority of the video satirizes the self-objectification of young singers, notably Miley Cyrus.

I’ve said this about Miley before, but her sexually liberated front is really a carefully calculated appeal to the most basic straight male fantasies, and I couldn’t help but think of that when Allen’s manager tries to teach her how to twerk in the “Hard Out Here” video. The twerking, along with the white woman (Allen) objectifying her women of color dancers in order to assert her dominant sexuality, seems pretty familiar to anyone who has seen or read anything about Miley Cyrus in the past year. This is an interesting point on Allen’s part, but the execution is very flawed.

Allen’s got a bit of her own internalized misogyny that she’s dealing with, notably in the lines “I don’t need to shake my ass for you because I’ve got a brain,” which I’m sure the many brilliant ass-shakers of the world take issue with. The idea that overt sexuality and liberation are mutually exclusive is just flat-out wrong, and I would counter that with Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video.

Allen’s use of women of color backup dancers as a Miley slam mostly ends up feeling awkwardly racist. The close-up shots of butts twerking and bottles popping aren’t something that Miley invented (duh), and in fact, it’s her appropriation of those signifiers that got people talking about Miley to begin with. There’s a lot to critique about how young women singers are marketed, and at points Allen is spot on (The part where she makes a dancer pose for Polaroids, a la Terry Richardson, is fucking brilliant), but at some point she ends up perpetuating sexist views of what, exactly, makes a woman empowered.

MIXTAPE: Hardly the First Time

I don’t really have any good updates for you, as I’m the slowest mover ever and I’m trying to get my life together. I’m not really able to look people in the eye when they ask me how my progress is going, because, um… it’s not. My furniture was moved a week ago, so I’ve been sleeping on the floor since then. It’s been alright! Only a few carpet burns.

On a side note if you want any posters of bands I don’t care about anymore (and you live in the DFW area), you should hit me up. I have amassed a small collection of them, and my days in college radio are making it really hard for me to toss them.

Lots of features on this tape, right?

Hardly the First Time by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Never Be Another feat. Devlin – Delilah
2) Without Me feat. Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliot – Fantasia
3) Take Care of Me Baby feat. Pusha T – Cassie
4) Fuck U All the Time feat. Natasha Mosely – Jeremih
5) Forget – Lianna La Havas
6) Do My Thing feat. Janelle Monae – Estelle
7) Terrible Angels – Charlotte Gainsbourg
8) Grammy – Purity Ring
9) Counting (Remix) feat. Mykki Blanco – Autre Ne Veut
10) Hard to Love Somebody feat. Nas – Arlissa

Female Friendship and Pool Parties

This is such a great video:

I really love that Lightning Dust’s “Diamonds” is essentially a love song (“Whisper to me that you’ve had enough / Apologize that you’re not in love”), but the video tells a story of a different kind of relationship. One by one, three women get into the swimming pool with a lack of self-consciousness (I have a fear of pools and bathing suits so I’m probably projecting), and then begin to execute a synchronized swimming routine. For me that was pretty unexpected, as female friendship isn’t exactly something that’s as celebrated as, say, male friendship or heterosexual relationships. It’s also really awesome that the women in the video have different body types than I’m used to seeing in music videos, and that seems like a conscious decision on the part of the director, Helen Reed.

Women can be friends! And they’re not even sharing makeup tips! (Though let’s be real, that’s fun as hell.) I think part of what’s so remarkable is that this isn’t exactly a popular narrative, partially because feminine competition is highly encouraged, and also if women aren’t really seen as fully-developed people, they aren’t capable of maintaining meaningful relationships outside of those that they have with men. So it’s really cool to see a video like this that’s so nonchalant about it.

I had similar hopes for “Friend Crush” a while back, but the video is really ambiguous about who the song is for. It could be for another woman platonically, but the video seems pretty sexualized so in my head it’s a sexual relationship between two female friends. It could also be about a dude but I’m gonna pretend that it’s not.

Where My Ladies At?! Conscientiousness and Putting Women in Your Band

theknife
I’ve talked a bit previously about getting more women involved in the creation of music (to put it simply, get more women in your band), and some of the reaction that I’ve gotten was that that’s simply not an easy thing to do. I can’t really discount that, but I never said it would be easy. The process for filling vacated spaces with women is a very conscientious process, a deliberate acknowledgement of the fact that there aren’t enough women in music, and an effort to rectify that.

I was reading an interview with The Knife on Catch-Fire where Olof acknowledges making those same considerations:

“We worked with mostly male technicians on the tour and only male video directors. These were not necessarily people who worked with feminist issues either – they were into other things that we thought were interesting, but now we want to work with feminists and mostly women. So we’ve put together a great collective in Stockholm that is working with us on the live show and put together a predominantly female tech crew for the tour and I think that’s one really big difference from how we worked 7 years ago.”

The Knife collaborating with mostly women (feminist women, no less) is a deliberate act of solidarity, meant both to increase female representation and also endorse an ideology. It’s important to note when this happens, because it illuminates how much thought is typically put in to these decisions. Bands will continue to default to men, not out of deliberate maliciousness (hopefully), but because male musician is the norm. Acknowledging that is an important part of changing it.

The Knife aren’t the only ones who deliberately look for women to tour with. I can’t really talk about female touring bands without mentioning Beyoncé, who is perhaps the most influential and visible example. Her band, The Suga Mamas, were specifically auditioned to create a woman band, and she was very clear about why she chose to do that:

“When I was younger I wish I had more females who played instruments to look up to. I played piano for like a second but then I stopped. I just wanted to do something which would inspire other young females to get involved in music so I put together an all-woman band.”

sugamamas

Beyoncé and The Knife are far from the only ones to acknowledge this process. Kate Nash, who is very, very clear about she feels about feminism (strongly!), tours with a band that is exclusively women. It’s not limited to women, though. For his “What Part of Forever” tour, Cee Lo Green assembled a lady backing band called Scarlett Fever (Scarlett Fever would later open for Prince, and give charity performances at female-centered events), and Jack White played with a band of women, the Peacocks, for some of his Blunderbuss tour. (I have a lot of caveats about the reasons I believe Jack White chose to tour with women, however.)

It’s a lot easier to point to self-selected groups to show the conscientious addition of women, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, although that’s hard to quantify without the cover being blown on how that process works. Knowing about it is a good thing, mostly because it illuminates the fact that the rectification process is actual work, instead of chance.