13 songs, 46 min, 15 min reading time.
On Tuesday night (18 Feb 2020) at the Brits (and apparent in the nominations beforehand), it was made very clear that there is a big imbalance between nominations for male artists compared to female artists. Just 17.5% of the writers on Best Single nominated tracks at the Brits have been women since 1999. This was the same at the Oscars with women representing just 14% of nominations since its inception. I know that’s film and not music and we’re a music blog, but still it’s a disgrace across the entertainment industry. This accompanied with the gender pay gap that isn’t closing shows we still live in a sexist society; one that needs urgent change.
On reflection it was also apparent, and this was mentioned in my most recent post prior to this, that a lot of my playlists are made up of male dominated artists. Therefore I thought it was necessary to research music that is empowering women and highlighting the imbalance we have today. One that we shouldn’t. In line with my Pride playlist, these tracks are also ones I like.
The title of this post comes from the campaign created in 2012 during pre-production of the film with the same name. The campaign highlights how it is normal for men to walk around without a top, but not for women. Since then it has been a catch-all term to showcase the gender imbalance. You can follow the official Free The Nipple Instagram account here.
Photo: Claudio Schwarz
1) “Make America Great Again” – Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot are a Russian feminist protest punk band. They formed in 2011. They protest on themes from LGBTQ+ rights to feminism to Vladimir Putin’s link to the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. This track was released in 2016 before Trump became president imagining a pretty bad outcome if he did become president. Unfortunately, this turned out to be true.
More recently, Pussy Riot has had to find more funding for their most recent music video promoting LGBTQ+ rights as the St Petersburg police stormed the shoot twice because the feminists and LGBT+ rights champions were promoting ‘gay propaganda’. That is illegal under Russian federal law.
2) “Bad Reputation” – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
An iconic song that I never knew who the artist was prior to this research. In 2009, it was named the 29th best hard rock song of all time by VH1. It is the highest-ranked song by a woman on the list. In the ’70s Joan Jett was part of an all-girl band called The Runaways and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. She’s constantly fought for the rights for women in music and her own right to make music the way she wants.
Album: “Bad Reputation (Expanded Edition)” (1981)
Label: Blackheart Records Group
3) “Respect”- Aretha Franklin
A classic. One that was originally released by Otis Redding in 1965, but this 1967 version is superior. The two versions are significantly different. Redding’s version is a plea from a desperate man, who will give his woman anything she wants. However, Franklin’s version is a declaration from a strong, confident woman, who knows that she has everything her man wants. She never does him wrong, and demands his “respect”. It was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987. It was placed number five on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Starting at the age of 18 Aretha Franklin had a fantastic career in music while also championing civil rights. By the end of the 1960s, Aretha Franklin had come to be known as “The Queen of Soul”.
Album: “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” (1967)
Label: Atlantic Recording Corp
During the writing of “Don’t Touch My Hair” and the creation of the full album “A Seat at the Table”, Solange posted personal essays on her website, Saint Heron, linking the ideas of these personal essays with messages in the album. One essay that has been linked to the creation and writing of “Don’t Touch My Hair” is “And Do You Belong? I Do.” In this she says “You and your friends have been called the N-word, been approached as prostitutes, and have had your hair touched in a predominately white bar just around the corner from the same venue.” Pitchfork Magazine wrote that “‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ moves at a heartbeat’s pulse, subtle and steady, yet vibrant” and “can be read as an explicit rejection of this behaviour (the devalue and alienation of black spaces), as a simple establishment of boundaries, or as a powerful pledge of personal identity.”
Album: “A Seat at the Table” (2016)
Label: Columbia Records
5) “Pussy Is God” – King Princess
King Princess is signed to Mark Ronson’s record label. She’s had a meteoric rise in the last few years. This song in particular uses pop to explain what she likes about her girlfriend. This could have made a Pride playlist but I thought it still represents a strong idea of being able to talk about what you want without judgement.
Single: “Pussy Is God” (2018)
Label: Zelig Music
6) “Just A Girl” – No Doubt
This one was released by No Doubt for their third studio album, Tragic Kingdom (1995). It was written by Gwen Stefani and Tom Dumont, produced by Matthew Wilder. “Just a Girl” is a song written about Stefani’s perspective of life as a woman and her struggles with having strict parents. “Just a Girl” was the first song Stefani wrote without the assistance of her brother Eric as well and proved to be one of her best.
Album: “Tragic Kingdom” (1995)
Label: Interscope Records
7) “Dancing On My Own” – Robyn
Maybe my favourite on here. Taken from Robyn’s fifth studio album, Body Talk Pt. 1 (2010). “Dancing on My Own” is an electronic and dance-pop ballad that speaks of a female protagonist who dances alone in a club while watching her ex-lover with another woman. Despite this, I think it still sends a strong message about being allowed to dance how you want and not feeling ashamed.
Album: “Body Talk” (2010)
Label: Konichiwa Records
8) “Standing In the Way of Control” – Gossip
I had forgotten about this song for a long time until it came up on some lists online. The song was written by lead singer Beth Ditto as a response to the Federal Marriage Amendment which would have constitutionally outlawed same-sex marriage in the United States. It is a powerful song and whenever Beth performs it she produces a very strong performance that gets the crowd roaring. In December 2014, seventeen months after Beth and her girlfriend first walked down the aisle in a wedding, the couple legally married in their home state of Oregon, having to wait until same-sex marriage became legal there to make their marriage official.
Album: “Standing in the Way of Control” (2005)
Label: Kill Rock Stars
9) “#1 Must Have” – Sleater-Kinney
This was one of my favourite discoveries while researching this piece. The lyrics to “#1 Must-Have” reference images of the riot grrrl scene in the mainstream media. Riot grrrl is an underground feminist punk movement that began in the early 1990s in Washington State and the greater Pacific Northwest. Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, classism, anarchism and female empowerment. The song also alludes to the misogyny that took place at the Woodstock ’99 music festival, where several women were raped.
Album: “All Hands on the Bad One (Remastered)” (2000)
Label: Sub Pop Records
Charli XCX helped to inspire this playlist as her comments were the ones that caught my eye and led me onto how the Brits still don’t have an equal representation and fair gender balance. This is what she said to Sky News:
“The lack of women is annoying.
“We are not the subplot, you know?
“We are not the support act, we are the main event.”
Single: “Gone” (2019)
Label: Asylum Records
11) “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” – Kate Bush
I’ve been a fan of Kate Bush since I was a kid and think this is a terrific track. Then when you think about it, the gender inequality is literally an uphill struggle and this is what Bush equated the meaning of her track to upon its release in 1985:
“I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! And I think it would lead to a greater understanding. And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘well, no, why not a deal with God!'”
Album: “Hounds Of Love” (1985)
Label: Noble And Brite
12) “Men Explain Things to Me” – Tacocat
This track was inspired by author Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay of the same name, which can be found here and is worth reading. One of many great quotes is below:
“Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.”
Album: “Lost Time” (2016)
Label: Hardly Art
13) “Womxn” – Låpsley
A new release this one. Låpsley explained: “It’s written hypothetically from a place in the future that was much more positive. It’s about having trust in the passage of time; about not knowing what to do right now but knowing that at some point you will know. And here we are in the future and I’m this stronger, more confident womxn, and I sing it and it’s my present.” The term womxn can also be used as a more inclusive term to include transgender women as well.
Single: “Womxn” (2020)
Label: Her Own Recordings