Why rock chicks are no longer under the thumb of any guy

GLENDA COOPER charts the changes
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IN HIS Satires, Juvenal said, "There is nothing more intolerable than a wealthy woman." Today most men would add, "There is nothing more intolerable than a wealthy woman who is a successful rock star"

A new survey reveals that the five most popular albums of the 1990s are all by women. Whitney Houston leads the list with Bodyguard, which has sold 30 million copies, followed by Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette and the Spice Girls.

Michael Jackson also limps in at joint Number Five but then no one can really remember what his gender is. So where are the real men? Where is Oasis in this list? Or George Michael? Or Eric Clapton? Or any other of the giants of male rock? Squashed beneath a Spice Girl's trainer.

The boys must be hopping mad. Because the thing about rock is that it's a man's thing. You strut around with a phallic guitar, waiting for groupies to fall to their knees, and yell about chicks and sex and drugs. It's as George Harrison this week described the early days of the Beatles: "a lot of teenagers getting drunk playing rock 'n' roll ... That's how it was. It was just a wild thing," he said. "But by 2am on Saturday it was just hell."

Not that they outdid the Rolling Stones. When Mick and Keith weren't being crushed like butterflies on a wheel or over-indulging in every way possible, they were busy penning songs about squirming bitches "under my thumb". The message was simple: rock is loud, it's macho, it's male.

A woman's place in the music industry was to be the adoring rock chick ready and waiting at the side of the stage. Or if she did want to sing then she could be a teenage songbird wailing about lost love. Think back to the Sixties again and the Crystals. Their first big hit in 1962 was just as it should be.He's a Rebel had the lyrics: "See the way he walks down the street .../He's my guy./When he holds my hand I'm so proud". It would reassure any male supremacist to hear women gushing about how special their man was. Or there was another hit the Crystals had the same year - He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss. "He hit me and I knew he loved me./If he didn't care for me/I could never have made him mad./But he hit me and I was glad."

Of course there were women who didn't fit in - Janis Joplin or Tina Turner. Carly Simon may have got her revenge on Warren Beatty with You're So Vain. But then women singers always had burdens to carry - Tina had been beaten up and controlled by Ike, and Janis died of a drugs overdose, and now Carly has revealed she's fighting breast cancer. They may have been raunchy and they may have seemed strong, but underneath it all they were a mass of pain. See, girls that's what happens if you try to go it alone.

Rock has always been misogynistic and violent with it. And it's not limited to the decades before feminism kicked in. "I've always enjoyed writing songs about dead women," said the post-punk singer Nick Cave. Think about rappers talking endlessly about "bitches" and "hos". Or Prodigy and their tasteful Smack My Bitch Up. (Surprising how many women didn't get the supposed irony). And that grand-daddy of rock himself Eric Clapton in trouble recently for his latest tune Sick and Tired which opines, "Get me a shotgun baby ... I may have to blow your brains out, baby ... Then you won't have to bother me no more."

The boys had it all their own way for too long; but then they went one of two directions. Either they still insisted on drinking too much, having scantily clad chicks in their videos and indulging in groin threatening antics on stage, causing Donna Gaines in her 1991 book Teenage Wasteland to remark, "Metal is romanticised whining."

The other direction was for male singers to start taking themselves seriously. Prince had been quite happy squealing away about satisfying his woman and boasting about "twenty-two positions in a one night stand" (Twenty- two? Did anyone else work them all out? Answers on a postcard please). But then he rediscovered himself as an artiste and started posing around with "slave" written on his face and only answering to the name of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

Representing himself with a symbol he was promptly dubbed "Squiggle" by the less reverent music press. George Michael, too, complained he wasn't being taken seriously enough. This - from a man who used to shove shuttlecocks down his shorts - confirmed everything that women felt about the music industry: boys strutting around thinking they were important.

So while the men were feeling sorry for themselves the women started to break through, in the footsteps of such feisty predecessors as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. The Eighties women were led by Madonna, of course, who reinvented herself so many times that her male critics were always one step behind when trying to categorise her.

As well as the successful pop queens, there was a whole raft of rock girls who were repeatedly sneered at for being "musos" (that was if there was any form of thoughtfulness in your lyrics) or nothing more than "vagina rock" (if there was any suspicion of aggression). Whether you were Tori Amos or Liz Phail, Shirley Manson or PJ Harvey the reaction you got from men was that you had to be weird.

But the men were scared. Very scared. They didn't like Alanis Morisette warning them: "When I scratch my nails down someone else's back/I hope you feel it". They didn't like that, but what they really hated was Jagged Little Pill selling 23 million copies.

Gone are the days when it was assumed that women would only listen to boy bands; now they pull on their stacked trainers and dance around to the Spice Girls. And this week women occupy both the number one and number two slots in the singles charts.

The much-mocked Girl Power is on the increase. The women on the lists do not conform to some feminist ideal nor are they writing protest songs. But they're knocking the boys' macho efforts into the ground. And women - and men - are buying female artists in their millions. The boys have been left behind.

Everyone laughed indulgently last year at the Brit Awards when Spice Girl Mel C reacted to Liam Gallagher's revelation that he stayed away from the Brits because he was afraid he would "chin" the Spice Girls if he met them there. "Liam," she jeered. "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!" We may have laughed at Sporty then. Few would give much for Liam's chances now.

Comments