Johnathan Cilia    February 12, 2016

Women in Popular Music: Part 2

Read Women in Popular Music: Part 1 here

Maltese women in popular music have sometimes garnered more mainstream appeal than male musicians, with some female artists garnering enough support to tour internationally in support of their music. Alongside that, a newer generation of female musicians have recently began putting their touch on the local scene’s social fabric, putting out music they love and influencing other bands through it.

Best of all, these women have developed a strong voice and are ready to spread their message, be it through their music or otherwise. Check out what these female musicians had to say about being women in popular music and the difficulties they may face.

Francesca and Caroline from the Fuzzhoneys

The two-piece blues-rock band started in 2012 and ever since their massive debut launch they’ve seen their reputation grow and grow. Between their solid tracks and by remaining true to their selves, the Fuzzhoneys have quickly gathered a strong following in Malta. 

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Is musical history written by men? Do you feel women are underrepresented in musical history when looking at their contributions?

Francesca: The power of the feminine icons from the 20s to the 50s had some of the most important women in musical history and they’re immortal. An underrated example would be Hound dog, which is originally sung by Big Mama Thornton but three years after was overshadowed as being Elvis’s hit single – think about it.

The audience and what was/still is commercial influences a lot, before to be represented it was about being at the right time at the right place – whether you’re a man or a woman.  It’s about the industry and how your contribution will fit with the trend.

In human history men dictated the entertainment industry – like the majority of the regime so equality wasn’t really the priority most of the time. It’s not a question of arguing about discrimination – the argument stands the same in the talents of whatever is classified by race, orientation and mobility. It’s simple, whoever represents i.e. managing the talent – will have the upper hand of representing what they want – how they want. In my opinion today it’s not about the woman’s talent rather then the plastic exterior and the auto tune that get’s represented for the sake of capital; the rest is niche.

Do you consider any women musicians to be among the top musicians ever? Who?

Francesca: Each time period varies – there are the top legends and the current inspiring beings that I hope to see live one day. I love Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, Dusty Springfield, Etta James, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Janis Joplin, Bjork, Brittany Howard, Cat Power, Beth Gibbons, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Alison Mosshart, Sarah Jay, Anna Calvi, Patti Smith, Kim Gordon and Martina Topley Bird.

Caroline: Kathleen Hanna, Leslie Feist, Regina Spector, the girls from Warpaint – might not be among the top musicians ever but they have made an impact on my life and I’m sure for many others.

Women were first let into the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1897, and when they were finally accepted they had to be accompanied by their mothers in order to maintain the ‘decorum.’ Could you imagine this happening anywhere today, or has society changed?

For a long time, society had its dictatorial rules of how a woman should act because of the influence of religion, social classes and traditions. It’s a never-ending point of discussion and the western civilization today has a lot of freedom to express compared to before; still not enough though. The overall right of freedom of expression in the medium can be in music, dress code, painting technique…it just depends on the mentality of the social circle and the way that they judge what is out of the norm.

What difficulties do female musicians face that male musicians do not?

Francesca: In the artificiality of what the system promotes of a woman we feed of a daily diet of image before the quality – the looks before the brains? The sexual revolution might be considered to go out of hand but thanks to it other barriers were broken. It’s how serious we’re taken from who would have an upper hand, some people in high caliber unfortunately are sexist; which at this day and age just shows how ignorant they are. I can be too blatant because it’s very subjective – maybe be taken seriously in the profession.

Caroline: I agree with Francesca regarding the fact that women are in general not taken seriously when it comes to certain issues, and even though this has been happening less frequently nowadays, I still believe that sex is an excuse most of the time. If you’re confident as a person, know what you’re doing and believe you are doing things the right way then the people will listen and pay attention without judgement regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.

What advantages do female musicians have over male musicians?

Francesca: The figures of the majority, it just doesn’t seem to sum up to a match yet.

Caroline: Being more of a caring nature due to the ‘mother instinct’ I think women have the upper hand in being able to express certain emotions much more easier than men, which is engaging to a wider audience. Although men are capable of doing this, they have more barriers to break down in order to achieve a certain vulnerability without the pressure of appearing less manly.

Any last words?

Francesca: Sexism is stupid – both for men and women.

Caroline: There is no sex, there’s only confidence in yourself.

Ira Losco

As one of the most recognisable musicians in Malta, and having brought a large amount of international attention to her music and Malta by extension, Ira Losco’s unique brand of pop rock has seen her reach audiences that other artists could only hope for.

Is musical history written by men? Do you feel women are underrepresented in musical history when looking at their contributions?

Absolutely not. Yes men were more prominent in the past when women were only seen and not heard, however women started to infiltrate music when they found the chance to and they have been very present and valid ever since. Sometimes I feel that women are only given their due credit when they are either focussing on representing themselves through their artistry alone which doesn’t include a shred of sexuality and that is a bit sexist and very shallow. Just as much as it is shallow to just glorify a female artist for her image alone.

Do you consider any women musicians to be among the top musicians ever? Who?

For me the Holy Trinity has always been the Holy Trinity of alternative…. Tori Amos, Bjork and PJ Harvey. I believe that they are the women who taught me that music is this pleasurable worm hole which you fall into and is mesmerizing to the point of no return. They taught me that in darkness there is light.

Women were first let into the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1897, and when they were finally accepted they had to be accompanied by their mothers in order to maintain the ‘decorum.’ Could you imagine this happening anywhere today, or has society changed?

Society has changed, but has only adapted to changes to suit it. So, we could compare the mothers with social media calling a woman a whore because she uses her looks to her advantage in an image driven society. We would also compare it to some men in the industry not trusting the judgment of a woman when talk gets technical. Luckily I’m surrounded by a team predominantly made by men who respect my views, vision and work greatly and that is a godsend.

What difficulties do female musicians face that male musicians do not?

The continuous doubt that women are somehow less capable. The statistics which clearly show that people think twice to put their hands in their pockets to buy a ticket to watch a female artist in concert. Ironically then it is the female artists who are continuously pushing boundaries during live performances. Take someone like PINK! Who has transformed her show into an acrobatic almost cirque de soleil show, but she is still criticized for her choice of cover versions in her repertoire. And then no one bats an eyelid when Amy Whinehouse covered many a standard ska or jazz number, just because she represents the cooler female who didn’t live up to the so called glamour of pop stardom and died a tragic death? It’s just very strange how we tend to have a very cloudy judgment against those who fit into the categories which our society imposes on female artists. I have great respect for any female artist who does it her way whilst enjoying success, both the above artists fall into my favorite artists list.

What advantages do female musicians have over male musicians?

I think the advantages are for everyone in terms of how music is now so readily available. I think putting gender to music is already discriminating but in such an image driven society unfortunately people’s outlook is effected in such a way. I watched an interview lately where Taylor Swift was being criticized for writing about her ex-boyfriends and love life and she lashed back, rightly so, saying that male artists also use that narrative and no one bats an eyelid, so it’s down to through which eyes we choose to see the world.

Leona Farrugia from Cryptic Street

Cryptic Street could be described as pop rock – but being an all girl group, with lyrics covering topics such as time’s hold over man, data protection and our modern obsession with technology, Cryptic Street provide an intellectual, contemporary take on the genre. 

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Is musical history written by men? Do you feel women are underrepresented in musical history when looking at their contributions?

Throughout the years men conquered their power for centuries and this influence is still resonating, not only in music but even in poetry, writing and different art media. Women were to be considered as ignorant or incapable of performing such acts.

Although, there is no doubt that women have come a long way in many different fields including music who have contributed their talents to help shape music history.

Perhaps one can consider Billie Holiday and her professional life as a string of firsts: the first female country singer to perform at Carnegie Hall, the first female inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the first female country star to headline her own show. She has also been the first and most important influence of generations of female country singers. Scratch any jazz singer today and you’ll find a layer of Billie Holiday underneath. Holiday’s distinctive style changed music forever, and not just jazz. With her thin voice and limited range of just over an octave, Billie was made from very different, and seemingly more limited, stuff to her contemporaries, but what she brought was emotional honesty, made all the more poignant for its understated delivery.

Do you consider any women musicians to be among the top musicians ever? Who?

Female musicians such as ‘The Runaways’ were a huge inspiration even though they reflected that ‘eye-candy’, ‘bad-girl’ look, they were authentic. They were authentic because even though rock n’roll was considered to be ‘the sports of men ‘ they strived for success and made it through the legendary glam scene of 1970s Los Angeles.

M.I.A revolutionised her sound with rare instruments and electronics that managed to acclaim a distinctive style to her music by incorporating a range of political, social, philosophical and cultural references that have defied existing pop music conventions. She became known for integrating imagery of political violence into her music videos and her cover art.

Other inspirational artists to whom we really look up to are the all female-band ‘Warpaint’ and ‘Savages’ and the synth-pop provocateur ‘Grimes’ who rails against sexism and the double standards female musicians has to face.

Women were first let into the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1897, and when they were finally accepted they had to be accompanied by their mothers in order to maintain the ‘decorum.’ Could you imagine this happening anywhere today, or has society changed?

Being an all-female band, we all strive to promote the involvement of women in creative career paths. This is because the music industry is still, largely, a man’s world. Most women in the music industry are still associated with racy images. According to Charlotte Church in response to Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus: “the culture of demeaning women in pop music is so ingrained as to have become routine, from the way we are dealt with by management and labels, to the way we are presented to the public.”

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According to Barron’s psychological study at The San Francisco Art Institute and at the Rhode Island School of Design, when asking the students the question: Do you think of yourself as an artist? 67% of the women said no and 60% of the men said yes. When asked the question, in comparison to the work of others at the Institute, is your work particularly unique or good? 40% of the men and 17% of the women answered yes. When asked In comparison to the work of others at the Institute, is your work inferior? The percentages were reversed: 40% of the women felt their work was inferior and 14% of the men agreed.

Furthermore, according to Dr Wai-chung Ho’s study in Hong Kong’s co-educational secondary schools, patterns of gender stereotyping associated with music among Hong Kong students have some similarities with those in the Western world. The impact of gender beliefs was most evident in types of instrumental learning, types of music activities, and listening and singing preferences.

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This shows that women still have a frame of mind that their creative efforts are inferior to those of men, simply due to the fact that in previous eras, women were not given the chance to express themselves artistically. Those who did had to do it anonymously, using a nom de plume of a man in order not to be treated inferiorly, such as the Bronte sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and even J.K Rowling, who was forced to use her initials due to the publisher’s opinion that if seen as being written by a women, sales of the books would not be as high.

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Our aim with our new EP is to break this mould, and inspire young girls that women are allowed to indulge themselves in creative efforts. By using a poem by a young poetess, Beverly Agius, as the base of our song Kull Lejla, we are joining forces with other women in the creative industry in order to show how different forms of art can be effectively created by women, to be enjoyed by everyone, since most importantly, art has no boundaries. In this day and age, we are seeking to illuminate the practical side of equality from simply being in the UDHR to being truly expressed in all walks of life.

What difficulties do female musicians face that male musicians do not?

It is well-known that throughout history there has been a battle for the rights of females across the globe to achieve equality alongside males. Furthermore, women face objectification and exploitation because of their gender, and because of the stereotypical view of them as ‘sexual commodities’. The way that women are portrayed in music media and in advertising overall, surrounding us with the image of ideal female beauty, has bad implications for both female musicians as it is difficult to stay ‘feminine’ in a rock band precisely because ’femininity’ is an artifice. Women consistently underestimate their own talents and abilities, leaving them at a disadvantage in the essential realm of self-promotion also one might point out the fact that women are taught from an early age to worry about whether they can have children and a career, thus always pressuring females to choose wisely.

One thing we experienced as a band perhaps is the fact that men tend to lack professionalism whilst working by slanging cheesy sexist ‘compliments’ or might be the case that you would even be asked out too, funnily enough. Which at the end of the day is not really that bad but it is very unprofessional, after all time is precious and whilst working it’s the last thing on your mind. Men who constantly ask whether you need help with that ‘doubting your abilities’ kind of tone is also very offending.

What advantages do female musicians have over male musicians?

Personally we don’t think there should be any advantages over man, we’ve been striving for equality ever since, so to speak, it is not very logical to consider female musicians more advantaged in any means whatsoever.

Any last words?

The best thing that ever happened to women in music in our opinion is the sense of community. Surround yourself with people who teach and inspire you and you might find the power in numbers. Women can sell tickets, records, and being a rockstar is not a boy’s game.

By being aware and realistic regarding sexism in the music industry, might be misinterpreted as anti-men, which it extremely sad because its a request to be treated equally and respected rather than being excluded and doubted. Generalising is definitely not in context to the above, everyone is different and it doesn’t mean that all men are the same. No hate, just respect.

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