Dear Mainstream Music Industry,
It wasn’t until I left my small town, landing in San Diego for college, that I fully comprehended how much the mainstream music scene could feel like wet sand in my bikini bottom.
From a female perspective, there’s a level of irritation and discomfort we are expected to endure (as if it’s f*cking normal) as a result of:
1. Deficient coverage of female musicians via musical manspreading across prime media space, forcing unestablished female and multicultural artists into the musical margins.
2. Creating a look-over-substance model and then punishing or rewarding women until they twist and contort their art to fit that model.
3. An unwelcoming attitude toward serious subject matters in songs that are widely and enthusiastically afforded to male artists. (The Dixie Chicks’ career suffered when they spoke out about politics, but when male musicians put out a political album, such as Green Day did, it can boost their career, and they don’t lose air time on the radio.)
I had a subscription to Rolling Stone in high school, and yet I didn’t find out about some of the most intriguing female artists and music movements until I was running in feminist circles and going to local shows in college. Artists like Kathleen Hanna, Sarah Jones, Peaches, Rilo Kiley, and Jay Brannan were a fascinating and provocative new world for me to explore outside of the mainstream songs I heard on the radio, on repeat.
Your quest to satisfy the status quo let me down back then, and in 2021, unfortunately, it still does. I don’t think it’s productive to criticize without solutions, which brings me to my main observation and, thus, writing this letter.
Right now, the number one tool accelerating socioeconomic change is technology. See, it used to be that we came to you, the mainstream channels via TV and magazines, to get our musical updates. Now, technology has flipped that power, and all the top music blogs are creating a presence on social media…you’re coming to us now. Put simply: you’re losing your foothold on the power to mold the music industry because social media levels the playing field a little more every day—for every industry.
If I was managing a top music blog, I’d know that in order to stay relevant in 2021, I’d need two things:
>> I’d need the awareness of how vital it is to have positions at my company completely dedicated to social media, and that’s it. It should be someone’s job to just search every musical genre to discover the artists and musical movements that are happening in real-time.
>> I’d need the awareness that I need to prioritize a diversified catalog of musical coverage because I’d know that’s what is becoming more and more in demand: representations of every kind of artist that is creating subversive and worthwhile artistry expressing the people and the times.
I imagine in a world where music media operated like this. You would not have artists the world should know slipping through the cracks. One such artist is a close friend of mine named JYL. She released one of mainland Europe’s prominent LPs of the era in 1984.
Then, in 2020, a Brooklyn-based DJ and female-owned label remastered and rereleased JYL’s synth-pop masterpiece in the United States for the first time. JYL has developed a cult-like following with some pretty phenomenal fangirling happening on social media—preteen girls dress up like JYL. The trance-like songs on the electronic album that fans are loving include “Computer Love” and “Position,” which explore the idea of a break with tradition and a desire to connect with new realms of female sexuality.
One Twitter user remarked, “I hear one of Prince’s alter egos in this record.” While Electronic Sound Magazine ranked her album at #69, there was little coverage here in the United States of JYL’s record (dropping in September of 2020, thanks to Veronica Vasicka at Minimal Wave). This is where I see your guys drop the ball. I notice that you run another “Where Are They Now?” piece on a white male musician who already had his day in the sun, thus taking up space that belongs to burgeoning female artists.
I’m saying, if you had your finger on the pulse of concrete reality, you’d know that a California-native releasing an already recognized, international album for the first time in the United States—on a female-owned label that is inspiring the next generation of female artists—is not only newsworthy but is exactly what girls and women (and some men) want to hear about. I’d even bet that the interest in this sort of news is greater than the interest in rock star retirement, or perhaps find a way to showcase all of it?
If it feels confronting to hear these words, that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be a big deal to be confronted. Relax. It simply means something of truth is landing, and I hope you take into consideration the manner in which your mode of operation lets women down—a lot.
First, you let down the female artist. Then you let down the women in production trying to run a business that needs record sales. And lastly, you let me down: that common, preteen girl who is being cut off from a form of her female birthright that should be informing her coming of age years. She should not have to wait until she moves to a big city to get the gist of the full, female, musical landscape…instead of growing up with just half of it, which tends to be the less empowering half.
Going forward, please make an effort to stay open to generous and insightful female opinions and experiences. For example, in 2005, Juliana Tringali put forth some great points in her piece, “Who Put the Cock in Rock?” It recognized cock rock has its place in the expression of male sexuality while also examining when it goes too far, creating a male-centric, musical phenomenon:
“I long for the day when music created by women can not only be recognized for rocking as hard as Led Zeppelin or AC/DC but garner the critical acclaim, popular recognition, and widespread cultural impact that cock rock has always enjoyed.”
As readers, journalists, and purveyors of really sick music, my conclusion is that it is now everybody’s job to spread the good word on music that matters. On music that is doing something that pushes the envelope beyond our current reality to incorporate all, instead of a few. Music that envisions what the future looks like, such as JYL’s album that sounds like it was laid down in outer space. No longer do we need to rely on an institution to tell us what to like, especially when that institution limits the outsiders as well as its own insiders…“Cuz boys don’t cry.”
Mainstream music, you’ve got a lot of reforming to do to keep up with the churning social media machine running past you now. I look forward to seeing how you tackle this challenge. I do know you guys have been covering all the ups and downs of Taylor Swift’s career all these years.
I gotta say, how has watching our most talented (female) songwriter of the time not opened your eyes more to the fact that a woman can only get so far in the mainstream music industry? She needs her assertive voice, her loyal tribe, her legal power, a female-owned label, feminism, and a pink girl power performance complete with a prima ballerina, in order to get (and stay) perched at the tippy-top like the queen she is—on the throne she earned but does not rest on and instead is tirelessly remaking her music that she can own? Damn.
You do not make it easy for women. (Just ask Tay Tay.)
Love, a F*ckgirl