Pa-ramore. Pa-ris (yes, that’s how you say PVRIS, although without the dash in the middle… keep up). Other than sharing identical prefixes, these two bands are nothing alike – unless you count the fact that their singers both identify as females. In 2015, it shouldn’t be a shock, or valid reason for us to make such brilliant observations as “oh cool, it’s a female fronted band!”. However, sadly, due to a lack of equality and women in the industry, it too often is.
Think back. Unless you’re talking to an old person to whom everything is a load of white noise, when was the last time you heard Iron Maiden compared to The Killers? Or Rammstein compared to Bright Eyes? I’m going to go out on a limb here and assert “never”. However, I bet you’ve heard countless comparisons drawn between the likes of say, Paramore and Avril Lavigne, or Paramore and Marmozets, or Paramore and PVRIS, like the example I used in my previous paragraph. Each of these bands are different, but because women sing in them, they’re all lumped together. A woman opens her mouth? She must want to BE one of the above bands. Genre goes out the window in a way it never would if the singer was male.
Image Credit: Aaron Bell
People can have a preference for female singers, and enjoy listening to them immensely. Hell, I’m one of those people! But it’s become almost standard to act like ‘female fronted’ describes a sound. It doesn’t. It describes the gender of a singer… and it’s kind of irrelevant. Sure, it’s one description, but it doesn’t really tell us a lot. It almost writes them off, as though somehow, they’re all the same. To people with prejudice (I must admit, I’m picturing a load of fierce, male ‘real rock’ fans here…) who don’t realize that there are so many different tones and attitudes of ALL singers, it’s enough for them to switch off a band for good – the stereotypes are THAT damaging. Their loss, of course, but if you turned the tables, and say, asked me what Bring Me The Horizon sounded like, and I replied “male fronted”, what would you have actually learned about them? Literally nothing other than that their singer probably has a penis. I’d be neglecting to mention a whole host of other creative adjectives I could spend time on to describe them, instead. That’s pretty insulting, and it’s very wrong.
Why is it that when females have the audacity to front any sort of rock band, they’re tirelessly compared to their counterparts, even when there are barely any similarities? That they have to work harder than others just to overcome the societal male privileges ingrained into the industry? This is before they have to deal with slut shaming, body shaming, and any other kind of shaming, too. To be taken seriously, they have to first go through countless articles where they’re referred to rather unimaginatively as either “the new Paramore” or “nothing like Paramore”, as though this has somehow become the standard default for the implied condition which is basically now known as “daring to sing with a vagina”.
Not only are these singers (just so you know, that’s the ACTUAL term for them) having to fight for the chance to be taken seriously as something other than a carbon copy/’breaking the mould’ (slow clap), they’re also having to fight for the recognition of the other amazing members of their bands, who are somehow caught under the ‘cloud’ of risking having a woman at their forefront. Instead of interviews discussing anything to do with anything important, they, too, must face really, really pointless questions, usually only reserved for such ‘time-wasters’. Aka girls/women/females. *Ahem*.
While we’re on it, I used to sing in a band, and it was only ever a hobby, but I lost count of the amount of Tour Managers and headlining acts who’d try to hook up with me. The assumption that you’re there to find a band boy or ‘look cool’ is incredibly frustrating, and I doubt it happens even half as much to men who ‘belong there’ (and nor would there be as much stigma attached to those males who actually succumbed). To be honest, the attention I got the most kicks out of was the stuff that was being directed up at us collectively from the crowd. Fans and press alike are guilty of undermining whatever musical complexities a band’s record or performances might possess, in favor of returning to the same old discussions and assumptions. You’re often fetishized, or you’re nothing of significance. It’s bloody boring, and even I feel like I’m going in circles.
Image Credit: Frances Murphy. Yes, that’s my old band.
Musically, yes, it’s true that a lot of the ‘female fronted’ bands I have segregated for the purposes of this article tend to appeal to a similar fan-base, there’s no denying that. There are sometimes plenty of other similarities too – but that’s okay, there should be space for everyone (just as there is space for all those other bands out there who actually do sound the same). And yes, Hayley Williams of Paramore did indeed pave the way for women to infiltrate the mainstream masses of rock. She’s done a wonderful thing for the industry though, and instead of us acting like she filled a quota, we should instead be respecting her, admiring her, and exploring a world of possibilities where she’s just one of the many women doing it well. Let us not forget, either, that before Paramore there was Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, and Blondie. Christ, there was even Evanenescence, and way too many more to list.
This particular discrimination actually seems pretty reserved for women under the ‘rock’ umbrella, as they are so often lumped. This usually incorporates anything alternative, metal, that kind of thing. Women in pop music rarely comes under the same criticism (although there’s plenty of other pressures on these women, too). It’s like we accept that they can do what they’re doing, because it’s popular. It’s meant to appeal to people, and they’re so damn good at following all the trends. They look pretty doing it, so why not? (Pass the sick bucket!). But not when it comes to rock, oh no. You want to join our boys’ club? Sorry, you can’t, not without us making it very difficult for you. Why? Because by definition it’s supposed to be rebellious. Loud. All of the things we apparently don’t want women to be.
And so what do we do? We shut these women down. We belittle them, strip back their originality, the very thing that helps define this genre. Of course men face accusations, too. There are cries of ‘copycat’ in any genre. But in the rock industry, people wonder why women are so unfairly represented. You want to know why? Because every time a woman has the courage to get up and sing, or write, or play guitar, she is compared to others, not on her talents or other merits, but because of her gender. To those who whine it’s an easy pass to fame? Seriously, where have you been. Sure, women garner plenty of attention when they start making waves, but that’s only because they’ve somehow made it past the barriers that have existed to make it such a rarity, and for them to be ogled like an animal in a zoo. It’s sad that ‘that one with the girl…’ on many festival line-ups often leads us to knowing exactly who’s being referred to – though it’s the fault of our attitudes in many instances, not the festivals themselves.
Image Credit: Amy Tassery
The world reacts as if to say “sorry, we already have one of those”, because the likes of Becca Macintyre are absolutely tearing it up night after night, or because Lynn Gunn is kicking ass and therefore checking off some other box people want to pigeonhole her into, too. They’re commanding crowds for very different kinds of music, and just listening to them or giving either of them a chance would tell you that. Listen up everyone – these women are here to stay, and they’ve done a damn good job of getting people to sit up and take note.
I’m sorry, but no. We need to be part of the change. The industry already has what? Other women? Newsflash, it should have a whole lot more. And rather than judging people for their gender, we should be encouraging a whole lot more of them to be out there. Men are never held to these same standards. As for this archaic notion of individuality being a privilege reserved for the peen? In the words of Miss Williams (who I admire, but don’t copy!) – “I refuse, I refuse, I refuse!”.