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Have women (finally) seized power in indie rock?

Imagine a card from Trivial Pursuit that would tell you to name three rock bands born in the last few years. You have them, that’s for sure. Except that in the Trivial Pursuit version Slate.fr, to have your piece of camembert, you have to give us three composed or embodied by women. Less simple, huh? And again, it’s easier today than it was a few years ago.

Just look at some of the programming for the first night of the Eurockéennes festival: Wet Leg, Girl In Red, Big Thief. Bad weather decided they couldn’t happen (the first two days of the 32e edition of the festival have been cancelled). It’s a shame because they alone embody a growing phenomenon, the women who have indeed taken power in so-called “indie” rock, the one that was built through independent labels and in a more pop aesthetic. than radical rock.

Kem Lalot, Eurockéennes programmer and pioneer for thirty years, has seen it well: “I receive more and more proposals, each one more interesting than the other. We have clearly gone up a notch.” Same observation for François Moreau, journalist at Inrockuptibles. According to him, many are those who, in their aesthetics, look in the rearview mirror of 1980s rock and draw on the tones of pop from the nineties.

We find in these groups both the influence of The Slits, one of the first punk groups composed of female artists, and that of girl bands. The most striking example, that of the British duo Wet Leg, who made a thunderous arrival in June 2021 with their single “Chaise Longue” a divine marriage between the Strokes and Françoise Hardy.

Kem Lalot didn’t even need to listen to more before programming them. “For me, Wet Leg took on as much of the indie aesthetic as it did of the Spice Girls”, notes François Moreau. Also because they forged their tastes growing up with them… and their success: when they arrived on the music scene in the 1990s, the Spice Girls clearly ousted all boy bands. Badass.

Others paved the way

Above all, these groups and these artists build themselves with their history, like their models which were few. “The American folk side of the fireside that Big Thief offers is an aesthetic that has often been squatted by guys”underlines Sophie Rosemont, cultural journalist and author of the book GirlsRock.

In the case of Big Thief, the only female member of the group is the singer, Adrianne Lenker. But for the journalist, if these artists exist, it is because others before them have paved the way: “These groups were born because before them there was PJ Harvey for England and the Riot grrrl for the United States. Artists freed from codes, who have sometimes been provocative as Courtney Love was. Except that she paid dearly for it in her reputation.”

Independence taken, the artists of today are part of the heritage of their icons, male or female. Sophie Rosemont goes even further: “They no longer seek to perpetuate the heritage of a style. Whether they are single or in a relationship, blondes, brunettes, small, tall, it doesn’t matter, they are what they are.

These indie rock artists are more liberated and sometimes even politicized. Australian Courtney Barnett, who co-founded her own label with her girlfriend at the time, questions society with as much panache as freedom in her songs. Unlike some male rock bands, she is on stage like she is in town. “It is also their difference and their foil”supports Sophie Rosemont.

The Norwegian singer Girl In Red, who quickly rose from small indie venues to big festival stages, has always sung her love for women, going so far as to become a code name for lesbians. Today, asking the question “Do you listen to Girl In Red?” (“Do you listen to Girl In Red?”) on social networks is thus a way of knowing if his interlocutor is.

More visible artists

So many free artists who offer music that does not register at the top of the rankings, which cultivates their independence. And this is also where the change lies: whereas before, labels were reluctant to promote female artists (or did so for the wrong reasons), today they take care of their signatures, “well aware of the changing times and #MeToo”supports Sophie Rosemont.

It’s not just the supply that has exploded, it’s also the demand. Wouldn’t the public be tired of having to deal with all these groups of old rockers who are sometimes totally outdated, not to say outdated? When we see Girl In Red able to unite such a large community on TikTok (2.4 million subscribers), or Wet Leg accumulate millions of streams having released only two titles, there is reason to ask the question.

Which reveals a more global trend: female artists are more visible and there is no longer any question of talking about girl bands. “Today when you go to see one of these groups, you no longer say that you are going to see a group of girls. You’re going to see a band that plays indie rock,” points out François Moreau. The media, like the record companies, have been forced to get in tune. “The music industry remains misogynistic in absolute terms, but there has been progress, it is more on the lookout for what is happening”notes Sophie Rosemont.

Women artists today have become so powerful that they sometimes become too expensive. Reflection well done by Kem Lalot, when programming his artists for the previous edition of the Eurockéennes: “Cardi B, Rosalia, Beyoncé… They are so successful that their fees are phenomenal, it’s not affordable for a festival like ours”, he admits. Indie rock artists should not manage to fill a Stade de France one day…

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