HAIM press shot: CHUFFMEDIA
Originally published by https://www.varsity.co.uk
This week I finally found myself leaving the so-called ‘Cambridge bubble’ for the first time as I returned home for the evening. It was on this brief visit that I browsed the magazine stands of Cambridge railway station and found myself drawn to the swathes of articles covering the recent sexual assault case concerning Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Potentially one of the most controversial topics in social commentary today is the treatment of women in the arts and the outdated practices that have been swept under the rug for so many years, allowing cases such as this, to go unmentioned and unpunished. In light of the case, I began to think about how the music industry treats women and to what extent our current musical landscape is being influenced by the backlash against it.
I felt truly compelled to write about the inherent power struggle within the industry after watching the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Feet Two. The documentary depicts Gaga being followed by a camera crew during the production and release of her fifth studio album, Joanne. The aim of the documentary was clearly an attempt to humanise the ever elusive ‘pop star’ who, through her wacky outfits and celebrity status, was attempting to rebrand herself as the wholesome, Italian-American girl from New York.
The point at which I felt the documentary was at its most poignant was a section of footage captured outside of the recording studio where Gaga was seen discussing experiences she had had with male producers. She comments largely on the power these men exert over women due to the strong sense of owing one’s careers to the individual. These producers possess an ownership few others can understand, ownership of both your current and future financial security and of the creation of your artistic career. Gaga states that she actively reclaimed her control over such situations through putting absurdist twists on her work, for instance by wearing outrageous outfits that reminded her audience of the social context behind her songs. However, it is clearly still the case that many artists continue to be manipulated under comparable circumstances. Joanne is Gaga at her most sincere as an artist, yet it has only been through years of hard graft and persistence that, as a woman, she has reached the point at which she has felt capable of releasing such an honest, pared-back album.
On the other side of the genre coin I find myself naturally looking towards female conductors, or as it has been until fairly recently, the absence of female conductors. The role of the conductor has often rather ridiculously been regarded as unfit for the delicate tendencies of the woman (I write sighing with contempt). However, in recent years there has been a flourishing of sorts and many trailblazers have fought their way rightfully to the top of the profession. Unfortunate comments by male conductors arguing over the distraction of having a woman in charge are assuredly being suppressed as we leap further over the hurdle of misogynistic thought. Conductors such as Marin Alsop and Simone Young are now much more frequently seen at the top of the bill for high profile performances such as the Last Night of the Proms, and as gender norms are surely broken down, more opportunities for women to flourish in the field will continue to surface.
Although I find it imperative for me not to overlook the fact that there are a number of performers regressing the cause of female empowerment, I also see that when looking to the future, there are several girl bands who are truly doing something individual with their work and doing so completely on their own terms. To mention but a few, Haim sisters Este, Danielle and Alana represent both literally and through their music the essence of sisterhood. By refusing to pander to popular culture both in the style of their music and in the clothes that they wear, Haim continue to be one of the most refreshing and successful bands in the industry. Effortlessly cool but also clearly hard working, these sisters have recently brought out their much awaited second album Something to Tell You where they continue to impress with their incredibly high production value and slick rock arrangements.
Lesser known perhaps than Haim, The Big Moon, a London based indie-rock four piece who have been making waves in the business since supporting artists such as The Maccabees and The Vaccines back in 2015, have just released their debut album Love in the 4th Dimension. The girls who channel a dry, lyric driven indie- rock, not unlike an early Pete Doherty, are looking to be future rulers of the festival scene and promote and entirely unique image.
There is such a vast array of music and commentary to get through on this topic that I’m sure I could write multiple novels and still have more to say. Thus it is with cautious hope that I close this week’s column. I hope that we are becoming more confident as a society to come forward and discuss our experiences. I hope that we may stand tall in our art and feel pride in what we produce, yet most importantly, I hope that this dialogue continues to develop as we expose the deplorable actions of those who abuse positions of authority, so that we may empower women who are not only strong female role models for the next generation, but who will be the future of our cultural existence.