Wallace Wylie

Both Sides, Now! – How Women are Denied Universal Appeal as Songwriters

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How do we fix this situation? By making female artistic expression as normal as male artistic expression. Now, the problem is female artistic expression is as normal as male artistic expression, so that means the real issue is exposure. Imagine a place where exposure to female artistic expression happens on a daily basis, so as to make it the norm. I humbly suggest that place is Collapse Board. I myself am a man who has spent most of his life listening to male singers and songwriters. In recent years that situation has changed. I have been reading Collapse Board since last year and have been contributing since early 2011. So far three of my Top Five albums of 2011 have been made by female artists. Coincidence? Perhaps, but the fact remains that with enough exposure and advocacy situations can change.

There remains an underlying assumption that women singers and songwriters are expressing a limited aspect of humanity, that their thoughts and emotions do not have the same grand all-encompassing sweep as that of the male artist. This is where the music writer can truly alter perceptions. Let those who see unfairness use their anger as a crowbar to pry open the minds of those momentarily fooled by illogical societal inferences. Once open, flood these minds with unarguable reasons as to why they need to hear a particular artist, be it the forgotten 60s sunshine pop of Margo Guryan:

to the ice-cold majesty of Austra.

Only then can we put an end to harmful opinions about women in music, which more often than not rest on the assumption that the status quo represents some kind of natural law, that broad commercial appeal and critical approval indicates some kind of innate greatness. The list of powerful, talented, unorthodox women songwriters is too long to type up. That they did not always receive validation on the market speaks more of the poverty of imagination in regards to popular culture than to the lack of authentic brilliance from the artists in question. It seems a pity that this still needs to be pointed out.

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6 Responses to Both Sides, Now! – How Women are Denied Universal Appeal as Songwriters

  1. Retch August 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    LOVE this article!

  2. John Melhuish August 11, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Interesting. There are references all over google to the most influential male Jazz singers, there are awards for best male songwriter, best male singer etc etc Indeed Bob Dylan has won a grammy as Best Male Vocalist. There are lists of best songwriters that ignore gender, there are lists that do not. The allmusic articles seem to be individually written opinions, this writers brief summary probably correctly names her as the most influential female recording artist, because she is. The more authoritative Rolling Stone magazine just describes her as “one of the greatest songwriters ever”, because she is. I believe music and singer songwriting is one area where gender is irrelevant and where talent is recognised regardless of gender. The biggest selling singer songwriter album of the 70s was by Carole King and in the 90s Alanis Morissette. Your article made me stop and think….thanks for that

  3. hannah golightly August 13, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Wow! Congratulations Wallace, I actually agree with everything you just wrote. Now I am in a state of shock. Thank you for this article.

    The truth is we need to create a market if we want things to change. Articles like this are inspirational and can change minds. Money talks.

    And by the way, aren’t people bored of the ‘male’ point of view by now? If the point of music is entertainment low brow or high, aren’t we looking for something more interesting than the same old stories of men?

    When’s the last time you heard a song from a mother’s point of view? I literally cannot think of a single example and yet motherhood is a universal experience (if anything is)… I’ve heard Girls Girls Girls and songs about cruising for non-erotic sounding sex plenty of times- talk about alienating half an audience. I’ve heard love songs to mothers (usually released in time for Mother’s Day), I’ve heard songs about work, songs about advice from a father to his son… but surely mothers are the most influential people in the world to their children and yet in terms of music, their voices don’t exist. Is it because a mother is not a person, just a facility? Is it because some things are sacred? I just can’t see any idea that rings true as to explaining the absence. I think Dolly Parton comes the closest… but I don’t even know if she’s a mother let alone heard any songs from that narrative of hers.

    Hello major gap in the market…

  4. hannah golightly August 13, 2011 at 10:40 am

    p.s. Your piece has reminded me of a Laura Marling review from the NME from ages ago, when they described her as singing about the classic teen experience. As soon as I read that I wondered if the reviewer had in fact played the record. Teen experience? Her being seventeen wasn’t used as a prodigious signifier, it was used in a way that trivialised and reduced the meaningfulness of her output. I’d say Laura Marling is one of the best songwriters around these days. I’d say her age is hard to believe when you hear her stuff. The journalist responsible seemed to be hinting that it was musically amazing if not on some level juvenile. I thought it grown up. No scratch that, I didn’t think about her age or gender once while listening as the music engaged me and took me on a journey into her world which I noticed was a romanticised and poetic place. If they say that about Laura Marling, then what hope do any women have?

  5. Pingback: Rookie | » Heart Factory

  6. golightly September 30, 2011 at 10:35 am

    well there’s nothing ‘normal’ about men in my experience!

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