KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Pop Culture

Girl bands: where did they go?

by Julia Tulloh , February 19, 20142 Comments

TLC

 

Where have all the girl bands gone? I mean those all-girl pop music groups (rather than guitar bands) who dominated the charts until about twelve years ago. There aren’t any nowadays. Unless you include HAIM – who are brilliant, but not really a pop group – or the Pussycat Dolls – who officially disbanded in 2010 – or the Saturdays, whom I doubt anyone reading this post has even heard of.

My first awareness of a girl group was Australia’s very own Girlfriend. The videos for ‘Bad Attitude’ and ‘Take It From Me’ catapulted me into the technicolour world of young women performing dance routines in matching overalls, replete with midriff tops and flower hats (you know, like Blossom used to wear). I was hooked. I asked my parents for cassette tapes from groups like En Vogue (responsible for the best pop song of the 1990s), TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, All Saints, Eternal, the Spice Girls (of course), and later Destiny’s Child. I also recorded tunes straight from the radio, by Blaque, Atomic Kitten, S.O.A.P., Mary Mary, and Bardot.

These days, female pop singers like Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and even Lorde are somewhat marketed with the tween girl demographic in mind. That’s not to say to that young teens and children only listen to pop music (my other favourite groups as a kid were Nirvana and Soundgarden), nor that they are the only demographic interested in these artists – I simply mean that solo artists have almost totally filled the space girl groups previously occupied.

A couple of years ago, a Flavourwire article suggested that girl groups have ceased to exist because they’re too hard for record companies to market:

What’s remarkable is that as pop has evolved, sex has stopped working as an effective way to market girl bands. Owing to a number of pop milestones in the past few years, (like) pop stars who have valiantly fought to realign the media narrative of their careers around their body of work, not their bodies, women in pop are enjoying more success for what they’re releasing and not how they look releasing it.

There is some truth in the above. Most female solo artists today have their own brand of independence and self-determination. However, there are a couple of problems with this argument. Firstly, women’s bodies are still used to sell music all the time, and the female solo singers listed above are still subject to merciless criticism of their looks (see here, for example).

Secondly, the argument assumes that progress for women in the pop industry is solely the domain of solo artists. The Flavourwire writer notes that some of the 1990s girl bands heralded messages of empowerment (the Spice Girls’ motto was ‘girl power’) but doesn’t explore just how much the success of women today is built on the ideology of past groups. En Vogue’s anti-prejudice anthem ‘Free Your Mind’ demanded that women not be judged for what they wear or who they date; TLC critiqued the expectation that women conform to a certain body type in ‘Unpretty’; Salt-N-Pepa were one of the first female rap groups; and Alisha’s Attic sang, ‘This girl’s a person, you know?’

The idea of girl bands might seem daggy and dated nowadays, but today’s Taylor Swifts and Katy Perrys are able to brand themselves as independent women, in large part because of the girl groups who came before them.

Julia Tulloh is a Melbourne-based writer and is currently working on a PhD in American Literature. 

ACO logo




  • Pat

    Unless you’re strictly referring to the Western music industry alone, what about K-Pop girl groups? (e.g. 2NE1, Girls’ Generation) They’re hugely popular and interestingly enough, (if I’m not wrong) at least within the domain of female pop stars, K-Pop is dominated by girl groups rather than female solo artists. I think that the choreographed style and strong visual elements of K-Pop girl groups is definitely worth looking into as well.

    • Julia Tulloh

      Hi Pat,
      Thanks for raising this! You’re quite right, K-pop girl bands pretty much constitute today’s most successful girl bands. It was actually remiss of me not to mention them – a few people have mentioned it to me since I wrote this piece. I guess I was more focussing on bands that are or have been popular in the Aussie mainstream – which is mainly American groups – even UK groups like Little Mix haven’t taken off here in the way they have in their native Britain. Maybe this says something interesting about the West – we’re way more into single solo artists, as if there’s something not quite as successful about ‘making it’ as part of a group (ie. sharing the success around). K-Pop groups, though, could actually warrant their own column altogether – which is something I could write about in the future.

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

womeninclothes-600

Carody Culver

Closet Concerns: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes wants to tell a more inclusive story, to reveal the pleasures, hang-ups and complexities that reside in the simple act of dressing ourselves, and to remind us that we don’t perform our style rituals in a vacuum. Read more »

4285342-3x4-700x933

Kylie Maslen

The Harp in the South and other stories I wasn’t taught at school

The classics I studied at school were certainly great works, but how relevant are these books to young Australians? Yes, they were valuable to study as examples of technical skill. But they were all by men, all white and all dead. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

Maps to the Stars

Rochelle Siemieonwicz

Monsters in Los Angeles: Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler

Both Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler are peopled by monsters who may look human, but are actually spiritually deformed and morally repugnant creatures of the most loathsome kind. The suggestion implicit in each of these thrillingly creepy stories is that these ‘freaks’ are born out of and adapted to the hellish spiritual landscape of LA. Read more »

WinterSleep-2-poster-450

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A matter of time: very long films

It’s a fatal moment for any film lover: that instant when you look away from the screen and check your watch, holding it up to the light to judge how much time is left before you can escape. A wince of pain as you realise there are still 40 minutes to go. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

IMG_4309

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Patrons and gamemakers in the shadow of Gamergate

There is a lot to unpack about Gamergate, and a great deal more that isn’t at all worth taking seriously, but what the patronage pseudo-controversy has drawn attention to is the fact that there are potentially huge issues with moving to a model of monetary transactions in which our payments are increasingly networked and ‘social’. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

In September this year, American author and illustrator Cece Bell released a graphic memoir, El Deafo, about losing her hearing at the age of four. El Deafo details Bell’s middle-grade life and deaf experiences: she wears a clunky hearing aid, ‘The Phonic Ear’; struggles to learn to … Read more »

Anne of Green Gables

Danielle Binks

Books that take you there: YA literary tourism

How has literary tourism taken on new dimensions and greater capitalism, thanks to youth literature – both old and new, book and film? Read more »

9781863956925

Danielle Binks

Mean girls, bullies and private school privilege: Alice Pung’s Laurinda

Alice Pung’s Laurinda is hard-edged satire cloaked in contemporary YA: exploring class dynamics, everyday racism and bullying. Read more »

2839965900_c23f818c97_z

Jane Howard

How many women composers? Classical music’s invisible women

After receiving yet another press release for a classical music concert, I tweeted an email I’d sent to the publicist asking why there were no women composers in the program. From then it became a regular task I set myself: when I received a music press release, I’d ask #howmanywomencomposers, and post the results on Twitter. Read more »

3827910256_89135334f0_z

Chad Parkhill

Who killed Amanda Palmer fandom?

Fans and consumers tend to avoid music made by people whose actions disagree with their moral compasses, and, conversely, to reward those whose actions align with them. But are they right to do so? Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

Marry Me - Season Pilot

Stephanie Van Schilt

Happy Hangovers and False Starts: Happy Endings and Marry Me

Binging rarely ends well. Binge eating is how unwanted food babies happen. Binge drinking is how inhibitions and memories are erased. Binge-watching a TV show can take over your life. Which is exactly what happened a few years ago when I fell in love with Happy Endings. … Read more »

thecode_main-620x349

Stephanie Van Schilt

An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Are critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage? Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »