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.

9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

16741557134_5206bec0cd_k

Jane Howard

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Belvoir St Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz

This production of The Wizard of Oz is ‘after L Frank Baum’: after his book, after the 1939 film, and after our collective memories of both. Fragmented, non-narrative, and largely wordless, it relies on our existing knowledge of the text to build a work of images and emotion, and in doing so demands an extreme generosity from the audience. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »