Advertisement

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.

anchorpoint_cover-hi-res-2

James Tierney

Unblinkingly Into Harsh Terrain: Alice Robinson’s Anchor Point

The Australian landscape is much traversed in our national imagination, yet rarely entirely comfortably. For the 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast, the continent that lies at our backs that is emptier, hotter, and remains haunted by the circumstance of its possession. Read more »

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. 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 »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »