If you wanna be my lover…be a decent human being

I like to think most men agree that grabbing a woman by the vagina without asking permission first is not a nice thing to do. Most men would, I hope, agree that forcing parts of yourself into a woman while she is passed out drunk behind a dumpster is also not very nice. Most men don’t lurk about on social media waiting to call women ‘entitled skanks’ and ‘sluts’, telling them they should get cancer or making vile comments about their miscarried babies.

 

Yeah, the world is full of men who treat women with respect, who never use misogynist language and would never dream of asking for nudes, let alone send a dick-pic. The unsolicited dick-pic has, by the way, become the 21st century equivalent of the flasher in the park. Instead of jumping out of the bushes waggling a shrivelled appendage from beneath a grubby mac, they now get their pervy kicks by sending slightly out of focus photos of their cock and balls to any woman who has had the audacity to exist in a public online forum. Cheap, nasty thrills has to be why they do it. Sending someone a disembodied picture of your wang-doodle (or in most cases just doodle) can’t actually get you anything in return except ignored, blocked or bombarded with pictures of other men’s junk. No how I met your mother story starts with ‘Well, I sent her a poorly lit picture of my semi-erect penis and the rest is history.’

But I digress.

The point is, most guys aren’t misogynistic, rapey arseholes. They are just nice guys. And we all know, nice guys finish last, right?

I read an article today entitled ‘The friend zone isn’t a thing and women don’t owe you shit.’ But, according to a whole bunch of ‘nice guys’ in the comments section, they do. These guys would never call a woman a bitch or wolf-whistle you in the street. They will tell you how they think female stand-up comedians are actually really funny and how much they like the latest Beyonce album because it’s so empowering.  They are just poor, nice guys, telling us how it really is.

“The truth is if we are attracted to a woman, we never want to be just friends.”

Oh, well that’s just rude. I thought we had loads in common. We like the same music/support the same football team/both hate our boss and like to create ever more elaborate comedy scenarios which result in him losing his job. But we can’t be friends because I have lady parts and you don’t think I’m completely ugly. Cheers mate.

“He had a desire for her, she should directly reject him as soon as she knows she doesn’t feel the same way, and have no expectation that he wanted to be friends.”

Yeah women, if a man starts talking to you, instantly assume he wants to have sex with you and then shoot him down in the bluntest way you can.

“Not every compliment is an attempt to sleep with a woman. Some grown ass women could just plain and simply be polite about rejection.”

But wait…didn’t that other nice guy just say…oh, now my silly woman head is confused.

“The friend-zone is not about sex. It is about unrequited love. It’s about a woman being tone deaf about the feelings of a man. I submit that if a man has romantic interest in a woman, then she relegates the man to the friend-zone, she is communicating to him that you are not good enough to be my lover.”

Newsflash my dude, there is no such thing as ‘unrequited love’. You don’t live in a fucking Mediaeval courtly love story. That is infatuation, pure and simple. And it’s all in your head.

This reminded me of someone I once knew. Let’s call him Neil. Neil had been infatuated with a certain girl since school. Nothing more than a few drunken goodnight kisses ever happened between them, but he was her faithful puppy dog. She even drove his car whilst drunk and crashed it. He, of course, took the blame. What a bitch, right? What a prick tease? Stringing poor Neil along like that. He used to ask my advice. I always told him she wasn’t interested in him in that way, and to give it up. He didn’t. He hung around just in case she ever changed her mind and realised she had been in love with him all along. She didn’t. Ever.

But the thing about Neil isn’t that he was treated badly by this particular friend-zoner, it’s that he was also treated like this by his so-called male friends. They kept him around because he gave them lifts and let them take drugs at his parent’s house when they were on holiday, but behind his back they called him a loser and a geek and laughed at how he tried so hard to be like them. He got friend-zoned by his actual friends.

My day got even better, when this little nugget of impacted shit popped up on my Twitter feed.

nice guys

I don’t want to link to the article and give it click-oxygen. You’re clever, if you really want to read it, you’ll find it. I’ve saved you the trouble however, by picking out the choicest cuts of nice-guy wisdom.

‘You had your chance on our first (and only) date. I was wonderful to you, I was a gentleman. I treated you with respect … I didn’t expect anything in return except a chance to win your heart… I’m the man of your dreams, but you couldn’t see that.’

Ahh, he wanted to win my heart, how sweet. I mean sure, he thinks he knows what I want better than I do, but he sounds like a super nice guy.

‘I get it though, now that you’re on the downside of 30, the wrinkles are starting, the body is sagging…I know it was impossible to see that that deadbeat irresponsible jerk was actually a deadbeat irresponsible jerk, but that’s not my problem. While you were waiting for those texts that never came I was busy getting my career in order and maximizing my credit score. Now my biggest issue is deciding which colour Audi I’m going to buy.’

What a catch. How could I have let him slip though my fingers, right ladies?  

Sure, I know “Leo Stevens” probably isn’t real, and none of this ever happened, but if anything that makes it worse. There are plenty of men out there who truly believe they are the nice guys. That they are everything you are looking for and you are going to regret turning them down, because how could you possibly not find them worthy of your affections? How could you not love them? They love you. They really do. Just let them prove it.

Bitch.

 

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Be Bold, Day Six: Polly

Poet, sculptor, poly-instrumentalist, singer, producer, actress, composer. Dorset born Polly Jean Harvey MBE is a true renaissance woman. She is the only artist ever to have won two Mercury Prizes. In her career she has also garnered eight Brit Award nominations, seven Grammy Award nominations and two further Mercury Prize nominations.

Her early works are darkly sexual, presenting a female sexuality that is confrontational and gritty rather than titillating. The cover art for her 1992 debut album Dry shows Harvey’s mouth squished onto a photocopier, as if she is kissing you and you have opened your eyes, catching her in the act.

The cover of 1993’s Rid of Me featured a grimy, black and white photograph of a naked and wet Harvey, flicking her long hair and staring defiantly down the camera lens, her eyebrow arched, a slyly seductive curve on her lip. The eponymous single, a tale of obsessive lust, builds slowly from a quiet, tense, throbbing guitar strum with her breathy, threatening vocals to a cacophonous crescendo and closes with Harvey repeatedly howling the refrain:

Lick my legs I’m on fire

Lick my legs of desire

As well as internal, the physical and the sexual, her early lyrics reference things as diverse as The Bible, English Pagan folk art, Tennessee Williams and Stephen King.

Sheela-na-gig, sheela-na-gig

You exhibitionist

Put money in your idle hole

He said “wash your breasts, I don’t want to be unclean”

He said “please take those dirty pillows away from me”

However, it seems some critics couldn’t separate the poetry from the poet, unable to believe that the lyrics of a female singer/songwriter could possibly be anything other than autobiographical. Harvey said in 1998 “the tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish”

Harvey also denies there is a feminist agenda in her songwriting, stating “I don’t even think of myself as being female half the time. When I’m writing songs I never write with gender in mind. I write about people’s relationships to each other. I’m fascinated with things that might be considered repulsive or embarrassing. I like feeling unsettled, unsure.”

And so, from third album To Bring You My Love onwards, we see Harvey switching up her entire sound, look and subject matter for every album. Her back catalogue now transcends genre, it just is PJ Harvey.

She played with the imagery of faded Hollywood glamour and Southern Gothic on To Bring You My Love, recorded a Victorian piano ballad album (White Chalk) and on her sixth studio, Uh Huh Her, Harvey played every instrument apart from drums and was the sole producer. More recently, her inspiration has become more political. In 2013 she released a song in support of Shaker Aamer, the last British citizen to be held at Guantanamo Bay, and her 2011 Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake is a multi-layered study of British identity and the horrors of war, both modern and historic. It is a stunning album and one I still can’t stop listening to, and every time I listen to it, I find a new reference, a new sample, a new refrain. The lyrics of this album become ever more relevant, as the world lurches towards an unnamed but surely inevitable crisis.

What if I take my problem to the United Nations?

If you want to find out how you can #beboldforchange, check out the International Women’s Day Pledge at:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold

Be Bold, Day Five: MIA

The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary father and a seamstress mother, MIA’s music documents the modern experience of diaspora and the global creative underground. Always a defiantly political artist she uses the imagery of violence, globalisation, war, poverty, human rights abuse, immigration and racial identity. Her neon, DIY guerrilla styling shows the direct influence of both parents, even though her father was absent for most if her life. Like The Clash before her, MIA understands how fashion, the visual representation of your identity, is a political manifestation equal to music, lyrics and videos.

The first Sri-Lankan ever to be nominated for a Grammy, the first person of Asian descent to be nominated for an Oscar and Grammy award in the same year and the only artist in history to receive nominations for an Academy Award, a Grammy, the Brits and the Mercury Prize. MIA’s commercial breakout single Paper Planes went platinum three times over in the US, and at one point it was the seventh best-selling song by a British artist in the digital era. One of the earliest MySpace stars, MIA studied film and design at St Martins College of Art and created the colourful, clashing visuals to match her dancehall/electro/hip-hop sound. Her diverse influences are a product of her life lived in London, Civil War ridden Sri-Lanka and India. MIA is as comfortable sampling bands such as Pixies and The Clash as she is referencing Bollywood or world folk music.

I put people on the map that never seen a map.

Watching MIA performing at the 2009 Grammys on the day her baby was due, a vision in pregnant polka-dots, made me think back to Neneh Cherry busting serious moves on Top Of The Pops in 1988, gold dollar sign necklace swinging proudly over her beautiful baby bump. When MIA sang ‘no-one on the corner has swagger like us’ and the curtain dropped to reveal a back-line of the biggest male starts in modern hip-hop – Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, T.I. – it was an electric moment. A British Asian woman up there, killing it with the big-boys.

 mia-3

She has collaborated with Aboriginal teens The Wilcannia Mob and the Nigerian rapper Afrikan Boy. On the flip-side, she co-wrote the song Give Me All Your Luvin’ with Madonna and Nicki Minaj and performed it at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Instead of singing the lyric “shit” in the song, MIA gave the finger to the camera. The N.F.L. responded by filing a lawsuit suing her for millions in damages and demanding a public apology.

They’re basically saying it’s OK for me to promote being sexually exploited as a female, than to display empowerment, female empowerment, through being punk rock. That’s what it boils down to, and I’m being sued for it.

Some have said her politics are naïve and purposely provocative and that she can’t be the champion of the downtrodden and displaced from her current position of privilege. But if you can’t use your privilege to raise uncomfortable issues with those around you who are equally privileged, then it is a waste of platform. As a child whose school was bombed and whose mother was beaten by Government forces, MIA has grown into a woman who will speak her mind about everything, and isn’t afraid of the backlash.

 

If you want to find out how you can #beboldforchange, check out the International Women’s Day Pledge at:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold

Be Bold, Day Four: Bjork

I have very few regrets in my life. One of them is missing out on seeing Bjork headlining the Phoenix festival in 1996 because I was tripping off my tits and couldn’t find my way out of a two-man tent. To say I am a huge Bjork fan is an understatement. Trying to pick one track for this post is impossible. So I’ve chosen three.

No-one makes music like Bjork. No-one sounds like her, looks like her, performs like her, and no-one ever will. She is a rare gift. Her evolution since she broke onto the scene as part of The Sugarcubes in the 80s has been singularly spectacular and never obvious. Iceland’s biggest superstar, singer, Oscar winning actress, performance artist, instrument creator, producer, DJ. Bjork seems to have a never-ending creative drive, always pushing, always looking for a fresh sound and new aesthetic. She is hands on in the studio, obsessed with the minutiae of the mixing desk. Yes, she has worked with some of the most innovative male producers, directors and designers (Nellee Hooper, Timbaland, Howie B, Guy Sigsworth, Matmos, Michael Gondry, Alexander McQueen) but Bjork remains the creative driving force behind everything. And yet, some people find this hard to believe.

If a guy had done all the strings, all the choir arrangements, and a lot of the production on his album, he would have credit for his work. It’s always like I’m this esoteric creature; that I just turn up and sing and go home. People still don’t seem to take me seriously as a songwriter and arranger and producer.

In the electro-age, music is no longer as straight forward as X played that instrument, Y played this. Especially with music as complex and layered as Bjork’s. There is nothing about her that fits into a safe box, which is why she is often labelled ‘bonkers Bjork’. She is a grown woman, yet is regularly called a ‘pixie’ or ‘elfin’, as if she is stuck in some perpetual mystic childhood. In the early days, her supposed ‘weirdness’ was easy to parody; her iconic hair, her videos, her clothes (such as the famous swan dress she wore to the Oscars). This kept her safe, accessible, chart worthy.

Women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends. If they change the subject matter to atoms, galaxies, activism, nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticized. It wasn’t until I shared a heartbreak I got full acceptance from the media.

The heartbreak Bjork is referring to lead to the album Vulnicura. It is a study of the breakdown of her marriage. Lush, cinematic, bleak, intimate and always experimental, what sets this album apart is the creation of whole new ways of experiencing sound and vision. The video for Black Lake was commissioned as an installation in the New York Museum of Modern Arts, the song Mouth Mantra has a video filmed entirely inside Bjork’s mouth as she sings, Stonemilker is a 360 virtual video, and her latest project is a full virtual-reality immersive experience. She has commissioned a series of masks for her performances, each more elaborate and alien than the last, pulsating with light like deep-sea jellyfish or gossamer moth wings quivering with spikes.

 Bjork’s music is geography, it is science, maths, politics, sex, nature, it is animalistic. She creates intimate, dripping sonic jungles and vast, orchestral landscapes. She is a natural feminist, the matriarchal society of Iceland giving her pride, autonomy and respect as a woman, and as a single mother. Her album titles alone speak to a new musical  language she has created: Debut, Post, Homegenic, Vespertine, Medulla, Volta, Biophilia, Vulnicura.

She is always bold, ever changing. She is, to put it simply, a genius.

 

If you want to find out how you can #beboldforchange, check out the International Women’s Day Pledge at:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold

Be Bold, Day Three: Lauryn

Mention Lauryn Hill and many people will say one of two things. ‘Oh didn’t she say some terribly racist thing about white people not buying her music?’ or ‘She was great, but didn’t she go a bit mental and not pay her taxes?’

And herein lies the problem with the way that female artists, and especially Lauryn as a black female artist, are portrayed. It is not the music, the talent, the genius or the creativity that is the focus but the scandal, the shame, the salacious and the downright untrue. Of course Lauryn Hill never said she would rather her children starve than white people buy her music. But this lie serves certain mind sets well, allows them to negate the phenomenal success of a young black woman by calling her a racist.

My emancipation don’t fit your equation.

Yes, it is true that she went to prison for three months for an unpaid tax bill of $1.8 million dollars. All of which she was able to pay back, and had been paid by the time she served her sentence. In an open letter at the time, Hill stated she purposely refused to pay her taxes to a Government that she felt did not represent her or other black people fairly.

While I’m not saying that withholding your taxes as a political decision is right, if it was a political decision, she had a point.

To understand how truly ground breaking Lauryn was, her award winning Miseducation Of…album, released in 1998, held sales records that were not beaten until the pop colossus that is Adele came along and smashed the shit out of everything.

In the hyper-masculine world of hip-hop, Hill didn’t use her sexuality to compete with the boys. She was authentic and never seemed like she was trying to be something she wasn’t. The album itself is both delicate and tough. Heartbreaking and raw, self-assured and forthright, yet never cocky. On the track To Zion, Hill sings of how she was encouraged to abort her first child so it didn’t interfere with the music machine.

Think of your career they said,

Lauryn, baby, use your head.            

In the video for Doo-Wop (That Thing), Hill is quite clearly pregnant with her second child. Can you think of any other stars who have done this? Can you think of any record labels happy for their stars to do this? The music industry has no problem with the heavy sexualisation of music videos, but when it comes to the reality of female reproduction, it gets a bit icky for them.

Hill has been labelled a recluse, much the same way that Kate Bush, for ‘turning her back on the music industry’. Lauryn Hill has six children. Maybe she just thinks it is more important to be a good mother than be on promotional tours and making pop videos. She herself has said she found fame hard to deal with. Most young mums can run to the shops to buy their kid some medicine after being up all night without worrying about having a camera put in their face or being criticised for how their hair or skin looked.

I don’t know the kind of things Lauryn Hill experienced growing up under the scrutiny of the public eye (she was just 21 when The Fugees multi-platinum album The Score was released). Her first love, heartbreak and loss played out through the lens of world touring. Having a baby just as her first solo album dropped. It probably wasn’t the life she had planned for herself. Lauryn Hill is still making music, just on her own terms, outside the corporate oppression of the industry.    

Without Lauryn Hill, there would be no Adele. There would have been no Amy Winehouse. There would be no Beyonce. She was a true innovator and inspiration to all who have come after.

 

If you want to find out how you can #beboldforchange, check out the International Women’s Day Pledge at:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold

 

 

Be Bold, Part Two: Roisin

Sing It Back by Moloko is one of the iconic Ibiza choons, but to dismiss their vocalist as a rent-a-voice 90s superclub singer would be to miss the point entirely. Before there was Gaga, before there was Sia, there was Roisin Murphy, the Irish queen of avant-garde art-pop.

Her work with Mark Brydon under the banner of electro outsiders Moloko is how I first encountered her stunning vocal range and curious jazz phrasing. I was drawn to lyrics that were about more than just love and lust. Their album Things to Make and Do, released in 2000, features songs about Murphy’s parents divorce, her fraught relationship with her mother and the collective post acid-house cultural come-down of ‘Absent Minded Friends’, showing a self-awareness not seen in dance music up to that point.

Shall we drink a toast to

Absent minded friends

To all who turn the corner and

To those who went round the bend

Everybody raise your glasses

Drink and drown

Melancholy for the masses

Love come down.

While never conforming to the stereotypes of how women in the music industry should look or behave (she milked a cow wearing a full suit of armour on the cover of Moloko’s second album) it is through her solo work that Murphy emerges as a unique force in fashion, music and performance. She is equally at home being interviewed by Vogue as MixMag. When her 2007 album Overpowered was a released, a male journalist asked her if she saw herself as the new Kylie. It is hard to imagine Kylie wearing the baggy hi-vis jacket and hardhat Murphy sports in the videos from her Take Her Up To Monto album, or sitting on the loo brushing her teeth, as seen in the Overpowered video.

She lets it slide at first but is obviously stewing on it, coming back to the idea half an hour later with obvious irritation. “How was I trying to be Kylie Minogue? If I was a man no one would say I was trying to be Kylie Minogue.”

And there’s the rub. No matter how hard female artists try, no matter how innovative and creative they are, they will always be lumped together because of their defining feature i.e. they are women. I have never read an interview with Frank Ocean asking him if he’s the new Justin Timberlake (an equally banal comparison).

As Tammy Wynette sang, and Roisin Murphy quotes in the liner notes to Overpowered, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.

 

If you want to find out how you can #beboldforchange, check out the International Women’s Day Pledge at:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold

Be Bold, Part One: Courtney

One of the ways to support the International Women’s Day #beboldforchange campaign this year is by celebrating the achievements of women. In the lead up to 8th March I will be writing about international female musicians I love and admire. Music is my dilithium crystal core, my flux capacitor, allowing me to fly and travel in time. I cannot function without it. It makes me, in the words of a dear friend, soul satisfied.

This is not intended to be exploration of all the outstanding or underrated female musicians around the world, this is simply introduction to some female artists who are important to me. While I can appreciate the flow of Middle Eastern female rappers such as Paradise, the hypnotic beauty of Malian singer Rokia Traore or the sheer brutal grindcore assault of Japanese female metal bands like Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation, I am first and foremost a lyrics person. I am a writer, a wordsmith, a letter wrangler and I need the lyrics to speak to me.

So first of my #beboldforchange female artists is Courtney Barnett.

 

Australian singer, songwriter and guitar hero Courtney Barnett is everything teenage me loved about 90s bands like L7 and The Breeders. She looks like a real person, not an unattainable, ethereal acoustic strumming goddess or body-jacking, booty-shaking pop tart. And she rocks out. I mean she truly shreds. Her songs are at once deeply existential and comically mundane.

Erroneous, harmonious, I’m hardly sanctimonious

Dirty clothes, I suppose we all outgrow ourselves

I’m a fake, I’m a phony, I’m awake, I’m alone

I’m homely, I’m a Scorpio

Barnett’s particularly perceptive Australian brand of bluntness comes out in her dead-pan delivery and poetic lyrics, which touch on the typical female singer/songwriter subjects one second (love, relationships, self-exploration) and then flip onto the perils of house buying, destruction of the oceans and food industry ethics the next. I am sick of female singers chirping away on songs someone else has written for them, rhyming ‘you, true, through and do’ or ‘me, be, free and see’, imploring their ‘baby’ to love them. I want to listen to Courtney Barnett’s tales of trying to impress someone she fancies at the local swimming baths.                 

Held my breath longer than I normally do
I was getting dizzy
My hair was wet and frizzy
Felt my muscles burn, I took a tumble turn
For the worse, it’s a curse
My lack of athleticism, sunk like a stone
Like a first owner’s home loan
When I came to, you and your towel were gone

Sitting within the current wave of lo-fi female bands and artists that also includes Cate Le Bon, Warpaint and Childbirth, as well as being co-owner of the Milk! Records label, Barnett shows how indie is shaping the future of the industry, rather than the other way round. The DIY indie ideals of the late 80s and early 90s grunge and riot-grrl scenes, which seemed quite gauche at the time, have now simply become the way things are done. Making and sharing music is now easier than ever for women, and I for one am thankful for that.

If you want to find out how you can #beboldforchange, check out the International Women’s Day Pledge at:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold