Be Bold, Part One: Courtney

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. In this series, I will be writing about female musicians I admire and adore.

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 bold 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.



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