Marisa Meltzer: It appears the ’90s are back. The signs are everywhere: Plaid shirts are all-over (I’m cutting one as I address this), the Seattle bandage Soundgarden is re-forming afterwards 12 years’ hiatus, and SoapNet devotes three hours a day to reruns of Beverly Hills, 90210. I came of age during the grunge years and accept helped ster ’90s homesickness as abundant as anyone—my latest book about the decade, Babe Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, was appear yesterday—so I accept to accept I’m captivated by all of it.
The ’90s were a adequate time for my two primary obsessions: boyhood and music. Bands that were unapologetically feminist, that fabricated music that was affronted and challenging—music that would accept been relegated to the underground in the ’80s—became mainstream. It was adequate to be affronted and y, and in pop adeptness there were assuredly a agglomeration of role models: Courtney Love, Liz Phair, and Kathleen Hanna, to name aloof a few. Sadly, that absolute aggregate of changeable acerbity and address has slipped out of the mainstream. During the aftermost decade we afraid about the antics of Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus and whether it would leave our daughters overed, but I still absence the audacious and uncompromising agreeable heroines of my adolescence.
Since Courtney Adulation and her bandage Hole accept a new anthology advancing out in the bounce and the traveling women’s music anniversary Lilith Fair is set to acknowledgment this summer, I’m apprehensive if the y-angry-rocker woman is accomplished for a awakening and also—as I blooper on my Betsey Johnson babydoll dress—whether my ’90s attraction is a little out of hand. Sara, what do you think?
Sara Marcus: Hmm. Was Kathleen Hanna absolutely boilerplate in the ’90s? Or Courtney Love—God advice us all—a role model? Still, I see area you’re headed with this. It’s not that today’s music lacks brash, unapologetic changeable stars—Lady Gaga, hello!—but aggregate about them, from their antics to their songs’ production, feels so calculated, doesn’t it? Bedrock stars in the ’90s seemed beneath packaged, beneath sculpted than they are today (the closing actuality actually accurate in Love’s case and additionally Phair’s).I don’t see that alarm accepted aback anytime soon; boilerplate pop music is now about alike with an candidly complete persona, abnormally area changeable artists are concerned.
I anticipate the ’90s were an abnormal estuary: Some underground adeptness was abounding into the boilerplate and hadn’t yet been absolutely adulterated or adapted by it. And a vibrant, cohesive, self-sufficient, absolute underground existed for bodies who weren’t annoyed with the crossover acts. The ’90s were commodity appropriate that we haven’t apparent since, which contributes to and flavors the advance in homesickness that we’re seeing now.
I would never abjure you the amusement of your flannels and babydolls, Marisa, but I anticipate ’90s homesickness is problematic. This may complete odd advancing from addition who has aloof accomplished autograph a book that takes abode in that decade. ( Girls to the Front, my history of the Riot Grrrl movement—a jailbait feminist insurgence of boyish women in the ’90s—will be appear in October.) But the above activation amount of the era and of Riot Grrrl was DIY: Actualize your own art, culture, and communities abiding in the realities of your activity and what affects you in the actuality and now. Homesickness for a ancient era affectionate of misses the point.
It’s accessible abundant for feminists like us to anticipate affectionately on the canicule of Bikini Kill tours and Heavens to Betsy 7-inches. But commodity that absolutely interests me in your book is that you aim to adjust the decade’s best prepackaged iterations of changeable “empowerment”—Alanis Morissette, Lilith Fair, and, of course, the Spice Girls. Do you accede these projects to accept been “feminist”—or alike aloof adequate for women?
M.M: It was homesickness that prompted me to revisit Scary, Ginger, Baby, Sporty, and Posh in the aboriginal place. I was autograph Babe Ability during a decidedly sad time for women and music; the Pussycat Dolls’ 2005 admission anthology went platinum, and alike Paris Hilton had her own hit (although I will avert the accuracy of Hilton’s distinct “Stars Are Blind” to the end). I was attractive aback on music—the Spices, Alanis, Lilith Fair—that I had absolved during my boyhood years as too prepackaged or not absolutely affronted abundant and accomplished it seemed aitionist in allegory to what was actuality appear aloof one decade later.
If you attending at the lyrics to Alanis’ bigger hit, “You Oughta Know” (recently covered by Beyoncé at the Grammys, a ’90s moment that captivated me), they’d fit appropriate into the Riot Grrrl canon: “It was a bang in the face how bound I was replaced/ Are you cerebration of me aback you fuck her?” And who could abjure the feminism adumbrated in Sporty Spice’s analogue of the group’s ethos: “Girl Ability is about actuality able to do things aloof as able-bodied as the boys—if not better—and actuality who you wanna be.”
Of course, Alanis was a above boyish star, and the Spices were a prepackaged accumulation recruited from an ad that asked, “R U 18-23 with the adeptness to sing/dance? R U streetwise, ambitious, approachable and determined?” But I anticipate both acts’ acceptance went a continued way against creating a arrangement for the abundantly affronted and audacious woman in bedrock and pop.
But my homesickness for that era alone goes so far—I will stop abbreviate of calling them feminists. With the characterization of feminism comes intention, and I’m not abiding that the Spice Girls or Alanis captivated aition gender norms or announcement adequation as their No. 1 concerns. I’m analytical what debt you anticipate these post-Riot Grrrl musicians—from Alanis to Miley—owe Riot Grrrl. Was the Spice Girls’ bulletin of babe ability a watered-down (but still potent) adaptation of the Riot Grrrl alarm for “revolution girl-style now”? Or was it aloof apathetic packaging?
S.M.: Yes, the Spice Girls were acutely a absolute Rosemary’s Baby–esque spawn of Riot Grrrl; likewise, Alanis and her “Angry Women in Pop” ilk arose as a radio-ready analogue to the underground’s anomalous tones. I’d adulation to try to affirmation some acclaim for the Dixie Chicks, too. (As for Miley Cyrus, I’m not so sure. The girl-rocker-with-a-double-life television brand predates the ’90s by several years—and clashing Miley, Jem and the Holograms alike got to ball their own instruments.)
As you point out, though, the “angry woman/girl power” affectation in pop vanished as bound as it had arisen. Small wonder, because it was never added than a abetment clue of focus-grouped “rage” overdubbed assimilate the aforementioned old song as anytime and gradually achromatic aback bottomward to zero. Note how alike the Alanis band you quoted leaves complete the annoyed adumbration of women aggressive with anniversary added for the absolute fuck—hardly actual fit for the Riot Grrrl canon.
I adore the assignment you did in account all these cultural manifestations and charting the abstract genealogies, but I’ll be honest: I’m abundant added absorbed in babe shredders like Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster and against-the-odds pop icons like Le Tigre’s JD Samson and the Gossip’s Beth Ditto. * If we’re hunting for Riot Grrrl’s legacy, I accept the movement has had a added abiding and allusive appulse on less-commercial music than it has on accumulation culture. Women’s roles in the high echelons of pop music are evolving anytime so arid (if at all), while best independent-music scenes are abundant added female-friendlynow than they were 20 years ago. Riot Grrrl’s best constant appulse on accumulation adeptness is in all the women who are alive as artists and writers and musicians today—you and me included—who were encouraged at a cardinal age by the movement’s bulletin of empowerment and self-expression.
M.M.: You’re right that one of the best absolute legacies of Riot Grrrl is all the women who grew up alert to the music and are now advancing into their own. I additionally see it in the films, writing, and performances of Miranda July or the actor ball of Aubrey Plaza or Charlene Yi. I see the bequest in the bedrock camps like New York’s Willie Mae Bedrock Camp for girls that are teaching 8-year-olds—who ability not accept anytime heard of Bratmobile—how to ball instruments, anatomy bands, and bazaar themselves.
The key byword you acclimated was accumulation culture. The aberration amid some of the underground icons you’ve acicular to, like Beth Akin or JD Samson and the aboriginal Riot Grrrls, is a alertness to assignment with the mainstream. Akin advised a band of plus-size clothes for a above British banker and is active to a above label; Samson and her Le Tigre bandmates are bearing songs for Christina Aguilera’s aing record. They’re application their feminist-punk appearance but not shutting out the mainstream. A decade or two ago, they ability accept been accused of affairs out, but that’s a agitation that seems to accept faded.
I am analytical about the appulse of nontraditional pop stars like Akin or Samson or alike Sia or, to use a added all-over example, Lady Gaga, on boyish culture. Pop music today is abounding of able women, like Gaga, Beyonce, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift. And yet we accept a continued way to go until feminism is absolutely chip into music. I’m analytical what acquaint you anticipate music’s boilerplate can apprentice from the underground? And does the underground alike abide anymore?
S.M.: To hardly adapt your catechism about the mainstream: What affectionate of mega pop-stars do I appetite to see added of? I appetite a fat pop star. I appetite a pop brilliant who doesn’t affliction about acceptable affluent (I know: Yeah, right). I appetite a butch-dyke pop brilliant with bearded pits (and a femme-dyke pop star, too, for that matter, one who doesn’t accept to spectacularly self-destruct). I appetite a sissy-boy pop brilliant in a dress (ditto on the not self-destructing). I appetite a transgender pop star, and I appetite a new-tomboy pop star, one who doesn’t sing, “I don’t like your girlfriend,” like Avril Lavigne, and who maybe alike (OMG!) doesn’t abrasion eyeliner. Above all, I appetite changeable pop stars who get absorption added for their aptitude and dness as musicians than for their accomplishment as crafters of personae. Aback that happens, boyish girls—and boys, and all of us—will be way bigger off.
Mass adeptness consistently contains cleaned-up, camera-ready variations on the underground, accumulation aloof abundant of what’s “edgy” to advance its own relevance. Sometimes this infuriates me, but I accept to accept that the boilerplate would be always added arid afterwards it. Hopefully kids who see pop adeptness that hints at the actuality of commodity added circuitous will be emdened to go off in chase of it, and to actualize their own additions to the conversation. In my absolute world, though, complicated, messy, smart, irreducible artists who acquaint me things I don’t already apperceive about love/loss/friendship//politics would get aloof as abundant absorption as the slickly holographic versions.
Of course, agreeable undergrounds still exist, alike if you and I now go to beddy-bye too aboriginal to analyze them adequately. But the boundaries accept absolutely developed added absorptive of late, decidedly amid undergrounds and a anew broadcast cultural average ground: Artists on K Records are accepting songs on TV (indie-songstress Mirah on So You Anticipate You Can Dance!), and Vampire Weekend’s new, indie-released anthology afresh hit No. 1. Aggregate is added flexible: Artists can admission their admirers afterwards compromising artistic control, the once-bright band amid actuality on an indie characterization and signing to a above no best exists, and admirers can admission a ample ambit of music alike if they’re 15 and ashore in the exurbs.
A lot of these changes—maybe alike all of them—are acknowledgment to the Internet, which for all intents and purposes didn’t abide in the canicule of Riot Grrrl. How has the acceleration of online adeptness afflicted what it’s like to be a babe from the ’90s to the present day?
M.M.: One of my admired quotes about the changeable boyish acquaintance comes from the artist Rachel Carns, who said in an account that “girls accept this clandestine affair about themselves—diaries, your room—that is absolutely abandoned and you don’t allotment it with anybody else.” If the additional beachcomber of feminism was about accepting wives out of the kitchen, again maybe Riot Grrrl was about aggravating to get girls out of the bedchamber and into commodity added like action.
The Internet has fabricated actuality a boyish babe a potentially beneath isolating experience. It’s simple to alpha a blog or a Tumblr or accompany Twitter and aback accord to your own Internet accomplice that gets all your references to antisocial Justin Bieber and admiring the cine Daisies.
But the Internet can alone go so far. Sara, I accept to allotment an nut that reveals us both to be absolute nerds: Aloof the added night at a party, you and I launched into a rendition— from memory, I ability add—of the Riot Grrrl aegis anthem, “Eyes, Knees, Groin, Throat.” I adulation that we both spent our boyhood years alert to that song and I ambition we had accepted anniversary added then. But I assumption my point is that singing it calm in being was so abundant added blissful and acceptable than any blubbering we could accept done over the Internet about it.
I achievement that the absorption in what happened to women and music in the ’90s blaze concern in boyish women and that the Internet helps them accomplish connections, but that they’ll booty it a footfall further. Some of them already are. Tavi Gevinson, the boyish blogger who has become a fashion-world celebrity, wrote that the day afterwards finishing Babe Power, she proposed a feminist club to her academy principal. That’s the affectionate of DIY activity that’s activity to accomplish abiding changes in the lives of boyhood girls.
Correction, Feb. 15, 2010: This commodity originally and afield referred to the Screaming Females’ Melissa Paternoster. Paternoster’s aboriginal name is Marissa. (Return to the adapted sentence.)
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