My final paper for my History of Rock course.
Since the beginning of time, boy bands and girl groups have been battling each other for fame, fortune and glory. Some critics argue that the presence of girl groups at the same time as boy bands is necessary in order to challenge them. Are females always required to motivate their male competitors? Despite the progress that women have made towards their advancement in society, they are still (for lack of a better word) screwed over by men in the industry. There are so many girl groups that have come and gone over the decades that the ones who don’t really stand out and make it big are easily forgotten. “Yet, throughout the decades, female musical unions have had one thing, aside from gender, in common: they are vastly outnumbered on the stage, record labels and radio by their all-male counterparts. Which is one reason why “girl groups,” in the broadest possible definition, still get singled out for attention after all these years” (Punter).
The appeal of girl groups to the female population has always been the emphasis on embracing girlhood. Contemporary female rockers deliberately cultivate various “girlish” identities in their music, style and stage acts. They embody women “within, outside of, and on the margins of the corporate mainstream” (Wald). Girl groups also have a tendency to challenge gender norms and gender expectations, dismantling manipulated modes of femininity. It’s all about female solidarity in a world that is primarily controlled by men. “Female artists have ventured to celebrate girlhood as a means of fostering female youth subculture and of constructing narratives that disrupt patriarchal discourse within traditionally male rock subcultures” (Wald).
The Pebbles, an all-girls rock band from Belgium, added fuel to the flame of the rock and roll revolution in the late 1960s. The Go-Gos united young girls across the nation with their rock music. Formed in 1978, they were the first all-female rock band that wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. From 1981-1989, The Bangles brought the underground Los Angeles scene to the speakers of Americans everywhere. Following the example of The Go-Gos, this was another girl group that wrote all of their songs and played their own music. Unfortunately, friction from the media caused The Bangles to drift apart and break-up, and they are mainly remembered for a few of their most popular singles such as “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Manic Monday.”
“From ’60s girl groups such as The Shirelles, The Ronettes and The Supremes to ’70s politically conscious funk queens LaBelle, folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle and hard rockers the Runaways (where Joan Jett got her start) and from ’80s new wave chick bands such as the Go-Go’s and the Bangles to the free-for-all ’90s with a mix of updated R & B girl groups (En Vogue, TLC), post-punk grunge rockers (L7, Breeders), hip-hop combos (Salt N Pepa), new country hipsters (Dixie Chicks), riot-grrrl indie bands and assorted Lilith Fair veterans, all-female combos are certainly not a genre, a category or anything new in the history of rock ‘n’ roll” (Punter).
The Supremes stand alone in their own separate category. As rivals of The Beatles from 1959-1977, they were America’s most successful vocal group in the mid-1960s. Having dominated the charts with twelve No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, they proved that African-Americans were capable of accomplishing anything at a time when everything was against them.
The bigger question that I ask is, why do boy bands and girl groups from the new-millennium period fade in such a short period of time? The Spice Girls came and conquered from 1994 to 2000. Destiny’s Child lasted from 1990 to 2006, and then Beyonce became a solo star. ‘NSYNC only lasted from 1995 to 2002, but Justin Timberlake’s solo career has been flourishing for the past 10 years. TLC was one of the most successful girl groups in the 1990s, but they were also the most financially unstable and abruptly ceased to produce new music under tragic circumstances after 2002.
Boyz II Men and the Backstreet Boys seem to be going on strong, but people are starting to see them as my parents see New Kids On The Block and the Jackson Five: old. Amidst our love for these groups that we cherished so deeply during our pre-teenage years, are we naturally age-ist? Everyone grows up at some point and comes to terms with the fact that they don’t see things the way they used to, but why does it take some of us so long to realize that the most of this music was never really that good to begin with?
The quality of the boy bands and girl groups that we are exposed to today is extremely disappointing with their superficial pre-constructions. They are fundamentally commercialized, assembled for the sole purpose of generating millions for big-time record companies. Most of the time, members of these bands don’t even have a personal relationship with each other beforehand. Today’s hottest boy bands are One Direction, The Wanted, Big Time Rush, and the Jonas Brothers, but nothing about them is original except for their background stories. Most of them don’t even play their own instruments, adding on another level of fakeness.
Bands like Nirvana and Blink-182 woke up our society from this imaginary world that made us nostalgic for things that we never actually experienced in life. These alternative, pop-punk bands of the ‘90s re-defined the traditional boy band mold and reminded everyone that The Beatles might have been a once in a lifetime kind of band, but there would be a new voice for the generations to come. Instead of writing radio hits, these bands talked about real issues affecting people on an every day basis like racism, sexism and homophobia.
As for the females, the only women in music that keep making headlines in the tabloids are Little Mix and Fifth Harmony. The Dixie Chicks had their time to shine as an original all-female country and bluegrass group, especially with their political controversy when Natalie Maines called out George W. Bush in 2003. And then there were the hyper-sexualized and provocative Pussycat Dolls from Las Vegas, and P. Diddy’s self-destructive damaged goods, Danity Kane. But outside of the pop bubble, groups like Haim, The Veronicas, and Mutya Keisha Siobhan (formerly The Sugababes) are paving their own path and achieving well-deserved recognition for sticking to their musical roots. In a way, these women are saviors of the girl group genre and voices of this generation.
Perhaps the music industry is inherently sexist, placing the genders against each other and forcing them to compete for something they never signed up for. Maybe the industry assumes that women are failures and can’t keep the attention of fans without batting their eyes and showing a little skin. Whatever the case may be, more women need to step up and take back the girl group genre. With double the amount of support from their surrounding peers, the time for girl power is now. Boy bands are cute and all, but they’re another chip off the block.
Punter, Jennie. “Insync: Boy Bands Beware as Destiny’s Child, Go-Go’s and a New Generation of Canadian Girl Groups Rock.” Flare 10 2001: 50-8. ProQuest.
Wald, Gayle. “Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth”. Signs , Vol. 23, No. 3, Feminisms and Youth Cultures (Spring, 1998), pp. 585-610. The University of Chicago Press