Like many of you, music is constantly on our minds, especially during holidays and other commemorative events. In this series, we give some thoughts about the songs that soundtrack our lives.
International Women’s Day is a celebration of the achievements that women have made in the world, occurring right at the beginning of Women’s History Month. It’s a day to celebrate what we’ve accomplished so far – and to remind us of what we still have to fight for. We’ve all had songs in our lives that not only remind us of our identity, but motivate us to think about what that really means, and the impact we have on our society. Here are a few of those songs.
Empress Of – “Woman is a Word”
Though not universally agreed upon, I’ve always been a firm believer that language – the words we choose and the way we use them – influences perception. Say something a certain way often enough and it begins to embed itself within your cognition, affecting the way you make sense of the world. I have to imagine that Lorely Rodriguez – aka Empress Of – agrees; her Me b-side “Woman is a Word” indicates she has heard herself referred to as a “woman artist” a few too many times. In arguing that she is “only a woman if woman is a word,” Rodriguez essentially states that boxing her in as a female artist only serves a purpose if you view female artists as being different than regular artists. The track is a powerful reminder that women are far more than the stereotypes and stigmas placed upon us. -Mollie
Antony and the Johnsons – “Epilepsy is Dancing”
On this Crying Light standout, Anohni personifies oppression as an epileptic seizure, crafting a moving narrative of a woman overcoming the forces afflicting her body. Using her trademark eco-feminist imagery, she strings together elemental details that convey a vivid sense of anguish. When her incomparable voice begs to be “cut in quadrants”, the feeling is both familiar and heartbreaking. “Epilepsy” perfectly captures the claustrophobic sensations that arise from the ways women are so often mistreated, trapped by narrow definitions of validity. Above all, it is a story of resilience, as the speaker transcends these forces, dancing in the face of her pain (an arc solidified in the gorgeous Wachowski-directed music video).
To me, this song is a reminder of the strength and beauty displayed by the women in my life, and of the disparities inherent in the way we define those attributes. When so many women are still discarded due to race, ability, and appearance, “Epilepsy” envisions a world where all may dance in the wonder of their own light. For those of us who hold unearned power, it is our responsibility to ensure that world will exist. -Lily
No Doubt – “It’s My Life”
When I first heard Talk Talk’s original version of “It’s My Life”, I thought it was a cover. I’d been hearing No Doubt’s version since my tweens, and it might be one of my favorite covers I’ve ever heard, because of the way Gwen Stefani absolutely commands the song and makes it her own. Mark Hollis’ wails are replaced by the assertive vocals of Stefani, changing the tone of the song into a completely different story. No Doubt took Talk Talk’s original tale of a man saddened by a cheating lover, and turned it into a scornful cry from a woman who has been disrespected in a relationship. The music video is a classic- Stefani kills her abusive boyfriend, and then develops a taste for murder. Perched above the stand in the courtroom, she proclaims “It’s My Life!” as she’s dragged away to the electric chair. It was one of the first moments of my adolescence where I remember hearing a woman asserting her place in the world. – Sara
Destiny’s Child – “Independent Women, Pt. 1”
When 2001’s Charlie’s Angels came out on VHS, I started a long campaign for my parents to buy me both the tape and soundtrack. I ended up with only the soundtrack, (a better choice), but I was pissed that I only managed to get a part of the deal made. I was 10. This song was the first time I heard women, (most importantly, women of color), talk about their own money. I was entranced with the idea of “my own” and “mine,” The pride of “don’t worry, I got it.” The ridiculous amount of times I listened to it on my Walkman has inadvertently lead me on a lifelong mission to chase the satisfaction of independence. After a few years, I was elated to be surrounded by moving boxes in my new home, and I took a moment to listen to the song. Immediately, I thought of Gabrielle Hamilton. In her autobiography, Blood, Bones and Butter, she wrote, “No future graduate-level feminism seminar would ever come within a mile of the force of that first paycheck. The conviction was instant and forever: If I pay my own way, I go my own way.” – Andrea
St. Vincent – “The Neighbors”
Annie Clark—aka St. Vincent—has given me countless reasons to feel proud of being a woman. I relate to Annie as an openly queer woman and feminist, and I look up to her for her fearlessness as an artist. From album release to album release, St. Vincent has effortlessly altered her sonic palette, hairstyle, wardrobe, persona, and with it—other people’s perceptions of her. On “The Neighbors” from her 2009 album Actor, St. Vincent repeats a string of abstract questions: “What would your mother say? What would your father do? What would the neighbors think?” As a woman, these types of questions come up over and over in different ways. Sometimes it can be hard not to wonder what others think, but then St. Vincent’s electric guitar cuts through the noise and reminds me that it’s better to just be yourself. The beauty of womanhood lies in our honest, vastly diverse expressions of identity—who cares what the neighbors think? – Emily