Little Grrrls Lost

Angry, anti-capitalist punk girl bands power the U.S. economy.

When will President Obama create a Manhattan Project for girl groups? 

The stimulative power of girl groups has been clear throughout economic history. France and Italy, which in the early 1960s were still emerging from postwar depressions, made smart, targeted investments in the yé-yé movement, producing international sensations such as the tireless pixie France Gall and the boyish sparkplug Rita “The Mosquito” Pavone. During the decade, France’s economy grew by a factor of 2.3, according to the World Bank. Italy went from having the world’s seventh to its fifth largest economy, leapfrogging China and Canada.

Why didn’t the United States see that kind of growth during the ’60s boom? America entered the decade with a hearty complement of girl singers—the Chantels, the Shirelles, and the Ronettes, to name a few—but soon lost interest in these acts in favor of a self-styled “invasion” of boy groups from socialist, girl-groupless Britain. Broadly speaking, girl groups correlate with economic expansion, boy bands with stagnation. We went off the girl standard before France did.

The Girl Group Effect became more pronounced as Girl Group 1.0 evolved into a second wave of all-female bands. The Go-Go’s fueled the recovery from the early 1980s recession, while the onset of the 1990 recession coincided with the breakup of the Bangles. 

The effect was strongest in the 1990s. U.S. productivity grew at a whopping 1.7 percent per year for the first half of the decade, while the nascent riot grrrl movement—a nebulous grouping of feminist all-female punk bands—gave rise to such standouts as Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. NAFTA allowed the free exchange of angry Canuck songstress Alanis Morissette. Britain maintained low inflation and low unemployment while outperforming the Eurozone countries in GDP growth, thanks both to economic liberalization and to the rise of the Spice Girls.

This last boom—the 1990s—is the subject of a breezy and long-overdue study in Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music (Macmillan). Girl Power eschews cutting-edge economic theory, instead charting the histories of various partially intersecting trends during a decade when popular music was blessed by an explosion of female acts. Like everything now, the book is also a memoir, showing the author’s transformation from a sloganeering teenage riot grrrl into a grown woman wondering what it all meant.

Meltzer takes a broad view of a landscape that at the time seemed immensely balkanized, with minor stylistic misinterpretations (were the Lunachicks riot grrrls or queercore punkers?) liable to get you into serious trouble. She claims her heart is with the riot grrrl movement, privileging that group’s view over those of either aging-boomer Lilith Fair acolytes or a music movement Meltzer mostly regrets—the late ’90s “pop tart invasion” of girl acts packaged by major labels.

Meltzer tries to stay above these pointless mod/rocker distinctions, but riot grrrl was a pop fad with more direct meanings than most. A lot of the import was musical, with a DIY, anti-produced sound that yielded masterpieces like Bratmobile’s “Cool Schmool,” an exact replica of original 1970s punk (the ’90s were great for exact replicas) that has been mellowed by time and sorrow into a perfect miniature.

But the major meaning was political. Paying riot grrrl dues involved mastering a witty and aggressive style of feminism, ranting in a zine about the rapist society or the phallocentric late-capitalist culture trust, and making a serious commitment to détournement. (If you were getting your news from the misogynistic culture industry back then, you will remember the trope about formerly sweet American girls writing “SLUT” on their bellies, thankfully never with anything more permanent than a Sharpie.) 

The political ethos was best explained by the accordionist, zine-stress, and fat liberationist Nomy Lamm, speaking in 1999 with Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project: “I never had feminism presented to me in any way that was interesting at all. Like, all I knew about feminism was that it was, like, you can then work in a corporation and get paid the same amount as a man.”

Meltzer’s goal is to teach girls not to “fixate on the individual” but “band together” for “real power.” She considers some pretty Venezuelan means toward that end, wondering if we should “simply recruit women to start playing music at a younger and more impressionable age.”

So why does she struggle to confess her love for the band with the most superbly crafted group dynamic of all? The Spice Girls, she snorts, “were preconceived and prepackaged.” Yet the very quality the era’s hipsters mocked—their air of cheerful solidarity—made the Spice Girls’ version of girl power plausible. The idea that women are all one big team runs through their breakout hit “Wannabe” and their movie Spice World, in the course of which the girls take a break from plot advancement to help out a pregnant friend—just the kind of thing you would not expect to see in A Hard Day’s Night

In those early days of the Internet singularity, it seemed possible that advanced communications might create a functioning female hive mind, a prospect Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell broached when she ridiculed the inability of “male-dominated newspapers to realize that five women in short skirts have got a brain.”

Inevitably, on the cusp of middle age, Meltzer makes her peace at a 2008 Spice Girls reunion concert, accepting that there may be some value in the nonpolitical empowerment the free market affords. I would look at the options 2010 offers to girls, who with few exceptions are outperforming boys in the acquisition of life skills, and take it further than that. Girl power needs the market as much as the market obviously needs girl power. Enough with the green infrastructure stimulus. Only girl groups can save America now. 

Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh (bigtimcavanaugh@gmail.com) is a writer in Los Angeles. He blogs at simpleton.com.

Find this and hundreds of other interesting books at the Reason Shop, powered by Amazon.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Great SITE for Documentaries check it out,

    http://freeviewdocumentaries.com

  • OO=====D||

    Kiss me again, lover!

  • ||

    I looked. All I say was a bunch of leftist looking stuff. Meh

  • ||

    I'm going senile. All I saw.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Most anti-capitalists are angry, punk or female or otherwise.

  • Hank||

    It's about time, Cavanaugh. Take the weekend off, did you? There's a new mortgage miracle program, and where are you? Oh so disappointing. Where's your commitment to the housing crisis and the commenters at H&R?

  • BakedPenguin||

    It's possibly a non-sequitir, but I'd take Obama over a resurrection of the career of 4 Non-Blondes.

    That shit was painful.

  • ||

    Weren't some of them blond?

  • BakedPenguin||

    It's possible; I have successfully repressed most information related to them.

  • BakedPenguin||

    In that last comment, I meant "mentally repressed" - not that I've erased it from history.

    It could potentially come out in some harmful way. Such as my going insane, and choking an ugly woman with white dreads who can't sing, yet still tries to, someday.

  • ||

    I still like the Scissor Girls, though.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Their noise and dissonance is intentional. A world of difference.

  • ||

    No blondes, but they were birth-defect ugly.

    Seriously, what is that fucking creature in-between Native-American-Joey-Ramone-after-a-grease-fire and the chick who can't wait to get fat?

  • ||

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4_Non-Blondes

    Their first rehearsal was supposed to be at 6 PM on October 17, 1989, but shortly after 5 PM the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco area.

    Not even the portent of an angry Earth could stop them from making shitty music.

  • ||

    4 Non Blondes "What's Up?"

    It also ranks at #16 on Blender's list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever".[3] Similarly, it is ranked #19 on Spinner.com's list of the "Top 20 Worst Songs Ever."[4]

    It beggars belief that there are 15 and 19 worse songs. Maybe 5 or 6.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    I didn't remember that song, but my curiosity got the best of me. I got about 15 seconds in and had to shut it off.

  • ||

    You didn't even make it to the really bad part. The chorus is nightmarish. Like riding cross-country trapped between Steve Smith's taint and a fat girl's birthday party.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up doesn't come close to the suck of that song.

  • wackyjack||

    Spinner is to music as the Jonas Brothers are to men.

    They have a list of "10 Real Punk Rockers" that includes Frank, Bjork, and Cher.

  • Apple||

    I'd like to know what those 5 or 6 are. I don't think they exist.

  • Zenmaster||

    Boy George?

  • Paul||

    It's possibly a non-sequitir, but I'd take Obama over a resurrection of the career of 4 Non-Blondes.

    Word.

  • Yuk||

    Nothing indicates great music like self-mutilation and Yankees paraphernalia. Yo.

  • Ska||

    I really like the way the pinstripes curve.

  • Kill The Hippies||

    I really like the Bikini Kill song Rebel Girl.
    I actually own the single. Joan Jett worked wonders with those, otherwise uninteresting, bitches.

  • Jeff P||

    I was a Belly, L7, and Liz Phair fan myself. And that second Veruca Salt album was just killer.

  • Kill The Hippies||

    L7 were most definitely NOT "riot grrrl"

  • Jeff P||

    How so? They backed that horrible Rock4Choice fiasco, gave Jack Off Jill support slots on two tours, and two of them slept with the guy from Material Issue.

  • zoltan||

    Definitely liking Jack Off Jill (should be out of this angry phase by now!)

  • Jeff P||

    I have a memory of a VH1 special about this movement.
    At one point I remember Meredith Brooks complaining that, although she was grateful for the success, she was angry that she was never taken seriously as a guitarist. I found this hysterical as she is a shitty guitarist.

  • fyodor||

    Two words:

    CHERRY BOMB!!!!

  • anon||

    Who is that girl in the picture? I pretty much want to fuck the Yankees right out of her. It would be beautiful.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Well said, anon. +1.

  • JB||

    Seriously I want a bigger version of that picture.

  • ||

    My friend Josh tells the best story about when his then-girlfriend dragged him to Lilith Fair. His best line is "There was an audible click as a thousand menstrual cycles synced up."

  • ||

    I'm reporting you to Jezebel.

  • T||

    A friend of mine in the Army went to see Melissa Etheridge. Next morning at PT: "There were so many bull dykes there I thought I was at the rodeo."

  • ||

    Yeah, after thirty years of corporate handjob economics ends with a Wall Street train wreck, the death of free-market fundamentalism and a reawakening of the regulatory state, I'd change the subject to girl groups too, Reason.

  • Jeff||

    Yep, the regulatory/corporate-handjob state is stronger than ever!

  • ||

    Thanks Obama!

  • ||

    LOL

    I bet you blame the ground for a plane crash, too.

    Or, no: the FAA.

  • Brian Johnson, chauvinist||

    Tim, it's more likely the success of these chick bands correlates with good economies because people are more willing to spend money on mediocre entertainment during booms than they will during busts. Chicks cannot hold they smoke.

  • ||

    Chick bands are a novelty.

  • ||

    80's/90's grrl bands were always lame. There were actually decent female rock/garage bands in the 60's. Check out the "Girls in the Garage" comps.
    Notable: The Pleasure Seekers featuring the Quatro sisters.

  • Yankees Fan||

    Isn't there some other sports team whose uniforms our nation's lowlifes can besmirch? Note to painted sluts and hip hop thugs: wearing the logo doesn't make you any less a loser.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Yeah, if anything, wearing a Yankees logo makes you more of a loser.

  • ||

    +1

  • Yankees Fan||

    Exactly my point. It makes you a dipshit.

  • ||

    All I know is that "France Gall" is the most perfect name for a female French singer.

  • Paul||

    “male-dominated newspapers to realize that five women in short skirts have got a brain.”

    Just one?

  • .||

    “Ginger Spice” said it. One is more than enough.

  • Ratko||

    Why is Alanis Morrisette "angry" doesn't she like us? Maybe I'm mistaken but I thought she lives in Los Angeles.

    Now that I think about it living in Los Angeles is enough to make anyone angry.

  • ||

    "liable to get you into serious trouble."

    Only if you were a genre nazi. It was all punk to us in our 'scene' (I hate that word). Just different kinds of it.

  • ||

    The punk rockers were good business men (and women). I always told them they didn't have to sell-out to get rich... well, maybe they did, but who cares? Capitalism was easier to them than peace and anarchy.

  • anonymous||

    "I don't like serious bands. Some bands want to sing about politics. They should become a politician."
    -Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife)

  • ||

    well, music with a political language or theme isn't necessarily something to dislike. A lot of people are political minded, and their talent reflects their ideas in their art. What is obnoxious to me is blatant extremist politics in music like some punk rock, rap and folk... hippie shit *shrugs*

  • ||

    Scrambling show-biz enthusiasms and national politics is a sure sign *somebody* has been smoking weed *a lot*, for a *long time*.

    They've got a hospital in Cairo, Egypt for lifelong hasishiens---these mutts have got something called *OBS*: Organic Brain Syndrome. Got it smoking-up for years.

    Ever talk to somebody you grew up with who'd been smoking weed regularly since high school ? Did they *make sense* to you ?

  • ||

    Ugly women singing ugly songs about ugly subjects. That's Entertainment!!!!

  • outlet for ugg boots||

    This article is old, but I find it hilarious that the Google Ad showing up on this article at the moment is a body make-up that specifically mentions covering up tattoos as part of its purpose. It also mentions stretch marks and varicose veins, but the picture shown is of someone covering up an arm tattoo with make-up.

  • surpa shoes||

    Very good post. Made me realize I was totally wrong about this issue. I figure that one learns something new everyday. Mrs Right learned her lesson! Nice, informative website by the way.

  • blancpain replica watches||

    the best of replica watches

  • nfl jerseys||

    brtr

  • SheepskinUGG boots||

    we say that these Ugg Sheepskin Boots can absorb its power across the bottom phonetics of the day. It seems as access Sheepskin Boots Sale us achieve access album this winter. ?

  • SheepskinUGG boots||

    As apperceive Cheap Womens Uggs may be the designation of origin issued in the name acclaimed all added compared with the world. without achieving any vision or not you like it or not, Women Uggs is really an alarming array

  • SheepskinUGG boots||

    The prestige of negotiating bulk Uggs Australia Outlet cloud has evolved into the current day can fit into Ugg Boots On Sale boots and stores up.

  • ปลวก||

    They have a list of "10 Real Punk Rockers" that includes Frank, Bjork, and Cher.

  • ran||

    It also mentions stretch marks and varicose veins, but the picture shown is of someone covering up an arm tattoo with make-up.

  • ||

    I found this hysterical as she is a shitty guitarist. IBCBET

  • 3m||

    I like the post, and I agree somewhat with, To be very truthful...

  • sbo||

    I was very impressed and felt had to get a valuable experience after reading your article. I will learn more and I’ll try to implement. thanks for sharing.

  • sbo||

    Excellent post. I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work.

  • หนังใหม่ dvd||

    Thank you for your comments and good information. Useful to me.

  • Scarpe Nike||

    is good

  • ห้องน้ำ||

    It also mentions stretch marks and varicose veins, but the picture shown is of someone covering up an arm tattoo with make-up.

  • xiaoyang||

    Beer and wine kisumu 2 possess a small amount of methyl alcohol, also known as fuel line antifreeze along with cook oven fuel. It is just a harmless quantity in ale and wine beverage but when distilled atmbt sapatu the wrong temp a dangerous amount of methyl alchol can be done.

  • sd||

    sd

  • sbobet||

    You comment?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement