Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lilith Girls In Rome

I was loading up my mp3 player on Napster and saw a channel devoted to one-hit wonders. Between Haddaway and Chumbawumba there was Tracy Bonham with "Mother, Mother," a song I loved in the 90's but completely forgot about. The lyrics are priceless: a daughter makes an obligatory phone call home to an overprotective mom. It starts with questions about the weather and dad, assurances that she's doing okay, then degenerates into screaming sarcasm --"I'm starving, I'm freezing, I'm bleeding to death--everything's FINE!!!"

This song hit at the end of 1996, and she toured with the Lilith Fair in 1998, a show started for female artists by Sarah McLachlan the previous year. When I found her video on YouTube, at least one person commented that they thought she was going to take off, but then never heard from her again.

The Lilith Fair lasted one more year, done in by 1999's debut of Britney Spears' "(Hit Me)...Baby One More Time." Sugar Pops replaced granola for almost five years, as Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, and Fergie of Black Eyed Peas all came on the scene. Talented and diverse as these performers are, there is no denying that they all became successful by playing up their sexuality.

I'm sure all these performers would classify themselves not as anti-feminists but as "lipstick feminists." But where does that leave the Lilith generation? And the next wave of female singers that doesn't want to shake their money maker to make money?

Quintessential female rocker Alanis Morissette had one of the best satires of the genre with her cover and video of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" back in 2007.

As fun as that song is as a dance number, when you're forced to listen to the lyrics slowed down, it practically satirizes itself.

Tracy Bonham did her own violin-based cover of Beyonce's Crazy in Love. It's not satirical but is fun and quirky.

And the next generation? Whether they're easy listening types or rockers, they're critiquing the last half decade of pop in their own way and creating something new.

Yael Naim, who's song New Soul was featured in a Macbook Air commercial, also has a hauntingly beautiful cover of Britney Spear's "Toxic."

Pink took on the epidemic of tabloid blondes last year with her song and video "Stupid Girl."

Look up "female singer" on Google and the top cited article is "Serious female singers harder to find on the charts" from USA Today from two years ago. But all is not lost. Here's Entertainment Weekly's photo essay "Female Singer-Songwriters: The New Wave." Lesson: if you're a singer/songwriter who doesn't want to dance or bare your midriff, there's hope to be found in Apple commercials, One Tree Hill, and Grey's Anatomy. And of course there is American Idol, which has proven that American youth will vote for talent over mannequins and models.

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