INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN MUSICIANS
SWAGGER.It’s a funny term, used and abused by teens for the last five or six years. But it does mean something, you know – an attribute, an attitude, a way of being. It’s hard to achieve but when you see it, you know it. When the term is used, the first people to pop into my head are always rock stars. Iconic for not giving a damn, these celebrities absolutely exude confidence. Mick Jagger, Bono, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix…the list could go on. But why is it that the image of “confident, passionate musician” is so dominated by men? Women are there, but they’re not the first people to come to mind (I even polled my family to be sure I wasn’t just imagining this). So…why?
I mentioned confidence so let’s take a look at this. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as “a feeling or consciousness of one's powers.” Undeniably, in the world we live in, it’s a hell of a lot harder for a girl to openly acknowledge her own talents. When she does, she’s perceived as conceited, as too proud of herself. But it’s that complete confidence that makes someone stand out in the world of creativity. Stars in the music world don’t care what anyone thinks of them, because they know that no matter what they’re still incredible at what they do; it’s this complete disregard of reputation that makes them so attractive.
And that’s where the badass ladies we look up to come in.
These women have tossed aside the expectations of femininity set before them, and redefined what it means to be a woman, a musician, and a pop culture icon.
They’ve shown us that it’s more than okay to own your talents and be proud of what you’re good at. In the famous words of Joan Jett, “a girl can do what she wants to do” if she doesn’t “give a damn ‘bout [her] reputation”, and those serious levels of attitude and conviction are what we all should be striving for. Let’s look at a few of the ladies, new and old, who can serve as inspiration for taking hold of your dreams and owning your future.
Stevie Nicks: For me, discovering Fleetwood Mac when I was about 13 totally shaped my taste in music. Nicks’ floating voice is like a dream, and she uses it to sing about heartbreak and growth, topics that speak to so many women. She, like the sound of her voice, is dreamy, always draped in clothes she can twirl in. What’s not to love? She has battled with addiction and come out on top, something that many people aren’t able to do. Nicks is often called the “queen of rock and roll” for the number of artists, especially women, who she has inspired. She somehow has remained the epitome of cool, even as time passes by. Nicks never had children, and once said, “My mission maybe wasn't to be a mom and a wife; maybe my particular mission was to write songs to make moms and wives feel better.” Stevie is a woman for women, supporting others by creating and putting her art out into the world.
Ella Fitzgerald: I have a special love for Ella because my dad’s love of jazz made her the background music for much of my childhood (we even named our first dog after her). Her incredible voice, recognizable to nearly everyone, somehow both smoothly and gruffly drifts through speakers. As the “Queen of Jazz”, she paved the way for women in experimental music. She improvised on stage with scat singing, a style for which she’s famous that imitates the horns of jazz. Ella, in interviews and conversations throughout her career, was always quick to acknowledge the help she received from others in reaching such success, including her mother’s influential taste in music and Marilyn Monroe’s eagerness to promote her. Ella’s gorgeous voice made her incredibly successful but she wasn’t one to ignore where she came from, or how lucky she was to be so talented. She once said, “I know I'm no glamour girl, and it's not easy for me to get up in front of a crowd of people. It used to bother me a lot, but now I've got it figured out that God gave me this talent to use, so I just stand there and sing.” She opened up new musical paths for women by braving the male-dominated jazz scene. Her voice was a tool that she knew she could use to make the world of music a better place, so that’s exactly what she did.
Haim: A trio of sisters, Haim has blessed the world with original, unusual indie pop for a little less than ten years now. The girls grew up playing music with their parents, which led to the formation of the band (taking the name from their own family). Danielle, Este, and Alana Haim are incredibly talented, and when working together, they’re unstoppable as a force in the indie music world. Jonah Weiner for Rolling Stone describes them as “rock classicists (playing their instruments, writing their songs, straight-up shredding live)”. It’s clear that they draw inspiration from a huge variety of artists, which helps to make their music really unique. When I saw them live in Tulsa, Oklahoma a few years ago, they performed the most beautiful cover of Beyoncé’s “XO”, but then they can turn around and do Bob Dylan like it’s nobody’s business (Danielle is featured in Blake Mills’ cover of “Heart of Mine”). They never hesitate to get all the way into their music, the best example of this being Este’s crazy expressive faces when she’s jamming on bass (look it up, you’ll be inspired and laughing out loud). In the same Rolling Stone article, when asked if they were worried fans would forget them in their long absence between albums, Alana responded, “Maybe we would have been worried…if we didn't think we were making awesome shit.” For the Haim sisters, creating music together is everything, and their complete confidence in themselves and each other is what carries them all the way to their highest potential.
Women in the music world are so cool and so deserving of respect because they have to work for that confidence, that – dare I say it? – swagger. They have to prove themselves until there’s not a doubt in the minds of critics. In the face of uncertainty, they walk with self-possession and show that they know that what they’ve got is good. Maybe all you can think about when I use the word “swagger” is some graphic tee that your 12-year-old cousin won’t take off, or when Justin Bieber infamously uttered “swag” over and over on his song “Boyfriend” (a terrible moment for pop music). But hopefully, now, you can picture instead all the ladies in music who have led the way to a more accepting scene, like Ella and Stevie and the Haim sisters, full of confidence and hard-earned pride. Who are the female musicians who you look up to? We want to hear!
*Ella Fitzgerald Illustration based on work by Photographer Annie Leibowitz. We don't take credit for any of the Stevie Nicks or HAIM photographs used.*
Rosie Lavoi, Authro
Hi!! My name is Rosemary - Rosie for short - and I’m one of Gold Hand Girls’ new bloggers! I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but moved to Indiana to study at the University of Notre Dame. Of all the things in the world, I love reading the most, but after that probably comes anything sweet (see picture for proof). I’m beyond excited to be writing for Gold Hand Girls. Spreading support for creative girls is so important to me, and I’m thrilled to be part of that mission. Stay tuned for posts on cool girl bands, books, and more!
Annie Kate Jones, Illustrator
Annie Kate is a magical realism writer, memory-preservation poet, and visual artist currently residing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is fond of reminding others of their inherent lightness through her triad of traits. You can find her hiking very small "mountains" in Tulsa, riding her bike around town with her beloved partner, inventing a questionable new recipe in her kitchen, or taking a catnap in a patch of sunlight.