Fem The Future

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Today in my local HMV I was surrounded by blue. Yes, Ed Sheehan had intercepted every corner of the shop to promote his new album, meaning even the staff themselves had to swap pink shirts for a deeper shade… I was shocked to see even the carrier bags offered were covered in that dreaded divide sign. The thought of becoming a walking promotion for an artist who far from lights my fire and baffles me with his chart notoriety was just too much. This got me thinking a lot about International Women’s Day and its relationship with pop music. In my mind, women have always been running rings around men in the field of pop music, crafting genuinely progressive tunes and championing social change. So why is a ginger chap from Suffolk afforded renewed success and minimal scrutiny when so many female pop acts aren’t?

Since the dawn of time I always regarded women as being the dominant force in pop music. Growing up on a healthy diet of Spice Girls, Britney and, of course, Madonna, I listened to and watched females who shaped and shifted pop over and over again. Obviously, at that time I had little awareness of the male gaze, the male-dominated music industry and the masculine bravado which reduces women in music to one-dimensional ‘singers’, whose only other talent is ‘looking good’. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen into these traps myself and found myself checking my reactions – this mess is engrained in society. Thankfully, the internet has really started to open up this conversation and provide platforms for important explorations of femininity – just look at Beyoncé’s landmark Lemonade.

It’s easy to shout about the Ed Sheerans and The Weeknds of this world but for too long female pop artists have been undervalued for their artistry, technical ability and, importantly, social impact. I mean, let’s not forget the invaluable representation countless women in pop have provided for the LGBTQI+ community… Without losing myself in this discussion, I really wanted to use this post to celebrate the women in pop: musicians, writers, producers, technicians, managers, or, all of the above, who continue to keep the pop landscape as thrilling, forward-thinking and inclusive as it was when Madonna first cried: ‘Express yourself!’

Check out my Fem The Future playlist below for some of the best female collabs of last year:

The 2017 Tease

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Last year us pop fans were treated, or in some cases subjected, to a number of BIG pop teaser campaigns. In order of appearance: ANTI, Lemonade and Joanne all offered very different interpretations of the pre-release come-on, in which fans were thrown breadcrumbs across social media as they anxiously awaited the arrival of a new era from their fave.

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Rihanna’s ANTI was an agonisingly chaotic, strung out and seemingly expensive pre-album roll out, which took over a year to come to fruition. In contrast, Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an almost guerilla-style cultural event that teased the audiovisual album just a week before its release. In even further contrast, Lady Gaga’s Joanne was a more straightforward tease that gradually re-positioned ‘Mother Monster’ as a homegrown country gal over a 2-month period.

The ever-evolving and ever-saturated world of social media has completely flipped the idea of a ‘traditional’ album roll-out on its head. Pre-social media, I have the fondest of memories of bounding into HMV to pick up Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor on its release day (9th November 2005!) after the blast that was the Hung Up single campaign. The truth of the matter is, before digital downloading and streaming shook up the music industry into the unstable mess it is now, pop megastars tended to enjoy fairly fail-safe promotional campaigns.

This might be one of the last relics of that period:

Sigh.

The anticipation back then felt both magical and measured; only the artists/record labels themselves could really control the medium and the volume in which you were teased, be it through TV, radio or print media. Nowadays, that thrill is spread thin across social media and too often overshadowed by the gimmickry which follows – namely memes. For that reason, it takes a true wave of hype and mystique (+ a considerable marketing budget) to cut through the crap and really grab your attention on social media… Lo and behold, the return of Ms. Katy Perry:

Thankfully, after the constant uncertainty of 2016 it seems like we may be about to encounter not only a disco-pop (!) revival but, most importantly, a new era from a pop star who just ‘gets on with it’. Harking back to the golden age of big pop comebacks, the stars feel aligned for Katy to re-emerge on Friday with new single Chained to the Rhythm, its accompanying video AND an exclusive Grammy performance this Sunday.

At a time when there are now teasers for teasers, digital treasure hunts, or maybe no tease at all through surprise releases; it is strangely reassuring to know that pop stars such as Katy Perry still exist to guide us through the memory of what it felt like to be an expectant pop fan before the dawn of social media.