The music industry needs more women. They need more successful women. It is that simple. Since the inception of recorded music, it has always been a man’s game. The nominees for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony were announced today. Out of a dozen or so nominees, only two female acts were represented: Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan. I recognize that anyone nominated for the hall of fame has to have been an established act for at least 25 years. Does that mean in another 25 years, we will see more female artists? If we have more female artists now, then shouldn’t we have more female artists in the hall of fame? Makes sense, right? But, an increased quantity of female artists isn’t changing the rules of the game. Take Kesha for example. She has recently come out alleging that a former producer sexually assaulted multiple times. As a result, she is being blacklisted out of the industry. She cannot find work because she dared to take on the patriarchy. Not only does the industry continue to marginalize women, it can actually punish them when they have a voice.
If a woman is successful in music, she still has to adhere to certain standards. She cannot disrupt the status quo. She cannot be shocking. She cannot think independently. Violating any of those rules, a female artist is considered strange, unladylike, and exempt from mainstream success. Certainly, there are exceptions. Lady Gaga stands out as the biggest contemporary example of a monumentally successful and unconventional pop icon. Pop music needs more figures like Gaga, but there needs to be a lot more work done to make that level of success more accessible to women. Until then, strange and shocking women have to live on the fringes of mainstream success.
For nearly 20 years, Peaches has made electronic dance punk that has shocked listeners as she continues to carve her own unique niche in pop music. For anyone already familiar with Peaches, they know that the trademark style of her music and performance art is highly sexualized. Her lyrics focus on the act and functionality of sex while challenging conventional sexual standards. Her stage shows elevate those themes to new heights with props and wardrobes that could only be described as a Freudian nightmare.
As a result, Peaches is an artist who has maintained a consistent following and some semblance of popularity, but she is an act that could never achieve success on par with Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. Why is that exactly? Most massively successful popular female artists are expected to be sexualized. Britney Spears performed live on television wearing a bra and a python. Lady Gaga embraces sexuality in her art and even includes imagery and references to less binary forms of sex and sexual identity. One of Nicki Minaj’s big hits of last year featured her scantily clad while singing about taking advantage of the men she slept with. It is great that these strong, independent women have been able to reach huge audiences with their brand, but it is still only a small number of them who are able to do that. Unfortunately, Peaches is one of those artists who cannot achieve the same level of success because of our current standards of a patriarch-driven industry.
“Close Up” is one of the lead singles off of Peaches’ latest album Rub. The track features a steady electronic beat and explicit lyrics that defines Peaches’ style. Unlike a lot of her previous work, this single is not particularly danceable but it is incredibly catchy. Kim Gordon, vocalist and a founder of Sonic Youth, lends her talent doing back-up vocals for the track. Her smoky presence in the repeated chorus adds an enticing allure to the song and actually improves the overall track. Without Gordon’s vocals, “Close Up” would be a fairly listenable but a footnote in Peaches’ catalogue.
I think this song is really enjoyable and engaging. It is fun. While Peaches has a lot of better songs available in her discography, this one stands out as a great collaborative effort. The song really works when considering the sum of it’s parts. Take away any aspects such as Gordon’s chorus, Peaches’ rhyming pace, or the rising synth towards the end of the track and you have a song that doesn’t work. Also, I love that Peaches enlisted the talents of Gordon. Gordon (who is still rocking out in her 60s) is the Gen-X example of an immensely talented and popular female artist who, while very popular, did not achieve the level of success she deserved. The theme almost seems to come full circle here.
Peaches is great at being a subversive artist on the fringe of success. I’m sure she may want a bigger audience and increased popularity, but I do not see that happening. However, she won’t change and that is something I find very admirable about her. Peaches’ identity and persona are her own. I find it more inspiring to see someone carry out their own realized vision than to compromise to make more money. For me, the music is even more special. I want Peaches to have a bigger audience and do arena tours. However, the music industry needs to change. The suits in power need to be more inclusive when it comes to women and the diversity of their talent. However, they alone don’t bear all of the responsibility. Audiences as well need to be more accommodating when it comes to powerful women with a voice and image that challenges our perception of what a female pop star should be. There is no one solution, and change needs to come from all parts in the pop music supply chain.