‘She Bop: 25th Anniversary Edition’ reviewed

❉ This book’s strength is all the different womens’ voices in music, roaring with the passion to be heard.

When She Bop arrived back in 1995 it was a boon for all the riot grrls, faded Romantiks and ex-punks who wanted to share their own stories and learn a little bit more about the women who had come before them. The story of women in all the arts is erased over and over. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was not forgotten, she was erased.

Every stride forward that women take in the music business comes with a weight of hostility and ridicule. Women are encouraged to turn on one another, pushing the illusion that there are a limited number of spaces ‘allowed’ for them. When the late lamented Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered when there would be enough women on the US Supreme Court, people were flummoxed by her response that it would be when all of them were women. ‘But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.’ There is room for all the women artists, even the ones you don’t like.

Lucy O’Brien has the props: once a member of the band The Catholic Girls, more recently she co-wrote Skin’s autobiography It Takes Blood and Guts. She has knowledge and incredible enthusiasm. The strength of the book, both originally and in this newly revamped 25th anniversary edition, is all the different voices of the women in music. Opinionated, bold, cold, savvy or innocent, they roar with the passion to be heard.

Their voices are shouted over, sidelined and ignored by the industry, the press and many recording artists but developing digital technologies and social media platforms make it easier than ever to bypass the antiquated music business sexism and reach out directly to their audiences. As O’Brien writes, ‘Each decade, female artists have found ways to negotiate networks of power in the music industry, sometimes resisting and innovating, sometimes employing and enjoying the strategies for pop success.’

LUCY O’BRIEN (Jawbone)

The updated version offers new voices and new perspectives. There is a little more diversity included, and a bit more of a global perspective now that more artists can reach the world directly through YouTube and Instagram. The completely new final chapter deals with trans and gender fluid performers who can be marginalised by the gender binary, artists like Anonhi and the influential producer Arca. The chapter deals as well with the growing power of the #MeToo movement within the industry including notable cases like Kesha and the birth of the Times Up organization to provide funds for legal defence in #MeToo cases.

Just as She Bop required 2002’s She Bop II, there is always going to be a need for more written about women in music. As O’Brien notes, much of the lag in appreciation for the work of women in music is a lack of critical and academic coverage. That slowly seems to be changing. May this new edition—with its iconic pop art cover and bracketed by evocative art by Gina Birch—launch as many female music critics and academics as the original book launched bands.

❉ ‘She Bop: The Definitive History Of Women In Popular Music (Revised And Updated 25th Anniversary Edition’) by Lucy O’Brien. Published by Jawbone Press, November 10th, 2020. Format: 424pp paperback. ISBN 9781911036678. Price $22.95 USA / $29.95 CAN / £14.95 UK. Ebook available from Amazon and Apple Books.

❉ K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of White Rabbit, A Cut-Throat Business, Lush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, À la Mort Subite, The Claddagh Icon, Chastity Flame, Pelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and Unikirja, as well as editor of Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and the forthcoming Drag Noir. With cartoonist Elena Steier she created the occult detective comic Jane Quiet. Her bibliography is chock full of short stories, humor pieces, plays and essays, both scholarly and popular. She spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Galway, Ireland where she was a Fulbright Fellow in digital humanities at NUIG. Dr. Laity has written on popular culture and social media for Ms., The Spectator and BitchBuzz, and teaches medieval literature, film, gender studies, New Media and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose. She divides her time between upstate New York and Dundee.

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