Taylor Momsen has me thinking about sexism in rock and metal.
You could argue that Momsen’s band, The Pretty Reckless, isn’t metal. Musically, the band is probably more heavy goth than quote-unquote metal, but it’s heavier than a lot of “metal-metal” on the market. If Momsen bellowed rather than sang, The Pretty Reckless — in their heaviest moments — wouldn’t be much different from Nickelback, or a slightly lighter Slipknot.
The Pretty Reckless is decent enough in terms of music … but jesus, this band makes me uncomfortable in the way they flaunt Momsen’s barely-legal sexuality.
Take the band’s video for “Make Me Wanna Die.” The song itself is OK — it’s much like Garbage, just heavier and not quite as emotional or witty … but the video is pretty much just one long shot of Momsen walking along, pulling off her clothes one by one in an angry striptease of sorts. By the end, Momsen is staggering through the streets in a bra, panties, fishnets and high heels, racoon makeup smeared around her eyes, looking like nothing so much as a girl who was just sexually assaulted and dumped on the sidewalk on prom night.
The “prom night” reference is intentional; According to Wikipedia, Momsen was born in July, 1993 — which makes her, as of this writing, 17 years old.
If you wanna watch the video, I’m not gonna say you shouldn’t. You can find the video here. I’d caution you, however, the video is borderline NSFW.
Momsen also did a stint on the cover of Revolver Magazine, as the star of the mag’s 2011 “hottest chicks in metal” issue. Without bothering to look up the photo again, I recall Momsen wasn’t wearing much more than a bullet belt. That pic probably sold a lot of copies of Revolver, the way her striptease for “Make Me Wanna Die” probably moved a quite a few copies of the band’s album for Interscope Records.
And face it, music is a business — so, to the marketing department, the end justifies the means if sales are generated. I’m guessing money was made and The Pretty Reckless sold a few more records by flashing Momsen’s goodies then they would have otherwise, so everyone’s happy, right?
Everyone, except perhaps, for female fans. Yes, we should care about that.
This kind of “T&A” marketing sends a broad message about metal — to the general public, and to young female metal fans, and that message isn’t positive.
You can’t blame Momsen, really: Again, wikipedia (thanks, wiki) tells me Momsen landed a modeling contract at age 14, so let’s all just agree several years in that business probably messed up her thinking good and proper. After all, the fashion industry makes its money by putting starving teen waifs in skimpy clothes and parading them about as the epitome of female sexuality every single day. Momsen was reduced to an object years ago by the fashion industry; she’s just capitalizing on it now to sell her music.
The metal bands of the 1980s were certainly no better in their portrayals of women. Perhaps they were just copy-catting the “you need coolin’ and baby I ain’t foolin'” template Led Zeppelin created in 1970 or whenever, but the “hair bands” did their utmost to reduce women to interchangeable blow-up dolls, with videos full of scantily-clad women, sometimes being sprayed with water (Warrant) gyrating on the hoods of cars (Whitesnake) or swinging on poles (Motley Crue).
Death metal, initially, wasn’t interested in courting a female audience — and even bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Megadeth, while never actively excluding women, didn’t have broad female appeal in their early days.
For Metallica, women probably started coming out in droves with the “Black Album,” which was more accessible and showed the band’s more emotional and … er … softer side. Black Metal, strangely, also helped create female metal fans, by being both more intricate than traditional metal and by being utterly disinterested in he-man, macho chest beating.
We also have to credit “Nu-Metal” for the increase in female metal fans. No, I’m not a fan … but the Nu-Metal bands sang about things they thought and felt, rather than how they wanted every last groupie to bang them in the back of the bus. Lyrically, Nu-Metal was serious music, so it’s not hard to see how a girl who liked Staind or Korn could graduate to Opeth, Enslaved, Lamb Of God, Mastodon or even Black Sabbath.
Today’s metal, at least the stuff I’m hearing, isn’t very interested in sexist stereotyping. The sexism, mostly, seems to come from the record labels’ marketing departments.
Take In This Moment, a not-too-bad band who are lamentably best-known for the way singer Maria Brink’s breasts are up-front and prominent in every single band photo. The same is true for Lacuna Coil, a so-so goth-metal band that absolutely no one would know about if Century Media and Revolver weren’t hell-bent on putting vocalist Cristina Scabbia’s image in every magazine photo spread imaginable, in varying degrees of undress.
There’s also Marta from Bleeding Through, those sisters in that band that are always posed like they’re about to kiss each other (although I hope like hell they don’t), the entire “Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock” tour, Kat Von D (who we somehow got saddled with, even though she’s not in a band) and pretty much everything female-related that Revolver Magazine touches. It’s a mans-mans-mans-mans metal world, baby, full of pictures and videos of sleazy groupie stereotypes.
Which is something you really don’t want marketed to your daughter, is it?
I know what you’re thinking. “So what? Everything else is marketed the same way, from beer to cars to hair products. Pop music uses sex appeal to sell its stars every day; so what if metal records labels do the same thing?”
The problem is this: Metal is not mass-market. It’s not pop music, hair products, cars, beers or anything meant to be consumed by the mass audience. It’s niche music for, more often than not, people who see themselves as the less-than-“beautiful” and less-than-“perfect” … or, at least, for those who want something other than what is spoon-fed to them by mainstream pop culture and music.
Girls who listen to metal shouldn’t be to subjected to beer commercial/Maxim Magazine stereotypes of women. They get that crap from every other aspect of culture; metal should be a place where female fans can escape those images — the way metal is a place where male fans can escape the mendacity of daily life. Metal is about solidarity, about bonding with the person next to you over the music and nothing else but the music.
Sure, I like a beautiful woman as much as any other man … and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate seeing attractive girls at concerts (strangely, a pretty girl in jeans and an Iron Maiden T-shirt is very compelling …). But marketing sexist, groupie images of women only alienates women who might potentially find something of value in metal.
As a woman, Momsen probably wants women and girls to identify with her music. While I’m not suggesting Momsen wear a burka, I think she would win over more female fans by not dressing (or undressing) up as “Backstage Barbie.”