Girl Power: the Nineties Revolution in Music

11 Jan

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!


My record collection is organized by race and gender and it pains me to say that the white male section is nearly the same size as the white women, non-white women, and non-white men’s sections combined. Clearly this is not completely accurate research, but I use this example to illustrate how dominant white male influence has been on the music industry, even in the personal collection of an educated, girl-band supporting feminist. However, the largest decade reflected in my female collection is the 90s, a pivotal decade that permanently inserted the female experience into music. From Bikini Kill to Britney Spears, Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music chronicles women’s integration into and influence on music in the 1990s and reminds us of a host of revolutionary acts that are in danger of being lost on current and future generations.

Meltzer’s manuscript is a cohesive fusion of history, advocacy and personal narrative that ultimately serves to inform. The author’s investment in her subject matter is directly attended to as she inserts her own experience into the dialogue, offering a personal experience of one girl that also reflects the unique experiences of many. I was in my formative years during the 90s, ages 12-22 to be exact, and from Madonna to Hole to Tori Amos, I discovered and defined myself by my relationship to that music. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville remains one of the most influential albums of my life – required listening for every teenage girl.

Girl Power is chock full of information and the first few chapters offer an insightful history of the riot grrrl movement and the creation of female-billed music festivals. Meltzer guides her readers through a timeline that chronicles the shift from grrrl power to girl power, the former a feminist movement reflecting girls’ concerns and the latter a marketing tool employed by the music industry to capitalize on young girls’ increased consumer presence. She also offers interesting insights on the cultural implications reflected in the changing landscape of pop music, i.e. the difference between Madonna and Britney. My only critique is to suggest that the 90s also the decade to boasted a proliferation of black female artists: Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, TLC, En Vogue. Though there are brief mentions of Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, little attention is given to non-white artists or any genre outside of rock.

Meltzer closes with a call for community and collaboration, and a subtle hint towards girl made music – “When girls in their bedrooms around the world recognize they’re connected – via the internet, their experiences, their love of the same pop culture – they will see that the flaw in girl power is to fixate on the individual; real power will come when they decide to band together.”

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Marisa Meltzer
Publisher: Faber & Faber (February 2010)

Note: In the book Meltzer discussed the film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains. See this movie! It is awesome and stars Diane Lane and Laura Dern when they were teens!

Girl Power Playlist from Alicia

Silent All These Years – Tori Amos
Bitch Theme – Bratmobile
This Ain’t Pleasure – L7
Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
Drunk Butterfly – Sonic Youth
Flower – Liz Phair
Cannonball – Breeders
anonymous – Sleater Kinney
Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple
Asking For It – Hole
U.N.I.T.Y. – Queen Latifah
Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
That I Would Be Good – Alanis Morrissette
On & On – Erykah Badu

And a few video highlights from the playlist!

5 Responses to “Girl Power: the Nineties Revolution in Music”

  1. Josh Paterni 11. Jan, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    I’d be into reading this book. I really like a lot of 70’s and 80’s female vocalists, but women really ushered in a new sound in the 90’s that made the grunge / post-punk era really happen, in my opinion. I remember hearing an interview with Luscious Jackson when I was in high school, and they were talking about what they thought they brought to the table as an all-girl band–to paraphrase, they said that they weren’t interested in guitar solos or showmanship, or in false theatrics. It was the first time I heard a deliberate anti-arena rock statement from an “indie” band, and I have to say that some of the most enduring music from the 90’s, whether written and performed by men or women, adhered to that esthetic.

    I’ve never thought about organizing my cd’s/records by gender, but if I did, the later part of the zero’s would definitely be female-dominated. Most of my favorite releases last year have front women–Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, Lower Dens, Janelle Monae, Laura Gibson, Warpaint. I’d say that the majority of the bands I’ve seen live over the past few years are not “boy bands” or “girl bands,” but co-ed projects. Maybe rock has grown up a bit and gotten better for sharing stage time.

    Thanks for the Sonic Youth / Breeders videos. Kim Gordon is one of my all-time biggest crushes, and the “Cannonball” hook always makes me giddy.

  2. em 13. Jan, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” is one of the few albums that I love as much now (if not more) as I did when I first bought it (on cassette tape of course). Wish I could say the same for all the follow up albums. Sadface.

  3. alicia 15. Jan, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    @ em – I definitely resonate more with “Exile in Guyville” now, and in my twenties, than when it first came out. What I love is it’s endurance, it relates a female experience that I feel is pretty common among a lot of girls. @ josh – Excellent point about the presence of women in music in the 00’s. I love the idea that rock is growing up or the idea that gender is not as relevant to musicianship. Kim Deal and The Pixies are a huge part of that. I’ll mail you the book 🙂

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    […] to guest blog, usually once a month. This month I give a shout out to grrrl’s who rock in a review of Marisa Metzer’s new book, Girl […]

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