Female indie artists don't have it so good

Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches.

Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches.

The accepted wisdom, when it comes to the music industry, is that the pop charts are where women are doomed to wear skimpy, spangly outfits in a parade of AutoTuned objectification, while the independent world is where female artists are free to express themselves without fear of dodging slings of sexist rhetoric from their peers or armchair commentators.

That would be a nice fantasy were it not for the fact that, if anything, the “indie music scene” appears to be just as much of a quagmire of retrograde gender politics as its supposedly less enlightened cousins at the mega-sell end of the chart spectrum.

This week, Lorde (Ella Yelich-O’Connor) - became the first female artist to take the top spot on the Billboard Alternative Songs Chart for 17 years - specifically, since Tracy Bonham’s Mother, Mother was #1 in 1996, or the year of Lorde’s birth. That’s quite a sobering statistic for those who like to think of indie music as being somehow more civilised than pop (or, indeed, rap, which every lazy tabloid commentator must decry as a cesspit of “misogyny” once a year in order to keep their column inches).

Musician Claire Boucher aka Grimes.

Musician Claire Boucher aka Grimes.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that moving within the indie scene is simply the least-worst choice a female artist can make if she wants to avoid rampant music biz sexism, but when the long arm of the internet rape threat brigade even reaches artists who your average punter would struggle to name, the old “well, you put yourself in the public arena” stance doesn’t hold much water.


Lauren Mayberry, of hotly tipped Glaswegian group Chvrches, wrote a scathing oped for the Guardian this week in which she railed against the treatment she - as the sole female member of the band - is expected to put up with as a fact of life in the information age phase of the music biz. Some of the edited ‘highlights’ she recounts, threats that will be familiar to any woman who has dared to share an opinion online, are as bloodcurdling as they are depressingly commonplace.

“Perhaps people assume we have a team of fancy PAs who deal with our social networks for us. Maybe the men – and I'm sorry, but they are all men – sending the notifications of impending unsolicited ‘anal’ bothering don't realise it will actually be me who reads the emails – or maybe they don't care either way,” she wrote. “During this past tour, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had more than one prolonged toilet cry and a ‘Come on, get a hold of yourself, you got this’ conversation with myself in a bathroom mirror when particularly exasperated and tired out. But then, after all the sniffling had ceased, I asked myself: why should I cry about this? Why should I feel violated, uncomfortable and demeaned? Why should we all keep quiet? 

She’s not alone. Earlier in the year, Claire Boucher - better known as Grimes - posted an similarly impassioned screed on her Tumblr under the heading ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Compromise My Morals In Order To Make A Living’: “I don’t  want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m gonna have to start employing body guards because this kind of behavior is so commonplace and accepted and I’m pissed that when I express concern over my own safety it’s often ignored until people see firsthand what happens and then they apologize for not taking me seriously after the fact.”

If this is how it is in a scene where most listeners would consider themselves to be “above” contemporary pop and no doubt pride themselves on being reconstructed members of society who know about politics (“etc”), it’s tough to imagine what it must be like in other regions of the music industry. Then again, at least Motley Crue fans aren’t out there pretending to be righteous feminists. 

The soul-sucking cosmic joke in all of this is that none of these things - sexism, rape threats, being groped and catcalled - are specific to the indie music scene, or even the music scene full stop. Meme-like threats of sexual violence affect most women who dare to go online these days, directly or otherwise. But to throw our hands in the air and accept such utter rubbish as a fact of life is letting the terrorists win. Full points to Boucher and Mayberry - and every other female artist from Nicki Minaj through to Courtney Love - for sounding off about their treatment; I hope it continues and I hope whoever writes the next oped is even less polite about it.

As for what we mere mortals can do to help in the fight against sexist idiocy, the answer is simple: if you like a female artist, buy their music, attend their shows, wear their merch, help out with their online presence if you can (yes, grandma remembers the glory days of being a moderator on band forums and joining online “street teams”). It’s only through voting with our wallets and spare time that we can avoid scenarios such as there having been nearly two decades between #1 Alternative records for female artists.

We shouldn’t have to wait another 17 years for a baby girl born in 2013 to hit the top spot.