I fully intended to write at least one blog about punk music in the foreseeable but other disparate thoughts about random niches of music keep seeping into my brain and compelling me to get my thoughts written down. This week, the sight of Beyoncé in an Egyptian pharaoh headdress has distracted me and got me thinking about DIVAS.
The big deal is, Beyoncé has made history as the first black female to headline annual US ‘white-privilege- fest’ that is Coachella with a two-hour set that incorporated imagery from the Black Panthers; Nefertiti and urban street chic. She donned all this whilst belting out about 20 years’ worth of hits and approx. 1000 costume changes. I’m not sure if we can say that girls do indeed run the world at this stage in the game but I think Beyoncé at least has a nominal role in the New World Cabinet. When the Third World War begins, I fully intend to sign up to Bey’s Army of Independent Women and attempt global domination deploying our most deadliest weapon- our Bootylicious jelly. No one will be ready for it- that much has been established.
Whilst reading the press coverage of this entertaining but not strictly world changing event, the predictable trope of Beyoncé haters came crawling out of the woodwork to declare her overrated/overexposed/overcompensating and make tenuous and completely irrelevant comparisons to people like Prince and David Bowie. The gist of the argument being that David Bowie is better than Beyoncé and therefore no one can praise another artist EVER unless you first put a fresh bouquet of flowers on the grave of every musical icon that is no longer with us.
This is a familiar pattern and I’ve talked about this before- this denigration of perfectly successful and talented pop artists just because they are, well….. poppy. There seems to be an obsession with people writing their own songs and playing instruments as if that in and of itself is indicative of talent. Everyone has to be a Lennon and McCartney in order for them to be accorded any respect it seems. This relies on a predictable misconception that unless you are holding a guitar, you didn’t write any of your songs thus making your contribution too contrived and manufactured for credible music fans. This is ludicrous for several reasons: many singers do co-write their own songs- Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Madonna etc. Do you know who didn’t write his own songs? Elvis Presley. Or Frank Sinatra. But you don’t often hear people moaning about them. Plus writing your own songs doesn’t necessarily make you talented (Exhibit A: Razorlight).
Female solo singers often get a very bad rap when held up against this standard. Written out of any serious discussion on music, it’s all just dismissed as superficial nonsense. This belies the true impact of the contribution to music they have made particularly in the fields of pop, R&B, hip hop, dance and country- all perfectly vital musical genres that are too easily dismissed by the credible music police.
Probably the most neglected subcategory of the female musician is that of the ‘diva’. You know who I mean- the warblers, the belters, the sequin dress wearers, the ones with a decent set of pipes. The dictionary definition of the term diva is actually a female opera singer- all pointy brassieres and horned helmets. But now, the term is more widely used to describe a female pop artist who is successful, stylish and confident but who has a tendency be demanding, spoilt and arrogant. There is clearly a sexism at play here- any woman who makes demands is labelled a diva and yet I can’t think of a male equivalent term? Obviously, some demands are just ludicrous no matter who you are- demanding a dressing room full of white lilies; only green M&Ms and a basket of puppies is probably a bit too much. However, when a woman wants to take control of her career and image and be treated with a bit of respect, she’s seen as a delusional bitch. If someone called me a diva, I’d be absolutely delighted. I’d rather be that than a pushover.
There is a definite double standard here which is not only between gender but musical genres as well. If a rock band like, say, Led Zeppelin destroy a hotel room; demand full artistic control over their output and live a life of excess, then they are lauded as true rock stars- their musical genius earning them the right to act like idiots. But if you’re Mariah Carey, then you’re just a pampered lunatic. Poor Mariah is probably the singer most widely associated with the term ‘diva’- she has a reputation for outrageous demands, hissy fits and being a bit on the unstable side. So much so that Sony Music offered her a golden handshake of $80 million just to get rid of her. Well I like her, and I don’t really get what’s so wrong with her attitude? Yes she’s living in fairyland surrounded by yes-men and cushioned by being so far removed from us peasants she might as well colonise another planet but so what? She made that money, she’s spending that money. She didn’t come from a privileged background and yet she’s now incredibly rich through her own work, persistence, determination, self-promotion and savvy business choices. When the Sex Pistols took thousands of pounds from EMI it was an act of hilarious punk rebellion. When Carey does more or less the same thing it’s a shameful indictment of the modern music industry and the excess within. Nonsense- it’s exactly the fucking same.
Whitney Houston, Madonna, Tina Turner, Taylor Swift etc.- all talented musical artists and to deny that just because you don’t like them is folly. I don’t particularly like Taylor Swift (I actually REALLY don’t like her for various reasons but I’ll save that for another blog) but to make a sweeping statement that she’s not talented in her field doesn’t make you look cool and credible it makes you look like an ignorant, bitter (and incorrect) twat. Of course she’s bloody talented, that’s why she’s so successful. You can be talented and annoying at the same time.
Although not always perfect feminist role models (who is?) divas certainly have some great qualities that I find pretty inspirational and empowering, even as someone who primarily listens to alternative music. Cher; Christina Aguilera; Aretha Franklin; Tina Turner; Celine Dion- those are some fucking hardworking, no-messing, all-conquering musical goddesses. In fact, imagine how much more fun and stress-free your life would be if you allowed some of their traits to infiltrate your everyday life?
**Feeling unappreciated at work? Channel Diana Ross and declare everyone else in the office fired and sit at your desk wearing sunglasses and demanding Dave from accounts brings you tepid lemon water.
**Not got the confidence to wear that new top because you’re worried it draws attention to your bingo wings? Go all-out-Cher and just wear some suspenders and a leather jacket and NOTHING ELSE AND GIVE NO FUCKS AT ALL.
I think we should be encouraging all young women and girls to embrace their inner diva if that means they know what they want, will work hard for it and take no shit. To that end, people like Cher are actually great role models. Can you really, truly say the same thing about Paul McCartney? He’d look bloody ridiculous in a fishnet body stocking and we all know it.
Divas- may we be them. May we know them. May we raise them.