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Dead Media Darlings: The Unbearable Wasting of the Fem-Rock Revolution

posted by Mel and Cameron Archer on 5/01/01

Addendum 03.28.01:

It's my profound belief that a truly bad media ploy never goes out of style--thusly, when I got a piece of mail pertaining to our ancient Lillith Faire Revolution smear article, I was nothing short of elated.

Cameron Archer, site editor for Metal Strike Force and magnificent bastard of the first order, donated his take on a few overinflated acts that we missed during our sweep. He also brings some Canadian sanity to the mix, giving another point of view at what was crashing and burning in stereo up North during our infatuation with transparent folkie acts riding Sarah MacLachlan and Alanis' coattails.

Considering the amount of shit America pumped onto CD racks during the fad, it's also safe to note that the rate of exchange between our music market and Canada's sucked something sweaty and swollen.

But enough with salty tears and spilt milk. Here's our rejuvenated look at a redheaded stepchild of the nineties infatuation with disposible music crazes.

In a musical sense, these are wonderous times in which we live. The price of fame has never been cheaper than it is in the modern starmakers' cogs, and the combination of finding fresh links to thirsty demographics and a new, broader understanding of what is commercially viable has made damn sure that we're all being battered by the dawning of the Second Coming of the One-Hit Wonder. Many would argue that the anomolie of the pop-and-fade musician never faded, but it's arguable that even the churning wheels of the company product never worked as feverish an overtime as it does now--not among the disco wasteland, not among the candy popper fluff of the eighties, not even amongst the original boy band crazes that bridged the fifties and sixties.

No, today's one-hit wonder is even more insidious a creature. Today's acts are withering before they hit the shelf and have an expiration date of pathetic dimensions, save for the occasional innovation or pioneer. Those wondering where it all began have to look no further than the awakening of the alternative label--the post-Nirvanic dark ages when confused fans needed a new fix, rap was too dangerous to handle off of pirate airwaves, and you still needed some modicum of cred to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.

It all seems so laughably archaic, now.

I could really use this space to pick on any number of disposable music crazes, but instead of ripping into something as cliche' as boy bands and assembly line hip-hop, I want to turn back the clock. I want to celebrate the annhilation of a craze that really never should have been so crassly exploited, something that met its end before its time.

I want to mock girl rock.

Yes. That's right. I want to take a moment to acknowledge and mourn those among the riot grrls and real female folkies whose cheap price tag ensured ten minutes of fame and the erosion of a genre's popularity. Because, quite frankly, the Lillith movement kicked a bit of ass. And it really didn't deserve the raw deal that it got.

But there's no use crying over spilt milk. So let this page forever serve as the final resting place for those individuals and acts that the spin doctors assured us that we COULDN'T POSSIBLY LIVE WITHOUT. For all those songs that were dead before they hit the ground, for every catchy tune that has been overplayed to the point of aural bleeding, and to those whose sale of soul to the commercial devil ensures them royalties even now..

The Schwahlings salute you!

Joan Osborne
Contributions: "God"

Obituary: A rather expendable song fueled by Catholic furor. (God bless the Church, they've made more number one hits than William Orbit with their oversensitive condemnations) Osborne's tune was catchy and acoustic, and that was all the bourgeoise needed to turn her into a monster of the airwaves--nobody seemed to care that there was an album attached to the single, and it fizzled after a year of excessive replay. Osborne is presumably living large after the fact, as her song continues to fatten her coffers thanks to the nostalgic attention paid to it by college stations and their ilk.

"Please direct all incoming trash in these trajectories!"

Meredith Brooks
Contributions: "Bitch"

Obituary: All I can say is... thank god. Brooks was your standard angry female philosophizer out to rage on the world with poignant lyrics and pronounced men-are-filthy-dogs sentiment; the only problem was that Alanis Morisette had already done it. And done it much, much better. Brooks could have been the woman who set off the craze, but instead she was relegated to the role of hammy knock-off product, a position in which she made no friends and was given free reign to run her mouth. Instead of appreciation for comparisons to the vastly superior Morisette and her Jagged Little Pill, Brooks constantly tried to assert herself as a rugged individual--a piss poor standpoint, considering that her album only sold its gold ranking due to the fact that the greater public had her confused with Alanis.

After having bottles thrown at her by South American fans while opening for the Rolling Stones (A mystery for the ages in itself), and nursing off another overhyped that went DOA, Brooks somehow came back as the living dead to appear on every episode of VH-1's Top 100 series of programming. Sharing her profound opinions with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Tina Turner, we can only wait with baited breath until whichever commercial agency head she's blowing gives her another shot at extending her 14:59:59 minutes into the new millenium.

Jane Jensen
Song: "More Than I Can"

Obituary: Hell, I remember this being announced as "the female Nine Inch Nails" on a Peterborough, ON "alternative" radio show "The Alternate Route" (pretty creative title, eh?) somewhere around 1997. The song was pretty much typical industrial-lite with female vocals, and Jane Jensen pretty much failed at her chance to make it big, despite being part of the "next big thing" girl rock zeitgeist at the time. The album was called "Comic Book Whore," and features, predictably, some shitty "comic" drawings on the cover. (And the song contains--no, is--a huge looped sample of Metallica's "The God That Failed!" SHEESH!)

(Mel's Note: Though I'd never heard of Jensen, it's enough that every site match for her through Google ends in a dead link. Viva Los Fickle Fuckers!)

Merril Brainbridge
Contributions: "Mouth"

Obituary: Horrific organ grinder synth-pop music, fairly comparable to the consistency of a steaming pile of cow shit in the snow. Bainbridge managed to destroy the crediblity of the female empowerment in music movement with her wretched muzak and cover "I Got You Babe" with rasta mossman Shaggy before being nailed into an oak box and buried. Hopefully, the grave is deep and covered with lots of rocks.

Tracy Bonham
Song: "Mother Mother"

Obituary: Ah, how can I forget this song? This is such a godawful song. Another folkie, except she uses the soft/loud dichotomy--sings the lyrics, and then the LOUD GUITARS start to play when she enters the chorus. Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

"When you sent me off to see the world
Were you scared that I might get hurt?
Would I try a little tobacco?
Would I keep on hiking up my skirt?
I'm hungry, I'm dirty, I'm losing MY MIIIND
I'm freezing, I'm starving, I'm bleeding to DEATH!

I mean, the song's really FUNNY! The anger's incredibly fake, the lyrics are just STUPID, and the song sounds like every other grunge song--with Bonham's screaming. Incredible cheese from the 1990's.

Tracy Chapman
Contributions: "Gimme One Reason"

Obituary: In every war, there are casualties who simply didn't deserve the hand they were dealt. Poor victims who were simply on the wrong flight, the wrong landing boat, stepping through the wrong field--promising young souls and eyes who left us too soon. There were many who came and went during the Ovarian Wars of the Mid-Nineties, but Tracy Chapman didn't deserve what she got.

A talented blueswoman whose self-titled album had actually made a dent on charts with "Fast Car" some years earlier, Chapman was quickly strapped to a rocket during the furious effort to capitalize on the womyn music craze and shot out of the nearest cannon. The results weren't pretty. Chapman shared footing on Lillith along with fellow meat popsicles Luscious Jackson and Sixpence None the Richer, tauted as a fresh new female rocker face before being shoved onto the discard pile with the degeneration of interest. Tracy may rise from the dead, as she's certainly a more original talent than many of the scabs listed here--hopefully, her next album will lift her from these cold grounds and return her to the land of sunshine and easy come, where she belongs.

Bif Naked (later, just Bif)
Songs: "Daddy's Getting Married," "Spaceman"
Obituary: Sigh. WBER tried to give this a push, but Bif is a Canadian artist. I don't know how exactly she fits in the "girl rock" scheme of things, but she had modest success with her two pop songs--before shortening her name, releasing a spoken-word CD, and trying desperately to break out of that disposable-pop mold that Canadian radio made for her. Obviously, she failed.

(Mel's Note: Bif finally enjoyed the vaunted American MTV overkill in the summer of '99, pushed as sort of an evil Gwen Stefani on TRL and such. Unfortunately, her staying power was as poor as her complexion in an overlit closeup, and she's since vanished into the rear forty with the dead grass and foxtails.)

Nikki French
Contributions: "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

Obituary: Covered Bonnie Tyler's superior song with a cheesy and peppy dance hit. Embarassed a generation. Suckled on the teat of the Lillith forces long enough to get mentioned on an episode of MTV News in the same sentence as Sarah McLachlan, then thankfully vanished.

Paula Cole
Contributions: "I Don't Want to Wait" "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"

Obituary: Oh, boy. This is a tough stone to embellish. What the world didn't know before Cole exploded into the midst of the Ovarian Revolution is that she was coming off of an amazing turn replacing Sinead O'Connor in Peter Gabriel's phenomenal Secret World Live tour as a backup singer. She had the backing of a great producer, she had an incredible album in This Fire, and she had proven herself to have the performance art chops of a pro.

What could have possibly destroyed such promise?

The answer is, basically everything. When Paula arrived on the national scene with her arm linked firmly through that of songstress Sarah McLachlan, the company goons were waiting with sharpened scalpels. In as long as it took for the Lillith Fair to come and go, they had bled the vital sounds of This Fire for everything from Dawson's Creek to ads for perfume, leaving nothing left of the woman behind the music save for the trite buzzing of the fashion gnats on Rodeo over her unshaven armpits. Paula's agreement to sell her songs ostracized her fans--she struck flint off of teenyboppers looking to lip synch every time they tuned in to drool over the cromagnon features of James Van Der Beek, but pissed off her diehards and the anti-popular crowd in the process. The end result was the fickle moving onto the next big thing, while the loyal felt abused enough to go back to their Tori Amos and Dar Williams records. It didn't help that Paula's third album, "Amen", was a piece of overproduced and shined-up toilet stuffing that earned a place in history as one of the most commercially disappointing followups to a smash album -ever-. We are as proud to have her within the sanctified gates of our shrine here as we are sad--but we will rejoice in the knowledge that she has more money than Rockefeller X. Christ, and really doesn't need our pity or our adoration.

Mopiness + Tattoos - Full frame focus = Credibility

Holly McNarland
Song: "Elmo"

Obituary: See Tracy Bonham, and add the fact that Holly came out with a live album after her debut album came out. Apparently, she realized that the "girl rock" trend was going to end and decided to cash in before she became a shitstain on the Canadian alternative-radio circuit.

(Mel's Note: I did some research on this McNarland, and found that Cameron couldn't be more wrong about her musical pedigree. This site says she's "Grrl Rock at It's Finest".. with modesty like that, who the hell needs fans?)

Contributions: "Who Will Save Your Soul?"

Obituary: Aw, Jewel. Did you know that she grew up in the untamed wilds of Alaska? Did you know that she actually LIVED IN A FUCKING VAN BEFORE SHE BECAME A MULTIMILLIONARE? Did you know that she WRITES POETRY?

The press had a field day with the folkie sensation, bleeding her life's story to the world as if it were a publicity junket. Before you could wonder who would save your soul, we knew the snaggletoothed waif as if she were our best friend--her incredible tribulations and adventures in the Alaskan outback that would make Balto squeamish. Given to the masterful hands of those manning the controls of the information feeding trough, even the lamest details of Jewel's life became sensational--never mind that your average starving Los Angeles band usually does a few nights' sleep at a bus stop while waiting for success that will never come, we now had a plucky little child of nature who had fought TOOTH AND FUCKING NAIL to arrive where she had. She lived in a VAN, for god's sake. In Alaska. It's cold up there, you fools! Can you grasp that?

The press expected us to be astounded, and some twenty-three platinum albums later, we certainly were. So much so that we sorta forgot to notice that save for a few choice bits of folkie chum that wouldn't make Joni Mitchell's triple-d side bootleg, her record sucked. It sucked to the point that now, five years after the fact, we still know her for ONE GODDAMN SONG. And the fact that she can yodel. The impulse of Hollywood to love a safe freak can't be undermined, and while Jewel the "brilliant songwriter and musician from the wilds of the untamed wilderness" can be safely buried here, rest assured that she'll continue to annoy us with her other endeavors until such a time when her novelty has worn off. Come back in about three months.

Willem Dafoe in a role that will shock you

Natalie Imbruglia
Contributions: "Torn"

Obituary: With the lips of Mick Jagger, the lip-synching ability of a drunken Japanese businessman on the kareoke mic and the staying power of a thirteen-year-old boy, she came. In typical American genius, Madison Avenue inflated her Australian roots while shoving her flimsy victimized girly-girl ballad down our throats--Natalie's big, fat head was a tantamount part of the top ten countdown for longer than I'd ever like to discuss, lukewarming the airwaves with her matchstick body and tantrum body language in tow. Thankfully, the public eventually came to realize that comparisons to Kylie Minogue aren't exactly the sturdiest foundations for a credible career in music, and poor little Natalie was stuffed down the cornhole before you could wonder why you cared in the first place.

Chantal Krevaziuk
Song: "Leaving on a Jet Plane"

Obituary: That's right. Chantal was originally sold as a part of the "girl rock" community, and they released her album three times--THREE TIMES!--before it caught on. Her hit, then, becomes a cover of the John Denver/Joni Mitchell classic. And, of course, it sucks. Really, I'm happy that Chantal finally found stardom eventually, but trust me on this when I say that "Under These Rocks and Stones" took an incredibly long time to get off the ground, here in Canada. It's funny, she's now touring with the Barenaked Ladies, but it took three launches (and three separate covers) to allow her to make it big in Canada! Weird, no?

(Mel's Note: In an ironic twist, the same thing happened with Macy Gray in the States throughout the cranking of '99 and Y2K. She finally caught on after ZERO response to "I Try" for its first two debuts, and now has fucking Grammy credibility to show for it. Weird, yes.)

Sixpence None the Richer
Contributions: "Kiss Me"

Obituary: Godawful coffeehouse-grade rock. Sixpence managed to muscle its way into the weakened lineup of a fading Lillith tour, and was quickly picked up and added to VH-1's roster of talentless bands too lame to make an impression on MTV's viewer pool. To show their gratitude, Sixpence needlessly covered (and thoroughly raped) the theme from Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Hearing a warbling girl with the vocal integrity of a hummingbird sing "The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote/Stink/Stank/Stunk" is much like eating an oleander salad. For many of those in our care, simple resting in peace is enough, but here is a rare hope that Sixpence may burn in hell.

Alanna Davis
Contributions: "32 Flavors"


The Doctrine of Discretion in Aspiration to Musical Success
Book Three
Article Fourteen
Chapter Two

1: Thou shalt not cover Ani DiFranco before such a time when Ani needs the money from licensing and royalties.

'Nuff said.

Songs: "Doll Parts," "Violet," "Celebrity Skin"

C'mon. You know Hole needs to be up here. Courtney Love-Cobain is almost as calculated as Fiona Apple, for chrissake.

(Mel's Note: It's my philosophy that Ms. Love-Cobain lives on her own level of embarassment, but Hole's disintigration due to her increased effort to get over as an acting diva is definitely worth a one-way ticket to the maggot feast.)

Contributions: "Johnny (Angry Johnny)"

Obituary: Oh, Poe. How could we forget your grrlish agonies and Gwen Stefani airwave manner? Pretty damn easily, as it turns out. Poe's "Johnny" hit paydirt in its reliant "kill the man and the problem will die" sentiment, tapping into the verve vein of the moment. Critics shamelessly likened her to Johnette Napalotino (On the basis that Johnette had, among her brilliant career, also threatened to castrate and kill a male animal on a few occasions), forgetting in their cute haste to get those articles to Spin that Poe, for all intents and purposes, had no soul to call her own. "Johnny" would have tanked in any other musical tidepool and pretty much did--one is hard-pressed to forget her performance at KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas. The electric buzz as she took to the stage, the eyes of the world on her as she adjusted her microphone stand, and the dawning of collective horror as she began to sing.

Poe proved a lot of things that night. That she hits notes like Big Shaq downs freethrows, that she bends the will of nearby dogs to her call of her caterwauling, and that she suckled hairy donkey nuts live. The crowd of alternative screwheads in attendance actually set THEMSELVES a trend, vowing to despise poor Poe until such a time that she was dumped from the spotlight. The rest of the world scrambled to follow suit, and Poe was finished before the waves of the Womyn Rawk Revolution had drawn back.

Leah Andrioni
Contributions: "It's Alright, It's Okay (Welcome to this Life)"

Obituary: Thank you to Mr. Boehm for his help on recalling this eminently forgettable one-hit wonder. I don't recall Leah doing anything but strafing the artsy-cuddly alterna-rock stations with her awful vocal wheedling as a filler portion of the craze before vanishing into the knothole from which she was pulled, prepped, and paid for. In a graveyard of commercially murdered giants, Leah gets the shoebox and the dandelion patch near the back.

Donna Lewis
Contributions: "I Love You (Always Forever)"

Obituary: Donna was actually a harmless MIA of the trend. Her hit was candied and lacked any kind of strangling social commentary on the war of the sexes, but her music was packaged, sold, and expired along with the rest of the fem-rock cattle. It is worth noting that Lewis never once opened her mouth to declare her brilliance, the zeitgeist state of their musical evolutions, or tried to be anything more than what her music was--cute. For that, we cannot thank her enough.

Fiona Apple
Contributions: "Shadowboxing" "Criminal"

Obituary: Every now and then, a musician and songwriter comes along that makes you cringe--not because of the gravity of their expression, but rather due to the fact that behind good music is an obnoxious person who will forever taint their ability by doing stupid, stupid things.

Ladies and gentlemen, Fiona Apple.

With her Doc Marten beats, imaginative piano stylings and nicotine cool lyrics, Apple was a breath of fresh air on the forefront of the Womyn Rawk Movement. She lacked any kind of real singing chops, but it didn't matter; her songs were produced watertight and they made you listen. In a time when Tori Amos was busy adding a Ukranian Harpsichord and Casio Keyboard to what was once simple, emotional music, Apple offered an alternative.

And then she started talking. And boy, did she talk. Fiona didn't mind sticking her foot in her mouth, to the point where every goddamn time she popped up on television, you just HAD to watch to see what she'd do next. It was like the kindling for a fantastic drinking game. Fiona disses the media that she's granting an audience to, one sip. Fiona goes into how hard her life has been, giving little thought to the fact that Tori Amos turned her own traumatic rape into a healing process for other victims--no, Fiona kvetches and we should feel sorry for her. So we get two sips. Then Fiona rankles about how laughable fame is while her album goes quintuple-platinum, trying to maintain her suicidal credibility through the MTV movie awards and the Grammies. Hell, if Fiona ever said something nice or insightful about anyone ever than Fiona, you could down the bottle and put a steel-jacketed .44 slug through your television.. the world would be over in moments anyway.

Following her clodhopping through the very same starfucking channels that were making sure we knew what breakfast cereal she puked into the porcelain god every morning, it got to the sad point where people were more into Apple's dumb antics than her music, and she became expendable to Madison Avenue.

When we last saw Fiona, she had done something 'cool' and 'artsy' by creating a seventy-eight word title for her followup album to Tidal. When the title track flubbed, the only thing we had to fall back onto was laughing at her groaningly bad response to Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar snub and the fact that she was forgetting her own lyrics during live shows.

Her talent is worth mourning. But look at it this way--how many self-important sadsacks do YOU know with a nine-digit bankroll? At least Fiona groundblazed one aspect of Womyn's Rawk: Proof positive that you can be rich AND annoying at the same time.

That's it for now. Cameron Archer's inspired rants can be fielded at Metal Strike Force on a semi-reliable basis, and comes highly recommended by the Schwahlings and the Damn Hauser Kids as quality reading material. Or, drop him a line and a flame here.


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