Saturday, January 24, 2009

Boy-fronted girl bands?

Those of us who like women in popular music, tend to favor listening to, well, bands that feature women musicians. Like the wonderful (and slightly misnamed, as they play pop, too) Girls Rock Radio, "...features the music of women artists, all-girl and girl-fronted bands." The same is true of Jennifer Corday's Girl Rock, or any random feminist/women-centric music blog. It's always all-girl bands, girl-fronted bands, and female solo artists.

But this makes sense, right? A male-fronted band wouldn't be much for women! I thought so, too - then I saw this:

Harmonica aside, it struck me that I had never seen a band with all female instrumentalists and a male singer before. This is interesting...

Now, there are lots of bands with a sole female singer, many bands with a 'token' (if you will) female instrumentalist, plenty (but not enough!) all-girl bands and bands with one male instrumentalist, and a very few bands with a more equal gender representation. But how many bands with a sole male singer?

Patriarchists don't mind male bands with a female singer. "She's just the singer," they say, "Anybody can sing. She's just there to look hot." (You don't often hear that about male singers, of course...) A token female is okay, too - especially if she's just the bassist. All-girl bands - well, there aren't any really popular ones, and they're not any good, anyway. But a boy-fronted girl band? That's a big, big problem! Men can't be 'just the singer'!

At least, that's the only explanation I can find for the almost complete lack of that particular band line-up!

There are a few male soloists who have, and often exploit, a female backup group, but Elvis and the Sweet Inspirations doesn't count here. And neither does this. I'm talking about a reversal of the guy-band-who-happens-to-have-a-chick-singer phenomenon - an band who's only male member is 'just the singer'.

After spending a large amount of time searching the internet and asking a number of people who know about these things, I found one reference to a defunct jazz ensemble, lots of off-one performances (like the S-K/Vedder stuff) and a grand total of three bands. And two of them may very well fall under the category of soloist+backup singer. First:

Jens Lekman, who loses points for naming the band after himself and for having all of the women dress in white, but they are standing evenly in a line, and have non-trivial horn parts, so... maybe.

Next, The World Provider, which is a very weird name for a fairly weird band:

And finally, there's Shlonk. They fit the criteria admirably:

(I'm not sure what this song is about, by the way - I doubt they actually want people to give their children guns... can somebody who not as lyric-dense as I am figure this one out?)

I suppose I should also mention Huggy Bear - near the end of their existence, their guitar player left, leaving just the male singer. Plus, I really like this song!

Any boy-fronted girl bands I have blindly overlooked? Is there some secret society that I missed? Does anybody else think that the extreme lack of such bands is odd/annoying?


Anonymous said...

There's The Cliks, one of my favorite bands. They used to be an all-queer-female band until their singer, Lucas Silveira, transitioned from female-to-male.

Brianna J said...


You'd have thought I'd have remembered The Cliks, since I just recently wrote a post about them.

Good catch and a big Oops on my part!

But I do think that they are a special case, since Lucas decided against modifying his voice - so they still sound like an all female band, while looking completely different. (Which was the point of my earlier post.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I guess they are a special case. The people who would be against a man being "just the singer" probably wouldn't consider Lucas to be a man, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to mention another explanation besides, "But a boy-fronted girl band? That's a big, big problem! Men can't be 'just the singer'!"

In a way this is actually quite closely related to that attitude, because of what it reveals about patriarchal ideals, but anyway, on to "anecdote library"...

While I was at university I was always trying to find a band to perform with, and one of my favourites (alas, they seem to have disappeared in the decade or so since I was at uni) was called "That Man There", and they were always fronted by a female singer (the musicians were a mix of genders, but the point I think will still stand). Because their regular frontwoman decided to quit, and they decided to hold auditions for a new singer. The expressly advertised for a female singer and not a male singer, and when I asked why (because I would have loved to have been in that band...) I was told, "we find male vocalists always have egos that are bigger than the band, and it never works out."

Maybe all-girl musicians find the same thing about male vocalists, and so they rarely choose to work with them as part of their band unit (obviously, if you're hired to be "just" the backing group, then fine, but if he's supposed to be a member of the band, overbearing ego not so cool).

And that ties in to the original explanation because the specifically gendered response by "That Man There" implies that patriarchal male privilege and entitlement play a role in creating the male vocalist's expectation of being "in charge". said...

Snowdrop: You may be on to something, regarding ego. To be fair, I barely know anything about music, but I could see all-girl groups being wary of the possibility that a male singer may try to "take over," whether or not that's actually the case for any given singer. A "boy-fronted girl bands" could function tenuously around the notion of ownership (and I use this word loosely, for want of a better one) of the band. Musicians may appear to be in the background or secondary as opposed to the lead singer, even if that's not the case, so any concerns band members might have about a singer taking over (either in actuality or just in terms of the band's relationship to the public) could be affected by gender and both actual and imagined gender dynamics.

williac said...

You can add Estee Louder from Columbus, Ohio to your list. They were just a local band, so not really a matter of overlooking.

me said...

Hello, came across your page here whilst googling: "male band with female vocalist dynamic" mostly with disappointing results. I was looking for how they are able to tour while keeping it professional.

But anyway, my random thought on the topic you've raised is this: assuming the population were split 50/50 male/female listeners of music, 50% of the listeners are men. I have a theory that men think that it takes (metaphorical) balls to play hard core rock. Of course the female lack of literal balls means they also lack the metaphorical ones as well, so their music must not be as good. The female vocalist is pretty and sounds good, so the men don't mind lusting after her while they merely admire the male musicians. In an all girl band the lust is there, but they either will think the music must suck because it's girls playing, or are afraid they will be shown up by a bunch of girls who play better than they, so they bash it just to play it safe. The problem herein is that if a male vocalist were backed by a female band, he had better sound really good, because the assumption will be that the music itself will suck, and most guys don't sound "pretty" like girls, who can get away with sounding pretty in a macho society without being construed as gay.

It's almost 2 in the morning so if that didn't make sense, i apologize.

God bless.