Some time last week I was chatting with a friend in my room, my Spotify at medium volume in the background. Little Mix’s “Black Magic” then began to play causing my friend to look up from her coffee.
“Little Mix!” I replied with a slight hair flip, proud to introduce my friend to something new. “They’re a girl group out of the UK, so cute.”
My friend pursed her lips dismissively. “Oh, I don’t listen to girl groups that much. Not my thing.”
Girl. Not your thing?
This got me thinking. The public’s general aversion to girl groups in music is nothing new. But why? It’s like saying you’re not into bands with lead vocals, a bassist and a drummer because of the structure. Surely the state of “girl group” does not define sound, image or talent, right? Yet it seems girl groups throughout music industry history lack longevity because a dark cloud labeled GIRL GROUP looms over them. I cannot accept this. I won’t let girl groups suffer under some sort of unprecedented reputation. We should like girl groups for a plethora of reasons. In fact, music needs— we need— girl groups.
If one attractive woman can sing a beautiful song, shouldn’t three, four, even five women together sound like a choir of angels? An even more basic equation: if one woman can put out a record and it go platinum, shouldn’t a group of women be able to obliterate charts and sales? It doesn’t add up. The confines of girl group success is a cultural reflection, one that won’t fully recognize the girl group as a force to be reckoned with; a feminist force they can’t handle.
The music industry works feverishly to pump out new female artists for the public to enjoy. “Sex sells” is a mantra in every record label and management team for these female stars. But we know this; we enjoy it! Our expectation for female artists is their being fun, sexual and enticing. Basically a magnified expectation of what is demanded of the everyday woman: unattainable perfection. In the business of a girl group however, the expectation becomes hazy. It is almost as if the viewers’ inability to objectify and sexualize multiple spectacles at once leaves the girl group as a sexual threat and not a pleasure. The popular 2000’s girl groups The Pussycat Dolls and Danity Kane come to mind with this notion. Sure, every man’s fantasy is a room full of women just for him. But their banded sexuality was much more conscious than it would have been in a solo act. After all, a woman should not be too aware of how desirable she is.
In the same nod towards sexism, girl groups combat contrived female competition. Media too often pits women against one another, while girl groups stand firm in the values of empowerment and lifting one another up. Aforementioned girl group Little Mix is a perfect example. Their image since their formation on the UK’s X-Factor is one based in friendship. Everything from their music videos to the individual members’ social media accounts portray a mutual respect and adoration for one another. Do all girl groups feel this way 100% of the time? Probably not. But their presence relays that women can work and thrive together without competing. Your ladies can be #winning while you are too.
Content wise, girl groups have the ultimate feminist edge to making music. Girl groups possess a certain self-awareness of their girl power that translates in their records. Groups like the famed Destiny’s Child provided track after track of feminist anthems— proclaiming their strength, weakness, independence, passion and authenticity. Countless girl group songs have echoed this confidence whether the subject is intentional or not. Ultimately, the shared emotion and swagger of the girl group elevates a song’s feminist essence.
The feminist potential of girl groups even reaches an intersectional feminist level. Diversity is a staple of girl groups. This may perhaps be the most important piece to their puzzle. Racial diversity is gravely underrepresented in the media. The most popular girl groups of the last ten years have starred women of color. This translates to more black, hispanic and other racially diverse faces gracing television screens, album and magazine covers. Stemming from this, girl groups have encouraged other types of variety in their image. As of late, noticeably different body types between group members have been celebrated. Can you believe it? A group of women endorsing themselves— each other— in body positivity.
Generally speaking, girl groups provide an overall platform for members’ individuality. A member somebody can relate to is most marketable, pressing for girl groups to have all the right components. Reference the OG girl group Spice Girls, who were quite literally stage-named after their attributes. Though all girl groups don’t recognize themselves as Sporty and Scary, each girl has their moment to shine because of herself. From the perspective of girl groups’ audiences, finding a role model within the group becomes easier. The girl groups’ image as a whole becomes a little richer when their identities shining through.
Things are looking up for girl groups. X-Factor-born Fifth Harmony is grinding in 2016. Their song “Work From Home” is unofficially the song of the summer and they are gaining notoriety with the general public. The more late-night and award show appearances the group makes proves their gaining success with middle America. Fifth Harmony is becoming level in their fame with other hot young artists in music. This is not to say they are the most famous or talented girl group in history— we mustn’t discredit the legendary The Supremes or TLC—but, like never before, it seems as though their identity as a girl group is accepted in an era that is all about self. That speaks volumes. Maybe, just maybe, a cultural affinity can be formed for girl groups the same way it has been for, say… boy bands.