The album Wicked Girls, by Seanan McGuire and company, has been nominated for a Hugo this year.
The work deserves the nomination.
Wicked Girls is nominated in Best Related Work. It certainly is related. These songs are the stories of women in fantasy, in fairy tale. It takes characters such as Red Riding Hood, Lily Kane, and Wendy and gives them voice.
You could argue that these women already have a voice — that we know their stories. But as the song “Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves” points out, we know their stories in a context the women did not create. Most if not all of these women were, in their original settings, playing out situations they did not set in motion, by rules they could not change, for a very limited set of rewards.
Seanan’s album would like to have a word with you about that. More to the point, the album would like to give those women, those characters, a bit of a microphone from which to explain their position in more depth.
The second song on the album, “Mama Said,” contains the line Don’t be chosen, make the choice to choose. While the narrative is — I suspect, I haven’t asked Seanan — about characters from her InCryptid series of stories, it also strikes me as a not-too-oblique comment on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
It’s my understanding that our heroic archetypes must grow and change in order to continue connecting with new generations. When Buffy came on the scene, when Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry rode around on that scooter, to have a woman be chosen for greatness, heroism, and daring was, well, daring. It was a brave choice and it spoke to thousands of people.
But as BtVS itself noticed, being chosen isn’t the same thing as making your own decisions, running your own life. Seanan rightly points out in both “Mama Says” and her InCryptid work that making your choice contains another degree of power and autonomy. Yet “The Ballad of Lily Kane” and “The True Story Here” describe situations in which the choices aren’t very good. Can power and autonomy still exist in such a choice? Can you participate in the system and remain true to your selfhood? Is abdication and refusal to play the only way through? Where does the power lie? Where can a girl be the result of her choosing?
This sort of interrogation is most certainly Hugo-Award-worthy. This is the engagement that makes our beloved fantasy and science fiction world bigger, braver, and stronger for the future. And it’s a good album, besides. Making comparisons to other artists is tricky, because not everyone likes the same things I like. But I found — and this is high compliment — that the lyrics reminded me of a sort of cross between the poetry of John M. Ford and the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Bleak and cynical and stupid-stubbornly hopeful, my favorite kind of thing.
If you haven’t heard Wicked Girls yet, I strongly recommend you go buy the album. It is a work of love, passion, and intelligent interrogation well worth your time.