Women agency playlist

I could, I suppose, cut this playlist down further. But I didn’t see a reason to do so. I mean, I started with over one hundred and fifty songs in contention.

The playlist has some obvious lacks and faults. Not enough women of color. Not enough songs by women who are not from the U.S. I’m missing some major, important, icons and songs — there’s no Madonna, for instance, no Lauper, and not enough country music. Country music is awash in amazing songs about female agency, I just don’t happen to know enough about the music to pick some out.

I loosely grouped the songs into sections, sort of kind of thematically. In my head, the whole playlist is not about a specific single female character. But it is, sort of, about the nature of being one kind of woman. The sections are titled in that character’s voice. (Songs are listed in the format “song title — band name”.)

1. I’m tough, amazing, and possibly dangerous. You certainly don’t want to mess with me.

TKO — Le Tigre
Heads Will Roll — Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Consider This — Anna Nalick
I Like Playing With Fire — The Runaways
Rockstar 101 — Rihanna
One Beat — Sleater- Kinney
Paper Planes — M.I.A.
People Got a Lot of Nerve — Neko Case
UNITE! — Hamasaki Ayumi

2. And these other women, that I’m singing about here? They are also amazing, and fascinating, and I can’t stop thinking about them.

Karen By Night — Jill Sobule
Gloria — Patti Smith
Rebel Girl — Bikini Kill
Once And Never Again — The Long Blondes
Caroline — Concrete Blondes
Gloria — Laura Branigan
Maria — Blondie
Crimson and Clover — Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
All The Things She Said — t.A.T.u.

3. When I set my eye on who I want, I don’t stay quiet about it. If I want you, I tell you.

Call Me — Blondie
Connection — Elastica
See You Again — Miley Cyrus
Heard It Through the Grapevine — The Slits
Long Shot — Kelly Clarkson
Piece of My Heart — Janis Joplin
Take it Off — The Donnas
When You’re Good to Mama — Queen Latifah
I Touch Myself — The DiVinyls
Because the Night — Patti Smith

4. Sometimes, though, you don’t want me back. Or it’s more complicated than that. And that hurts. Sometimes it’s you that’s hurt me, and I can’t feel anything but anger.

Insomniatic — Aly & A.J.
Girlfriend — Avril Lavigne
Love is a Battlefield — Pat Benetar
Why Can’t I? — Liz Phair
Telephone — Lady Gaga w/ Beyonce
Criminal — Fiona Apple
Like the Way I Do — Melissa Etheridge
You Oughta Know — Alanis Morrisette

5. It’s the world, sometimes, that just sucks. That hurts. And the choices I make to get through that sucky world may be bad choices, but they are still mine.

Celebrity Skin — Hole
Just a Girl — No Doubt
Queen of Apology — The Sounds
Like O, Like H — Tegan and Sara
Pretend We’re Dead — L7
The Moneymaker — Rilo Kiley
Down by the Water — PJ Harvey

6. They are still my choices, it is still my life.

When I Grow Up — Garbage
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) — Florence and the Machine
Control — Poe
Fighter — Christina Aguilera

7. And I am and I do what I please.

Sweet About Me — Gabriella Cilmi
Gimme Sympathy — Metric
People We Want — Kenickie
L.E.S. Artistes — Santigold
So What — Pink
Goodbye to You — The Veronicas
Barracuda — Heart
Xxxo — M.I.A.

8. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating me.

I Live for the Day — Lindsey Lohan
Piece of Me — Britney Spears
Tougher Than the Rest — Emmylou Harris
Bad Reputation — Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Fingerprints — Katy Perry
Respect — Aretha Franklin
I’m Ready — DJ Rap
Invincible — Pat Benetar
Let the Flames Begin — Paramore
Wild — Poe
Because I’m Awesome — The Dollyrots

9. Because when all of this is said and done, I am still tough, amazing, and possibly dangerous. if that’s what you’re up for, come along.

I Walk the Earth — Voice of the Beehive
Evolution — Hamasaki Ayumi
Dance This Mess Around — The B-52’s
I Will Survive — Gloria Gaynor
Pull Shapes — The Pipettes
We Got the Beat — The Go-Go’s

Playlist of agency

So I was talking on Twitter yesterday about making a playlist of music featuring or about kick-ass women. I’ve figured out what I meant, more or less, and am working on refining the list even as I type this. Here, then, are my thoughts so far.

What the heck do I mean by kick-ass women music playlist? It’s a good question. First of all, do I mean the female artists or the narrative characters in the song? Does the music have to be performed by women? Written by women? Can male artists be involved? These basic questions led me to figure out that I wanted music about the female narrative character in the songs. This meant I needed a female vocalist — that’s how I hear the narrator, in the singer’s voice.

Caroline pointed out that “kick-ass” could mean angry. That wasn’t exactly what I meant, though anger was certainly welcome. I wanted, I realized, songs about female agency. Songs in which, regardless of what the MacGuffin of the song was, women sang about their lives and their selfhood. Songs that featured “I” in the lyrics.

This leads to further questions, though, and those are the questions I am currently pondering. For instance, are songs about addiction songs about female agency? The Sounds’ “Queen of Apology” is one of my favorite songs ever, yet it is a laud to the narrator’s helplessness. Caroline again pointed out that there is a long tradition in blues of reasserting one’s power over negative circumstances through the vehicle of singing about said circumstances. That the standing on stage or in a recording booth and singing “now you’ve got me on my knees / this will be the death of me” is an act of agency. I think I agree.

What about, then, songs treating relationships as addictions? “#1 Crush” by Garbage is a good example of this.

I would die for you
I would kill for you
I will steal for you
I’d do time for you
I would wait for you
I’d make room for you
I’d sail ships for you
To be close to you
To be a part of you
‘Cause I believe in you
I believe in you
I would die for you.

Where’s the agency in that? Well, I rather think it’s there. The freedom to control one’s self and life includes the freedom to make poor choices, to hold to damaging beliefs. If the narrator of that song wants to devote her life and breath to the object of the song, that’s her call. (And that’s leaving aside what part of all of Garbage’s ouvre is ironic or sarcastic. I wouldn’t swear to the sincerity of any of Shirley Manson’s songs, except “The trick is to keep breathing.”) Besides — whoever this narrator is, I expect that the crush will fade as all crushes do, and she’ll move on in time.

Which leads to breakup songs. These are in the list, I think. But I am making a personal aesthetic choice against songs that express sadness and grief in, well, sad terms. I favor songs that express those emotions through anger, sarcasm, and humor.

I’m trying to include songs that have women thinking about or singing about other women. So I’ve got Blondie’s “Maria,” (which I will always assert is West Side Story fanfic,) Jill Sobule’s “Karen by Night,” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” and Patti Smith’s “Gloria.” (And if anyone can tell me what the Branigan song is about, please do. Explanations via fanfic are always welcome.) I sort of think of these as songs that pass the Bechdel test, songs that treat all the women as actors in their own right.

And then there are all the other songs, including the vast number whose meaning I can’t fathom — mostly because I don’t understand the lyrics and haven’t looked them up. But they are united by a tempo, a speed of the beat. They are united by the women’s voices singing them. And they are united by their expression of the lives of women. “Gigantic” by The Pixies. “Glass Ceiling” by Metric. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.. “Punka” by Kenickie. It goes on. At this moment the list has 133 songs in it. When I get this down to a manageable number, I’ll post the final result.