2014: The Year of the Girl Band Revival

Little Mix Salute

By Gretchen Kast

Sitting in my apartment this past New Year’s, I tried to think about what sort of exciting things 2014 would bring about. Growth? Maturity? Important milestones? I’ve never been good with declarative personal aspirations or strict resolutions, so instead of making any, I decided that my only prediction for the year was that 2014 is going to be the year of the girl band. And I’m sticking to that.

Most every decade has their own iteration: from the Shangri-La’s to the Go-Go’s to Hole. Coming of age in the early 2000’s meant that my childhood marked the last girl band revival. We had TLC, En Vogue, the Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, and about a million others (sadly) less immortalized.

And as a kid, I fucking loved girl bands. I also loved painting my nails and wearing lime green platform sneakers and riding bikes with my brother and listening to “NOW! That’s What I Call Music” and beating the boys at Capture the Flag. My favorite book at school was an overview of cool women in history. I scribbled stories in diaries with “GIRL POWER” emblazoned on the front. And none of that seemed at odds with one another. “Girl power” was cool.

But as I got older, these sort of outspoken declarations began to burn out. Even with the rise of “poptimism” and strong female role models, the girl band model pretty much fell out of vogue after Destiny’s Child disbanded in 2006. (Though, I should note, this hasn’t been the case in other parts of the world, especially within K-Pop/J-Pop.) Female solo artists have thrived over the last 10 years, but the only girl group that seemed to enjoy much success in the later part of the last decade was the Pussycat Dolls (and, to a lesser extent I guess, Danity Kane). It seems that interest in girls groups fluctuates over time–while male artists of all genres are constant, as solo artists and as bands. And perhaps there’s something to be said about how the representation of women in music reflects representation of women in general.

The ongoing stigma surrounding that which is seen as predominantly “for girls” has been perpetuated by men and women alike. Everything from make-up to the Lilith Fair to Twilight has been deemed, at some point, “silly” or “frivolous” by the general public—the sheer number of fans or generated sales revenue or just overall recognition is somehow of no matter when it comes to “girl stuff”. Just look at how the media describes the crowd at a One Direction concert versus the crowd at a college football game. Only one of them is deemed “crazy” and it’s not fanatic group of dudes with their chests painted at 10 in the morning. Girls have been encouraged to like things that have been seen as traditionally “masculine”, in a way that boys have not been towards things deemed “feminine”.

But there seems to be a cultural shift afoot. Within the past year, “feminism” has become more and more of a hot button conversation topic. Though I don’t necessarily agree with every argument that was debated, it’s exciting to see more and more women move to the forefront of the media landscape.

Which brings me back to girl bands. Their very structure inherently promotes “girl power”: from the camaraderie of multi-part harmonies or choreographed dance moves, to women song-writers telling women’s stories. And at this moment in time, there are a TON of different groups out there, each with their own look and sound. They span genres and age groups and countries. Which means there is a multitude of different women to look up to.

As a concept, girl bands seem to counteract one of the biggest criticisms of feminism today: its exclusivity. Certain women (often white, well-off women) are able to break through gender barriers–and they’re held up on pedestals as examples of “this is how a feminist should be”, without taking into account the fact that many women may not want or be able to make those same choices. At some point, our concept of feminism became less and less about supporting and encouraging one another and more about individuals getting ahead. Which is why girl groups are so exciting to me–they’re the pop-cultural embodiment of female solidarity. They’re as inclusionary as they are fun.

Because more than anything, I want 2014 to be the year of the girl band so that young girls can grow up with them. In the grand scheme of issues our world is facing, there are a million of other more significant causes I’d rather see actualized this year. But I also just kind of hope that girls are listening to songs that tell them that they are strong and important, that they can choreograph elaborate dance routines to together, that they too can be respected musicians.

And so without further rambling, let’s celebrate the girl band revival of 2014.

Little Mix // Salute

Little Mix are getting my top billing as reigning girl band supreme–not because there’s any real hierarchy going on here, but solely because I think they are teetering on the edge of total mainstream popularity right now. They’re today’s answer to the Spice Girls. Often positioned as the female version of One Direction (they too were put together on the UK version of the X Factor), they have the support of Simon Cowell and millions of screaming fans on Tumblr behind them—but their sophomore album really showcased their unique talent and a really keen sense of self. Taken as a whole, the four girls (Jade, Jesy, Leigh-Ann and Perrie) tackle each song with ease, effortlessly blending classic harmonies and top-40 production and old-school R&B. (Just listen to the song “Boy” for this full range: a startlingly clear a capalla intro, an “Are You That Somebody”-inspired beat, a chorus pleasantly reminiscent to Dream’s 2001 song “He Loves U Not”).

Little Mix are like a ragtag crew of “cool older sisters”. Not necessarily “role models”, but someone to look up to nonetheless, who’ve been in your situation before and want to help you get through it too. It’s really of no matter that all four members are actually, technically, younger than me. I still feel it (it’s probably got something to do with those latent early-90’s vibes that transports me back to those feelings of being young).

As a band, they have seemingly taken their position (of fame and influence, in certain circles) very seriously. And I don’t mean they’re serious–far from it. I mean, this is a verifiable girl power album: it’s encouraging and inspiring and fun. Any other platform would render such empowering maxims cheesy–but there’s something about pop music that transcends the cliché. It takes what could perhaps feel flat elsewhere, and reinvigorates it, stirs the emotions you were sure had hardened over the years.

Salute opens with a siren. It’s a call to arms disguised as a pop song–but one that, admittedly, lacks specifics when it comes to a mission statement. There seems to be no agenda beyond “we’re strong and you’re strong and we want all of us to band together.” And I kind of like that, actually. Because I think it’s exactly the sort of message we need right now. Meaning, one not bogged down by the petty differences in details about what “empowerment” means or how you’re supposed to achieve it. Everyone can have a different goal in mind. Plus there’s something very exciting about the fact that they don’t actually use the word “girls” at all throughout this battle cry—it’s “ladies” and “women”, “warriors”, “sisters”, “divas”, “queens”. It’s bouncy and aggressive, anthemic in tone but brash in production—not angry, but stern. Confident. It’s far from their most musically challenging song, or the best use of their noteworthy vocal skills—but damn is it catchy.

Neon Jungle // Welcome To The Jungle

Tacocat // Hey Girl

M.O. // For A Minute

Ex-Hex // Hot and Cold

Say Lou Lou // Everything We Touch

PTAF // Boss Ass Bitch

G.R.L // Show Me What You Got

HAIM // If I Could Change Your Mind

Icona Pop // It’s My Party

JUCE // Call You Out

Fifth Harmony // Miss Movin’ On

SIREN // I Think I Like You

PINS // Girls Like Us

2NE1 // Come Back Home

Mutya Keisha Siobhan // Flatline

BLEACHED // Love Spells

Rebecca & Fiona // Candy Love

(I’m totally cheating with the next three, because they’re all solo artist collaborations. But I don’t care.)

Arianna Grande ft. Iggy Azalea // Problem

Dreezy ft. Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz  // Zero

Angel Haze ft. Sia // Battle Cry