By Karen Bliss
It’s no secret what most female artists have experienced at one time or another in the music industry from inappropriate remarks about their body to creepy sexual advances to traumatic assaults and career bribery. Just ask, they’ll have a story. Some, however, have committed it to song.
For Women’s History Month (March), CARAS compiled a list of songs by Canadian women. Jessie Reyez wrote about a horrifying encounter early in her career, Alanis Morissette about being statutorily raped, and Joydrop’s Tara Slone about various sexist affronts. Others are broader but no less personal, about the industry itself from narrow playlists to pressures of fame. Joni Mitchell even wrote an empathetic lyric about being a powerful record exec (David Geffen).
Some songs CARAS looked into sounded as if they were about the industry, but after contacting the artist it turned out they weren’t. In no particular order, here are some that have been verified by the artist by DM or in other interviews or online posts.
“American Dream Girl”
Sample lyric: Hey Mister Music with all your allusions / Your foregone conclusions / Your grand delusions / Hey Mister Music my name’s not Honey / Don’t call me Dear / My eyes are up here.
Fronted by Tara Slone, the rock singer for Joydrop tells CARAS, “After years of being patronized, years of being told by rock radio stations that ‘they just weren’t playing women right now,’ and countless interviews that focused on my looks instead of my music, I finally reached my breaking point. ‘American Dream Girl’ came pouring out of me after an unpleasant sexist interaction with a known DJ at a big outdoor radio festival in Detroit.”
Sample lyric: We are the gatekeepers / Spread your legs / Open up / You could be famous.
The powerful single addresses sexual bribery and coercion in the music industry. Reyez also co-wrote and starred in a short film, Gatekeeper: A Short Story, “based on real events” that inspired the song. A year after “Gatekeeper” was released, Reyez tweeted in solidarity with the women who came forward about being sexually assaulted by American producer Noel “Detail Fisher.” “One night, over 6 years ago Noel ‘Detail’ Fisher tried this on me,” she wrote. “I was lucky and I got out before it got to this. I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I was scared. Fear is a real thing. The girls that came out are brave as hell.” She followed it up with “Yes this is who gatekeeper is about. My experience didn’t get this awful. I hope these women find justice.”
“Free Man In Paris”
“You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,”
“For The Roses”
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”
The Canadian songwriting icon has touched on many aspects of the music industry in her brilliant lyrics: fame, sexism, pressure, racism. In “Free Man In Paris,” widely known to be about record mogul and her one-time manager David Geffen, she sings, “I was a free man in Paris / I felt unfettered and alive / There was nobody calling me up for favors / And no one’s future to decide.” In “For The Roses,” she sings of the industry: “They toss around your latest golden egg / Speculation-well, who’s to know If the next one in the nest / I guess I seem ungrateful.” Yet another, “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” is her response to being asked to write a hit song: “I know you don’t like weak women / You get bored so quick / And you don’t like strong women / ‘Cause they’re hip to your tricks.” And in her tribute to sax player Lester Young, she added lyrics to the Mingus composition, which highlight racism: “A bright star in a dark age/When the bandstands had a thousand ways of refusing a Black man admission. In those days they put him in an underdog position / Cellars and chitlins.”
“Powerless (Say What You Want)”
Sample lyric: Paint my face in your magazines/Make it look whiter than it seems/Paint me over with your dreams/Shove away my ethnicity
Of the song, which won single of the year at the 2004 JUNO Awards, the BC-born singer of Portuguese descent, told MTV, “I noticed that when I turned on the TV, I didn’t really see anybody that looked like me. So it’s really important for me to keep that realness in me and always remember where I came from, while at the same time always entertaining people. I like music to be inclusive.”
“We R In Need of a Musical Revolution”
“Everything is Expensive”
“Breath From Another”
The outspoken singer came out with the walloping “We R In Need of a Musical Revolution,” lamenting an industry uninvested in promoting music of substance, therefore a lack of variety. “I’m so sick and tired of the shit on the radio and MTV they only play the same thing,” she sings. When contacted by CARAS, esthero said she has written other songs about the industry. “Melancholy Melody” is about “the pressure to create on command,” she texted. Sample lyric: I know you’re counting on me to feed all of our families…I feel tired all the time, yeah, this weight is exhausting. “’Everything is Expensive’ is also about the industry. Damn I write about that a lot,” she added. The next day came another text: “I realized today that ‘Breath From Another’ was actually also about the industry.”
“’Better Man’ was written as a therapeutic tool to find the courage to put into words what [he] had been doing to me in the music industry. Manipulation is a form of emotional blackmail,” Kandle messaged. “In the entertainment industry, where contracts are being signed and your dreams are on the line, it is very hard to stand up and call out this kind of mistreatment.” Sample lyric: I just wanted respect but you have no intention to be a stand up guy yet. “I held on to this pain for too long and it destroyed my mental health and certainly set my career back big time,” she reveals, adding, “I blindly trusted the men that assured me everything we were doing was to make me ready for great success. It is my hope that this song and others like it will inspire people to unite together and no longer tolerate this kind of behaviour and outdated power abuse.” The song “Honey Trap,” she says, “is really an extension of the same story.”
Sample lyric: Control me / I don’t own myself / Just a product of your design
“Perfect Blue” is about feeling the pressure to change oneself for the benefit or at the whims of a record label, Mercedes Arn-Horn tells CARAS. In her new band with sister Phoenix, the former Courage My Love member says, “Softcult’s music speaks very unapologetically about sexism, gender violence, abuse, and misogyny, not only when it occurs on a social level but in the music industry as well. After having experiences of our own, we want to raise awareness these issues on a mainstream level so that the next generation of women in the industry may never have to experience it for themselves. The more open dialogue we have on these issues, in our personal lives and in boardrooms, the more educated we will all be on how we can contribute to ending misogyny.”
“Right Through You”
“Right Through You” is a not-so-subtle eff you to a record executive (many many) who turned down Jagged Little Pill, but prior to that landmark album, in her teens, she put out two successful dance-pop albums in Canada only, but behind the scenes she later bravely tells in “Hands Clean” she was groomed, exploited and abused by a much older man in the music industry. Every line is telling. She told Bustle the lyric “was about being statutorily, sexually raped as a child” and is “a dialogue between me and this person who was in this position of power throughout my teen years and taking advantage of it.” “If you weren’t so wise beyond your years / I would’ve been able to control myself,” she sings from his perspective, later adding, “Don’t go telling everybody / And overlook this supposed crime.” She tells Bustle, “There was still a huge stigma around sexual abuse and coming out and speaking about it publicly.”
Featured image: Nelly Furtado performs a medley of her songs. Credit Union Centre. 2007 Juno Awards, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.