Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music

January 01, 1970

(Faber and Faber Inc.)





One part memoir, two parts cultural history book, Marisa
Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties
Revolution in Music
(published earlier this month by Faber and Faber) traces
the prominence of women in popular music from the riot grrrls to the Spice
Girls to all-girl rock and roll camps for tweens, ruminating along the way on
the effectiveness of the message of female empowerment inherent within (or at
least claimed by) each music and cultural phenomenon.


Although admittedly an avid fan of many of the acts she
writes about, Meltzer – who previously co-authored the 2007 book How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to
the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time
– manages to contemplate the
cultural relevance of all of her subjects with fairness and objectivity. For
instance, she considers that the riot grrrl bands that boycotted the media may
have been a little too idealistic. While being more open may have risked the
media further misconstruing the point of the movement, more press would have at
least meant that more girls – especially in the Midwest and other pop
culturally dry places in the pre-Internet age – were exposed to the themes of
self-empowerment and sisterhood that riot grrrls embraced. For, while the “girl
power” promoted by the Spice Girls lacked much substance and emphasized
consumerism, at least its ubiquity meant that a message of female pride reached
the masses. And Meltzer cites scientific findings indicating that even the
Spice Girls’ watered down version of girl power had some positive impact on the
group’s young female fans. Along with the riot grrrls and Spice Girls, Meltzer
examines the trends of women’s (or womyn’s) music festivals in the 1990s,
female singer songwriters and the rise of sexy pop tarts like Britney Spears.


The author acknowledges that her portrait of the era is
biased toward her own tastes. “This book will have a narrow and highly selective
focus by design,” she writes in the preface. “It’s a discussion and an analysis
as viewed through the lens of personal experience.” Fortunately, the memories
she weaves in – like when she felt she was the only long-haired teenage girl in
the crowd of a close-cropped Bikini Kill fans – help the academic analysis from
becoming too dry and, more importantly, drive home the message that what women
do on the musical stage can have a profound effect on the girls in the mosh pit
– even after they go home.






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