Lady Progress seems to be an accurate characterization for the rock of the new millennium. Elvis Presley may have spearheaded the birth of rock in the twentieth century, the Beatles may have refined it, and Puff Daddy may have made it retro cool. But the rock of the new millennium is being innovated and carried on by women who are products of the first century of rock culture.
The 90s saw a moderate amount of pigeonholing women into the slinky, fairy-dusted depths of Lilith Fair-esque ballads and bitch tunes. However, the first two years of the millennium have provided an opportunity for innovation to new and forgotten female talents. In a way, it is as if the gender labeling has switched sides, and now the predominantly all-male rock groups are taking on an undiscernable sound as either a ballad band or anger rockers.
Whereas in the past all the women sounded like Sarah McLachlan or Alanis Morissette, all the men now seem to sound like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind. The art of pining has switched hands. What I feel are some of the most refreshing and inspiring albums to have be released post-Y2K hysteria, have mostly been written, produced, and performed by the gentler sex. But, these rock n’ roll truants aren’t so gentle.
P.J. Harvey, Stevie Nicks, Nellie Furtado and Madonna have all released strong, inventive, and progressive rock albums that break out of the canned, chart-topping rock ballads that the club of sensitive male bands have been manufacturing over the past few years. Thanks to the likes of Coldplay, Lifehouse, Blink 182, and manifold others, the incidences of American males gazing dreamily at their girlfriends has risen 40% in the last five years.
It’s feasible to state definitively that erstwhile hardcore rock bands like the Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray strategically entered into a battle for chart position with Sheryl Crow and Jewel. It would seem that these guys traded their electric guitars for the gals’ acoustics and vice versa. As progress goes, when the boys went soft, the girls played hard.
It’s not only the familiar queens of alternative radio that have beefed up their sound with harder hitting prose and tunes. Newer voices have followed suit as well. Whether one is influencing the path of the other remains to be seen, but I’d like to think it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Fresh-faced female artists such as Poe (her 1995 hit “Angry Johnny” doesn’t do this diva justice), Lauryn Hill (the buzz on the new album is mouthwatering), and Fiona Apple all seem to be getting better with age. It’s not that they’re doing something that the men were already doing while they dawdled on the sidelines; they’re doing something completely new. They’re ushering rock into a new arena, an arena filled with allegorical lyrics, progressive arrangements, and everyman (or woman) themes. It’s bold. It’s honest. It’s intelligent. It’s a breath of fresh air.
I’ll wager that the rock visionaries of the next millennium will be citing some of these women as the mothers of millennial rock.
Archived article by Laura Thomas