My Male-Dominated iTunes Library
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One of the remarks made about my choice of music — which is generally of the post-grunge alternative and folk rock persuasion gravitating towards the nineties, with the occasional a cappella, acoustic, jazz, electronica, bluegrass, bossa nova, and country track — is that my playlist mostly consists of male musical artists. I reacted rather defensively to the claim, not wanting to be compartmentalised into single sentences. In hindsight, it was a misplaced reaction, because there are more facets to one’s own identity than musical preferences. Besides, in terms of the remark alone, the evidence is pretty damning. In a playlist of just over three thousand songs and over 500 artists, almost 90 percent of the acts in my iTunes library are male.
When trying to qualify the gender disparity, I realise I have not settled with a reason that I personally believe in. Previously, I have justified it with reasons like my preference of the male voice over the female one, or feeling more emotionally connected to a song when depicted by a male, but neither of those reasons are completely true. While I do like the guttural, raspy quality of a handful of alternative rock musicians, I wouldn’t extend it to be a generalisation of all male talent in the alternative rock genre, nor would I discount it being unachievable by females. Until I find the reason behind the disparity, I will not attempt to explain it.
(Some of) My Top Favourite Female Musicians
Several days ago, I decided to sift through my iTunes library and dig up a few examples of the feminine ten percent. Though subject to change with the gradual discovery of more musicians, these ladies may be quantitatively overpowered in my playlist, but never in their overall talent.
I happened upon this wild-haired Canadian singer shortly after high school. Amanda Marshall, born to a black Trinidadian mother and a Caucasian father, does not shy away from exploring her bi-racial identity in her music — among the generally optimistic themes she employs in her songs. Her raspy voice allows to excel beyond the bounds of the pop and rock genre, and she holds strong vocal command in more soulful melodies. Marshall’s talent is a kind reminder there is a reachable pocket of time wherein music wasn’t so manufactured.
Marshall has not released new material in the recent years and has largely kept out of the limelight, due to numerous legal issues. However, according to a somewhat recent article on The Toronto Star, Marshall will soon return to the music scene. Her most recent live appearance took place earlier this month.
- “Fall From Grace” (Amanda Marshall, 1995)
- “Shades of Grey” (Tuesday’s Child, 1999)
- “The Gypsy” (Everybody’s Got A Story, 2001)
My admiration for this British singer and visual artist lies more towards her art. However, if I were particularise which of Imogen Heap‘s artistic works I enjoy, I would need to compose an entirely separate inspiration post. (There’s an idea…) This is not to say that I don’t enjoy her music. When the mood strikes, I do enjoy the occasional electronica.
Imogen Heap had been classically trained in several instruments in her youth. She taught herself the art of mixing and sequencing music after a creative clash with her boarding school music teacher. This exploration allowed her to explore even more instruments and find her niche, musically. From her earliest work, Heap has employed ambient sounds, including tapping a frying pan and creating resonance with a crystal glass. Her use of technology and deliberate exploration of new methods of creating sounds is something worth appreciating for the art alone. Heap doesn’t use these sounds to mask the “flaws” of her music, but instead makes them the music.
Favourite Song(s): I personally do not have a favourite song from Imogen Heap, but I really enjoy the music video for “Headlock”. From her 2005 release, “Speak For Yourself”, the video is a visual feast, an ornate arrangement of flowers, animals, and surreal moving pictures — all of which are inspired by an unassuming music box.
Ohio-born singer Kim Richey is the most seasoned artist in this list, but the gentle and composed quality of her voice diversifies her fan demographic and the categorical potential of the American country music industry. In 1988, Richey kick-started her musical career in Nashville, where she honed her songwriting and built her reputation through gigs. Seven years later, her debut self-titled album was released, which peaked at the 72 position in the country music charts. Two years later, her sophomore effort, “Bitter Sweet” reached the 52nd spot.
However, Richey is probably more famously known for her musical contribution to the television “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, although Richey herself does not make an appearance. She also provided the backing vocals for Ryan Adams’ song, “Come Pick Me Up”, which is my favourite song of his. Her most recent work to date is her 2010 release, “Wreck Your Wheels”.
- “Let The Sun Fall Down” (Kim Richey, 1995)
- “Hard To Say Goodbye” (Rise, 2002)
What I adore about this Scottish singer is that she can pull off the tousled image without being trashy — well, most of the time, anyway.
KT Tunstall did not have a musical upbringing, however. Her biological parents were a Chinese-Scottish mother and an Irish father, and at three weeks old, she was adopted by an English couple living in St. Andrews, Scotland. Tunstall grew up in Scotland and in the United States. Her adoptive parents were sworn academics who did not prioritise the pursuit of music, so she had to learn various musical instruments outside of the home. Honing her songwriting and her performance skills would follow during the formal start of her musical career.
Tunstall broke into the public eye when she did a one-woman-band performance of the song “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”. Success came pretty quickly, and Tunstall now has three studio albums to her name since 2004. Her most recent album, “Tiger Suit”, was released in 2009.
- “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” (Eye to the Telescope, 2004)
- “Other Side of the World” (Eye to the Telescope, 2004)
- “(Still A) Weirdo” (Tiger Suit, 2010)
I was a fan of Michelle Branch since finding her on the Maverick Records website back in 2001 or 2002, and was instantly a fan after hearing “All You Wanted”. I also felt a small sense of excited pride in learning about her Indonesian (and French, Dutch, and Irish) heritage. In fact, during the early days wherein web design involved blending high resolution images of celebrities with an array of various colours, images of Branch made a few appearances in very early incarnations of my website.
Branch’s first two major-label albums, “The Spirit Room” in 2001 and “Hotel Paper” in 2003, were critically acclaimed records in the pop-rock genre. The attention gained from those released allowed her to work with various artists, including two collaborations with guitarist Carlos Santana. In the middle of 2005, Branch returned to her country roots by partnering up with long-time friend, Jessica Harp, to become the country-pop duo The Wreckers. Armed with significantly more mature music, Harp and Branch would enjoy two years of success before splitting indefinitely in 2007. Since then, Harp has become a full-time songwriter for other artists, and Branch has released an EP, “Everything Comes and Goes” this year, with a full-length album slated for release in 2011.
- “Lay Me Down” (Hotel Paper, 2003)
- “Summertime” (Everything Comes and Goes, 2010)
Where to begin with Tori Amos. How she doesn’t have an inspiration post for herself yet is beyond me.
Amos — born Myra Ellen Amos — was raised in Maryland, where she learned how to play the piano at the age of two. Her skills landed her a full scholarship with the Peabody Conservatory of Music at the age of five, but it was revoked when it was revealed Amos disliked reading sheet music and did not take to classical music. She started playing at piano bars in her early teens, with the support and supervision of her father. After some minor exposure, Amos began her musical career at the age of twenty-one, when she moved to Los Angeles.
With her flaming red hair, her use of the piano as the primary instrument in her music, a large collection of albums that are mostly self-produced, and substantial vocal and aesthetic beauty, Amos embodies the art she creates. The American alternative rock singer and songwriter has been referred to as a siren or muse for many, including one of her good friends, British author Neil Gaiman. In fact, the character Delirium from “The Endless” is said to be inspired by Amos.
Amos’ most recent work is her eleventh studio album, “Midwinter Graces”, released in 2009. In spite of the possible religious implications of the album title, it is not a conventional Christmas album. Sure enough, the album contains medleys familiarly heard during the holidays, but “Midwinter Graces” is full of her own personal ghosts. This collection of songs appropriate for the winter solstice underlines the internal struggle fought to reconcile her current views with her conservative Christian upbringing.
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a fellow fan, and he pointed out the idiosyncratic manner in which Amos pronounces the lyrics in her songs. At times, without the knowledge of her lyrics, it is difficult to understand what she is singing. However, there is a deliberate artistry in which she alters their pronunciation, because she coaxes the listener to appreciate the sound of the song as opposed to understanding it lyrically. The trait itself is subject to personal taste, because while some find it beautiful, others may find it irritating.
Favourite Song(s): Several, but the following music video is too brilliant not to plug. “Sleeps With Butterflies” is a song off Amos’ 2005 album, “The Beekeeper”. The video for the song is three and a half minutes of beauty. Feminine through and through, the video was inspired by the whimsical and colourful works of Japanese artist and illustrator, Aya Kato.
What About You?
Is there a visible disparity in terms of the ratio of female to male musicians in your playlist? Do you have prefer female musicians over male musicians, or vice versa? If so, why or why not?
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