EDM Is Girlier Than You Think
One of my favorite scenes this year was briefly seeing the ladies Krewella at Lollapalooza headlining Perry's stage on Saturday night. Like your party commander with bodies rocking and hair flowing, they managed to get the crowd to sing along to their biggest hit "Alive," loudly and in unison: "Every second here makes my heart beat faster." As EDM has continued to evolve, the femininity of the genre has become erased from the greater narrative. While it's important to critique toxic aspects of a culture, the conversation has focused mostly on noted fuckboys like Borgore or the various ways in which EDM disrespects women and their bodies. While there's no doubt that there are aspects of EDM that are deeply misogynistic, the music itself is often hella girly. Furthermore, to outright dismiss the genre as a whole as masculine also dismisses the women who genuinely love dance music, including both its performers and fans. EDM requires a much more complicated and nuanced critical examination, especially using a gendered lens.
EDM is maximalist: big and dumb and obvious in the best of ways. Its shows are about enhancing the experience, which is why festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival run from dusk till dawn (lasers and lights, duh) and why some of its fans use drugs to enhance that experience. The music sounds like every rockist's nightmare; there is no subtlety to be found in the swoops and the drops that go straight for the lump in the throat and the beat of the heart. Everything is quite literal: Calvin Harris' big summer jam this year is called quite aptly "Summer," because seriously, there's no need to be coy about it.
During its rise in pop music, vocals have become a vital to the success of popular EDM songs. It doesn't take very much searching to find these tracks: both Calvin Harris and Zedd have burst into the mainstream by combining strong pop vocal performances (both female and male) with unmistakably electro house beats. Flufftronix & Dirty South Joe have been putting together Luvstep compilations for five years now, releasing installments of their series on Valentine's Day each year. Each year there's a new mix for lovers: a combo of the wubs of bass music, deeply affecting melodies, and audio clips from movies, particularly the heart grabbing romantic moments. It's for anyone who wants to hear Spider-Man talk about MJ next to a dubstep cover of Bon Iver's "Holocene" (including me).
For female vocalists, their relationship with mainstream EDM has been incredibly mutually beneficial. UK pop house has been credited to feminizing dance music in the mainstream yet again, but the vocalists that feature on tracks by Duke Dumont and Secondcity suffer from an anonymity problem. It's a move that reeks of dude, as these producers conveniently forget the work of women. On the other hand, EDM vocalists have largely credited roles. For established acts like Rihanna and Paramore's Hayley Williams, being featured on a huge EDM track gives them a chance to flex their talents in a different sphere and add a maximalist dimension to their vocal work. For less established acts like Foxes, Bebe Rexha, and Bright Lights, a Top 40 hit creates the kind of buzz that generates momentum for at least the start of a music career in the form of a debut album or large, high-profile tour.
While non-vocalist female performers in EDM do tend to be less visible, there are some women who are finding success on a larger scale, and they're making it across a span of EDM genres. Krewella's Lollapalooza set had them DJing, singing, and head-banging even harder than Zedd had the night prior with their brand of aggressive yet melodic electro house. Nervo were models before they started DJing but that framing of their story appears as an intentional attempt to delegitimize them in the EDM space. After all, they did play the main stage at Tomorrowland just earlier this summer, an honor that Borgore did not enjoy. Nicole Moudaber is incredibly well regarded in techno music, massively respected by her peers (including titans Carl Cox and Adam Beyer), and her 2013 album Believe spent a month at #1 on Beatport's techno, tech house, and deep house charts. UK dubstep giants Nero are actually a trio, with producers Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray joined by vocalist Alana Watson. She is a full member of the trio, providing the vocals throughout their 2012 debut Welcome Reality and joining them across the world in their tours. These acts don't cater to a female audience; go to shows by female EDM performers, and you'll be met with the typical sea of EDM crowds.
See also: The Five Biggest Egos in EDM
The crowds at EDM shows have been canonized as a bunch of rowdy frat boys on drugs, but the gender divide at a real EDM concert is not quite as stark in reality. EDM festivals and shows are filled with frat boys, sure, but those frat boys are there to meet furry boot wearing, pacifier sucking, tank top donned girls. Those blindly criticizing EDM for sexist content forget that sometimes women listen to music just to get absolutely hype. It's a disservice to female fans and female EDM performers to pretend that they exist at EDM shows to serve as props for their male counterparts. These ladies dance and rave just as hard as their male counterparts.
Alas, there is something unique and beautiful about how feminine the music can get despite how the crowd may seem. Those same frat boys who wouldn't be caught dead at a Britney Spears show are seen jumping and shouting along to the girliest of lyrics at an EDM show. There is nothing more beautiful and subversive to me than the sight of a field full of bros hugging each other, sobbing, and feeling every single word of "If our love's insanity, why are you my clarity?" That's my feminism.
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