Don’t say ‘girl band’: How to effectively write about music


Believe it or not, there *is* a more correct way to write about music. Recently, the world of music journalism has experienced a push in the right direct to write about music more inclusively. Here is a quick, non-exhaustive list of a few do’s and don’ts on how to cover festivals, concerts, and artist profiles without alienating your audience or smearing the artist:

  1. DON’T say “girl band”
    This should be an easy one. Just because a band is comprised of all women, one woman, two women, three women, or however many women, they are not a “girl band.” They are a band. If you feel the compulsion to use the term “girl band,” ask yourself, “Would I call a band of all men a Man Band?” No, you wouldn’t. Because that sounds dumb. Some people believe it to be progressive to highlight that a band is made up of all women or even has one single woman in it. Just simply writing about them (in a non-tokenizing way) gives them the exposure they otherwise wouldn’t have in a heavily patriarchal industry. Basically, don’t tokenize the identities of artists, whether they be women, non-binary individuals, or any form of gender non-conformity.
  2. DON’T use the word “queer” unless it is an explicit self-identifier
    Not all people who aren’t heterosexual identify as queer. “Queer” is a term that has a long, notorious history of being a pejorative phrase, especially towards trans-feminine individuals. However, some people have taken upon reclaiming the phrase to describe their sexuality and gender identity. And that’s fine! That’s awesome! But, if you’re writing about an artist that has made their sexual or gender identity known to the public, do NOT immediately use the word “queer.” If at all possible, reach out to the artist to learn what terms they are comfortable being identified as. If the artist is apart of the LGBTQ+ community, they are not immediately queer. Only use the terms you know they are comfortable with.
  3. DO write about non-male artists and artists of color
    As mentioned before, highlighting artists who are often alienated from specific music scenes can do a lot to overturn racist, transphobic, and sexist ideologies that permeate in the industry. Make it a priority to write about non-white, non-male artists. This is not to say to tokenize these individuals, or make only a surface-level, symbolic effort to include these individuals. DON’T develop a savior complex through your writing. This is not “the least you can do” to combat discrimination, and I wouldn’t even call this activism. It’s just important to give people of color and non-men in music their recognition in an industry that has turned against them. Art, in all its forms, is used and experienced by all types of people, and coverage of these artists who wouldn’t normally have this recognition is necessary. A person’s race, ethnicity, or gender does not speak for them entirely, though it is a large part of their self-expression and identity. Step outside of your “comfort zone” and give 4 piece bands made of white dudes a break for awhile. There’s so much more out there.
  4. DO use your words
    I don’t know how many times I’ve seen electronic artists described as “synthy” or non-commercial (indie) rock bands described as “dreamy.” It can get pretty monotonous, not to mention annoying, pretty fast. This is absolutely just me being nit-picky, but there are many more adjectives out there to describe a band’s sound than the above.
    Other no no’s (because I am an asshole):
    lo-fi: The fact that an artist does not have high quality recordings does not indicate in any way what they would sound like. This does not help me at all. Wavves’ King of the Beach and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea don’t sound anything alike, but both albums have a lower quality of recording. Calling an act “lo-fi” is fine, but please add a few more genre-indicative phrases along with it.
    bedroom pop: A lot of people make music in their bedrooms!!! Maybe I just hate this description because it’s been mercilessly thrown at every indie artist with a Bandcamp without regard to their sound. Please only use this term if the music is actually poppy and lo-fi. Otherwise there is literally no reason to use either “bedroom” or “pop” in your description.
    beep-boops: This definitely comes with less serious music journalism. Like, I definitely wouldn’t see this word in a Pitchfork write up (I pray I wouldn’t, at least). But if you’re doing a pretty informal write-up about an electronic artist and feel the need to describe a sound they make as “beeps” and “boops,” I implore you not to. I always found this phrasing pretty reductionist (and annoying, but that’s not the reason I don’t think you should use it. I’m annoying too).

angel by shaggy