Band/Artist Profile

Artist Spotlight: Babes in Toyland

I had a weird time last week. After contracting a cold from a Durham Chuck-E-Cheese’s, (I won’t add context) I spent around seven days in such acute respiratory distress that I reckon I only slept about three hours each night.

When you’re deprived of sleep, reality becomes indistinct. Such an effect is only furthered when you continue to attend your regular 9-to-5 and self-medicate with menthol-strawberry flavored lozenges.

It was during this strange and (frankly) horrible time that I became slightly unhinged. The only thing that kept me sane was the collection of music I listened to as I struggled to fall asleep.

I first heard Babes in Toyland at three in the morning as I lay on the couch sipping my third cup of herbal tea. Considering the band’s sound, it’s a strange juxtaposition.

Babes in Toyland was an American rock band formed 1987 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Though the band no longer exists, it certainly left an imprint on the music world.

“Babes In Toyland performing in Groningen, Netherlands, 1991,’ uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Greg Neate, licensed CC BY 2.0

The Band

Babes in Toyland consisted of a series of women, ultimately ending with frontwoman Kat Bjelland, drummer Lori Barbero and bassist Clara Salyer (brought on in 2015).

Bjelland and Barbero met at a mutual friend’s barbecue, laying the foundation for what would eventually become one of the most inlfuential female-fronted bands in the alternative rock scene.

Before disbanding in 2001, the band produced three studio albums, “Spanking Machine” (1990), “Fontanelle” (1992) and “Nemesisters” (1995).

The band was known for its particular brand of harsh rock music, with Bjelland’s screaming voice and lashing guitar mingling with the intensity of Barbero’s drums.

Though not technically a “feminist” band, Babes in Toyland covered themes related to female empowerment and feminine rage.

I, I live in the densest corner
Of the deepest mind of the f–most room
And sing “the stars they swing from their chandelier strings” (I know real love)
You know who you are
You’re dead meat, mother–
You don’t try to rape a goddess

“Bluebell,” Babes in Toyland

Riot Grrrls

While their sound is decidedly more grunge than that of their many contemporaries, such as Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland is largely considered to fall under the “riot grrrl” umbrella.

Riot Grrrl, born from the culture of sexism rife within the punk community, grew into a culture of its own with the efforts of inspired, passionate and angry young women.

Babes in Toyland captures this anger in a bold and brash display.

Cover for “Nemesisters” by Babes in Toyland

Some tracks are purely vengeful while others are irreverent and sardonic. They’re consistently punchy, tinged with a classic grunge smokiness around the edges.

Lyrics are cheeky, insolent and occassionally abusive, laden with vulgarity, profanity and innuendo. Listeners are struck by a sense of brilliant confidence, a kind of uncaring conviction typically reserved for men.

I wear the same face as you
And you share my sick point of view
But I do hate you
Vomit my heart
Pull my head apart
Vomit my heart
Pull my legs apart

“Vomit Heart,” Babes in Toyland

This doesn’t mean that Babes in Toyland is necessarily masculine, but rather that they redefine and recontextualize what femininity can be. Listening to their discography doesn’t invoke a sense of imitation, but rather the creation of something original and wholly unapologetic.

Cover for “Fontanelle” by Babes in Toyland

Their work is inspiring. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill testifies to this, stating in an interview, “Even in the ’90s, Babes in Toyland was a band that was hugely important to us and we were like, God if only we could play awesome shows like Babes in Toyland.”

For women and girls feeling displaced in the music scene, it’s a valuable experience to not only look up to a female-fronted band, but to look up to a female-fronted band that’s arguably heavier and harsher than many of its male-fronted counterparts.

Song Recommendations

  • “Bluebell”
  • “Ariel”
  • “Vomit Heart”
  • “Pain in My Heart”

By J

J is a DJ at WKNC and a staunch enjoyer of dark and moody music.