Music Education

On Musical Elitism: Indie and Institutional

“Oh, I only listen to real music. You wouldn’t get it. I’m so individualistic and nobody else shares my taste in music.”

At all points in history has there been some form of elitism in music. Often, it is fueled by racism, classism, and other forms of discrimination, especially by the dominant forces in the music industry. However, there has also been a counter-elitism among people who listen to less mainstream artists for the past few decades that has seemed to become more prevalent since the 2000s.

Since I’m centering this discussion around music in the US, which is predominantly English-speaking, I will refrain from discussing music in other languages. It’s cool to see latin music and K-pop becoming popular in the English-speaking US over the past decade, however.

Racism in the Music Industry

Black artists have consistently been the ones to bring innovations to music in the US, from rock to hip-hop to jazz. Even pop music (considering pop as a genre) has its foundations in music created and innovated on by Black artists. As a result, Black artists are often somewhat overrepresented on music charts, and rightfully so.

Famous jazz musician Charles Mingus. Photo Courtesy of Tom Marcello, under Creative Commons.

From 2012 to 2020, they represented 38% of all artists on the Billboard top 200. However, they are consistently overlooked for awards like the Grammys, receiving only 26.7% of nominations over the same period. Much of this discrimination comes from the overwhelming lack of people of color as executives in the music industry: only 4.2% are Black.

Additionally, many of the most notable “snubs” in the Grammys over the past decade or so have been against Black artists. Despite now having the most Grammy wins of any artist, Beyoncé has only one win in the Big Four categories. So, why do programs like the Grammys continue to be so popular, even though discrimination continues to be so prevalent?

I believe there are two predominant reasons: hope for better and ignorance of these issues in the first place. There are many people who likely hold onto the hope that this year will be the year that the music industry reverses course on its racist tendencies. I think there are even more who don’t notice these issues at all–or don’t care–since they aren’t affected.

How Music Bros Shape the Conversation

However, this lack of representation extends beyond institutional practices. Fans of independent music online tend to be white, financially comfortable men. Some of these listeners tend to obsess over classical music, especially the music that has overwhlemingly shaped the contemporary, western understanding of music theory, though that is worthy of its own discussion.

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Most of the rest of these indie music fans tend to congregate on platforms like Rate Your Music and music-related social media groups. These are the places where I see the most elitism in music among people who hold no actual power over record labels or other parts of the music industry. Here, elitism comes through in the form of gatekeeping of up-and-coming artists as well as discriminatory biases.

On the all-time best album chart on Rate Your Music, Black artists comprise about 25% of the 50 top albums. Again, this percentage is well below the representation of Black artists on the Billboard top 200. More striking, though, is the lack of women and queer artists in these communities. On that same chart, only three of the top 50 albums have female vocalists (where gender is most noticeable), and the first, Björk, is only 31st. There are only three openly queer artists in the top 100 albums, and only two in the top 50.

Why is the Non-Mainstream Music Discussion Like This?

I bring these numbers up, because I think elitism in these types of music circles is largely predicated on the belief that mainstream listeners, especially women, will “ruin” the music. These listeners also tend to have a suspiciously high overlap with “incel” groups. The resulting misogyny (and queerphobia) leads to generally less respect for women and queer artists. Unless these artists are accepted into the “canon” of great artists they are largely neglected. As a side note, no female queer artists or trans artists until Big Thief at no.398.

There tends to be a lot of talk among these types of music listeners, especially over the past few years, about how Tiktok and other platforms are “ruining” music. When a song by an artist commonly accepted amongst these listeners as a “great” goes viral, they lament about how they can’t enjoy the music anymore. These listeners think that their interpretation of good music is the best interpretation, and any attempt to break the gatekeeping of these artists is a tragedy.

Likewise, these listeners often disdain music that gets especially popular for similar reasons. Artists like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, or Bad Bunny have been seen as “trashy pop” only liked by teenage girls and people who don’t really “get” music like these white men in their mid-20s.

It’s okay to not like popular artists because you don’t vibe with their sound or genre. As for myself, I don’t typically listen to any of the three artists I just listed, but I still enjoy Swift’s music. I listen to a lot of Beyonce or The Weeknd. That doesn’t mean I don’t also love music by lesser known artists.

Closing Thoughts

WKNC is a radio station that prides itself on playing music by less popular artists, especially those whose voices are often left out of discussions of what “the best” music is. I hope that this mindset is able to spread farther than the idea that men (especially white, cisgender, heterosexual men) overwhlemingly make better music. And this should extend to what the music industry chooses to become popular as well.

–DJ Cashew

Music Education

An Introduction to Japanese Rock

Since World War II, US and Japanese cultures have intermingled significantly, resulting in a large American market for Japanese media. While anime might be the most prevalent example, Japanese music has also gained a significant following among listeners in the US.

Personally, I’ve been drawn to Japanese rock (J-rock) as a rock style that sounds distinctly unlike anything I’ve heard from English-speaking artists. Several artists have impressive catalogs of work that deserve more widespread recognition. Now, I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t say anything regarding the lyrical quality of most of these artists. However, the music itself is stellar enough to enjoy on its own merits.


POLKADOT STINGRAY was my first introduction into J-rock, and I think they provide a good jumping off point for deeper exploration into the genre. Their music primarily features a high-pitched, snappy electric guitar leading their songs and a very active bass guitar that’s just satisfying to focus in on. Much of J-rock also utilizes this type of guitar playing rarely found in the US, especially in popular, contemporary rock artists. Additionally, vocalist Shizuku’s rich, breathy singing allows the more intense instrumentals to shine through A significant funk influence also permeates their discography, like on the album “Nanimono (何者)”, which is my personal favorite.


If you’re looking for a more laid-back band, then Odottebakarinokuni (踊ってばかりの国) is up your alley. The band has a much softer sound than POLKADOT STINGRAY and features a more familiar, US indie rock style compared to other J-rock artists. Tracks like “EDEN” highlight the lead vocalist’s drawn out singing and a guitar with an almost overwhelming, yet quiet, overdrive.


Noise rock has also thrived in Japan as evidenced by bands like Melt-Banana. The punk band’s work has become especially popular in the US and UK, where punk often favors pure noise over the groove found in Melt-Banana’s music. Yasuko O.’s shrieking singing on tracks like “Lie Lied Lies” gets drowned out by a guitar that blows out speakers and drums that leave your head pounding in the best possible way.


CHAI is an uncommon example of a J-rock artist who frequently uses both English and Japanese lyrics and collaborates with English-speaking artists like Gorillaz and Duran Duran. While their music can be profoundly different to most other J-rock artists, they also hold a unique sound among US and UK artists. CHAI incorporates electronica and dance into their rock that makes their sound incredibly fun. When their groove is paired with that same snappy guitar popular in J-rock music, the result is catchy, experimental, and perfect to jam out to. I highly recommend “PUNK”, which captures their style perfectly.

Music Education

An Introduction to Country: Three Artists to Get Started With

As you all may or may not know, I co-host a country, bluegrass, and folk show from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. While I’ve always been a folk guy, not so long ago I barely listened to either country or bluegrass.

The reason for this is that my introduction to country was through my parents, who mostly listened to commercial or stadium country: Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, etc. I think for many in my generation, this is unfortunately what we know country music to be.

Authenticity is what defines country music and these artists just do not come off as authentic through their music. However, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to Tyler Childers’ 2017 album “Purgatory”. It shocked me how authentic this record was, despite its popularity.

Since listening to that record, country has become one of my favorite genres. I have become a fan of so many excellent, true-to-their-core country artists that I want to share with those of you who might be interested in the genre but don’t know where to start.

These artists are all modern country artists (all started releasing music in 2010s) and they are also are quite popular. However, I think that these artists all show that great country music is still being made and provide a variety of different sounds within the genre.

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers is a guitar player, singer and fiddler from Kentucky. Starting his career in 2011, Childers had his breakthrough release in 2017 with “Purgatory”, which was produced by Sturgill Simpson, another artist on this list.

I would recommend starting out with “Purgatory” if you want somewhere to get starter with Tyler Childers. After that, his first album, “Bottles and Bibles” is also good, but you could truly listen to anything by him after you check out “Purgatory”.

Colter Wall

Colter Wall known for his gruff, deep vocals and his guitar playing. From Saskatchewan, Canada, Wall released his first EP in 2015 after he left college. He has released five studio albums since then, the last one being released in 2020.

All of Colter Wall’s work is so solid, I don’t think there’s a stand-out album to listen to first. I’d check out his discography in the order which he released in, so you can see how his sound has developed over time.

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson is a guitar player and singer from Kentucky. Starting his solo career in 2013, he released “High Top Mountain”, which is my favorite record by him. He has released seven albums since starting his solo career. His last album, “The Ballad of Dood & Juanita”, is a story album and another one of my favorites.

If you want a story about a gunfighter, then you should check out his latest album. However, if you just want some good country music, I’d start at the beginning of his discography. Simpson is another artist that you cannot go wrong with, all his music is consistently great.

Miscellaneous Music Education

How Does Eastern Music Differ from Western Music?

Although in the modern day, Eastern culture has had a lot of influences on Western music and Western culture has had a lot of influence on Eastern music I wanted to a brief break down of the unique differences between the two.

The main difference even an untrained ear can pinpoint is the instruments used.

For example in Eastern music, the most common traditional instruments in many cultures are lutes. The Middle East has a lute called the Oud. India uses the Sitar. China has a lute called the pipa. The list goes on. 

Essentially they have instruments that create these entrancing tunes as well as more complex melodies in general. There are many overlapping rhythms and are at the forefront of traditional Eastern music. They use 7-tone and 5-tone systems that rely more on the manipulation of melodies instead of using set chords.

On the other hand, the West has more instruments that are found in orchestras such as string instruments, guitars, woodwind instruments, and percussion instruments such as saxophones and flutes, and bagpipes. 

Western music in general puts harmonies at the forefront. They have more complex harmonies and have something called a 12-tone equal temperament. In simple terms, the series of eight notes are organized equally instead of in an odd fashion.

One way to put it is, that Western music is oriented around written music. It can be written down and repeated in an orderly structure. Eastern music is oriented around oral music. It can’t necessarily be captured in notes and is more dynamic and improvisation.

While you can categorize Western music, at its core, Eastern music is not necessarily a genre or category. 

As you move from one country to another, their entire way of composing and creating music is different. The instruments they use change based on culture and the way they arrange their rhythms and melodies vary as well.

Don’t want to get too historical here, but because the West has this shared ‘European’ culture it’s easy to say that most Western music sounds similar.

This can’t be said about Eastern music because of how diverse each continent and subcontinent is. South African music is far different from North Eastern Asian music. 

That’s one of the most fascinating things I love about music. 

How each culture has its own music and how music can tell so much about the country’s culture and history.

If you hadn’t had the chance to listen to some Eastern music, I truly recommend it. 

Even what we consider ‘pop’ music sounds far different in Japan or Lebanon or Bollywood.

Music Education

From Sun Ra to The Velvet Underground: The Producer Who Made a Lane For The Strange

When people think of some of the greatest producers of the 20th century many people think of guys like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, George Martin, Quincy Jones, Teo Macero, or Brian Eno. One producer who doesn’t come up often and has seemed to have faded away into obscurity is Tom Wilson. Recently, I’ve been listening to some of Tom Wilson’s work nonstop so I would like to highlight him and hope he can be brought back into popularity.

Tom Wilson got his start during the 50s when he started his own record label for jazz records called Transition Records. This label would introduce a lot of people to the newest genre pushing talents in jazz like Donald Byrd and Cecil Taylor. Wilson also got to produce a Cecil Taylor album with John Coltrane as the saxophonist that would later be released as “Coltrane Time” under Coltrane’s name.

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But most notably, Tom Wilson introduced the world to Sun Ra, who would become one of the greatest jazz artists of all time and an influence on many artists. Tom Wilson was not only putting artists out on his label but was also producing their albums as well as giving them a place to experiment.

After his run at Transition ended, Tom Wilson would end up at Columbia records becoming the first African American to hold the staff producer title at Columbia.

This is where he would start to produce for his most famous collaborator– Bob Dylan. Wilson started to produce for Dylan during “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” sessions. He produced four tracks on the album which many claim this is Dylans best album during his folk period. Wilson initially wasn’t too excited about working with Dylan because he favored jazz over folk but after hearing his lyrics he was “flabbergasted.”

He would go onto produce “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” Their collaboration really started to shine on Dylans next album “Bringing It All Back Home” where Dylan famously went electric which would cause one of the largest shifts in rock music. You can hear Wilson’s voice at the start of Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream and you can even see him in an alternate take of the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” music video.

Many people credit Wilson with causing Dylan to go electric but that is up for debate, he certainly helped bring it together at the very least. Wilson and Dylan’s collaboration would end after Wilson produced “Like a Rolling Stone” but would get replaced for Bob Johnston for the rest of the Highway 61 sessions.

While at Columbia, Tom Wilson also produced the first Simon and Garfunkel album ” Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” This album at first did not do well which led to Simon and Garfunkel splitting up, but then eventually “The Sound of Silence” would gain a bit of airplay at college radio stations.

Wilson, seeing the minor success, would then create a version of the song with a rock backing band which caused it to be a number one hit and would bring Simon and Garfunkel to get back together and go on to become some of the highest selling artists of all time.

After leaving Columbia Wilson would end up at MGM where he would eventually get with The Velvet Underground. Even though Andy Warhol is listed as the producer Lou Reed and John Cale both state the Tom Wilson was the real producer of the groups debut ” The Velvet Underground & Nico.”

This album wasn’t initially commercially successful but would eventually become on of the most influential albums of all time and would be credited with many sub-genres of rock music like punk and drone. Wilson would produce the next Velvet Underground album “White Light/White Heat” which again was extremely influential and eventually loved by many.

Wilson would also produce Nico’s first album “Chelsea Girl” which again for a third time would go onto become a loved and influential album. John Cale would go onto say that “The band never again had as good a producer as Tom Wilson.”

While at MGM, within two months of producing the first Velvet Underground album, Wilson went on to produce the first Mothers of Invention album “Freak Out” which would start Frank Zappa’s career and would be a hugely influential album being cited as a major influence on The Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

He would go on to produce the second Mothers of Invention album “Absolutely Free.” Zappa states that “Tom Wilson was a great guy. He had vision, you know? And he really stood by us” and also “Wilson was sticking his neck out. He laid his job on the line by producing the album.”

Many of the albums Tom Wilson would work on would have the same thing associated with them: risk and influence. Wilson never wasn’t pushing the norms of music and the artists he was working whether it was Sun Ra’s space jazz, Dylans electric era, or The Velvet Underground creating early punk rock Wilson pushed for it. He would bring many of the best albums into fruition and for that I hope the next time the greatest producer conversation is being discussed Tom Wilson is in that conversation.

Blog Music Education

What Happens to Accents When Singing?

Some of the information in this article is sourced from Today I Found Out.

The day I found out that a handful of my favorite artists were actually British and not American I was genuinely shocked.

I was young at the time so I had such a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that someone with the strongest British accent could sound fully American the second they started singing.

Adele, The Beatles, Coldplay?

At this point, we’ve all listened to enough songs in our lives to notice this phenomenon at least once or twice. Have you ever wondered why?

Science of Linguistics

Let’s get to the root of it first. British-Pop music was actually inspired by what we consider American music styles such as rock and roll,  blues, and hip hop. 

As a result in order to mimic or replicate that style of music, British artists and other foreign artists will sing in that “American’”style. 

In terms of linguistics, singing doesn’t have an accent and similarly, an American accent in itself is fairly neutral.

When singing, the melody causes the articulation of certain words or elongation of vowels and consonants to change depending on the style or type of song. Accents cannot be reproduced when singing. 

Singing is much faster-paced than speaking and words can be manipulated in euphonious ways.

Considering this, it’s wise to see if this phenomenon can occur in other genres of music.

Opera has its own accent. Opera singers, regardless of the language or accent they sing in, have a similar style in their singing. This can be seen across all genres of music whether it is Pop, Jazz, or Rap.

Talk Singing

One of my favorite moments where this concept is seen is when Dua Lipa is “talk singing.”

In “Levitating” by Dua Lipa, her British accent shines through at that verse and it’s my favorite part simply because of the way she enunciates words.

“My love is like a rocket, watch it blast off |  And I’m feeling so electric, dance my a– off |  And even if I wanted to, I can’t stop | Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” 

The entirety of the song is in an American accent and this is an example of one of the few songs you can hear the “Britishness” of a British artist’s voice.

Maybe you’ve never noticed that some of our favorite British musicians lose their accents when singing. Hopefully, you learned something new today.

Music Education

Live From the Clink: Bad Brains and “Sacred Love”

I Against I

While Bad Brains’s debut studio album, aptly titled “Bad Brains,” is indisputably iconic, “I Against I” possesses a special kind of charm.

Bad Brains, considered among hardcore punk’s original pioneers, released “I Against I” in November of 1986.

Despite the band’s original background in jazz fusion, the album presents a riveting blend of various musical elements including funk, alternative metal, rock and hardcore punk.

Consisting of ten songs, “I Against I” traverses a broad scope of musical sensations.

Unlike “Bad Brains” or the band’s demo album “Black Dots“, each song in “I Against I” has a unique feel, making for a truly dynamic listening experience.

The cover of Bad Brains's album, I Against I
Cover of Bad Brains’s third album, I Against I

“Sacred Love,” the album’s eighth song, is particularly special. Unlike the album’s other tracks, “Sacred Love” has strikingly lo-fi vocals. The song sounds like a fuzzy, crackly voicemail, the lyrics barely comprehensible.

Upon first hearing “Sacred Love,” I assumed the audio effects were a stylistic choice. However, further research revealed the truth.

The Recording of “Sacred Love”

According to testimonies from the album’s producer, Ron St. Germain and Anthony Countey, the band’s long-time manager, “Sacred Love” was performed from a D.C. correctional facility.

An excerpt of an interview from Howie Abrams and James Lathos’s novel, “Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains” details the circumstances which led to the song’s unorthodox recording:

Shortly before Bad Brains was set to record I Against I, D.C. law enforcement arrested lead singer H.R. (short for Human Rights) for marijuana distribution.

According to St. Germain, the band successfully recorded nearly all of the songs in I Against I’s discography before H.R. was due to enter jail.

All songs, that is, but “Sacred Love.”

With an unfinished album and an incarcerated vocalist, Germain and Countey had to improvise.

In what St. Germain referred to as a “communal effort,” the band organized for H.R. to perform “Sacred Love” through a collect call at the jailhouse.

The setup for the recording was makeshift at best. When the initial plan to facilitate a direct patch from the phone to the recorder failed, St. Germain undertook a more DIY-style approach.

According to St. Germain, he ended up taping an Auratone monitor to an analog telephone and swaddling both in a sound blanket.

In the studio, a second phone connected H.R. directly to the rest of the band. On that phone, St. Germain taped a microphone over the receiver.

The whole process took less than two hours. The result?

Listen for yourself.

– J

Music Education

Hip-Hop’s Forgotten Punk Roots

When looking at the start of hip-hop, some genres you may think of that played a role in its sound are genres like soul, funk, jazz and even disco. However, one genre that played a large role in the start of hip-hop that has been somewhat forgotten is punk rock.

When looking at the start of these two genres merging we must first look to New York at that time. New York during the 70s saw a massive punk rock movement. This took place in places like CBGB’s with bands starting there like The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads. But also around that same time in 1974 DJ Kool Herc had created hip-hop in the Bronx. With the creation of hip-hop one of the things that came along with it (as well as being a massive part of the movement) was graffiti art.

Many of these graffiti artists started to gain some traction and a new young scene of artists was starting to take over. Some members of this movement were artists like Keith Haring, Futura 2000, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab Five Freddy. The most important man for the merging of hip-hop and punk is Fab Five Freddy and he almost deserves an article all for himself.

Fab Five Freddy was a massive hip-hop fan who grew up in Brooklyn and would become a regular of a downtown art scene for graffiti artists. When mingling with this crowd he would introduce artists like Keith Haring to new Hip-Hop DJ’s like Afrika Bambaataa where he would start to DJ parties for Haring. In Bambaataa’s words he stated that the downtown punk scene would be on of the first areas that really embraced hip-hop. More DJ’s would start to DJ downtown like Grandmaster Flash and NYU punk kids started to love it.

Around this time Fab Five Freddy would meet Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie and introduce them to this new genre starting up. After seeing Grandmaster Flash DJ and groups like Funky Four Plus One perform Blondie loved it. They loved it so much they decided to make the song “Rapture” in 1981 where Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash were forever immortalized with the line ” Fab Five Freddy told me everybody’s fly, DJ spinnin’ I said my my, Flash is fast Flash is cool”. Rapture was a massive hit and was actually the first ever song with a rap verse to go number one (The video also had a young Jean-Michel Basquiat act as Grandmaster Flash on turntables). This song was also apart of one of the songs that got me into Hip-Hop “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” when Grandmaster Flash used his shoutout for the intro. Debbie Harry would also host SNL in 1981 and the musical guest she picked to play was Funky Four Plus One (the group they first saw rap) which became the first hip-op act to perform on national television.

Another group that would fall in love with the new genre and embrace it was punk rock group The Clash. The Clash came to New York around this time and started to love hip-hop so when they did a 8-night run of shows in New York they chose Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to open for them. Apparently the fans did not enjoy it and Joe Strummer would have come out and get angry at the crowd. The Clash would also release a Hip-Hop/disco inspired song called “The Magnificent Seven” which gained significant play from Hip-Hop DJ’s at the time and actually predated Blondie’s “Rapture”.

This merge of the two genres would cause many significant artists to start their careers. For example Beastie Boys first started out as a punk group and would then move to hip-hop. Chuck D of Public Enemy stated that The Clash song “Magnificent Seven” heavily inspired him to take a more punk rap approach to Hip-Hop. Groups like Rage Against the Machine would also dawn a punk rap image.

Punk and hip-hop together made perfect sense due to both genres having an underground feel and both having an anti-establishment outlook. Many artists for generations after would take on the punk rap aesthetic and the merge would even remain to this day with many new artists having a very punk rap feel like JPEGMafia, Denzel Curry, Playboi Carti, Death Grips and many more.

Miscellaneous Music Education

What makes Indie music Indie?

Before you get the wrong idea reading this blog, I want to preface that I most definitely don’t think there will be a definite answer at the end of this post. I got the idea of writing this based on the concept of indie music and just how vast and diverse it is as a phenomenon.

As indie music has become increasingly popular, I wanted to research what has attracted a large following to this type of music. What makes it stand out from traditional music genres that are easy to pinpoint such as pop, hip hop, R&B, and jazz. 

Historically, what we call indie or indie-rock music now emerged from an era in the late 1970s in the United Kingdom when post-punk, new wave, and alternative music was being released by UK record labels to go against the manufactured mainstream music at the time.

You might have heard of the band The Smiths who first came on the indie scene in the 1980s and now exemplify not only what indie music is on a musical basis, but on a cultural basis as well.

Starting off, Indie is not necessarily a genre although it has sort of developed into one just recently. Indie is short for independent and indie artists are just artists that self-produce their music and are not signed under a major label.

This ‘indie’ title starts getting harder to define once these indie artists and indie bands become famous enough to be signed under a major label. If they are signed by a label such as Capitol Records, the artists themselves are not ‘indie’ or independent anymore yet they still have that indie sound to them.

An example of a major label would be something like Universal Music Group (UMG) or Sony BMG that of course have subsidiaries of their own like Atlanta Records and Columbia Records, to which these more famous artists belong. 

What stands out in a lot of work done by indie artists is their usage of a variety of instruments in their music and most of the time indie music is instrument heavy. If you look at more of the rock and alternative side of indie music the most prevalent instruments are the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and drums. These instruments together create this “indie sound’ that has caused a ‘genre’ around this aspect to develop. 

Of course, as I mentioned, indie is not really a genre in itself because the music could be new wave, jazz or punk, or pop too. However, a common theme I find about indie music is the strong sense of individuality you can experience in the work made by the artists. They strive to focus on a single emotion or experience instead of a full narrative.

Often when you listen to music by an indie band there is a distinct piece or component of their composition or lyrics that immediately lets you know it’s by band XYZ or by artist XYZ. Having control of their own music is what allows indie artists to put their identities into their music and take full creative control over what they produce compared to the more controlled music released by mainstream artists and record labels.

What started as a term to define independent artists has culminated not into a genre but a culture of its own. Music that actively rivals mainstream music and is best consumed in its raw form of instrumentals and chords. 

Music Education

Three (Unintentional) Feminist Anthems

I’d like to tell you of three songs that have, over the years, come to occupy the same space in my mind of “Ironic anthems about #gender.” These three are “Stand by Your Man,” by Tammy Wynette, “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, and “Keep Young and Beautiful,” by Winston Churchi- I mean Eddie Cantor. These songs date from the 30’s to the 70’s and are bound together by gender commentary so dated it’s almost kind of surreal. I do not use the word “camp” lightly, but these three songs are some of the campiest things I’ve ever heard before in my life, and all three have seen renewed interest as kind of ironic feminist anthems. They are all also absolute bangers, and honestly some of my favorite songs to loudly belt with the passion of a theater kid at Waffle House after the show. The very theater kid nature of these three songs will come up a lot. So, let’s have some fun shall we.

Stand By Your Maaaaaaan

True anecdote: when I was a kid, I had heard that clip of Hillary Clinton saying “I’m not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man,” somewhere and mentally assumed that Tammy was some politicians wife who stayed with her cheating husband. Then, when listening to county classic “Rhinestone Cowboy,” at the behest of a friend, this song came in my recommendations. I listened to it, and absolutely lost my mind over the fact this song was real. Asking my parents, who were alive and in avid Country music households in the 70s, they assured me that this song was 100% unironically advising women to stand by their husbands.

The message of this song is, I suppose technically, a bad message, but it’s delivered at such over the top heights of passion and melodrama I have a hard time imagining someone being genuinely upset by it. The song assures women that, while it’s hard living with the no good guys of the world as they cheat, it’s best to let love and forgiveness reign and just let them do it.

The backdrop here is obviously some kind of backlash to the second wave feminist movement, and a look at Tammy Wynette’s back catalogue reveals as much. She has such classics as “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “I Don’t Want to Play House,” which are woeful laments to the death of the traditional family. However, “Stand By Your Man,” is set apart from these mediocre odes by being an absolute banger. Seriously, Tammy Wynette has the voice of Broadway diva and she knows how to use it.

The song has seen a few cover versions, all banking on combining the song’s musical luster with ironic feminist ire. Among my favorites is the live version cover by the Dresden Dolls on their album “A is for Accident.” Amanda Palmer has the same ‘I can’t quite tell how seriously you take yourself’ energy as Wynette, though on the opposite end of the political spectrum as an avowed feminist. Palmer is the archetypal theater kid, performing the song in her typical Cabaret-meets-Rent fashion atop a din of dive bar patrons loudly ignoring her. The irony poisoning makes the cover less impressive, but it’s a combination of styles and artists so perfect it can’t be ignored.

I Am Woman

In surveying my parents about “I Am Woman,” I found out that this is truly one of my mother’s least favorite songs. While younger listeners may find this to be objectively delightful, my rad-fem mother felt just represented enough by the song that it becomes unbearably cringey. That’s an understandable response, but god do I love this song anyways. If I wasn’t so afraid of getting an organic chemistry textbook thrown at me, I would play it for my women-in-STEM friends during finals week to see their reactions.

This song is the definitive “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” anthem. If that term is unfamiliar to you, it has approximately the same meaning as “Buzzfeed Feminism” does. An epithet used by militant feminists to decry what they see as a commercialization of the women’s movement. Any further historical analysis should be saved for a far less lighthearted venue, but let’s just say that on paper, this song should be insufferable.

However, similar to “Stand by Your Man,” the solid musical fundamentals of “I Am Woman” allow its questionable lyrics to shoot the moon and loop back around to being awesome. The difference being that, while you have to detach yourself from all good sense to find “Stand by Your Man” appealing, “I Am Women” is far easier to love. The message is ultimately positive, and you can tell Helen Reddy really believed that this was an urgent message the people needed to hear. It’s maybe a B-tier Carol King song, but most people are doing good to make it on the alphabet at all when compared to Carol King, so props to Helen for having some strong musical instincts.

The song has been picked up since Reddy’s recent death as a kind of historical curiosity. I haven’t seen any major cover versions, but there’s definitely some warm sentiments for “I Am Woman” floating around out there.

Keep Young and Beautiful

This is perhaps the most theater kid song on the list in that it’s a literal showtune. Written in 1933 for a mostly forgotten movie musical, the song is about how women should always pay extreme attention to their appearance if they ever want to be loved by a man. I honestly can’t tell you whether this song was ironic at the time, as even my great grandmother was a small child when this song was made. However, after learning that “Stand by Your Man,” was where we were at as a culture in the early 70s, I’m inclined to say this song is serious.

The track has some appeal to it, if you like that old style of musical number mastered by Cole Porter and Rogers and Hammerstein. It was reportedly a favorite of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and I’m unsure whether that reflects worse on Churchill or the song. It is, at the very least, kind of catchy.

The original song may be fine, but the cover version by Annie Lennox on her debut album “Diva” (I’ll give you three guesses as to the target demographic for that album) is much better. Lennox doesn’t so much subvert the song as she does perform it in all its Victorian glory. Coming from the mouth of gender-bending, queer feminist queen Annie Lennox, the song is impossible to take seriously, and it becomes less about the actual content and more about the cognitive dissonance evoked a mere 60 years after the song’s release.

These songs go back 90 years in the past and capture very thin slices of how women were viewed at their respective times. The fact that we can barely take these songs seriously now is really a testament to how different our world is now after the second wave feminist movement has come and gone. At least the music underlying them remains strong enough that we can have a lot of fun with these songs in retrospect.