Words by Anna Dorn
I used to make fun of my friend for listening exclusively to “chicks with guitars.” His apartment was filled with Jenny Lewis and Feist and Neko Case concert posters, artists I thought were soft and uninteresting. They lacked edge and belonged in Gap commercials. They were almost all white. I owned a black light Biggie poster at the time, I thought I was better than him (cue Lana: “You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop”). But then I experienced my Saturn’s Return and Hillary lost an election to Donald Trump and next thing I knew I was blasting Angel Olsen on the 101, shouting “Shut Up Kiss Me” into the wind. I was cracking up at Mitzki’s Twitter, and at Priests for mocking a rich boy who smoked Parliament lights. And when I saw Cherry Glazerr scream “I KNOW THAT YOU NOTICE MY WAYS” while shredding a pink guitar at the Terragram Ballroom, I knew something was up. Without warning, “chicks with guitars” were dominating my playlists, my ears, my thoughts. And I’m down to be proven wrong, but I felt like more than just me had changed.
Angel Olsen performing at the 2014 Pickathon Music Festival
The artists on this list aren’t the twee Zooey Deschanel types of the mid-aughts--women seemingly designed to woo hipster boys in flannels--but are rather women who are breaking down the walls. Women demanding to be raw and innovative in ways that recall what New York Magazine called the “Girl Rock Renaissance” of 1996. “You could argue that our culture still isn’t rewarding women who try to stake out new territory,” the magazine wrote nearly 20 years ago. “But Courtney Love is an object lesson in the punishments and rewards that come to a woman who tries.” Elastica singer Justine Frischmann was quoted saying that “Courtney’s got the kind of ambition most people would associate with a male rock star. One thing you have to admire her for is that she refuses—just refuses—to be overlooked in any way.”
Below are seven badass girl rockers who cannot be overlooked in 2017. Listen to them here.
1. CHERRY GLAZERR
Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy is the coolest bitch I always wanted to be, but I didn’t think people like her actually existed. She looks like Mischa Barton and shreds like Carrie Brownstein and her favorite food is grilled cheese. At 15 she was already a style icon in the public eye, musing Hedi Slimane and guest-starring on Transparent. This year, while watching her play a party for Crap eyewear, my friend whispered in my ear: “she had her high fashion moment, but now she’s like, doing her more hipster-casual thing.” (Creevy wore crocs with socks that night.) I can’t imagine having already had a “high-fashion moment” at age 20. But there are lots of cool girls on stage. Image is important, but music cannot succeed on cool alone. The sound must back it up and Cherry Glazerr’s very much does. Vibrant on the surface, slacker and sanguine in the way that Southern Californians do best, with grungy, at times radical, undertones. It’s the kind of music that makes me instantly pull out my air guitar and shake my hair with abandon. The kind of music that makes me happy to call sunny, freaky Los Angeles my home. If you have access to a car, I highly recommend blasting “I Told You I’d Be with the Guys” with the windows down before summer’s end.
Priests was one of few punk shows I attended during my rap and weed-infused twenties. I saw them with a friend of the band at the Black Cat in D.C., my hometown and theirs. I mainly remember bouncing around with a massive PBR, thinking that frontwoman Katie Alice Greer was the first pretty girl I’d ever seen with unshaved armpits (this was 2014). Three years later, I had escaped DC to LA, and was surprised to see Priests’ Nothing Feels Natural on Pitchfork’s Best New Music.
Photo: Rolling Stone
I put on the album and was instantly drawn into their poised, frenetic energy. I gagged at Greer shouting “I thought I was a cowboy because I smoked Reds” over hypnotic surf riffs. While Rolling Stone and Spin have deemed Priests “Protest-Punk” and “Activist Rock,” respectively, these characterizations seem to dilute their musical appeal. As Greer herself told Rolling Stone: "Music is inherently political, everything is political. So to say that music is political is like saying music has sound. It's saying nothing." Mainly, Nothing Feels Natural is the most exhilarating album I’ve heard in a hot minute. And my Lord can Greer seduce an audience. If you have a chance to peek her charisma live, snatch it!
3. ANGEL OLSEN
After spinning last year’s My Womyn on repeat for months, I was surprised watching videos of Angel Olsen performing live while researching this article. I wanted Angel to have the bouncy swagger of Clem or the punky glamour of Katie Alice Greer. Instead, I watched a very still, very afraid-looking woman strum and sing so softly it was a though she didn’t want people to know she was alive. But after many more videos, and seeing her perform live at FYF, my disappointment faded. Her live performance has a raw, unsteady quality that now I can’t unhear, one that evokes the shaky mystique of Lana Del Rey (although Olsen, for reasons unclear to me, is offended by this comparison). I no longer hear a brash firecracker demanding her lover to “shut up and kiss” her, but rather a shy and conflicted introvert, who, as Pitchfork put it, writes songs that “honor the romance of being alone in your head,” yet also, as the New Yorker reported, has flashes of “wildness.” The push and pull between Angel’s timid, wobbly voice and moments of brashy thrill render Angel a dynamic artist that snobby music heads like myself will blast for years to come.
Much like Angel Olsen, Mitski is a critic’s darling. She’s been featured in Rolling Stone and the New Yorker, nabbed Pitchfork’s Best New Music, and was included in New York Times Magazine’s 2016 issue of “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going.” Like every other person with ears, I immediately struck by the thundering slow build on “Your Best American Girl,” which recalls classic ‘90s grunge acts like the Sonic Youth and the Pixies (who she’s currently touring with), but instead of conveying middle-class white boy angst, explores the pain of juggling multiple identities (Mitski was born in Japan and raised all over the world). In this way, it seems the ultimate anthem of the first era in which people outside of the academy know what “intersectional” means.
Photo: The Fader
Jenny Zhang wrote for the New York Times, “I wanted to hear Mitski’s story in this song, but I only heard my own. Listening brought me back to the fuzzy ’90s D.I.Y. scene of my adolescence in the suburbs of Long Island, back when no one much questioned why a subculture that saw itself as rebelling against the establishment was quite so dominated by white men.” Mitski takes the tools of her oppressors and shows us that she can use them better. And there is nothing more 2017 than that.
5. COLLEEN GREEN
The other day while wandering around Echo Park, I saw a cool and familiar-looking girl in black wayfarer sunglasses duck into Kwon’s Gift & T-Shirt on Sunset. Her familiarity hit me once she disappeared. It was Colleen Green, the LA rocker whose 2015 I Want to Grow Up was the soundtrack of my Saturn’s Return. Before 27 hit, I never envisioned leaving my 20s. The rest of my life, I imagined, would be filled with playing beer pong on sunny patios, fantasizing about lovers who would never love me, and desperately trying to be invisible in most settings (to be fair, I still do all these things, but hopefully to a lesser extent). Nothing captured my then-worldview more than Green’s chorus on “Deeper Than Love”—“I don’t wanna (I don’t wanna) / Think about it (think about it) / I don’t wanna think about it / It’s too scaryyyy.” The album was about grappling with the realization that time will force us to grow up, to absorb responsibility, to engage in small talk, to take things seriously. It felt cathartic seeing Green after both our Saturns had returned (I’m 30; she’s 31)—we’d both made it out alive. Her 2016 self-titled EP reveals a slightly sleeker Green. She’s transitioned away from the sassy pink princess of I Want to Grow Up. Her recent EP cover depicts Green in a classic LBD before a beige background, donning a deadpan expression. She’s older, but remains the Queen of Blasé. On “Green Eyes,” she says: “Tell me what am I supposed to do / What am I supposed to say / I know it doesn’t matter anyway.”
6. SNAIL MAIL
Snail Mail’s frontwoman Lindsey Jordan may be rookie of this list, but don’t you dare underestimate her. The 17-year-old Maryland teen had to get permission from her high school principal to tour with her band, which began with opening a packed Priests show in Brooklyn. Snail Mail has only released a sole EP, Habit, but it’s as precocious as it is promising. Pitchfork wrote that Jordan’s voice “has a weariness to it that lucidly belies her age, capable of powerhouse wails and tattered expressiveness.” Habit’s lead single “Thinning” conveys suburban malaise with an indie pop sensibility and preternatural poise, equal parts catchy and evocative. On it, Jordan describes the familiar experience of feeling off and not quite knowing why: “Haven’t felt right in a week / And I’m thinning out / And it hurts bad / I gotta get back.” I’m anxious to hear more from this suburban prodigy.
A few years ago I told my friend I went to a Purity Ring concert, and she told me she preferred the band Chastity Belt. I thought she was joking, which she kind of was, but had not made up the band as I had assumed. I looked them up and saw their lead single was titled “Cool Slut.” As at that time I was a full-blown thot, I was intrigued. But the sound left my mind as quickly as it entered my ears—I was still deep in my habit of rejecting anything with a guitar. More recently, however, “Time to Go Home” came up on my Spotify and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The song conveys the too-familiar experience of drowning yourself into having a “meaningful time” at a party—“the room is spinning” and you “can’t see straight,” but you don’t leave, because you “just want to have a good time.” But, as Pitchfork wrote, there is an existential melancholy beneath the “drunken mayhem.” Relatable and sleek, their music homage to the ‘90s grunge of the Pacific Northwest they call home. But more than anything, I’m itching for the opportunity to see Julia Shapiro’s iconic blonde mane live.