Rebels with a cause – Using music to say ‘me too’

Rebels with a cause – Using music to say ‘me too’

by marlies|dekkers

From original ‘bad girl’ Billie Holiday to Rihanna and Lady Gaga; an ode to the rebellious women who have defied victimization by turning damage into beauty with their voices. 

‘Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what’s more than enough’ Billie Holiday declared in her biography Lady Sings the Blues. Over sixty years later, a group of Hollywood celebrities and singers like Taylor Swift and Kesha knew: they had had enough. More than enough. ‘Time’s up!’ was their rallying cry; the clock had run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality. Their weapon of choice? Their voices.

Till the #metoo movement came along, a terrible truth had been hiding in plain sight for many years: worldwide, 1 in 3 women – a shocking 35%! – has experienced sexual violence. Most of these women never spoke up. They felt lonely and ashamed; sometimes even guilty. « I didn’t tell anyone for years. Because of the way I dress and the way I’m provocative as a person, I somehow felt it was my own fault, » Lady Gaga said about her own rape experience, at 19. But when the singer was ready to use her voice, she did so spectacularly: with a monumental power ballad called ‘Till it happens to you‘ which she performed during the 2016 Oscars, surrounded by 50 sexual-assault survivors. « You tell me it gets better, » she sang with a raw, haunting voice. « What the hell do you know? ».

As a matter of fact, a number of fed-up, violated women have used music throughout the years to say ‘me too’ without shame. In the song ‘Billie’s Blues‘ (1936), a defiant Billie Holiday warns the men who have done her wrong : »I’ve been your slave, ever since I’ve been your babe. But before I’ll be your dog, I’ll see you in your grave. » And when the magnificent Nina Simone, after years of sexual abuse by her husband Andrew Stroud, finally started to declare her fury in songs like ‘Four women‘, she became one of the bravest icons of feminist movement. « I’ve known about the silence that makes that prison, » Nina once said. By using her voice, she made sure she was NOT going back to that prison.

More recently, pop star Demi Lovato scored a hit with ‘Warrior‘ (2013), a moving anthem of self-empowerment. « So ashamed, so confused; I was broken and bruised. Now I’m a warrior; now I’ve got thicker skin. And my armor is made of steel, you can’t get in, » she proclaims, referring to an incident of sexual abuse that took place during her childhood. And in the video for ‘Man Down‘ (2010) Rihanna literally picked up a gun to shoot her rapist. Yes, she was playing a character, but she was also reclaiming her power after being assaulted by her then-lover Chris Brown and having a leaked picture of her battered face break the internet. « Rape is happening all over the world and in our own homes and we continue to cover it up, » Rihanna said when she was criticized for the violent content of her video. « That only continues to empower the abusers. »

The #metoo movement crystallized all the rage and vulnerability we had been feeling for years. It’s more than a trend; it’s here to stay, encouraging countless women to finally speak up. And what better medium than music? Like the French novelist Victor Hugo once said: ‘Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. » And as Lady Gaga’s unforgettable Oscar performance showed: when silence is broken, magic can happen. The kind of magic that can transform women from victims into bad-ass warriors.

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